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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Radio's Dim Outlook

radio symbol image from Bobby Owsinski's Music 3.0 blog
While it's true that a lot of music discovery still comes from terrestrial radio, and today the industry is rejoicing in those recent numbers, all is not well in radioland. There are a number of things occurring beneath the surface that may cause a major upheaval sometime soon. Let's take a look.
  • The industry is highly leveraged. With large station groups rolling up smaller groups and independent stations, there's a lot of money money that's owed as a result. That means that even if they wanted to, Clear Channel, Citadel, Cumulus or any of the major groups couldn't take a chance on anything remotely forward thinking even if they wanted to. To keep the banks and shareholders happy, the safe and sure route is the only route, but that will just lead to more programming homogenization than we already have, especially when it comes to music.
  • A bigger yet mostly unseen problem that is the fact that the most popular on-air personalities are all baby boomers. Just look at the top 5:
      Rush Limbaugh, 61: The Rush Limbaugh Show (Premiere Networks) -- 15 million listeners per week      
      Sean Hannity, 50: The Sean Hannity Show (Premiere Networks) -- 14 million listeners per week      
      Michael Savage, 70: The Savage Nation (Talk Radio Network) -- 9 million listeners per week      
      Laura Ingraham, 48: The Laura Ingraham Show (Talk Radio Network) -- 6 million listeners per week      
      Ed Schultz, 58: The Ed Schultz Show (Dial Global) -- 3 million listeners per week
If we look at music, much of the time music radio doesn't even have a radio personality any more, using the cheaper and impersonal taste of automation instead. Granted Ryan Seacrest is big, but even he's 37, and Carson Daly is 39. The real problem here is that there's not a new generation of radio personalities in the wings.
  • And the reason for that is that college radio is falling by the wayside. When radio station consolidation began to happen in earnest in the 80s and 90s, the one bright spot for music was the hundreds of local college radio stations that spawned not only a new generation of radio personalities and executives, but also exposed new music to eager listeners as well. Since the radio broadcast program was always operated at a loss for most schools, the majority have recently opted to either close their stations or sell them. Online radio is so much cheaper that it makes sense for educational purposes, but online college radio doesn't have nearly the cache or listenership that the radio station had. What's more, since the lure of a "real" station to work at is no longer there, there's less interest than ever in radio by students.
All of this means that terrestrial radio is in much bigger trouble than previously thought. In a way, that's a good thing, since a major implosion might actually cause the industry to reboot for the better. Until then, we'll all just have to suffer along. For some background on the problem, read this excerpt from Music 3.0: A Survival Guide For Making Music In The Internet Age.
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1 comment:

Esteban said...

What's more troublesome about this situation is that radio is becoming a tool for "de-informating" people about fresh, uplifting and new music happening all around the world. It is more difficult to get a hang of good new bands and musical projects nowadays.

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