The Death of Radio forever exaggerated


Here’s what one writer and observer of electronic media wrote about radio’s fate:

Everybody knows that radio is a dying medium. Nearly anyone who has a smattering of talent is deserting radio for the new medium. Throughout the nation radio lay apparently dying in the wake of new media’s irresistible onslaught. To many, the end of radio seems near.

Sound familiar?

These observations offered by Claude Hall, then Radio-TV editor of Billboard, were actually penned over 30 years ago about the fate of radio nearly 60 years ago. He was writing about the threat that radio faced from television in the early 1950s noting that many were writing off radio. Pundits back then declared that no one would listen to radio when they could watch TV.

Hall went on to explain why it didn’t die:

The death of radio was somewhat exaggerated primarily because a few good radio people refused to roll over and play dead. Radio of the mid 1950s was made up of devotees who lived, ate, breathed, and slept radio.

Hall made the point that while television was busy adapting radio programming to TV, radio people were busy reinventing radio.

Television had taken Red Skelton, the Lone Ranger, and Fibber McGee and Molly, but innovators were busy devising new better formats to replace them. Gordon McLendon, Todd Storz, Bill Stewart, Chuck Blore and countless others help reinvent radio creating Top 40, Beautiful Music, All News, and other formats in the years following television’s debut.

Faced with a new-media threat, radio understood that winning was all about product. Deliver an exciting, dramatic, and entertaining product, and nothing can beat local radio. Hall noted even in 1977 that radio was forced to make constant adjustments almost on a day to day basis, but that radio was up to the task:

As a direct result of the dynamic, energetic people in it, radio, as a medium, seems to be totally regenerating.

The key to local radio’s continued strength is innovation. And the key to innovation is enlisting the help of people who do not accept the status quo, and do not accept the inevitability of radio’s demise.

Product innovation made radio successful. Product innovation saved radio in the 1950s. It will save local radio today-provided industry leaders understand that product innovation, not technology, will make the difference. People don’t listen to apps.

— Glenda Shrader Bos & Richard Harker of Harker Research