What the industry doesn’t “get” about Radio’s future

In the Radio business we tend to think of our industry as something fixed, immobile, needing to be protected. Like a national monument or an old house on the register of National Historic Places.

This feeling is understandable, for both emotional and business reasons.

From the audience’s perspective, however, Radio is primarily this: a delivery system. A particularly universal, familiar, and comfortable “set of pipes” that brings entertainment and information direct to your ears, no matter where you are.

Unless you comprehend our role as “delivery system” you cannot comprehend how the audience views us and, more importantly, who our real competitors are now and into the future.

To put it bluntly, our competitors include any means of delivering audio entertainment or information programming to listeners – through any technology whatsoever.

Thus for us to boldly go forth towards an HD Radio future thinking that we can simply muscle the audience into buying new radios is naive. Why should listeners do this? And why should they do it especially when they are offered good substitutes for Radio by what they can download themselves, stream over their computers and cellphones (both of which are almost as ubiquitious as radios nowadays), or pick up via Satellite Radio if they’re inclined to pay the freight?

We’re thinking of HD Radio as competing against terrestrial radio (where it is an “improvement”) and Satellite (where it is a “free” alternative). But what about the Internet? What about the iPod? These forces are considerably more threatening over the long haul to our industry’s vitality and the people behind these technologies know it – even if you don’t.

So this gets to a fundamental point, and one which Jon Stewart (of all people) emphasizes in the latest issue of WIRED: It’s all about content. The box in your living room (TV or Radio) is just a box that has to be filled with content.

Not simply “good” content.

I mean unique and compelling content.

I don’t mean new slivers of music. That’s child’s play. Anybody can plug that into the Internet or the cellphone.

I mean new forms of entertainment and information that stand out in the same way Stewart’s Daily Show stands out.

That takes effort. That takes talent. That takes force of will. That takes leadership.

Does our industry have what it takes?

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