Why I Have Fallen Out of Love With Radio.

629051876Many Strumings readers and many of my friends work in the radio industry. I have always been envious of them. It is the medium I truly loved from the time I was a child. It shaped my youth and my interests in music. When I was young, my parents would punish me by taking away my radio listening privileges (not TV, like most of my friends). They knew how important radio listening was to me. At Rutgers on day one of freshman orientation I saw a sign about “working” at the college radio station, WRSU. I signed up that day. I was a disc jockey all 4 years and then later in the 80s at an album rock station, WDHA, on the weekends as the photo can attest.

Hum with StrumHow could anyone resist to Hum with Strum (or should it have been Humming with Struming?). Truth be told, I had hoped to acquire a NJ radio station in the 80s and my career would have taken a different trajectory if I had been successful in doing so.

Why did I love radio?

Radio was the medium that broke new songs, new albums, where the announcement of the “new top 20” every Tuesday night on WABC (in NY) was a big deal. In short, the connection of the medium and the listener was very powerful. Those days are gone. Today, I still have a transistor radio just like the one I had in the 60s. My transistor is relegated to beach listening, largely to Yankees games. In my youth, I would bring my transistor to school and surreptitiously listen to the World Series games (with an ear plug) in study hall. Yes, those games were played during the day in the 60s.

Later in the 60s, FM radio listening exploded. Showing my age, having an FM radio in my first car was a big deal, and was critically important to me. It was even more important than air conditioning which my first car lacked!

So why have I fallen out of love with radio? Shouldn’t I be the one championing my beloved medium? Has it really fallen so badly?

Change is the status quo in life and business. I embrace change and am excited by new technologies. The pace of change can be mind-numbing. However, there are victims of change, and the traditional radio medium and traditional media in general are among them. In that change, traditional radio, also referred to as terrestrial radio (btw: what kind of name is that?) now has a weakened connection to its audiences.

Today’s traditional radio stations, and music stations in particular, are ordinary, vanilla and uninspiring. They are programmed to be so. They are largely “muzak”, benign background listening. To be fair, this is largely the result of how music is now delivered. There are now far better delivery methods—satellite, digital streaming etc. for that same music delivered in tight formats of what the listener wants to hear.

From an advertiser perspective, it makes it more difficult to deliver a motivated and engaged listener, one where the power of radio medium helps sell products and services. Despite the medium’s continued strong overall reach, passive listening does not generate the same level of advertising impact as the engaged listener of yesteryear. Ironically as the power of music formats in traditional radio fade, the strongest traditional radio formats today are news, sports and talk where the listeners seek local content and information. Those formats deliver an older skewing audience, but listening is based on seeking info and engagement, not background music for another activity.

Nothing stays the same in life for long. I understand that logically but I still yearn for yesteryear, for the radio medium I loved as a kid.

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