Radio is one of those media that is currently staring down the barrel of the same gun as the print and recording industries. It’s a medium that hasn’t really moved with the times, choosing to rely on the same business model of relying on advertisers to fund its way. And essentially that’s what radio is: an advertising platform.
And advertising on radio is not as strong as it used to be. Maybe not here right now, but it’s losing ground overseas and soon it will be the same here. Sure, radio stations take advantage of the fact that the majority of this country’s employed work in factories where they have no choice but to listen to the radio for entertainment. But with the popularity of iPods and cheap MP3 players on the rise, how long will this last? So why is a medium that used to be so powerful weakening so quickly?
Primarily, it’s because the old adage of repeating the message is dying. It’s not so much that repetition makes the message stick, it’s the hope that by repeating the message radio will hit at least one person who’s interested.
In fact, with the shift to social-marketing and the targeted message, the impact of consistent repetition is having a negative effect. People are getting tired of being yelled at. And be honest: how many ad-breaks do you listen to? How many of those ads are targeted at your needs? Moreover, there’s the sincerity factor. When your favourite hard-core breakfast show DJ reads out a commercial extolling the benefits of tampons or nappies or home insurance, do you believe him? Do you really believe he’s endorsing those products? That he uses those products?
In the global social-media ecosystem, radio is a parasite. It sucks value out of the audience and never pays it back. Radio doesn’t care about you as a listener. It’s like a salesman standing on the corner of a street yelling a laundry-list of brands and offers at passers-by hoping that someone will respond. The only advantage you offer radio is leverage to charge more for its advertising space. More ears, you see. But then, the returns aren’t measurable and can’t be – even during competitions.
A quick note on radio competitions and promotions. If you’re an advertiser who’s planning on sponsoring one of those, ask yourself this one question: is the increase in interaction with the radio station translating into an increase in your bottom line? Remember: radio stations are always the heroes. They love the interaction but hate to share the spotlight.
And radio’s trump-card of real-time interaction is no longer. TV is even more interactive than radio. You can text-message a radio and they may read out your message. On TV, digital tickers display your message automatically.
Radio is strange because it positions itself as a direct-response medium but the most in can do is promise you branding and partial awareness. And it can’t even guarantee that because you don’t listen to ad-breaks. In fact, how intensely do you listen to the music selection? How often do you change the dial when a song you’ve heard before or that you don’t like comes on? Now imagine listening only to the type of music you enjoy…with no ad-breaks, or at the very least ad-breaks that are targeted to the types of things you’re interested in. You’re looking at the lastfm scenario where radio engages you and builds its playlist around you, suggesting types of music you may enjoy – possibly from musicians you’ve never heard of. A fair and positive value exchange model and it’s gaining ground.
The future of radio? Who knows? One thing is for sure: if radio doesn’t move into a realm of sincere engagement with its audience, it will eventually be hoisted on its own petard, victim of its own short-sighted planning.
A little something extra: at the time of writing the FCC was mooting the potential of the Whitespace spectrum in the USA. What this means is that every car sold will have access to an infinite number of radio stations. Not 1000’s, not millions but a potential infinite number of radio stations. Just sayin’, is all…