Radio's Orwellian Embrace


In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the English language is replaced by New-Speak with the goal of eliminating words that authorities believe might lead to Thoughtcrimes, thinking the wrong thing.

One character declares, It’s a wonderful thing, the destruction of words.

Radio is witnessing its own devolution into Orwellian Newspeak as the word radio fades from radio.

The purging has been going on quietly for some time as radio companies re-brand themselves as media companies, but it grabbed the headlines recently with two announcements.

The first came from Washington, D.C.’s WTOP. With the Program Director declaring, “We’re not a radio station,” the station banished the word radio from its branding.

The second announcement came from National Public Radio, which declared that henceforth it would just be NPR, erasing any mention of radio from its name.

We’ve noted NPR’s hostility towards broadcast in the past. This appears just another step towards the organization’s ultimate goal of eliminating the pesky problem of having to deal with affiliate Public Radio stations around the country.

Apparently some in this business believe that thinking of radio as radio is an Orwellian Thoughtcrime.The crime is lack of vision, not seeing the business in its broadest sense, on the Internet, on cellphones, downloading podcasts, and when all else fails transmitting over the air.

Let’s think this through.

Last year 96.5% of local radio’s revenue came from broadcast. Only 3.5% came from online. SNL Kagan’s latest guess is that online revenue might grow another 15% this year.

Online Revenue
(click to view)

The graph above illustrates the range of estimates for online revenue growth for the next ten years. A decade from now, online revenue will probably still only contribute 7-16% of local radio’s revenue. Read about newspaper’s futile efforts to replace print revenue here.

No radio station stream audience comes close to its broadcast audience. The vast majority of listening is done the traditional way, using a radio. Even the majority of those who listen online from time to time continue to spend more time listening with a radio.

WTOP has a cume of 1.3 million and according to Quantcast averages less than 0.1 million web visitors. Is it more a broadcast radio station or a streaming audio station? What proportion of your listening is through the web?

Radio is a reference to broadcast that is instantly understood, universally consumed, and strongly linked to broadcast stations. If broadcast didn’t already own the term, it would have to invent it.

Does anyone think that the phrase multi-source audio is cooler than radio?

Broadcast should be defending its brand of radio like Keenex defends its brand of tissues, not tossing the term away.

Isn’t it curious that while stations have become self-conscious of the word radio, new-media is embracing the word radio along with its visual images?

To be thought of as radio is the dream of streaming services. There’s a reason Pandora calls itself Pandora Radio.
And the attempts to coopt radio imagery don’t stop there.

Take a look at Verizon’s new Rule the Air logo. It is a retro-looking radio tower. Apparently the people at Verizon think radio towers are cool.

Can you imagine a radio station using a logo like this today? The new-media pundits would pummel the perpetrator for such out-dated imagery.

Most people laughed when Prince became The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. You see where that got him.

Now the joke is on radio. We’re becoming The Medium Formerly Known as Radio.

— Glenda Shrader Bos & Richard Harker of Harker Research