Saving Radio, Pt 1


I was just about to write what you can read below so why do it twice when it has already been said? Saving Radio – by Jerry DelColliano

Some of you may know that Jerry (JD) and I go way back into the mid ’70’s. We worked together in the early 80’s when JD owned Inside Radio and we put together the first full color monthly magazine for radio entitled Radio Only. In 1983 JD and I went our separate ways as I had the need to be independent and started RBR. We lost touch for a number of years but recently, with age, we mellowed out, and got a little more focused on issues facing us but we still have the same goal: Saving Radio. Read on, learn, and hopefully improve our medium. We succeed by teaching and doing it ourselves–then radio can make a few bucks and regain respectability.

Saving Radio

written by Jerry DelColliano, Professor of Music Industry at USC. – added observations by Jim Carnegie.

One of my readers asked if I had any ideas on how the radio industry could redirect its efforts in light of all its mounting problems.

He said, "It is one thing to pick apart the problems and the challenges. It is another to identify the solutions. If you could do anything you wanted to a radio station – or group – what would you do? What would your strategy be?"

Great question and timely beyond belief.

We learned that January’s radio billing was down over 6% from the previous year and Wall Street analysts are now re-computing radio’s expected performance for the year ahead. The latest thinking is that annual revenues will be off slightly, but that could change. It could get worse. RBR note: for details see 02/21/08 RBR #36

Radio is losing advertisers to the Internet and young listeners to digital devices, online and mobile phones. Arbitron’s latest "American Radio Listening Trends" report which includes Fall 2007 data, shows a 3% decline in U.S. per capita radio listening over the past year – off 16% over the last nine years.

Radio may still have many decent years left but it is fast becoming a mere shadow of its former self. It is no longer a growth business by anyone’s standard, including Wall Street.

So the question is: What can be done to save radio?

1. Start by seeing radio under a larger umbrella – Internet streaming of terrestrial stations; new Internet stations; mobile content; podcasting; social networking; even the record business (more on that later). Radio as a transmitter and tower business alone has no future. Its finest days are behind it, as sad as that is to say.

Carnegie observation: Agree radio cannot live by analog alone. But if you do then fall on your sword now, end it quickly. You can fix the box then think outside of it with technology and internet.

2. Get into the local content business – I’d start a website with music, social networks, artist interviews and other embellishments for every college and high school in your terrestrial listening area. Radio folks would do it the other way – one website for all local colleges. Radio works best when it is local. The Internet is your friend.

Carnegie observation: Once any on air talent ends their shift have them get on the phone and do at least one interview a day and at least post the interview in mp3 format, and promo it on the air. Important: do not bury it on your website. Give the interviews a high rotation treatment.

3. Stop the firing – No business can be a growth business when it is cutting back. If you want to increase revenues, hire more sales people and train them better and make more content that’s available to consumers who are abandoning your terrestrial signals.

Carnegie observation: Amen and trust those in the towers or on a private jet read this point.

4. Start your own Internet-based record labels – That’s right. I’d do this in a Hoboken heartbeat. The big four labels are coming after radio in an effort to repeal the performance tax exemption. If I told you that the young people I meet on campus would rather listen to independent artists in many genres, would you believe me? They want less repetition. They want more discovery.

Carnegie observation: Local talent that is playing in your market works. Go to the clubs when a great local band is playing and see the joint packed with people spending money and buying the CDs at the front door.

5. Turn to your terrestrial format now – CBS President Dan Mason is setting an example I like. Returning radio stations to the music, format and personality that radio listeners will appreciate. I’d hire one of many seasoned and proven programmers and give them a mission statement. If they accept, I’d give them a timeline. If they succeed, I’d reward them financially and otherwise. If they failed, replace them. This must be remedied.

Carnegie observation: Excellent point. Why have a SAC or a Jack or some other nondescript sound when you could be tapping into a town’s memory with a legend?

(source: Jerry DelColliano, Professor of Music Industry at USC,  from his blog –

Note: Part 2 Monday on Saving Radio – by Jerry DelColliano – added Observations by Jim Carnegie.