A recent article in The LA Daily News made a few points that hit home for broadcast radio in today’s muddied tech terminology for distributing content when the author Richard Wagoner spoke with Mount Wilson Broadcasting owner (Country KKGO-FM and Classical K-Mozart KMZT-AM 1260/105.1 HD2) Saul Levine, pictured. Both Levine and the author also spoke to the content of radio today:
Saul Levine is the owner of Go Country 105 (FM) and KMZT (1260 AM). I consider him to be one of the better broadcasters in radio, primarily because he tries as much as he can – during an era when so many have given up on the idea – to make his stations relevant to the local market.
Yes, you could make fun of the number of format changes on 1260 over the years (I’m guilty of that myself). But compare that to his FM station, which has run exactly three formats total since it signed on the air. Consider, as well, that often Levine uses the AM to try to fill a format void in the market and that he does this expecting little; he could have sold the station years ago but held on to it because he enjoys radio itself more than the station’s monetary value.
Earlier this week, I received an email from Levine with an interesting thought. In reference to a news article on the Pandora music service, he wrote, “I am becoming impatient with the media that refers to non-radio transmissions as `radio.’
“Pandora is Web streaming, not radio. Satellite programming is called Digital Audio Broadcasting by the FCC; it is not radio. Radio should take steps to educate the consumers (and media) as to this fact. Radio is what comes out of a radio, not a computer or smartphone from the Web.”
In the strictest sense, Levine is correct, at least when it comes to the Internet. Webster’s dictionary agrees, defining radio as “a system of telecommunication employing electromagnetic waves of a particular frequency range to transmit speech or other sound over long distances without the use of wires.”
There is a slight problem, however, in thinking that the definition applies only to traditional broadcast radio. Note that satellite services fit the definition as well, using electromagnetic waves over a particular frequency range to transmit their programming. And if you want to stretch it a little, a smartphone allows exactly the same thing. I can hear broadcasts via my iPhone wherever I can pick up my cell-provider’s signal, and those signals arrive via electromagnetic waves.
But I understand his point, and in a general sense, Levine is correct. Pandora (www.pandora.com) allows users to create personalized playlists they can listen to via smartphones, computers and other media players. But it is no more radio in my mind than playing a CD, record, tape or iPod. It is a music service and, like most Internet “radio stations,” it has no personality.
With “real” radio, there is a soul behind the microphone and a feeling, if it is done right, that the station is bigger than life. Most Internet “radio stations” suffer the same problems. They are simple music services, they have no soul … no personality.
Must radio have soul and personality? In my mind, yes. Yet I am apparently in the minority, as one could say stations such as Jack-FM (93.1 FM) or Playlist 92.7 lack soul and personality too. They play music and commercials, nothing else.
What about stations that prerecord or voice-track their personalities to save money? Is that radio? By the Webster’s definition, yes, but it’s a little murky using my own.
As someone who misses the old version of radio – when stations competed against each other, DJs did more than just announce a song and a bond was formed with listeners – I still believe that traditional radio needs to do what Levine does with his stations: connect with the audience; give listeners something they simply can’t get elsewhere. Once you do that, the other services, no matter what you call them, become second choices.
RBR-TVBR observation: Many folks left traditional radio because of the things Wagoner points out. While we have to agree radio is just not what it used to be in many cases, there still is a heck of a lot of localism and great local personalities on many of them. Those are the terrestrial stations people are listening to on their smartphones—yes, the delivery is different, but in a way, that’s a radio in your hand with a lot of extras on it.
A radio station can’t be everything to everyone, so many stick to a strict format to keep their specific audiences. In today’s streaming and satellite age listeners do stray from radio to get away from the same songs over and over, but playing a broader, more adventurous playlist, keeping the talent engaged with the listeners and constantly inviting them out to events and clubs will bring them back—via smartphone, car radio, clock radio, boombox or whatever.