This is the second installment of a three part series on the problems of radio. Consolidation and financial woes have caused chaos and confusion. The industry is in a position to examine, refocus, and plan for the future.
Rock Bottom and Rebuild
Once radio gets out of the finance business and returns to the business of radio, experienced broadcasters will be necessary to rebuild and make the product viable again. The dominance is over, but with vision, “Intelligent Gut” and a redefinition of success, traditional radio could thrive again.
The election of Barack Obama clearly demonstrated old media (Radio, TV, and Print) needs a new direction. During the last 10 years, some astute radio broadcasters have dabbled with e-mails, the Internet, text messaging, blogging, web videos, mp3’s, social networking, cell phones, I-phones, music downloading, and file sharing web companies.
On the advice of researchers, consultants, station interns, and geeks speaking geek-a-nese, other broadcasters simply copied their peers. However, it is difficult to play follow the leader with so much uncertainty in selecting the correct path. This is why it is hard for some to make appropriate decisions to re-invent the industry. The legendary Program Director Buzz Bennett, said to me in 1996, radio is like an addict; it will have to bottom out and admit the problem before it can begin a recovery. Buzzy, whose life was an open book, knew a thing or two about addictions and has proven correct.
Generations and Technology
In order to fix the problem, it is important to understand the birth generations:
1. Silent Generation, born between 1925-1942
2. Baby Boomer, born between 1943-1960, age 48-65
3. Generation X, born between 1961-1981, age 27-47
4. Generation Y, born between 1982-2001, age 7-26
5. Generation Z, born between 2002-2021, age 6-
It is important to understand the generations and how new technology has changed traditional radio. The two personal computer gurus responsible for revolutionizing communications, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs are baby boomers, both born in 1955. New media usage can be tracked though the generations.
A portion of the “Silent” group utilizes e-mail and not much more.
The younger “Boomers” are valiantly learning to stay relevant and represent the upper portion of the 25-54 demographic. Radio is still the first choice, but new media has intrigued this group and become part of their world. In the 90’s they contributed heavily to the tech stock boom.
“X” has some boomer factor and the older portion shared in the tech revolution; radio is still a choice. Current formats appealing to this generation will have to maintain an audience by reflecting actual lifestyle and musical tastes. President-elect Obama is not the only “X” that has Hip-hop, Rock, and AC in his I-Pod. No stations currently address this musical issue.
“Y” has grown up with computers, blogs, podcasts, My Space, Blackberrys, Twitter, Macs, chat rooms, P2Ps, You Tube, I-Phones, Linkedin, I-Pods and Facebook; radio is used as a last resort. Instead of a new music fad, the Y generation received new audio and communication delivery systems. This group has to be convinced to sample the product. An old and new media link would go a long way in appealing to this generation. Ys represent radio’s version of “Custer’s Last Stand”, and will be the determining factor for the fate and future of the industry.
“Z” will probably use traditional radio as a paperweight and only listen if the X and Y parents expose them to it.
Boomers and older Xs are currently in charge of most work place listening; malls, super retail outlets, and services providing music to businesses. With some adjustments, traditional radio can hold on to the aforementioned generations. However, in order for industry growth with younger Xs and all of the Y generation, there is a need for creative, technological, and social application restructuring.
The next and final installment of this three part series will provide some solutions for fixing the problems of traditional radio.