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Un-Music is the Future of Radio

One of radio’s biggest problems is that our industry has a tendency to imagine itself inside a bubble.

A bubble where the best practices emerge from the broadcaster across the street or across the country rather than from a different medium altogether or the entrepreneur slaving away in his or her garage, powered by a non-stop supply of Red Bulls.

The problem with “bubble” thinking is that when what you do is re-imagined, it’s rarely re-imagined by your direct competitor.  Instead, it’s re-imagined by someone who, until that moment, wasn’t even on your competitive radar.

And it’s re-imagined because technology says it can be and because consumers are always happy to have their problems solved in the most expeditious way.

Radio is a form of media, and nowadays almost everything is media and media is almost everything.  The limiting factor is time.

Instead of obsessing on new ways to plant signposts for our brand across platforms (a radio-centric view of the world), we should be obsessing on solving problems for our consumers and our advertisers in ways that convey a competitive advantage, are sustainable, and are monetizable.

In other words, it’s not the broadcaster down the street who is your competitor, it’s all the other things consumers can do with their time that will (and is) eating into your time-spent-listening.  And as goes your TSL, so goes attention and engagement to your brands.

It seems to me that compelling content offers a way out of this mess, since compelling content is, by definition, scarce and valuable. In a competitive space full of choice, compelling content is the secret to attention and engagement.  And compelling content will, more often than not, be un-music.

Recently I did some research that put me face-to-face with fans of a particular morning show in a large market.  The role this morning show plays in the lives of those consumers was amazing.  They knew everything about the show and the characters on it.  “They are like friends,” they said.  These listeners laughed, they cried, and they lived their lives alongside these characters on the way to work or school every morning.

So what do you think will happen when these same listeners can tap into Pandora even more easily on their dashboard than they can today?  What do you think will happen when their in-car choices multiply?

That’s right:  Absolutely nothing.

Shouldn’t that be our highest aspiration?  Not to mirror the presumed best-practices of broadcasters we don’t even know in ways that are easy or cheap or both, but to focus instead on the end-users, the consumers, the folks with all the choices and all the power and all the freedom to use it?

We can copy tactics in our bubble.

Or we can delight consumers at the “point of purchase,” the point where their fingers hit the dashboard and where the real battle is waged.

The future is not about the radio industry.  The future is about consumers who make choices in the presence of brands they love.

This is the lesson learned by AMC when it went from the “TV for movie people” channel to the channel with Mad Men, their version of a great morning show.

This is the lesson learned by HBO when it went from “home box office” to the place where you watch The Sopranos.

This is the lesson learned by Bravo when it transitioned from the high arts of fine culture to the low arts of pop culture and a variety of Real Housewives.

This is the lesson learned by MTV when it went from “music television” to the network whose highest rated show is Jersey Shore.

In every case, it was compelling content.  It was un-music.

Can you hear the un-music?

Better start singing along.

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