Talkin Bout a Revolution

January 29, 2009

Time for my annual blog post about radio. 🙂

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 – at 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 – to 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 – of 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 – AND 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 – for real – when we begin rewarding Extra-Arbitron thinking.  

Are we there yet?   

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

–jeff schmidt


Ramsey gets Godin on Radio

August 23, 2006

Mark Ramsey has one of my favorite blogs Hear 2.0– let alone “radio blogs” and today is an excellent example why –  he interviews Seth Godin about radio.

Solid Mark.

Podcasting viewed thru old media lens

August 21, 2006

Mark Ramsey’s Hear 2.0 tackles the obvious resistance radio broadcasters have about podcasting – namely – if I put my “content” online – why would anyone listen to my radio station?

One issue I have with Mark’s post (and I think it’s really with Mark’s articulation of the broadcasters point of view) is his use of the word “audience”. For example –

If you podcast highlights or bits or interviews of your show as online bonuses or delay the podcast for a reasonable time, I believe this will ADD to your on-air audience, ….

If you podcast your entire show online on the same day it runs live, I believe you will SUBTRACT from your audience.

The implication here is the only “audience” worth having is the one listening to your content on the AM/FM device.

To me – audience is audience whether listening online or on an ipod. That’s the leap broadcasters are going to have to get their heads around.

By maintaining this dividing line between online and on-air it enforces the broadcasters view as ” if I refrain offering my content online I FORCE people to listen to my station to hear it”

This – is old school. And it’s also bullshit.

The future is not going to be kind or supportive to systems that put limits on users. Phone carriers are going to start figuring this out too.

Worrying about keeping in use, or forcing people to use certain devices ONLY at certain times to get certain content is increasingly becoming out dated and intolerable.

Radio thinks it can keep that system intact by using the new mediums to put out morsels – or as Mark calls them “teasers” that seek to FORCE people back to the radio at prescribed dates and times.

That’s a nice transitional move to get reluctant broadcasters USED to these new ideas of making content float freely between devices- but ultimately it’s not going to matter.

If you’re not on-demand – you are probably not going to be IN demand.

Scarcity – manufactured or otherwise (as in “appointment” based listening) is an Industrial Age mechanism that is vastly outdated in a digital era.

One of the larger points I think Mark misses here is that of the USER’s perspective. For them it’s increasingly a question of “if your not making your content available to me when I want it to be available – I’m not going to use it.”

Mark uses an example of not listening to the public radio station itself because he can get the shows online.

In the Public Radio world, for example, many of the weekly programs are podcast in their entirety. As much as I appreciate this, it absolutely reduces the listening for many would-be listeners.

Reduces listening to the CONTENT – or the AM/FM device?

My own experience offers the opposite example of Mark’s point.

I love KQED’s Forum – and yet I can’t listen when it’s on the radio in real time. So – I’m NOT a listener.

But once they started podcasting the FULL SHOW – not only did I go from being a NON-LISTENER to a REGULAR listener of the show – I also have a way to tell friends about the show (or specific shows) – some of whom live overseas – and they have a way to use the content at their own convenience.

This is true of many programs. KCRW is now on my radar and I’m a fan of some of their shows because they are podcast. Not only do I NOT have to be FORCED to listen at specific times – I don’t even have to be in the same CITY.

I know this frightens broadcasters in much the same the way selling SINGLES on iTunes frightens record labels.

Letting people get ONLY what they want – and not FORCING them to listen to or PAY for the stuff they don’t want is how it’s ALL going to be.

That’s where things are trending.

I can relate a story from a recent listener panel. A listener asked why we don’t play more world music on KFOG. When we told them we have a world music show they asked when they could hear it. When we said it was on Sunday Mornings at 6am – the room literally burst into laughter.

Its absurd and everyone knows it. If we could – we’d podcast that show (and others) today.
Smart broadcasters – with good content – know that podcasting doesn’t drive audiences DOWN – it expands them. Potentially exponentially.

But we have to let go of the notion that we’re in the AM/FM DEVICE USAGE business.

Sorry – that’s the new game EVERYONE involved is going to have to learn how to play.

Sirius Internet

August 9, 2006

Via OrbitCast comes this report:

SIRIUS Satellite Radio has filed for a series of trademarks all revolving around the accronym “SIR” for Sirius Internet Radio.

Also on Orbit – 2 stories below,  one speculates on reports that XM and MicroSoft’s new media effort Zune will work together.

Wi-Fi.  The great equalizer.  Sat Radio, terrestrial radio, little kid in his bedroom radio – it’s all the same on-line.
Not only should radio be getting content online (streaming) we should begin developing INTERNET ONLY content.
Great radio stations will have broadcast content, and distinct content that floats – freely  – to ANY device people are using to enjoy audio & video.

Internet – learn it – love it – live it.  ,-)

Radio’s Safe haven – is no more

August 3, 2006

According to THIS Apple Computer press release –

Apple has teamed up with Ford Motor Company, General Motors and Mazda to deliver seamless iPod® integration across the majority of their brands and models, making it easy for iPod users to enjoy and control their iPod’s high-quality sound through their car’s stereo system.

With the addition of these models, more than 70 percent of 2007-model US automobiles will offer iPod integration.

Poof – like that.

With auto exclusivity completely gone – I wonder if Big Radio will wanna get the podcasting rights thing settled yet?

UPDATE: From RadioWorld online comes this little ditty about HD’s Auto Efforts.

To meet what it says are increasing demands for support of HD Radio implementation in new vehicles, Ibiquity Digital has expanded its automotive staff.

The “demand” they speak of is NOT from consumers – but rather – Radio Execs.

My prediction – moving forward, modular device media will thrive – fixed device media will stagnate.

Content needs to be able to flow EFFORTLESSLY between static media and modular media devices.

MTV’s “everywhere” philosophy

August 1, 2006

Contemporary Radio copied a lot from MTV early on – mostly in terms of style – quick cut production – goofy, hip, irreverent “imaging” and packaging of music. But it seems radio pretty much stopped with those early lessons even as MTV continued to evolve.

During a recent keynote address at the CTAM Summit as reported by MultiChannel News, MTV Networks chairman and CEO Judy McGrath said something that I’ve been trying to communicate for a while now –

“New technology has inspired new consumer behavior, unleashing pent-up demand. … You have to evolve or die. Those are the stakes,”

That’s the thing we often loose sight of.

We can relish that Satellite Radio isn’t attracting a MASS audience – or that no single player is even close to dislodging Radio as the MAIN MASS channel for receiving audio content – but that assumes everyone is playing the same game we’re playing. And they are not.

The point were missing is that collectively those OTHER channels are CONDITIONING (or inspiring) the market as a whole to demand an experience from media that radio currently isn’t providing.

More from McGrath’s keynote:

McGrath spoke about the “everywhere” world philosophy enveloping Viacom Inc.’s MTVN, which has been reorganized to place digital content alongside linear TV production.

The impetus: Consumers are seeking media on an array of platforms and will follow good content across different platforms.

This is another lesson Radio would do well to copy from MTV.

We may think Radio is an EVERYWHERE medium – and to the 35+ crowd clearly it is. But increasingly Gen Y and younger don’t think radio is EVERYWHERE. If it’s not on their devices (ipod,psp,laptop, phone etc) it’s not “everywhere.”

HD Radio is PART of everywhere. But AM/FM/HD is no longer EVERWHERE. It doesn’t get your morning show – or my favorite music program from your station into my life when I want it – on MY device.

HD Radio  – while an important digital upgrade – shouldn’t be the SOLE effort to modernize the radio medium.

Podcasting demonstrated

July 31, 2006

Via Micropersuation comes this link to Podcasting 360 – a virtual iPod presenting why marketers should podcast.

If the case cane be made that IBM should podcast – what excuse does a radio station have for not doing it?