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“The Future of Radio”

Whenever I see an article titled “The Future of Radio,” I brace myself for what is likely to be a biased, self-serving and ultimately off-base diatribe.

But here’s a case where my expectations were dead wrong. A MediaPost piece that sums up the future as well or better than I ever could, and it is absolutely required reading if you work in or around radio.

Some excerpts:

Radio is a powerful medium. It’s not dead but … it has lost its soul. Radio is a companion. It’s a very personal medium, and they’ve taken the personal aspect out of it.” “The media today does not seek truth, it seeks success,” say Harrison of Talkers. “It seeks victory. Nobody is hired to do a talk show because they are going to save the world or educate people or benefit humanity. Radio historically has been a street medium – a mass medium of popular culture. That’s what radio is. Radio is not dead. It just doesn’t have much of a future, because of monumental changes that are unfolding as we speak. Radio in the future will be very street, it will just be less magical.” “What I call mono-media,” he says, “that is to say, radio, television, newspapers, film – all of these different institutions of the 20th century – will no longer exist on separate venues. Looking at McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’ – the venue of radio being an appliance that has AM and FM, the venue of TV that is an appliance, the venue of film that you watch on a disk or you go to a movie theater, the venue of a book that you put on a shelf and hold in your hand, a magazine on the stand – these venues will no longer exist as entities separate from each other. Thus, the culture of creating programming for them will become different because culture is so impacted by the venue, meaning, the medium is the message. When the medium changes, so will the message. So will the culture. And the medium now is a medium that combines all of those hitherto separate concepts. The idea of a radio station coming in on an appliance that is specific to radio, that is an audio-only medium, the theater of the mind, if you will, is, in fact, going to be obsolete. This is happening right before our eyes, and it is accelerating so quickly. Will there still be radio stations on AM and FM in five years? Yes. But they will seem weaker and far less important than they do today. “Your typical radio station will become a production company as opposed to a broadcast facility. Everybody will be a production company.” Harrison’s prophecy is borne out in a conversation I have with Charles Kireker, the new owner of Air America. “It’s definitely a new frontier situation, a listener, a viewer, a reader, they are all doubling back on each other with all the new technologies … PDA, the cell phone, Internet and so forth.” I asked an old-fashioned question, using my limited vocabulary. “What made you decide to buy a radio network?” “We’re a media company,” he says. “We’re not a radio company.”

At issue, of course, is the readiness of broadcasters to survive, let alone thrive, in a “production company” model when…

A) The investment in unique and compelling programming (i.e., talent), either locally or nationally, is diminishing B) There is no built-in expertise for being a “production company” or a “media company” in the radio industry, unless that production or media is strictly a function of sound

Most stations have embraced the desire of listeners for more and more music and less and less other stuff. This is all well and good until that desire can be met more effectively in other ways.

Then it will be about what makes us different, not what makes us the same, that makes us strong and worth listening to.

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