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Tyranny of the Middle

The other day I was in a taxi.

And it had a cassette deck.

As we revel in the wonders of the bounty of digital technology, it's good to remember that the cutting edge comes well before the swollen and hefty middle.

In no way does that invalidate our obsession with that edge.  It does, however, remind us that the edge is – quite by definition – not typical of the middle.

In the middle, folks are still buying CD's – even if they're not buying as many as they used to.

In the middle, some cars still have cassette decks – even if their owners have no need for them.

In the middle, music discovery is a passive activity, not an active one.  That is, these folks want the new stuff to come to them without them doing the tinkering and searching and poking and prodding and programming and scheduling.  This, in fact, is why radio remains the primary source of new music for so much of "the middle":  They don't want to seek out their "new"; they want it to come to them the way it always has.

It's the middle that takes an old song from Les Miserables and a goofy-looking English lady with a booming vibrato and blows it to the top of the hit parade (the best selling album debut in UK chart history!).

The middle doesn't have a problem with radio that most radio alternatives (even the HD ones of our own design) aim to solve.

The middle doesn't know the names of songs or artists, but it recognizes its favorites when it hears them.

The middle is boring, of course.  Because new businesses aren't generally built on the middle.  New businesses are born on the wings of change.  And change is where you find the cutting edge.

The middle is what radio has in abundance.  The edge is where radio is extraordinarily vulnerable.  

The middle is the past and present, but the edge points the way to the future.

And with that future comes winners and losers, risks and rewards.

Radio has won the middle.  The war is over and radio is the victor.

The edge, however, is a foggy land of guerilla warfare.

We need to think about the edge differently if we are to gain ground there.  We cannot assess our inputs and outputs there the same way we do for our traditional business.  Our competitors are not other media behemoths or other stations.  They are small bands of zealots fighting to the death for their ideas, intent on carving out a piece of you in the process.

Radio has a unique opportunity to invite its massive audiences to playgrounds where they can see and hear their dreams come true.

Unless, of course, we focus so narrowly on what we have always been that we are blinded to what we can possibly become.

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