If radio ain’t reinventing itself maybe someone else will

As radio continues to suffer in the modern consumer economy, perhaps it is time for the medium to truly reinvent itself or, if that doesn’t happen, get someone else to do it.

Guest post by Fred jacobs by Jacobs Media Strategies

How many conventions, state broadcaster association gatherings, and conferences have you attended in the past few years that shared a common theme:


At first glance, this is a strong indicator that many radios think the industry needs analysis, research and new strategic planning. Simple makeovers with catchy catchphrases, and they all fell flat. It’s because the radio needs more than a makeover, or as my wife puts it, “Have a little work to do.

As Mark Zuckerberg will probably soon find out, just changing your name isn’t going to instantly re-image Facebook. The platform is anchored, it’s in our DNA, we know what it is and what it’s done. Keep in mind that Google changed its name to Alphabet over six years ago, a practical attempt to boost its share price, putting all of its brands – YouTube, Android, Waymo, etc. – under a new umbrella.

Guess what? Everyone still calls it Google.

Jacobs Media Strategies

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And after every radio gathering – in person or virtual – we come home inspired by pages of notes. And we immediately return to our respective corners, doing our work in the same way.

That’s why nothing really changes. Industry spokespersons and even some senior executives may profess the need for change. But no one has the stomach (or maybe the stones) to do it.

This does not mean that there are not good intentions. But like so much on radio, there are disparate thoughts and philosophies about what is wrong and what (if any) needs attention. Many believe that because the radio’s range remains north of 90%, there is nothing broken. Others claim it is a “cool” question – that it has to be argued that radio is cool media. And others believe that a marketing campaign might be able to address all of the industry’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

So we go back to our stations and schedule our 250 song playlists, perform our two shockingly long stops every hour, record vocals whenever possible, and try to do with less.

And I hope no one will notice.

But they are. They can hear it, and honestly, so can we. And because AM / FM radio has been part of this country’s mass media DNA for a century, inertia, tradition and habit all play on the historic strengths of the industry.

If change is to come, it is more likely to emanate from outside stations, businesses and traditional radio structures.

That’s why I always sit down and be careful when one of the big tech companies or even a startup comes up with some sort of plan, app, or algorithm that will reinvent radio. They all talk about a good game, but in the end no one solved the “Radio Rubik’s Cube”.

The latest of these solutions has swept in recent days, both on Axios and on the Verge. This time it’s Amazon. And they’re apparently creating a product, powered by an app (here we go) designed to overhaul and democratize radio as we know it.

Do not laugh. Amazon has already reinvented the way we shop, how we buy and read books, and maybe just how we travel in space. Fix the radio? Compared to other Jeff Bezos innovations, reinventing radio should be a snap.

I made a point of covering many of these attempts. First, they are interesting and we can learn something. Second, he’s always curious to see how non-radios want to fix the media. Third, he is a strange form of flattery passes. These companies wouldn’t endlessly focus on renewing radio if they didn’t find engaging, valuable, and even magical things in live content – music and chat – traveling across the ether, in real time, day and day. night. A lot of the people behind these budding radio initiatives have probably worked in air studios in college or at radio stations in their hometowns, and they’re looking for some of the romance we all feel in both the best and the best. the worst times.

That said, none have managed to get out of it. Apple – a fairly innovative company – tried and failed with Beats 1. From day one, Slacker Radio tried the organized radio approach – that is, they had DJs – and it didn’t. did not work so well.

Spotify has been around the field for quite some time now. Their morning show concept – “Your Daily Drive” – ​​debuted in 2019. It’s a platform that matches your interests with your musical choices. Yes, I blogged about it at the time.

Although interesting and ambitious, I have only met a few friends who use this feature. (If I underestimate its impact, I’m sure you’ll let me know.)

Maybe SiriusXM has come close, providing a product that sounds much like broadcast radio – without the commercials. Its subscription model allows for no advertising (on music stations at least), as well as a lot more choice than any radio market can offer.

Of course, as an advertising vehicle, SiriusXM has serious limitations. And although it’s been around in one form or another for well over two decades, SiriusXM has 34 million subscribers. It’s not a bad number, but it’s a fraction of the size of the weekly radio broadcast audience.

When Amazon starts to make noise – they’re actually quite stealthy – it deserves our attention. Axios writer Sara Fischer unveiled the story at the end of August, presenting it as a big story: “Scoop: Amazon is quietly building a live audio business. As Fischer pointed out, Amazon is no stranger to audio. There is Alexa and Audible to begin with. And even Twitch has radio elements.

The new platform – which does not yet have a name – would fall under the company’s Music division – which includes podcasts. Fischer reported that Amazon is connecting with major labels and bands, as well as live musical performances and “talk radio shows.”

Here is where it gets a little cloudy. Fischer says this piece from Amazon is “not a Clubhouse-type platform, but rather a digital radio-type tool for performances and live chat.”

Reading between the lines, it looks like anyone can have time at the microphone; anyone can be a radio star. It is interesting to note that while the broadcast radio itself may be out of favor, being on the radio is still a widely shared dream, goal and desire – as a “bucket list” item that can now be achieved.

There has been very little coverage of this Amazon project – until yesterday. When is it The edge‘S’ Hot Pod ‘newsletter headlined this story:

“Amazon is building a Clubhouse competitor that turns hosts into DJs”

Ashley Carman is the reference reporter, and her information is that Amazon’s foray into live audio gaming is an app named “Project Mic.”

The Verge team could have watched (OK, listen to) a presentation that would allow anyone to “create and distribute a live radio show, with music.” The piece of music would place Amazon in front of Clubhouse. Like the story of Axios last summer, Carman says record companies coordinate their artists, as well as live events.

Carman notes that listeners would have plenty of entry points to enjoy content – the app, of course – with Audible, Amazon Music, Twitch, and any Alexa-enabled device. There is also an automatic interface, trending topics and a search tool to find programming by “subject, name or music”.

What is the goal of Project Mic? According to The Verge:

“To democratize and reinvent radio.

Ambitious? For sure.

Interesting? Absoutely.

Imagine – a game for all ages (6+), where anyone could put on a pair of headphones, crack the mic, listen to a song and play Preston & Steve, Delilah or themselves on the radio .

And that begs the question of why broadcasters couldn’t or wouldn’t do some of these same things – with much greater reach than a “broadcast” amateur DJ from Spokane, Savannah, or Saginaw.

Yet enabling consumers to access the radio appears to be at the heart of many of these efforts, particularly Project Mic. Broadcasters hear this kind of feedback all the time. Listeners want to choose the songs, as well as hear their names and voices on the air.

The radio has featured “Guest DJ” and “Hey, Mom, I’m on WKLH” shows for decades. Of course, they do require a bit of work and preparation. But they create lasting memories. I hear listeners speak proudly about these experiences in focus groups, telling the story of when they were on the radio.

Nowadays, fewer listeners bother to call the stations. I am often told “The phones are dead”. Maybe it’s because so many stations stopped answering them or they were ringing in empty studios.

Listeners who want to go on the radio are nothing new. Jack the Wolf Man including psychology he played there and it became the powerful channel to hear you, your dedication and your favorite song on his show. In many ways, he was a bearded keeper.

Today’s tech companies want to remove barriers to entry, allowing anyone with a microphone to play songs, read the news, and chat with fans.

We can wait for Amazon (or someone else) to reinvent radio, spend a lot of time saying ‘this will never work’, and then wake up one day to find that a new platform has more. listeners and earn more money than us. are.

Or we could actually step up and reinvent ourselves. Radio could open its doors to listeners, launch those languid HD2s, and use its websites, social pages, and other assets to shed light on local groups, young athletes and other hometown heroes so that radio stations sound like their communities.

The industry could host an “all-gamer hackathon” where teams populated in smart combinations of the old guard and new media mavens work together to actually reinvent. Something. Yes, broadcasting is made up of disparate companies, often with competing goals and competing solutions. Many are on track to diversify their portfolios with podcasting, web services, esports, and other adjacent businesses. But none will be complete if its core broadcast radio is not addressed.

Or we could forget about all of that and instead focus on setting our Q1 scores and revenue targets.

As always, the ball is in the radio court.

Thanks to Lori Lewis for waking up.

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