I bought a radio today for the first time in I don't know how long. I never thought I would ever buy another radio in my life. In fact, I find myself constantly, amusingly in fact, having to explain the concept of Radio to my toddler when she keeps screaming for me to rewind the song while we are in the car.
The notion of Radio to me, especially in my position as a software innovator for broadcasting, is at best a situation in flux.What I mean is, once upon a time, Radio was #1. Not only was it the dominant media player but it was also the coolest. Radio has always faced opposition from all kinds of alternatives and changing listener tastes, but it always had an answer, and that answer always lied within its core unique offering: local, live, trusted brands.
However, in the past 10 years, Internets 2nd decade, Radio has faced a challenge unlike any before; digital disruption arrived in multiple waves, and fueled an explosion in media consumption and advertising. Yet, Radio has been relatively flat in terms of listenership and revenue growth in the same time period. These digital disruptors provide the audience with more control, format, and content choices than ever before. As a result, listeners' expectations of all media, Radio included, have forever been changed. As a software innovator for broadcasting I believe that this digital transformation will continue. To most, the notion of Radio being #1 is a memory reserved for the past century, certainly before the almighty internet arrived in the mid-90's.
Yet, like a David Price fastball, today I was struck by an overpowering reminder about how core the existing radio offering was and still is.
As the team with the longest active playoff drought in Major League Baseball, The Toronto Blue Jays are making a playoff run reminiscent of their back-to-back World Championship years of 1992 and 1993. Ironically as we were destined to watch our own 11 year old son's baseball game, our beloved Jays, just half a game out of first, were playing the Angels.
Of course we listened in the car on the way to the game. The Jays, as they are often wont to do, we're down 5-2 and mounting one of their signature comebacks we've come to expect this year. But we arrived at the diamond and we had to turn it off, it was time to watch my son's Little League game. My wife and kids asked me "can't you get it on your phone?" And Major League Baseball, God love 'em, like every other modern media property in the world, knows that the digital disruption model of accessing premium content, is not the Radio model.
You got to pay for that son!
The day has not yet come where we access all of our content through apps. Until that day arrives I'm not paying MLB to listen to something I can get for free. They figure they will lure you with all the digitally enhanced goodies that come along with app access content. But that would require revolutionizing the listening model itself - and they should not be so bold. The secret to audience growth isn't just great content, it's ease of access. The Radio model is simple, it's one button. This trait of simplicity has kept Radio relevant for over 100 years, it excels at it, and it's uniquely theirs. They own the signal, they own the experience within that signal, they know how to make it work. They're #1 at it.
So I hopped over to the nearest "The Source" (ironically rebranded from "Radio Shack" nationwide here in Canada), and bought a Radio and a pack of AA batteries for about 20 bucks. And we turned on that AM/FM receiver, analog quality and all, and we listened to the Jays finish their comeback and move in to first place, while we watched our son play baseball under a big shady tree.
It was a fantastic moment; one of the milestones of the summer of '15, and I have traditional Radio to thank for bringing my family and I that moment. Local, live, trusted content from the brand I trusted.
The new demands of the listener of greater control and a personalized experience, exclusionary headphones and all, is merely an add-on to what is core to Radio, and that which will never go away. Paying for content on an app is genuinely exclusive by nature. It's neither free nor easily available to the masses. Traditional Radio is both.
The true value of Radio revealed itself to me today by giving me instant easy access to the local, live content I wanted in a trusted brand, simply and instantly. Radio will never 100% be moved to digital, and paid apps. It would require a paradigm shift on the nature of listening itself, and it would remove the core of what makes Radio unique and valuable to the masses. You can't get that from the Internet, and you can't get it from TV.
We're #1! We're #1!
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Photo Credit: Official U.S. Navy Page/Flickr