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Broadcast Radio vs. Big Streaming

Whether or not radio takes their ad schedules, new streaming media will get the word out

Wire, wire everywhere a wire — and a bill for bandwidth. Contentious. Profitable. Unstoppable.

These words describe broadcast radio’s reaction to the idea of accepting advertising from, and otherwise promoting, streaming audio services such as Pandora and iTunes Radio.

These young whippersnapper services position themselves as the latest, greatest audio experiences, proclaiming broadcast stations to be old news. Yet in their continuous desire to utilize broadcast airwaves to growth audience, they validate our domination of every market in America.

Read the comments about articles regarding this subject and you’ll be treated to tirades about broadcast radio’s greedy nature in taking the cash offered by our newly competitive streaming brethren. Way back in the day, similar vitriol circulated when television stations initially purchased ads on radio. We saw it happen again when Sirius and XM launched and bought big schedules on broadcast radio to advertise the advantages of subscribing to the new satellite radio.

Today’s mantra from the radio broadcast peanut gallery has been the same: Isn’t broadcast radio being shortsighted in selling its audience away to competing new media?

Whatever you believe, each time this happens, the point becomes moot, because one group or another takes the cash for the ads, and any money not consumed by broadcast radio turns up somewhere else — television, outdoor, print or now, online/mobile.

Whether or not broadcast radio takes the advertising schedules, new streaming media will find a way to get the word out.

Most important, and with due respect to those who feel strongly about the advertising/marketing issue, this concern is not where the real audio war is happening. The most important user battles involve access to the car audio system and to mobile devices.

As long as access to get great entertainment is as easy as pushing a button, broadcast radio will dominate. The minute a consumer can get Pandora or others with the push of a button — without hooking up wires, connecting Bluetooth or paying for a costly data streaming mobile device — broadcasters will have a serious issue.

Sure, lots of geeky audiophiles like me and you have been listening to streaming media for years in our cars, but for most people (here’s the shocker!) it’s just not that important. Effort, technical knowledge and dependability will rule results.

However, now is the time to act! To keep our competitive advantage, we need to lobby and assist car radio manufacturers in designing easy-to-use radios that get the best possible FM, HD Radio and yes, AM performance. Often, AM is unlistenable or worse, sometimes even missing from the radio dashboard. With HD, full market coverage is still problematic; FM sometimes carries no metadata. As for mobile, with time rapidly increasing on phones and other devices, we need more than just streaming apps of our broadcast stations — we need actual tuners for automatic reception that don’t require data use.

Battlefield number two is being waged over content. Broadcast radio continues to pump out music jukeboxes at our own industry peril. Like it or not, behaviorally based music services like Pandora will be quite appealing for a lot of listeners if and when a simple delivery method comes to life.

Broadcast radio must focus on growing local personalities to deliver entertaining and important information that creates an emotional connection with listeners. We must continue to watch our commercial loads, raising rates rather than the number of units we run per hour. Although public radio has certainly stepped up its game on HD Radio, for the most part the digital service’s new multicast channels continue to suffer from a lack of unique or interesting content. And perhaps as important as anything else, we must consistently inject fun into broadcast radio.

Ease of use and engagement are the keys. Let’s put the pedal to the metal.

The author is president of Lapidus Media and a longtime contributor.

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