Imagine This…

Imagine this revised history: One in which many years ago computers became small, the internet connected everything and short-distance wireless communication was commonplace.  Now, imagine that only within the past decade we’d developed wireless technology that allowed the transmission of a signal over a range of 30 miles or more.

Now imagine that our government felt it would be important to have a number of these transmitters licensed in all metropolitan areas of the country to be able to disseminate information in the event of a local or national disaster that wiped out internet communication.  In order to encourage citizens to purchase the receivers, commercial and non-commercial enterprises would be able to license these channels and provide information and entertainment people would want to hear.  In this alternate reality, Pandora and its competitors are the dominant music services and podcasting is the “norm” for distributing spoken word programming.

How would radio sound?  What would we choose to do when a highly-personalizable, low-commercial inventory, unhosted internet stream was the norm for music listening?  Would we attack with 6 songs in a row, followed by 6+ minutes of commercials when the norm for the online services is 5 songs followed by a :30?

Broadcast Radio is under attack again.  It’s not the first time by any means.  AM radio, the original electronic medium, was first under attack when TV came of age and the great network shows that filled much of the radio programming schedule migrated to the new platform.  AM radio adapted, embracing recorded music and the tremendous opportunity to serve the growing youth culture in this country.  FM radio splintered the pie in the 70’s and then watched as music formats migrated to the newer technology offering stereo, no static and lower commercial loads.  Various in-car music players have taken chunks of listening from radio over the years, but none has lived up to the direst predictions.

But, broadcasters are now watching as PUMM levels are dropping, especially among younger women during the workday.  Music streamed from the internet is easy to find and use, carries a sharply-lower commercial inventory than broadcast and offers wide-ranging, customizable programming.  While some worry about eating up their data plans listening to online streams, more don’t care or find the expenditure worthwhile.  As more cars become internet connected and/or Bluetooth enabled, we’ll see more erosion of the quarter hours now being used by passive music seekers on the go.

So, imagining that Pandora and its competitors were the incumbent and Broadcast was the insurgent, what would we do?  We wouldn’t attack with music quantity, but we MIGHT attack with music quality, but what would that be?  It would involve more human interaction than comes with online streams, maybe:

  • A station with music experts curating the music (but done smarter than when we tried that in the late 60’s/early 70’s on Progressive Rock stations).
  • A station that celebrated the choices of the listeners (like LDR, but with a human interface and enthusiastic hosts championing the listeners’ picks).
  • A national network with celebrity hosts and/or BIG name guests dropping by.
  • A station local or national, presented by hosts who are really, really funny and interact with listeners on the phone and within the social space.

Or, you might not play music at all.  You MIGHT:

  • Become the audio outlet for a local TV news powerhouse or (dare we say it?) a local newspaper. As local TV adds more and more hours of news, having a 24-hour audio outlet would be accretive to their branding.  All News does well in the markets where the high cost of entry makes sense, but partnering with a TV operation could make All News attractive in many other markets.
  • Build more LOCAL talk stations, where Topic A isn’t necessarily the right-wing view on the latest developments in Washington. Stations like New Jersey 101.5 and WLW serve as models of talk radio that’s inviting, interesting and compelling to a wide spectrum of adults within their local markets.
  • Bring “The View” and its TV competition to radio – local OR syndicated. Talk where the topics hinge on values, ethics and morals, where listeners can get involved right away, because the topics are compelling and play to our sense of right and wrong.

Unlike our streaming competitors, where audience is measured by actual streams, radio is measured by an on-going research project – mostly Nielsen.  And, since that’s the case, you’d target those most likely to be in the ratings’ respondent pools in order to build a marketable rating in a sought-after demographic.