The Future’s So Bright (At Least It Can Be)


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.

istock_000001671341xsmall

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.

Questions:

  1. How do you prefer to interact with radio?  Phone?  Text?  Twitter?  Not at all/Passive listener?
  2. Does the idea of live, streaming video as it relates to radio intrigue you at all?
  3. 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?
  4. 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!

Advertisements

9 Responses

  1. As long as we drive our own cars, we will love radio. As soon as cars ride on rails like in I Robot, radio may fade.

    How do you prefer to interact with radio? Phone? Text? Twitter? Not at all/Passive listener?

    Radio needs to get ahead of the curve. With all the studies on distracted drivers and laws being passed, the NAB and NRB need to join together to create a new radio dashboard interface. More stations need to push song data to the screen of the radio. I’m not opposed to advertiser information there as well.

    There should be a series of buttons on the radio interface (and maybe the steering wheel) that allow a listener to respond directly to the station. This would allow the station to take immediate polls or contests. Furthermore, if you heard an ad you liked and wanted more information for, push the “ad” button and an email will come to you. In a new technologies class in 1988, we discussed a car thermal printer that would print radio coupons. I think you could create the same thing with an email generated (or a text).

    Does the idea of live, streaming video as it relates to radio intrigue you at all?

    If I have a relationship with the on air talent, it might be fun to watch them. But businesses are placing bandwidth restrictions on office computers, etc.

    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?

    I subscribe to many podcasts of Christian talk (“FamilyLife Today”, “In the Studio with Michael Card”, and “Insight for Living”). I can’t hear them when they air, so I listen on my schedule.

    I believe this will grow as education increases.

    Would you welcome the opportunity to interact with other like-minded listeners live and in real time while listening to your favorite show?

    Isn’t this already happening on Twitter for TV? Radio may never be in that space because of the role of the vehicle.

    What I would really love to see is a renaissance of radio. We’ve got music and talk. In the Christian space, we have teaching. But what if somebody embraced “drama” again?

    What if Brian Singer brought “Captain America” to radio instead of TV or the big screen? We might have a phenomenon on our hands and a return to radio.

    What if we had a live stream on radio from an imbedded reporter in Iraq. The mic was always on (Truman Show), but he didn’t always talk. We heard the shots fired, the grunts, the distant explosions, etc. I think we would be riveted.

    What if an author serialized the reading of his new book BEFORE it was available in stores? John Grisham or Stephen King on air for 30 minutes every morning or during afternoon drive. They would read the first 1/3 of the book or so before release date. Book sales would skyrocket (and audio book sales would, too.)

    What if “Nashville Star” gave up on trying to be American Idol Country and went to radio instead. It could become the new Grand Ole Opry with a live audience and lots of internet interactivity, but the performances were only available on radio (Citadel radio presents…)

  2. For Radio to live up to its potential…they need to get rid of the Political talk shows…Radio should not be about hate and anger…it should be as God intended it to be…a vehicle to bring messages of Hope,encouragement and Love..
    Entertainment and enlightenment…

  3. I know that I probably sound like something from earlier aeons, but I’m one who primarily falls under your “passive listener” description. I use radio when in the car. I almost never listen to it in the house or when online, as on those occasions I’m doing something else… but I love being able to hear what the music I want while I’m driving, and be able to gain (depending on where I’ve tuned in) weather and news and live road reports as well. An IPOD or a CD won’t give you those, nor do they provide the personality or comments or the news as to who’s coming to town in concert.

    I think there’s a PLACE for passive listening. We’re all so in-contact today: We have our cell phones, our Facebook updates, email, Twitter, et al. Sometimes I don’t want to have to respond to or interact with something, I just want to enjoy it!

    I don’t see radio as being in the same place as newspapers at all, in regard to the comments made above connecting them. Newspapers came of age in an era when there were no live updates, and once printed, they are static. Radio can be updated constantly, it requires no massive daily output of material like ink and tons of paper, nor does it have the delivery costs incurred by trucking newspapers to their drop-off points. Radio is a totally different thing, and the fall of newsprint isn’t automatically a death toll for radio.

    I’d MISS radio if it weren’t here! I have come to rely on it, I enjoy having it, and I support it with my funds. I can’t speak to the in-house decisions discussed above, but as a consumer, I consider radio to be very relevant and very desirable.

    NVA

  4. Jeff,
    I think you bring up some interesting ideas. As someone who is deeply involved in technology and the internet, and it’s inner workings on a day to day basis, I can tell you immediately that the problem facing news papers and “print publications” is not one that directly relates to radio, although it does bear some consideration:

    The problem facing print, in general, is that it is supported by advertising. When no one used the internet, it was really the only way to get the word out besides tv and radio. But when a business can put a website up for $100/yr that provides company information, contact points, and even a way to sell products and services – well, you can’t buy a single weeks worth of newspaper space for that. Add into the equation services such as google ad sense/ad words, where another $100 will get you a plethora of advertising for a month (granted, targeting that advertising is it’s own area of involvement, look into SEO and the like) and suddenly the printed industry has nothing to stand on.

    Instead, as long as I can turn on a radio in my car and listen to it while I sit in traffic there will be ads there. WAY-FM is a little different in this aspect though, being listener supported, ads aren’t that big a deal – business impact partners not withstanding. So how does technology affect radio? Content. For example:

    Right now, I have three options for music in my car – we’ll stick with that analogy for now since you can’t always listen to the radio at work. I can listen to the radio, to a CD, or to my MP3 player. CD’s have an inherent problem – they take up a lot of space. They’re also expensive. If someone decides to steal my CDs, I’m potentially out thousands of dollars. I can put my whole MP3 collection on a $200 mp3 player. If someone steals that, it’s roughly equal to loosing 25 CDs. So nix the CDs, and stick to mp3s. The problem with listening to an MP3 player all the time is that it doesn’t keep you up with current events. Which leaves you radio.

    Now, radio also has it’s problems. Take me for instance. Don’t get me wrong, I like most of the music WAY-FM plays, and I understand catering to the “majority” – which I will put in quotes and leave there for reasons I hope you understand in a moment. However, I grew up listening to, and much prefer, harder, heavier music. A prime example would be the band Demon Hunter, to name a Christian band that fits the scale of music I’m referring to. Sometimes I just have to go to the MP3 player to “get my fix” because you’re not going to play Demon Hunter.

    So back to technology affecting radio and where it goes. Radio will be radio (even as HD radio, which I’ll come back to in a minute) until it becomes something else. When I say something else, I mean, for instance, lets go back to your idea of podcasts. I download that and take it with me. Or even at this moment, I could live stream WAY-FM. But I’m the guy who gets up at 5 am and goes to work. I hear the first hour of the morning show, and then miss the rest of it. What if they’re talking about something I want to hear? What if I could download the podcast and listen to it later? That’d be nice. What if I could listen to the rest of TotalAxxess – the part I miss because I go to sleep before it goes off at night – some other time? What if “radio” developed to a point where the in dash units in our cars are WiFi capable, and we can simply select and download or stream the podcast in question directly to the radio in our car? See where that’s going? Good – I thought you would. The problem is, you come back to current events – news happening NOW. Not this morning or, whenever. The technology involved in providing a “streaming podcast” where the commercial interruptions or news breaks are timed to coincide with live radio is more your field than mine, so I’ll leave it alone, but I want to plant the idea.

    Now lets talk about HD radio. I’ll assume you are familiar with the technology, I will concentrate on the side of HD radio that allows “sub-stations”. The best example I have of this is the Nashville station 105.9 “the rock” – they have two HD signals. One is what you would hear on a regular radio. The other is a specialized 80’s content signal. Lets say WAY-FM went HD. Maybe a second signal could rebroadcast the morning show, a third TotalAxxess, maybe a forth the top 20 meltdown. Or perhaps all of these could alternate on the secondary signal.

    I’ve rambled on a bit here, but I hope it’s been useful in some way – so I’ll also answer your questions.

    1. How do you prefer to interact with radio? Phone? Text? Twitter? Not at all/Passive listener?

    I rarely interact, when I have it’s been over phone. I like the idea of a “live chat” though. A lot of TV talk shows/round tables use this now.

    2. Does the idea of live, streaming video as it relates to radio intrigue you at all?

    Yes.

    3. 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?

    Why minus the music? Sometimes it’s an integral part of the show. But yes.

    4. Would you welcome the opportunity to interact with other like-minded listeners live and in real time while listening to your favorite show?

    Yes.

  5. Local content trumps drivel like jim rome

  6. OK – Let’s take a journey in the “Way Back Machine.” Back in the day when the dinosaur ruled the world, the local radio station played songs that they wanted the listener to hear. It was the “cool place” to listen to the “cool guy” on the air playing the “coolest new songs.”

    Not any more! Today it is all researched to death trying to find out what the listener thinks he or she wants to hear. Then those few songs (no matter the format) are regurgitated over and over again. It’s all “safe.”

    Radio that survives will become the place that tells (not asks) people what new songs should be on their ipod … which ones should be downloaded (and from where) … and what is the latest thing happening where they are.

    I remember the time when songs broke locally: When a hit in Nashville, TN may have never been heard in Charleston, SC. Songs in hot rotation in Detroit had never been played in Austin. Those days may be gone but the idea behind that phenomenon still remains: somebody was telling folks in those locations what to listen to.

    So, moving forward, radio has to look backward. To be relevant it must take risks. I remember a former GM of mine saying, “You never lose a listener over a song you don’t play.” My response was, “Then why are we playing any of them?” We lost our way and we were being safe. Embrace all of the technologies out there and then tell people what they should do with them. Don’t ask.

    OK … I’m done. Somebody else can have a turn.

    (28 year broadcasting vet)

  7. A listener and volunteer’s opinion:

    Downloadable audio and video – great idea! Youtube is well and good (and you actually can download video from there with the right Firefox plugin – which not everybody knows) but more accessible and keep-able video downloads would be great. Brant mentioned something one morning about maybe doing a podcast directed toward teenagers/young men and what it means to be a true, godly, responsible man – goodness knows in today’s society we desperately need that kind of outreach.

    Live video – some of the bands have live video feeds on their websites. I know Downhere does and I think MercyMe does, too.You guys could link to those somehow and give listeners who know about WayFM and the WayFM website, but not about all the artists’ websites, a way to find and watch those live videos that are out there.

    Twitter – you know I love Twitter! It’s the best way to keep up with the artists!!

    Live chat – I don’t know exactly how that’d work, but it could be interesting!

    Your questions:
    1. How do you prefer to interact with radio? Phone? Text? Twitter? Not at all/Passive listener?
    I use all three.

    2. Does the idea of live, streaming video as it relates to radio intrigue you at all?
    Yes it does.

    3. 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?
    Yep! Being able to take the music along is good, too. My kids get upset when we travel and we leave WayFM coverage areas. I keep the list of stations in my car.

    4. Would you welcome the opportunity to interact with other like-minded listeners live and in real time while listening to your favorite show?
    That could be fun, yes.

  8. Wow! This is the first time since beginning my blog that I wasn’t able to respond to one comment before the next one came in. So many great comments so quickly. I am truly humbled.

    As the week progresses, I hope to touch on some of the points each of you have made. Bare with me. Thanks again. I’m really enjoying the conversation. 🙂

  9. […] In case you missed the announcement yesterday, one of the many features of the new iPod Nano is an FM tuner.  But not just any FM tuner mind you.  Side note: I honestly think those in the industry clamoring for an FM transmitter to be added to everything from your toaster to your blow dryer are wasting their time.  The need still exists to think of your radio station beyond your terrestrial FM signal. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: