Garber weighs in on the future of radio


Mary Beth GarberMany events during the past 80 or 90 years have motivated observers to predict the imminent demise of AM and FM radio – and the latest prominent doomsayer is notable for making the same prediction twice! Katz Radio’s Mary Beth Garber commented on an RBR-TVBR story to make the point that the prediction by the latest naysayer is off base.

Garber’s comments were in reference to the remarks of former NPR head Ken Stern, who told Motley Fool he predicted that AM-FM would be gone in 15 years – 10 years ago – and then proceeded to repeat the prediction.

“Ah, this must have been an April Fool’s joke,” said Garber. “Otherwise, for the sake of NPR, I’m glad Mr. Stern left them. I can’t predict the future, but I can analyze existing facts and trends. If Mr. Stern had done that 10 years ago, he would have realized that satellite radio would never be capable of taking away virtually any radio listeners and would eat into very little radio listening time (there are about 10 studies out now that lead one to conclude that music lovers and digital users are heavier users of radio than the average person).”

Garber continued, “He needed to understand economics. Very few people will/can pay a subscription for anything they don’t have to, especially when radio is free. He needed to understand motivation. People like localized information and personalities to entertain them. There are regional musical tastes and certainly localized news and talk topics. Satellite radio could not replace those (although they tried with local traffic in four or so markets). Not good enough to replace radio.”

Garber pointed out how radio can take new digital venues and use it for its own purposes. She noted, “He needed to understand that the digital doorways opened by the internet and mobile would become means of two way conversation and further connection between stations, personalities and listeners. Not doable on satellite radio (or any national service).”

Garber did point out that radio will have to be smart – and if it is, there is no foreseeable end to its viability as a successful business.

She concluded, “As for radio, as RBR pointed out, as long as it understands it product, its market and keeps morphing with technology, it will be around for a lot longer than 15 years.”