Friday, September 21, 2012

Execs: Radio Doomed If It Doesn’t Adapt

The death of traditional AM/FM radio was predicted at today’s Radio Show in Dallas, a conference hosted by the Radio Advertising Bureau and the National Association of Broadcasters, according to a story by Carol Marie Cropper at

Michael Harrison
Michael Harrison, publisher of the industry publications Talkers and RadioInfo, told an audience of radio executives and industry insiders that five problems need to be solved — and solved fast — in order to save “terrestrial” radio (as opposed to streaming Internet radio).

But, he continued, “Do I personally think it’s going to happen? … No.”

Harrison, who said he has worked in the industry for 45 years, warned that massive debt spawned by industry consolidations, combined with a cavalier attitude toward old-style music radio programming is killing the medium.

Stations now don’t even bother to announce the name of the songs they play — or even, sometimes, to have a disc jockey to announce them.

But music radio is the lynchpin on which other forms, such as talk radio, hang, he said. “By saving music radio, we’re going to save talk radio.”

Also, he said, traditional radio is important to our culture. Without it, he suggested, Internet radio is also in danger. “There’ll be no model to make it special,” he said, likening a world with only Internet radio to the appeal of listening to your neighbors put on a concert or your friends show their videos in the movie theater.

Jeff Smulyan
After the magazine publisher spoke, Jeffrey Smulyan, chairman of Emmis Communications, which owns stations in Los Angeles and New York, pointed out another problem — and possible solution.

Smartphones usually have built in radio, but it is not activated on U.S. devices, Smulyan said. A Congressional mandate could change that, he said, helping to keep free broadcast radio available, and continuing its public service role.

But, Smulyan said, large phone companies such as AT&T and Verizon have a lot of lobbyists to work against such a mandate.

According to Harrison, one of the first radio industry “dragons” to slay is its “smothering debt. The business plan at some companies now is simply to find new sources of debt to stay in business,” he said.

Family-owned stations that didn’t rack up debt to buy others are doing better, he said, suggesting that stations hobbled by massive debt be cleared to make room for new groups with fresh capital and a commitment to quality broadcasting.

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