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The Gospel According to Frank Sinatra

An open letter to the radio industry from Tom Kent

Radio vet and services provider Tom Kent has provided this to Radio World. We post it unedited.

Dear Radio Industry:
I just watched a 22-minute collaboration of the greatest air personalities ever! This amazing piece of video was put together in a span of over 40 years by radio’s best friend, Art Vuolo. He’s also surreptitiously become radio’s official videographer and historian. His passion caught fire growing up as a child in Indianapolis and Detroit which are two of our nation’s best radio markets. Many of us caught that bug, or as some might say the “radio disease,” the exact same way. We were inspired by great personalities as kids listening to top 40 stations in our collective hometowns.

As I was watching this and becoming somewhat nostalgic, I felt that same passion rising up. At the same time, I was sad to see many of the great ones who aren’t with us anymore. They’ve left us an enduring legacy of the one thing that made listeners come to us in droves. That one thing is FUN! Every single one of these legendary personalities had that unique ability to make us laugh, make us cry and to make us think thus creating forced listening. You know that feeling, when you’re in your car and you’ve reached your destination and there’s someone whose speaking in a fun, creative and passionate way who makes us continue to sit there with the engine running.

I like to think of myself as forward thinking. Rarely do I look through the rear view mirror as most of my time is focused on looking through life’s windshield. I truly believe if this industry is going to survive we must be able to know our history in order to know where we’re going. I’m so grateful that we’ve had someone who’s so passionate about our industry and who’s chronicled its past in such a real and entertaining way. He’s done it selflessly with very little reward. We need to draft Art into the Radio Hall of Fame. He deserves it because when he’s not doing this anymore, I doubt if anyone else will even care. There was a similar person on the print side who chronicled rock and roll over the years. Her name was Jane Scott and she has a special place at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in her honor.

Here’s what I know for sure. Frank Sinatra once said, “When I stop caring about my audience, they’ll stop caring about me.” Once deregulation set a path to Wall Street and quick money and our industry became all about the money, that’s when we stopped caring about our audience. I was in the music industry in the ’90s and I remember seeing for the first time in radio lobbies all across America, the new mission statement for radio. “We are here to deliver value to our shareholders.” Never was there even a mention of the audience. How about a new mission statement — “We are here to deliver entertainment to our listeners.”

When our business became all about the money, that’s when money for this business started evaporating. That’s the simple irony and truth about money. When you worship at its altar and you put money first, money will elude you. Is it any wonder why 20 years later that some of our nation’s largest broadcasters have such huge debt? The paradigm needs to shift and it needs to happen immediately. We need to put the audience first. If we could do that, I believe this business will thrive again. The Scriptures teach us this truth. “When there is no vision, the people parish.” Let’s get a new vision for our industry focusing on the audience and the rest will follow. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

Carpe Diem!