That's the question on the lips of most of our industry's bigwigs. More than one has asked me this, personally.
After all, more folks generally listen to radio than ever before. There are an estimated 800 million radios in the U.S. alone – an average of five or so in every household. What's more, surveys routinely show that folks are listening to radio, not abandoning it for whatever's new.
But there's a problem with this argument. It doesn't only obscure the trends, it also ignores the difference between what folks do and what they're interested in.
The trend we are ignoring is the one that Arbitron clearly demonstrates: While more folks may be listening they are not listening as much. With all the novel distractions available to them, why would they? Further, a rising U.S. population will, simply because it's growing, generate more radio listeners – if not more radio listening.
That's the trend, but what about the difference between behavior and interest? This is where one of my favorite TV shows, Mad Men, comes in.
It's the first basic cable show to win the Emmy for Best Drama. And while it's viewership is way ahead of its first season, an average episode is still watched by a mere 2 million folks per episode – including DVR viewing. Compare that to the 19 million people who watch an average episode of CSI, and you see my point.
One show is a critical darling, a cult phenomenon, an award winner, a trend-setter and a style-setter. It's the DVD spotted under the arm of Barack Obama, the show starring the host of this week's season finale of Saturday Night Live.
And the other show is one of the top-rated in television.
It's not the biggest show that wields the most influence over the pop-cultural zeitgeist, it's the coolest one.
As a result, it doesn't matter how many listeners radio has. It doesn't matter how ubiquitous radio is.
What matters is not how big you are, it's how cool you are.
"Big" and "cool" together are, of course, the ideal.
"Cool" without "big" can be influential, especially when it comes to the influence such brands have over PR.
But "big" without "cool"?
Cue the sound of PR crickets.