RW Opinion: Smash-Mouth Radio

“We have news for our competitors,” he said from the podium of the recent NAB Radio Show. “We will beat you — as we have beaten those change agents in the past.” He was referring to a lengthy list of media each of which were predicted, at one time or another, to spell the death of radio, from TV and LPs to iPods.
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“We have news for our competitors,” he said from the podium of the recent NAB Radio Show. “We will beat you — as we have beaten those change agents in the past.” He was referring to a lengthy list of media each of which were predicted, at one time or another, to spell the death of radio, from TV and LPs to iPods.

Bring it, Dave!

The new president/CEO of the association is putting his welcome energy into the job of trumpeting radio. He said the NAB board recognizes “the importance of going on offense” and listed areas where radio can do so.

He called radio’s product “highly coveted.” He talked about reaching out to foster the adoption of new technologies. He spoke of the “often-missed additional value of HD Radio to small markets.”

He was blunt in his criticism of satellite radio, saying its business model is “bankrupt” and touting, “They cannot have it both ways. They cannot be both a subscription and a free service.”

Rehr said NAB is “strongly encouraging” the FCC to adopt HD Radio rules and standards and said the commission must stop considering multicasts experimental. He noted that NAB is pushing the commission to let AMs use FM translators. And he criticized RIAA efforts to impose what he called a “performance tax” on radio, saying record labels have “conveniently forgotten about the mutually beneficial relationship their companies have shared with performers and broadcasters since the inception of radio.”

Eddie Fritts and others have made many of these points. But we find Rehr’s framing of the issues direct and effective. We like his tone and his forthright insistence on radio’s strengths.

In calling for further change, he acknowledged that developing copyright, technology and business models will not be easy. But he was clear on his most important point: “We are transforming the NAB into an aggressive advocacy organization.”

Another welcome voice was that of research consultant Mark Ramsey, who has gained a higher profile, particularly in the past year, for frank comments about the industry made online, in RW and elsewhere. Ramsey was quoted in The Dallas Morning News talking about what is right about radio.

“The assumption is that if something’s hot in the moment, something else must be cool in the moment,” he told the newspaper, criticizing media reports of radio’s business outlook. “There are a lot of strengths that radio has evident in the research that we’ve done. It’s not the story that’s being told.”

Listener satisfaction with radio, Ramsey said, is “overwhelming” (let that sink in for a moment), thanks in part to the “stuff between the songs that people value.” Loyalty to stations is driven by what’s between the tunes. “It’s about connecting with other people.” Listeners don’t get that on an iPod, on Internet radio or on much of what satellite offers, Ramsey said.

Of course, traditional radio airs spots. Ramsey phrased a key question: Not “Can we get the number of spots down to zero,” but “Are we giving people something that’s worth the price they’re paying in commercials?” Ramsey encouraged broadcasters to air content between the songs that matter to listeners. That means personalities people can connect with. “Invest in your strengths,” he said. “Content is not cheap. Talent is not cheap.”

Hear, hear. With new energy at the top of NAB and with clear-eyed analysis from folks like Ramsey, radio may, as Rehr said, have a bright future.

— RW

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