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  • Matt Cundill

Is Radio Playing Dead?

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

This week has been pretty depressing. If you look at radio through the eyes of press releases and blogs, it's safe to say that the radio business you once worked in is is long gone and nearing dead and buried. But when you consider the new data from Edison Research about the spoken word news that F 150 trucks will no longer come equipped with Am radios and morning shows across North America are adding new markets and likely replacing your favorite. It's enough to make you feel that radio as you once knew it is likely dead. I think back to 2012 and 2013, when there was a noble push to have those FM chips on the phones activated.

The technology was there. All that was needed to be done was activated. There was also that argument that in a time of emergency, people would need to have those chips activated to pick up important information. Then, sometime around 2017, those chips disappeared and that conversation was over. The disaster still happened, though, and whether it was Hurricane Sandy or Fiona or one of those many tornadoes and went through Ottawa, Ontario, or Ottawa, Kansas, radio was there. As long as the disaster happened on a weekday and when someone was in the studio. One undisputable trend is the migration of radio listeners away from radio.

For every favorite personality terminated or radio station flipped to Caleb, there was no one and or nothing to replace entertainment for the disenfranchised. So they sought refuge on SiriusXM Streaming or wherever they get their podcasts. The Pandemic was not kind to radio either. In March 2020, there was no place for the community to gather any longer, and social distancing became the norm. Advertisers were forced to institute some social distancing with their ad dollars and the sales department forcing more social distancing among programmers, talent and their audiences. This brings me to what we're left with today a lot of radio stations playing too much music and piping in one and done content to fill airspace. To get to the next set of commercials, let's pretend that every radio market has 15 signals in it. Maybe two or three are putting out a quality product. The rest are holding on to what's left running out the clock.

By the way - Beckler and Seanna at X92.9 recognize the difference between the good breaks and bad ones.

Essentially, weekends and evenings have been surrendered, and some shows are well, they're trying. My favorite over the last half decade is the glut of radio shows that throw open the phones and ask, should raisins be in cookies after a shower? Do you dry off in the tub or on the bathroom floor? If you could only watch one Halloween movie for the rest of your life, what would it be? Have you ever fainted? This is just a sample of the innocuous questions that appeared in one market in one day. Of course, the questions are asked on the air to make the phones ring and to garner facebook comments at the same time, this gives everyone a large feeling of success inside. But I'm here to tell you the truth. These are the kind of questions that teenagers text to one another. They're vapid.

I thought Radio was aiming for 25. 54. 25 to 54 year olds do not have conversations like this. This is low engagement. It's emotionally bankrupt material, and it's innocuous. I'll tell you right now that if you have a program director or some programming genius in your world telling you to do this on your radio show, they have zero faith in your capabilities to communicate and create meaningful audio. And you should create a pathway to quit your job and go find something else immediately. You shouldn't be working for someone who does not believe in you.

When I left Radio in 2014, I spent six months looking for work. I'll always be appreciative for those who offered nice gigs, but from the conversations that I had, it was obvious that I didn't think Radio would be able to pull itself together. And after a few months, I started podcasting. And then I entered into a separation agreement with Radio. That's something that worked for me. Earlier this week, Edison Research released our spoken word research, and it turns out that spoken word consumption is up 214% for 13 to 24 year olds, compared to 2014.

What this means is that your 55 minutes music hours are not working and not going to serve you well. This is no way to build a future. Meanwhile, the growth of podcast, an overall decline in spoken word on Am FM radio should make you think about how and where you're distributing your spoken word programming. Let's remember, if you're doing a morning show, that's spoken word programming, you're part of that ecosystem. Not necessarily for the research I mentioned, but that's the business you're in. And let's also remember, no longer will new F 150 trucks be accessible via AM radio and likely other vehicles that will be manufactured in the future. But maybe your words get into that truck if the listener brings a phone in the car. So is your content available on the phone, on a podcast, streaming on demand? Maybe it's time to think about creating subscription radio as I record this today. Scott Shannon, the man who is credited with creating the Morning Zoo format in New York City in 1983 and taking Z 100 from worst to first in one book, well, he retired today from WCBS in New York. When you think back, the Morning Zoo Format was built for radio and our North American culture. We were a people who needed entertainment. We were stuck in our cars, largely stuck in traffic. We wanted things fast and delivered on time. We wanted to laugh. We were looking for something when we were bored. So for all the discussion and numbers and research and facts and figures and other things I mentioned here on this podcast today. Understand that the great radio tomorrow won't necessarily come from a transmitter. It will need to be engaging and stimulate great adult conversation and fun and laughs. It's got to evoke emotion and bring a tear. It's got to inspire and have some imagination and hope. It should all be part of one big mix.

Should make you smile and leave you feeling a part of something great. In fact, so much of that is happening right now, just not at the station you're at right now, and not from the radio stations we once knew.

So do us all a favor. Stop asking infantile questions about pumpkin spice lattes. Create moments that matter. Promote it, play it often, and make sure it gets to the F 150 truck that has an Am FM radio, just an FM radio or no radio at all. Because radio is not dead. It's just playing dead. And let me ask you, are you playing the lead role in that Halloween horror?




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