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This is Research Steve Jobs Never Would Have Used


I have nothing against Mark Kassof, although I interviewed for a job with him at the very beginning of my career and he didn’t hire me. Of course, some would say he made the right decision there.

Kassof just released a piece of research which aims to prove not only that radio is primarily “local” but woe unto any broadcaster who thinks otherwise.

Here’s his first question:

Now think about media – TV, radio, newspapers, the internet and so on. Some media are mainly local – focused on serving one city or town – while others are mainly national – focused on the serving the entire country. In your opinion, is RADIO a mainly local or a mainly national medium?

This is a problematic question because folks will naturally answer it based on their historical experience with radio stations and the historical definition of what “radio” is. That is, it provides only a rear view mirror perspective on the industry with no perspective on its future.

For example, eight years ago I could have asked you:

In your opinion, is a TELEPHONE something that could be used to listen to music, send TXT and email messages, and browse the web, or is it something intended for phone calls only?

Guess what folks would say? And – at the same time – who cares what they say?! That didn’t keep Steve Jobs from announcing the very first iPhone this way:

Today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device….This is one device. And we are calling it iPhone. Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.

You can’t create the future when you are hamstrung by the past. When disruptors galore come along bent on “reinventing the radio,” are you really going to stand in the wings and shout “but that’s not what radio is”?

That was followed by this question:

If a local station you listen to switched to focusing more on national programming rather than local programming, do you think you would listen to it MORE or LESS than you do now?

This is a truly misleading question because it lumps all programming into “national” or “local” without any broader characterization of what that programming is, as if nothing matters other than the source of the programming. And the day that turns out to be true is the day that NBC throws in the towel on Jimmy Fallon saying “we just can’t compete with the late night show in Tulsa.”

Kassof provides just this kind of a qualified interpretation:

Now, keep in mind that what listeners think they’ll do given a hypothetical situation isn’t necessarily what they would do…that’s a limitation of research. And there are other factors involved…for example, what if the national programming in question happens to be very appealing to them???

In other words, “these are not the droids you’re looking for.”

This is “research as an exercise in asking questions with no real world implications.” Nothing “limits” research more than questions like this one.

Beyond that, the question implicitly asks: “If the station you’re perfectly happy with changed, would that be okay or not?” And – not surprisingly – the answer is “no.”

Besides, by this logic, doesn’t the conclusion imply we should drop all those Katy Perry songs and replace them with songs by Katy Down-The-Block? Isn’t local music the ultimate local content on a music station?

So overall, this research indicates that folks see radio as “local” and please don’t add “national” content to it.

And, no doubt, folks will keep saying that even as they share more of their listening time with Pandora, iTunes Radio, Spotify, and other streaming radio players.

No doubt they’ll keep saying that as they spend more time in their cars with entertainment and information content not produced by local broadcasters.

No doubt they’ll keep saying that as they listen to more and more podcasts from here, there, and everywhere.

No doubt they’ll keep saying that.

As long as we keep asking that.

As long as we keep wishing it to be true.

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