I was replying this morning to a comment from Robbie Newton on my last blog post. Robbie is a former WAY-FM board member and someone whose opinion I respect a great deal. As I wrote my reply, I realized this was one of those moments where the conversation warranted a blog post of its own.
Basically, the conversation revolves around the question, “Where is radio going?” There are a lot of opinions as to what that might look like. Some believe radio will suffer the same fate as many newspapers recently, while others feel (myself included) that the level of radio’s suffering will be directly connected to its level of willingness to adapt to the changes in listener habits and preferences.
My conversation with Robbie thus far, beginning with his initial response to my post 10 Years Ago Today: My WAY-FM Journey:
I find this post very interesting. As a former member of the board of directors, I observed the ministry up close and personal for over 15 years. I agree that Matt and Bob are two very fine Christian men. I see the current turmoil in the industry as ultimately being a good thing because those with the best ideas and courage to take risks will emerge as industry leaders while the rest will fall by the wayside. I think many inside the industry are realizing that radio was never really about radio in the first place. It was (and still is) about the listener and communicating with them. I sense that you might be a little uneasy with those at the corporate level and what decisions they will make about the future direction of the ministry (to feel this way would be understandable). You mention that you are willing to do everything in your power to ensure the survival of your slice of the pie. What if ensuring your survival called for the sacrifice of other pieces of the WAY-FM pie, would that be okay? How does one decide which slice to cut if there’s not enough money to go around?
You are very wise.
First, I agree that it’s not about radio, but about the listener. Too many in the industry at large fail to realize that. I think it was a very forward-thinking move years ago when the word “radio” was removed from our mission statement. To me, it was a realization by the executive team that, while radio is the medium we use today to reach youth and young adults, it may not be the primary vehicle used tomorrow. I, personally, am striving to be a forward-thinker within the company so that we as a company – not just WAY-FM Nashville – don’t “fall by the wayside.”
As to your question, I hadn’t considered that scenario specifically. All I can do as operations director is try to ensure the station I work for is making an impact in the local community. Hopefully, listenership increases as a result of that along with listener donations. And, I hope to be able to do that for as long as they will let me, meaning, I don’t take anything for granted.
How does one decide which slice to cut? Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but if it does and it were me doing the deciding, it would be difficult to cut long-established stations if for no other reason than the obligations established within their community of listeners over a long period of time. Other stations though are practically brand new and still trying to find an audience.
Getting back to the reference to a ‘slice of pie’, perhaps it’s time to go back into the ministry kitchen and start cooking all over again. Who would be the chefs? I suggest that they should be current senior management, station managers, other key stakeholders (such as thought leaders in the Christian recording industry), current listeners, post-listeners, and most importantly, pre-listeners. Their assignment would be to bake a brand new pie. The available ingredients would include the current assets of the ministry (staff, facilities, technologies, etc.), and a God-breathed understanding of the current culture in which you have been called to reach. So my question to you is quite simple…what do you think the new pie would look like, especially your slice?
The “ingredients” are limited only by our imagination. As someone within the company who has immersed himself in all things social media the past 18 months, there are several things I see happening in order for WAY-FM, and radio in general, to remain relevant.
- Downloadable Audio – Podcasts basically. Not revelatory, but something that’s not happening now no doubt due to limited resources. I, for one, don’t want to wait for someone else within the company to make it happen. Rather, I want to take the bull by the horns and set an example for others to follow. This would include “Mornings with Brant,” “Total Axxess,” the “Top 20 Meltdown,” etc. I’d like to see each station given the opportunity to monetize it independent of one another. Give us the ability to further localize the content.
- Downloadable Video – In essence, video podcasts. However, I want to take this beyond shooting artist visits and behind the scenes goings-on during certain shows. Right now the video that is being shot (during certain shows and at local events) is being pushed out primarily through YouTube. To my knowledge, no one within the company is providing video content in subscribe-able form (apart from what YouTube offers which leaves a lot to be desired). I see this including deliberate, produced video “shows” that serve as an extension of what we’re doing on the air and in the community. They may or may not be hosted by on-air talent. We have a plethora of people on the local level who bring to the table talents we’ve yet to tap into.
- Live Streaming Video – No matter who we have on the air in any given year, there’s always a certain level of resistance to this. I believe the future of radio includes nearly 24/7 video streaming (Ustream and/or Stickam among others make this possible). You could even toy with making this kind of content available on a premium member-type basis. Again, give the local station the opportunity to monetize it. But with a paid subscription model, you could award a percentage to the station from which the subscriber originates with the rest going to corporate. This could be invested back into the product.
- Twitter – Again, not revelatory, but with just a few exceptions, I’m not sure we’re tapping into this as deeply as we should. I wonder too if anyone within the company realizes that Twitter gives us the ability to text our listeners directly for FREE. Sure, there are limitations with Twitter as a texting model that become a non-issue with most third party texting services. But in light of budget cuts and the current economic climate free is a pretty good alternative.
- Live Chat – Sounds so 90’s doesn’t it? Bare with me.
I see the FM radio experience being taken to a new level (a la Leo Laporte) with radio, streaming video, live chat and/or Twitter all happening simultaneously, with phones, of course, still an important part of the equation. We’ve got to allow listeners the opportunity to interact with us in any way they choose. Gone are the take-it-or-leave-it days. Give them a multitude of ways to engage our content both live as-it-happens, as well as on a plane 30,000 feet in the air, during a cross country road trip, or anywhere else they might not otherwise be able to experience our content now.
- How do you prefer to interact with radio? Phone? Text? Twitter? Not at all/Passive listener?
- Does the idea of live, streaming video as it relates to radio intrigue you at all?
- Do you like the idea of being able to take your favorite radio show with you wherever you go to listen to whenever you want? Minus the music?
- Would you welcome the opportunity to interact with other like-minded listeners live and in real time while listening to your favorite show?
Feel free to answer any or all of the above questions in the comments. You too Robby!