"Why does radio suck so much?"- James, bartender, Putter's Las Vegas
Mind you, this question was asked in a mostly deserted bar during the first round of one of the most anticipated sporting events of the year. I could've turned it around on James and ask why his sports bar had me and only me as a customer. You don't ever mess the the people who fix your food or mix your drinks, so I let it go. Besides, James was right.
Radio has this dilemma. They very thing that saves it (sales) is the very thing that's killing it. It's really that simple, and the reason why there's no quick fix. Like a flesh-eating bacteria, the sales arm of radio has taken over so much of the industry that we're more likely to eliminate morbid obesity in Samoa than we are to see terrestrial radio become relevant again .
The first thing I do after starting my car is turn on the radio. This afternoon, I tuned in in the middle of a spot break. 5 minutes later, on came a two-fer (it's Tuesday after all!) from Black Sabbath. Off went the radio, in went a cd. A 5-minute wait to hear something I could easily live without, and radio just lost a valued customer for the rest of the drive. People don't have to suffer through that anymore. An iPod guarantees you a) commercial-free listening combined with b) songs you love. Because, you know, you put them there.
Radio's effort to counter-program against the competition has been so monumentally wrongheaded you could almost charge the large radio groups with arson. No one could be this stupid on purpose. Radio's biggest moneymakers are its biggest personalities- Stern, Limbaugh, Hendrie, Seacrest (ugh). People want to hear what they have to say. What's radio's response to get more listeners? SILENCE THE PERSONALITIES! Less talk, more rock! The problem with that is that there isn't more rock. There's more inventory. The less the talk, the more sales can squeeze another ;15 or :30 spot. Ratings stagnate, jocks get let go and hands wring wondering what can be done. Their solution? More commercial time per hour.
My solution is a simple one, but since sales has taken over programming it's unlikely to happen. Let the personalities run with it. If people want music, they'll go to their iPod. If they want personality, they'll go to their radio. If it's entertaining, people will listen. They'll tell others what they heard, and maybe that person becomes a listener. How many people are going to tell their friends "Dude, I heard a two-fer from Sabbath today!" No one, of course. Don't be ridiculous.
People tune out the commercials, not the talk. Try telling this to the salesperson who would sell his daughter's soul for a sweet commission. I'm off to charge my iPod in case I get a block of Soundgarden during the always groundbreaking "All Request Lunch Hour" tomorrow