Radio began this year on the heels of two well publicized bankruptcies: Citadel and Next Media. Not surprisingly, the mood is glum for many in the industry. 2009 was also the year that Clear Channel shed over 2,400 employees in two large rounds of layoffs. Those who have jobs worry they will be next. Those who don’t have jobs are finding it increasingly difficult to find new ones. Nearly all industries have been affected by the current economic downturn, but radio has been hit particularily hard.
Many people are now asking “Is it over?” “Is radio going the way of the horse and buggy?” No, I don’t believe we are witnessing the death of radio. But I do believe we need to change our way of doing things if we are to survive. Radio needs to get back to it’s roots. It needs to be LIVE and LOCAL in order to compete with the new technologies. Unfortunately, this costs money. Which is why it’s not happening in most places.
I remember being in my early 20s and witnessing the satellite radio tsunami of the late 1980s. Small market stations were dumping most or all of their airstaffs and replacing them with piped-in programming from Dallas, Denver, and elsewhere. Owners and general managers loved this because they could cut payroll expense and time spent dealing with personnel issues. As one GM so eloquently put it, “I don’t have to fight with disc jockeys anymore!” But this convenience came at an eventual price as people lost their “local” radio station. The listener knew immediately something was different. Somehow, hearing a cheery voice proclaim “It’s 18 minutes past the hour on a beautiful Wednesday morning” when the town was under a severe thunderstorm warning just didn’t sound right to most people. The connection was lost. They still listened, but radio became background music, rather than a primary, personal medium to which they paid close attention. One of my first radio jobs was at a Class C FM in western Kansas. When we’d do a remote, listeners would drive 60 miles each way just to see us. Then, they’d bring up a bit that I did 2 weeks ago last Tuesday. People don’t do that anymore. There’s no reason to since most or all of what they hear is neither local nor live. Again, the connection is gone.
Today, listeners have many alternatives to terrestrial radio: XM/Sirius, Internet streaming, iPods, iPhone apps, etc. Soon, several hundred channels will be available as a factory option in new vehicles. The ONLY way local radio can compete in this environment is to be exactly that: LOCAL! If a station is to survive, it will HAVE to spend the money for live, local talent that “gets it” and is dedicated to serving the community. XM/Sirius cannot compete with a well programmed local station. But it does very well against stations which have become nothing more than glorified audio servers and hard drives attached to a transmitter. The good stations will make it. The poor performers will not.
I’m a believer. I’ve loved this industry since I was 3 years old. The strong will survive. I will do everything I can to assure this happens. Recently, I’ve began posting radio job opportunities on this website. If you’re a radio pro who wants to be part of radio’s future, please apply for one or more of these positions. Let your potential new boss know you are a believer in live, local radio and will fight for it’s survival! If you’re a station owner or General Manager, please consider maintaining or expanding your airstaff. I know times are tough. The last thing you need is an additional payroll expense. But the future of this industry is dependent on attracting talented, intelligent, passionate people who love radio and are committed to it’s growth. This is just not happening right now. We need to turn this around, beginning today. Tomorrow may be too late.
Here’s to radio in 2010! Long may it live, thrive, and prosper!