Is Radio Behind Social Media?

by Jay Deragon on 04/23/2010

I recently attended CRS (Country Radio Seminar) in Nashville, TN. This is a once a year event where radio channels, artist and media gather to share and discuss trends in radio.

As an outsider to the industry watching the presentations and hearing people discuss the industry was both revealing and interesting to say the least.

My interest was to see whether Radio was adopting use of social media and if so what unique things were they doing to better engage listeners and fans.  Here is what I learned.

They Are Hearing But Not Doing

Taylor on Radio Reports: A couple of years ago researchers were telling the Country Radio Seminar that country listeners were laggards when it came to using social media, email and even smart phones. But from the presentations I heard at yesterday’s Albright & O’Malley pre-CRS event, the gap is swiftly closing, and that presents country radio programmers with some urgent challenges.

In 2008, 47% of country radio P1 listeners in an online poll rated themselves “below average” while answering this question – “When it comes to things like using email, texting, downloading podcasts and posting videos online, do you consider yourself Savvy, Average, or Below Average?” So two years ago, half of the online sample (which leans heavily female) said “below average.” Last year that number dropped to 34% and this year – to about 27%. While 25% now rate themselves as “savvy.”
Radio’s Perfect Storm

Dave Ramsey, who spoke at CRS, said radio got hit with “the perfect storm” with consolidation, the growing impact of the Internet, and then the economy. Before that, he said, “We in the radio business got fat and sassy and sloppy, and we weren’t doing our business well.”

He preached that the recession is actually an opportunity: “Most of the deadheads whose parents were cousins have been driven out of the business.” But change will require some new “thought patterns,”

New Thought Patterns?

I visited numerous booths, talked to a lot of people and attended a few workshops, one on use of new media.  Few had any comprehension, outside of beginner knowledge of new media, and in one of the publications for the show they showed radio stations and their Twitter followers. The top station with the most followers had 5,000.  I checked their on line content and discovered it was more news rather than conversational content that would engage audiences. Nothing new here.

Doc Searls writes: From the beginning we have regarded broadcasting as a one-to-many matter, even though the best broadcasters know they are only talking to single pairs of ears, and usually act the same way. Yet stations, programmers and producers put great store in numbers, also known as ratings. Stations, even public ones, lived and died by “The Book” — Arbitron’s regional compilations of results.

Distinctions between live, podcast, on-demand (podcasts served by stations, live) and other modes are blurring. Three things are clear to me at this point. First is that it’s very early in this next stage of what broadcasting will become. Second is that it’s more personal than ever. Third is that the time will come when we’ll shut down many (if not most or all) terrestrial transmitters.

Anyway, I’ve always thought the ratings were good for the mass-appeal stuff, but way off for stations and programs that appealed to many — but not to enough to satisfy the advertising business. Personal listening is much more idiosyncratic, but also much more interested and involved, than group listening, which actually doesn’t happen.

Therefore I expect radio, or its next evolutionary stage, to be more personal than ever — and therefore better than ever.

Another Medium  Disrupted?

Based on my own studies, the dynamics of a moving market and the relevance of content it seems obvious that Radio is facing significant disruption in the coming years.  The convergence of technology, audiences and content is and will continue to make all content personal. Unless radio catches on, a few will but many won’t, then the old boys in the business will be forced to retire and be replaced by the new audience.

The new audience is likely to create “new radio” that is, as Doc says ” better than ever”.

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