Radio’s Future – from Radio & Records

February 28, 2009

Couple of posts ago I talked about Mark Ramsey & Radio & Records call for ideas regarding the future for radio.

I shared my ideas with them (Radio’s Cultural Revolution) and posted them on here.

They ended up being published (in edited form) in Radio & Records. See the feature including ideas and observations from several other radio people by downloading the PDF below.

Ramsey/Radio & Records Feature.pdf

Good stuff.


Talkin Bout a Revolution

January 29, 2009

Time for my annual blog post about radio. ūüôā

This time, I’m responding to a request put out on Mark Ramsey’s Hear 2.0 blog.

Mark – in conjunction with Radio & Records is soliciting ideas about Radio’s Future.

The question:

What’s the recipe that every radio broadcaster needs to follow to get ahead of the game in 2009? What are the best practices that must be followed to compete effectively? What are the best-in-class ideas that every broadcaster can profit from in a turbulent year?

I’m not sure if this is the kind of response they were looking for – but it’s what I deeply believe.

So I decided to share it here also.

Please feel free to drop a comment and pass it around.



Radio’s future will be as much about what happens off the air as on the air. ¬†Because of this – Radio needs nothing short of a top to bottom Cultural Revolution.¬†

We need to birth a new Culture of Innovation.  A culture that embraces new ideas & experimentation.  A culture that faces down old Fears in the pursuit of creating new products and services for our clients and audiences.  

It’s unreasonable to expect we can incubate a Culture of Innovation in radio before we get out from under the pervasive Culture of Arbitron. ¬†

The problem isn’t Arbitron specifically. Arbitron is just a tool. The problem is what we’ve allowed Arbitron to become and the effect it has on our thinking. ¬†

WE have put the tool at the center of our universe. If an idea doesn’t have the potential to move the Arbitron needle, we discard it before any resources are “wasted” on it. ¬†We behave as if there’s no other way we can create meaning and value for listeners, clients and ourselves than by playing and winning the Arbitron game. ¬†This, I believe, is a false and increasingly dangerous choice. ¬†

Of course, Arbitron ratings are important. For now.  But we systematically choose to focus on what Arbitron does measure Рat the EXCLUSION of everything else that Arbitron does not measure.  

We’ve been doing this for so long that our internal culture has become one of echo-chambers and feedback loops. ¬†A process that asks the same questions that recall the same answers. ¬†It’s led to a culture that is often quite hostile to any idea that isn’t about winning the Arbitron game. ¬†¬†

For example:

CBS launches KYOU here in San Francisco. Billed as “Open Source Radio” – they would solicit and broadcast pod-casts and audio created by the community and other sources. The station was closely integrated with it’s website. ¬†It was an idea truly of this place & time.

It was put on a tertiary AM signal so there wasn’t much at stake from a traditional point of view. ¬†Still . . . the inside reaction & chatter I witnessed from the radio peanut gallery – from the lowest to fairly high levels – was mostly snide mockery & derision. ¬†¬†

That kind of naked hostility towards new ideas doesn’t happen in Silicon Valley. I doubt you’ll find it inside Apple. Or Google. Or any organization/industry that thrives on it’s ability to generate IDEAS. ¬†

We can’t be surprised that nothing new happens in radio. There is a systemic bias against it if it doesn’t square with Arbitron. ¬†Think about the fear this creates and it’s effect on our culture. ¬†When the easiest way to fit in is to mock experiments and new ideas – pretty soon there won’t be many new ideas. ¬†

Even Detroit – despite all it’s troubles – still build concept cars that challenge their engineers and tease our imagination about the future. It’s a systematic, institutional process to create, expose and leverage new ideas. ¬†

So.  What are we building?  

Why didn’t Pandora come out of our own Test Kitchens? ¬† What were we so busy doing? ¬† Shouldn’t it have rightly been OUR innovation? ¬† Will we come up with the next idea that captures people’s affection? ¬†

If we wait for Arbitron to tell us what’s important; what’s worth our time & effort, we will always be followers. ¬†We will miss opportunities to create and define new markets. ¬†To set new product standards. ¬†We will abdicate leadership and control of our destiny. ¬†¬†

In an increasingly social, interconnected & symmetrical media space – we can’t afford a myopic world view of radio as a closed eco-system that can thrive without new ideas or innovations. ¬†Business as usual is going to be an increasingly bad business. ¬†

So how do we get there Рto birth a Culture of Innovation? 

We can begin laying the foundation right now by rewarding Extra-Arbitron thinking.  We can do it throughout our industry. At every level. In every department.

We don’t need to stop thinking about Arbitron to begin thinking about what is possible in ADDITION to Arbitron. ¬†

But thinking is only the first step.  Action needs to be empowered.  The veil of fear Рof failure and ridicule needs to be lifted.  Experimentation needs to be encouraged and embraced.  

Here’s just one thought. Have you ever wondered how many passionate niche communities might exist within your “database” of generic radio contest players? ¬†

Is there anyone in your group getting an incentive to 

A.) Find out


B.) Create new products and services specifically designed for those passionate communities?

Passionate, engaged communities will command far higher CPMs than generic, passive crowds.  But we can rethink that also.

This is going to be the prevailing wisdom of advertising in the years to come.  A bullhorn will not be able to compete with a whisper from a trusted friend.  Advertisers are now learning this. Where will we be, and what will we be doing when this is common knowledge?

If we are only rewarded for playing the Arbitron game – this kind of idea (or even the 5 Extra-Arbitron ideas you just had) will be viewed as completely useless and a waste of time. They will die on the vine. ¬†And we’ll be worse off for it.

I don’t see this as an Either/Or choice. ¬†But – ¬†BOTH / AND ¬†

We can be BOTH great mainstream broadcasters on the radio РAND dig deep into creating credible products and services for the MANY niche communities/interests that ALREADY exist within our fan base.   We can play Arbitron without being a slave to Arbitron.

This, along with many other ideas can happen Рfor real Рwhen we begin rewarding Extra-Arbitron thinking.  

Are we there yet?   

2009 can be the year we answer – yes we are.

–jeff schmidt

Growth – where’s it coming from?

July 10, 2006

A large part of my interest in all these issues (like the long tail) is that as a fairly young guy (38) I want to examine what broadcast radio is going to look like as we move into the future – MY future. Our Future.

I have far too many working years ahead of me to simply “go with the flow” and hope it all works out.

I’m reading the Rushkoff book “Get Back in the Box“. He identifies the one sure way to tell that innovation has come to a halt in any business is the degree to which that business depends on mergers & acquisitions as it’s prime force for growth.

Some might argue that pretty much describes where broadcast radio is at.

Others will point to HD Radio as an example of innovation.
Maybe radio is doing both. I can’t help but wonder if the HD effort might be better off if the industry had ANY legacy for innovation on which to draw.

Really, since FM 35 years ago – what innovations have taken place in broadcast radio?

The improvements we might be tempted to call “innovations” have mostly been about squeezing more efficiency out of the same basic model.

Those aren’t innovations that drive growth – they are incremental improvements that reduce costs. Important indeed – but not the same thing.

Radio has no experience with innovation. And we often take an adversarial attitude towards any attempts at it.

When CBS Radio created a pod-casting station here in San Francisco on a little AM signal no one even listened to – the response I witnessed among many radio insiders was amusement and ridicule.

We have no R&D effort in radio and even if we did – it appears we’d end up cutting it down with scorn before we were even able to learn anything new.

HD Radio offers us an unprecedented LIVE, local and national RADIO LABORATORY – to TRULY experiment – try brand new ideas –¬†mix chemicals we would never mix on our “real radio stations”.

We have an opportunity to break ALL the rules – to question EVERY one of our “radio 101” sacred cows in a LIVE environment with MINIMAL cost and next to ZERO RISK to the main business in the short term.¬† How amazing is that!

Instead it appears that we’re looking at these HD side channels as “terrestrial” versions of Satellite “channels” (blues channel, jazz channel, salsa channel, etc…) that will be “allocated” by a central authority – and not as places to discover and INNOVATE tomorrow’s brand new mainstream radio products.
There’s a wonderful question that gets asked in my circles –

Ok smarty pants – you have a radio station in this market – what do you do with it?

My response has ALWAYS been – does it have to make money?

With HD we have the luxury of saying NO – it does NOT have to make money right now – it simply has to help redesign the future of the fucking broadcasting world!

To some people that’s frightening.¬† To others – it’s exhilarating.¬† Let’s let the people with the latter response take a whack at this.

Edison said success is about finding the 1000 ways something won’t work.¬† In radio we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking we’ve already done that.¬† Maybe we did – for radio 20 years ago – but today?

Does this business’s future depend on mergers and perpetual cost cutting for it’s survival?

Or are we interested in REAL growth?

Rushkoff’s books suggests getting BACK to core competencies.¬† I think radio needs to develop a NEW core competency in innovating it’s FUTURE product offerings.¬†¬† And we actually have the labs to do it.

Where is radio’s Mark Cuban?

July 5, 2006

I used to think Mark Cuban was a tool.

Mark Cuban

A super lucky, at the right place, at the right time, dot-com luck-out, big-mouthed billionaire tool.

But ever since he started blogging I’ve come to really appreciate his POV.

He shakes thing up. He pisses people off. He makes CHANGE. Serious change. He’s not an administrator type managing grass growth speed incremental-ism. He makes massive things happen.

Of course that kind of behavior is not without a price. That price is near constant and deafening criticism. Mostly from the peanut gallery maintaining the status-quo.

I don’t follow basketball – I don’t care how Mark’s team is doing. But I do care about the issues Mark speaks about. And in his latest post he addressed criticism

“The easiest thing in the world to avoid is criticism. All you have to do is nothing. Do nothing of your own free will. Do only what is asked of you and nothing more, and and chances are you will never be criticized”

How many PDs, GMs, CDs, APDs, MDs, APs, etc… go out of their way everyday to avoid being criticized. It’s the path of least resistance.
Where is radio’s Mark Cuban?