Now please understand that I love radio and have been involved with it as a DJ, programmer, or commentator for much of the last 30 years, but commercial music-based radio, for a number of reasons including consolidation, for the most part and in the general sense, sucks dog ass.
I still hear a lot of interesting things on noncommercial radio, and I listen to sports and some talk on commercial radio, but commercial music radio doesn’t have all that much to say to me anymore, and clearly I am not alone.
The two satellite radio networks, Sirius and XM, have over 4 million paying customers (and growing) between them, and it isn’t hard to see why: no (or few, depending upon format) commercials, a deep catalog of specific genres and subgenres, no FCC limitations on content (hello Howard in ’06), clear digital sound, artist/track information.
The only thing missing is the local angle (which is also one of the most valid complaints against terrestrial radio consolidation, with much content syndicated from outside the local area), which XM has at least partially countered by offering traffic and weather for 21 major metro areas as part of their basic service.
After ignoring the threat for some time, major radio corporations are banding together to FIGHT BACK, according to the Wall Street Journal:
- This week, a new advertising campaign with the tagline “Radio — you hear it here first” shows just how scared the terrestrial-radio operators really are.
Major radio companies from Clear Channel Communications to Viacom’s Infinity Broadcasting to Entercom Communications have banded together to create 30-second spots featuring such stars as Avril Lavigne and Ludacris talking up local radio. The musicians run through highlights of their careers and then remind listeners how all the Grammys and accolades happened only after lots of radio airtime. As one performer says in the spots: “Before being a lady of soul made me a diva, you heard me, Ashanti, on the radio.”
The companies are devoting an estimated $28 million of their airtime to the promotion. The campaign combats “the urban legend out there about radio not being an innovative medium,” says David Field, chief executive of radio company Entercom, based in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. He points to breaking artists and emerging formats such as “Hispanic hip-hop” to make his point.
But satellite-radio operators counter that they are more cutting-edge, and that their diversity of stations allows them to give more airplay to new artists. “We are not far from the day when XM breaks a [mass appeal] artist,” says Eric Logan, XM’s program director.
….Radio also is going after the niche audiences that satellite attracts by accelerating longstanding plans to move to digital broadcasting. That technology lets broadcasters transmit as many as five stations per frequency, compared with one today.
Radio executives envision having a rock station on the main channel and secondary stations featuring, say, boy bands, “deep cuts” from albums or traffic reports. They hope such specialized programming will help win back audiences from satellite radio and even from portable music devices such as Apple Computer’s iPod.
“If we end up deploying all the secondary channels and bringing the consumer dozens of niche stations, and we do it for free, what’s the value proposition in satellite radio?” asks Mr. Field.
No commercials for one thing, but this would be a huge step forward for terrestrial radio, nonetheless.