By Robby Bridges
Let’s be clear – radio matters. It isn’t going anywhere, it’s relevant, it’s impactful, it’s intimate, it touches people, it moves revenue…it works. Period.
I’ve referenced the infamous comments of RCA President David Sarnoff in 1953 in this column before…they have echoed all these years in our business: “Radio is dead.” As stunning a statement that remains, a new thrilling era began as Top 40 radio was right around the corner. From freeform Rock, the rise of Country, the invention of Hot Talk, the airing of all-News and Sports, morning zoos, etc. Radio has played a vital role in Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, as it always does in times of crisis. Just shy of 94% of the country regularly listens to terrestrial radio. And yet, in the past week, something was particularly troubling for radio professionals about the “study” released by NYU’s Professor Larry Miller entitled “Radio Is Dead in 10 Years.”
Perhaps it’s the provocative, if not evocative, title of the piece or that Mr. Miller has been a jock himself. Or maybe it’s the stark facts he lays out on radio’s demise like so many other hack jobs by the pro-new media elite who seem to be driving the narrative of the zeitgeist against traditional media. Mr. Miller runs a podcast that he offers on iTunes, teaches a course and has a website all under the umbrella Musonomic, of which he’s conducted this “study.” Touting the end of relevance of a traditional media like radio thru a new competing medium seems in and of itself to present an eyebrow raise in the objectivity of the fact-gathering in such a report, but let’s tackle a few points of Mr. Miller’s hypothesis:
1.) “Young people have fled radio” – an absolutely baseless claim. Based on Nielsen data, there is more cume for radio across demos than ever before.
2.) “The medium now brings in less revenue than streaming platforms” – First off, no matter what Tim Westergren claimed, Spotify and Pandora are NOT radio. They stream music but radio is much more than that, with a variety of content on any given local station. But I’ll cede that point; the two aforementioned behemoths of streaming generated approximately a combined 4 billion dollars in the last fiscal year. My friends at iHeartMedia alone generated 6.3 billion.
3.) Generation Z “prefers” streaming over AM/FM – Umm, objection your honor – counsel is offering a conjecture…sustained.
4.) Smart speakers are helping shape consumer practices – Truth there and kudos to radio for making a strong effort to make it clear to listeners the ease of using station apps/streams on platforms like Alexa
5.) Radio lacks the innovation of streaming platforms – iHeartMusic Festival, NASH Next, Ryan Seacrest, Rush Limbaugh, American Top 40, Scott Shannon…yeah objection your honor same grounds, move to strike …sustained.
6.) Car companies created dashboards unfriendly to radio – There IS more competition but radio’s strong local and national platform brands are far better positioned to drive top-of-mind consumption. Much how Jimmy Fallon has made a bastion of older media like The Tonight Show a multi-digital platform extended from its late night time slot, radio is doing the same.
Much of this “study” sites sources including Uproxx, Wired and EMarketer, who all cover digital technologies but are no great champions of traditional media. Circulation has been affected, but what do you know…local daily papers are still rolling off presses each day in every American city and wisely, they supplement with digital assets. The same with TV and magazines and radio too. TSL may erode a bit as people born after 1990 are a larger and larger piece of the 25-54 pie with the array of choices they have, but the cume and the occasions are robust. Let’s focus on better-than-ever content for our consumers and they will give us more sampling than ever. I’m sure the study was well-intentioned in that it does opine and offer radio some strategies to reinvent itself in an age marked by the growth of digital platforms like streaming. This is valid to consider. There’s nothing wrong with radio, we simply need to showcase our content beyond terrestrial tower signals.
However: radio dead in ten years? I state plainly another example in our culture of #fakenews. And I rest my case.