Finally, the last All Access newsletter of the year. Read it, cherish it, frame it, hang it on the wall. Me, I'm happy to get a few weeks off from it:
This is the last column for the year – please, no outbursts – and I didn’t want to end the year on a negative note, so I’m going to try to stick to the positive aspects of the business and...
And, yeah, well, good luck with that, right? After all, this wasn’t a banner year for radio. It wasn’t a banner year for too many people. (Barack Obama, Cole Hamels, that smug guy in the Taco Bell Triple Steak Burrito commercials... that’s about it) It’s easy to talk about what’s wrong with the business and its leadership, but as we lurch towards year’s end, radio is still alive, and that counts for something. Let’s end the year in a happy, bright, Up With People mood and count our blessings.
One of the things that happened this year was that I found myself with a lot of company in criticizing the leadership of the radio industry. There are a lot of pundits who are hitting some of the same notes I've tried to hit in recent years, and I'm happy they're out there -- not only do they often make great points, but the very fact that radio has such passionate critics highlights the fact that people really care about the medium. But in reading all that criticism, I find that a few themes that rise up again and again probably need some re-evaluation. I'm no Mr. Brightside -- as I've made clear for years now, I think there are very serious problems with this business and I'm not at all confident that the folks in charge are the ones to fix things. And I do think that the continuing layoffs, which have long since passed from cutting fat to cutting muscle and now cutting bone, are only going to lead to matters getting worse in the long run; in the panic to meet this quarter's numbers and maybe stave off delisting, radio management is ensuring tougher times ahead. But the sun still rises, the world continues to turn, and radio's still here. And to close the year out on a more hopeful note, I wanted to address a couple of the common assumptions about radio that bear deeper scrutiny. Such as...
The Youth of America Doesn't Listen to Radio Anymore: Yeah, maybe that's probably about right, except all I hear is college professors going on about how their students say they don't listen, and I hear parents saying that their kids don't listen, either. And I've seen "The Bedroom Project." But then I think back at when I was a college student, and it's not like every college student was listening to the radio then, either. We weren't, or, at least, if you'd asked us, we would have said that we didn't. Most people just listened to records or cassettes. Even though I was a radio fan from a very young age, by the time I reached college, all I listened to were the alternative shows on college radio, the snow closings on KYW, and my own show. Very few of my classmates listened at all. They did listen to music, but on record. The guy who lived above me sophomore year played his copy of Neil Young's "Decade" over and over all night so many times that I knew the whole thing by heart. All of it. All three albums. All six sides. Still burned in my mind are the nights I lay awake staring at the ceiling while "Heart of Gold" blasted through the tiles, knowing that after "Star of Bethlehem" he'd take Album 2 off, put on Album 3, and start "The Needle and the Damage Done." He definitely wasn't listening to the radio. We all had clock radios, and stereos, but radio wasn't a critical part of our lives then, and it's hard to expect radio to be a critical part of a young adult's life now. The difference between now and then, however, is that radio has more of an opportunity to get into a young adult's life, but through different media, like podcasts and streaming and cell phones. Their MP3 players and customized streams like Pandora are going to be tough for radio to beat as a music medium, but this is a golden opportunity for talk and personality radio to gain access to those potential listeners, through whatever medium reaches their ears. That's why it's incorrect for people to say....
Radio is Dead: No, it's not. The old way of doing business may be on life support, but calling a medium with practically 100% adoption and market penetration and a still-huge audience "dead" is hyperbole. Let's say for now that the current way of running the business -- frantic cost-cutting to prop up the stock price -- is a dead end. And let's stipulate that the folks in charge have managed to turn a thriving business into a penny stock concern and that they did not efffectively adapt to changes in the competitive field and technology. Sure. But there's a lot of value in this business, too, value that someone else will undoubtedly come along and unlock. In a technologically advanced world, maybe a radio station isn't itself a growth vehicle. But the programming that radio people produce -- specifically, talk and personality radio -- should be a great growth product. All the new technologies need compelling content. Anyone can feed music to them. But if you have an entertaining, popular show, there's only one you. If and when the money catches up to the new delivery methods, it won't matter whether your show is on AM, FM, streaming, whatever. Just because people are declaring radio dead doesn't mean that people have ceased to desire entertaining, compelling audio content. And just because some people have moved away from the traditional means of programming delivery doesn't mean that content can't move to where they are.
I still think there’s opportunity for radio. Good content will find an audience. It just may not come over a traditional radio signal. It may not involve playing 10-in-a-row of the Best Variety of Yesterday’s Hits and Today’s Favorites. And it may not happen tomorrow, but I’m going to hold out hope that 2009 will be a good year. We could use one of those.
Anyway, that’s it for "The Letter" for 2008. All Access isn’t through for the year, though; we’ll have fresh news all the way through the holidays, there's "10 Questions With..." syndicated "Into Tomorrow" host Dave Graveline, the message boards and ratings and job listings are still updating all the time as usual, and Talk Topics in the News-Talk-Sports section will still provide you with tons of show prep topics, but “The Letter” is taking a break until January. Besides Talk Topics, you can find my daily incoherent musings at pmsimon.com and on Twitter.com/pmsimon and Facebook.
Have a safe and happy holiday. Talk to you in a few weeks.