Thursday, November 1, 2007

Radio: Dormant, not dead

Last week I had lunch with a radio friend who was passing through town.

He brought up this blog and a comment another radio person made to him about it: Why does John hate radio so much?

Hate radio? I was taken aback that anyone reading this blog would make that hypothesis.

I don’t hate radio. I love it. What I don’t like is what has happened to it.

My book, The Buzzard, is out today. You’ll like it. You should buy it. It’s about a championship radio team.

My publisher’s promotion and marketing departments set up its release by scheduling interviews with public and commercial radio, TV, and the press.

All ask of me the same question.

What happened to radio?

Ask yourself why they’re all asking the same question.

Even those working in radio are asking me if it’s dead.

Here's my reply.

There’s an average of four terrestrial radios per household.

Nearly all vehicles have terrestrial radio.

But just because everyone has direct access to terrestrial radio doesn’t mean they have to listen to it.

Why aren’t young people listening? Why are there four million fewer radio listeners than there were a year ago? How many millions were lost over the past decade?

Many – try most - young people don’t listen to radio at all.

Yet, they tell me, they would consider listening to radio if it provided the soundtrack to their lifestyle.

They like new music. Hell, they even like news and information if it’s delivered to their liking.

Since that’s not happening, they’re getting it from the Internet.

They’re getting their new music from – take your pick – TV shows, spots, Internet radio, and word-of-mouth.

Radio’s nowhere.

The industry’s radio listening decline excuses are just about spent.

Radio is up against iPods, Internet radio, satellite radio, video games, blah, blah, woof, woof.

Radio used to be up against cassette players. Remember when some radio stations refused to give away cassettes fearing that winners would prefer hearing their own music on a Walkman?

Did cassettes cut into radio listening? No.

How long have video games and video arcades been around? Long before radio listening deteriorated.

Radio is doing a poor job at holding audience by not providing its listeners – and potential listeners – what they want and what they need.

The Jack format was doomed to failure for many reasons, including its slogan: “We play what we want.” We not you.

HD Radio? It didn’t dupe Wall Street. If anything, that machination made the Street even more skeptical of terrestrial radio. Side channels will serve a purpose for Internet radio in the future – though they will be competing with independent stations that are programmed with passion.

Satellite radio? Terrestrial radio should choose its battles wisely. This isn’t one of them. The NAB’s campaign against the merger is a poor excuse to make Fumbles look busy. It’s like invading Iraq to capture Osama Bin Laden. The NAB essentially provided satellite radio credence by protesting the merger.

Will satellite radio be around in five years?

But I’m not writing off terrestrial radio.

I am writing off those who have controlled the majority of radio stations over the past decade: corporate decision makers who know nothing about the markets they serve; consultants who put their best interests ahead of their clients by imparting dated concepts and hollow, rehashed ideas. Then there are the consultants and advisors that continue to double-dip by using your playlist to make a few extra bucks with labels and artist managers at your expense.

That's the equivalent of mugging and robbing someone, then offering to take them to dinner using the money they just stole.

Those controlling most radio programming today should be provided a cash disincentive for screwing up. Watch how fast that’ll get the spectators off the field.

There are those in the radio business that are about to feel like the smaller reptiles did when the mammals took over.

Did the post-deregulation radio buyers ever stop to think how preposterous it was to believe that radio’s values could not only go up? There’s an old saying: If prices can only go up, all sellers are fools and all buyers are wise. Radio fell for it. Realtors did, too.

I have the perfect slogan for lending institutions: Buy now, pray later.

Just ask the weak chins at Clear Channel. Except for those whose surnames rhyme with Daze or those who Randy Michaels set up with golden parachutes, the morale in San Antonio is almost as dreadful as it is for their radio managers, programmers, and employees.

Just ask Lincoln Financial - where no reasonable offer will be refused.

Is there any radio station in America that is not for sale right now?

Instead of “Gone but not forgotten” it’s “Forgotten –but not gone.”

The only ones who know what the real reasonable offers are – the broadcasters – are waiting in the wings.

They will not be bullshat by the pretenders running and consulting radio today.

Therein lays optimism. And that’s why I still love radio.


tim wallick said...

john, just keep presenting the truth and real facts, someday after revenues drop a bit lower they may admit its the art coupled with talent that must touch its listeners to generate fair profits...

i do think radio is running out of time to correct whats wrong...

I never thought you hated radio that sounds like a comment that came from a bit player in a bad scene from "hogan's" hereos

Anonymous said...

John, Congratulations on the book. I look forward to reading it. I have heard stories about WMMS for years.

I don't know how anyone reading your blog would think you hate radio? You are one of the few passionate people remaining in the industry and one of only a handful that understand radio's potential in the 21ST century.

You are addressing the problems the radio industry faces and I agree that the NAB prioritizes all the wrong things.

Keep your blogs coming. I look forward to them. You are the Lefsetz of radio.

Radio man said...

john: i do hope you are right. the radio industry is killing itself with wall street. we need broadcasters back in the business. i am with you and congratulations on the book. i ordered mine from

John said...

Terrestrial radio, to me, still seems more romantic than the other forms. Obviously, a number of us here know what is missing and what it takes. I do believe that there will be a better day for traditional radio in the future.
Listen to BBC Radio 1, Radio 2 or 6 Music (though this one isn't on the FM dial. The passion for good radio and good music is palpable. True, these are non-commercial stations but the fact is they are highly rated in the UK.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tim. Those that don't get it are part of the Hogan's Heroes team. Your love and passion for radio should be read by everyone in radio espcially managers and owners - to -be broadcasters.

Anonymous said...

John Gorman....It will take a lot to turn this business around and I believe there are many people that will rally to the cause.

How soon will it happen? I am ready to get my place in line.

Gerald Connors said...

I must have been living in a cave. Until I heard WKSU in Kent this morning I had no idea you were still active in radio.

The WKSU page about WMMS in its heyday also had a link to your blog which is how I found it.

I love what you write. I am one of the older (50) radio listeners that advertisers and radio don't care about. I am not sure why. I have more disposable income than my sons and daughters and I still listen to the radio, just a whole lot less. I wouldn't if I heard creative programming like what WMMS did in its day.

I am glad I found this blog and will tell others about it especially my friends in advertising. They need to read this.

I love radio, too and I want to see it return to the creative glory it once was.

Anonymous said...

I love your line about the mammals since the snakes are running radio right now. I agree with you that it will change. Wall Street is wise to radio and the fire sales will bring back broadcasters to the fold.

Anonymous said...

Consider that it is a shame that a medium so readily available to the mass audience is being used less and less. It is the radio industry's fault. They wanted Wall Street IPOs and inflated prices and they got them and the buyers cannot service the debt.

Radio is so overpriced. The costs have to come down since Wall Street caught on to their ruse.

74WIXYgrad said...


I read the sample chapter and being a radio history geek, I was fascinated. I will surely give it a plug later this week on my "WIXY's Gone Bananas" blog.

It begins at the time I was going to enter my senior year in high school. After that I went to the WIXY School of Broadcast Technique, where Steve Lushbaugh was one of the instructors. Good times.

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