When the Traffic Audience Leaves


This is going to be painful. Watch as the only recurring element in radio programming that the audience can immediately respond to moves to cell phones.

Traffic reports are a radio industry mainstay, yet it was not always this way. In the early 1980s getting music intensive radio stations to offer listeners traffic reports was an unheard of (or more appropriately, an "unlistened to") proposition. One man, David Saperstein, changed that by creating Metro Networks, known then as Metro Traffic Control.

This doesn’t mean that Mr. Saperstein created the reports and radio ran them;   that’s far from reality. In those earlier years radio owners and managers didn’t believe their audiences wanted to hear traffic reports in place of music or personalities. It took years before the light bulb went off in the majority of radio executives’ suites.

Thankfully there were no cell phones around then because, had there been, the marrying of traffic reports and the ever-present cell phone would have prevailed. Traffic on radio is accessed only when persons get into their vehicles. With a cell phone I can get my report on the elevator, on the way to my car, and I don’t have to wait until a set time.

The traffic report will increasingly become more cell phone-centric this article at DM News suggests.

If you are more open to new concepts than 1980-ish radio industry leaders, you’ll testify to the explosion of cell phones and the siphoning of responsibility for delivering bits of local information that used to come via AM or FM radio.

The question is "Will the radio industry fire the person who suggests that radio traffic reports be placed online and easily made accessible by cell phone?" More important is the question, "Will radio place that traffic report at a location where the consumer can access it without going through the station’s home page?" (An example would be to promote traffic reports at “http://wmms.com/traffic”, where currently you’ll find an Error page that serves you a banner ad… selling, among other things, cell phones.)

Want a traffic report from the WMMS web site? You’ll have to go to its
"http://wmms.com/main.html"  home page, scroll far down, and then click on a "TRAFFIC REPORT" link positioned under a "WEATHER" header, just above the day’s "Humidity." (???)

To look at the WMMS web site you’d think that an 18-34 male never thought about cars or computers, or cell phones. There’s no mention of any of these, except in an ad. But there are plenty of inane comments like "What the Hell does Ookie Fanookie mean?????," not to mention tons of promotional banners about Clear Channel’s online fair and WMMS programs. Oh! Let’s not forget the other predominant items there, pictures of "Babes" and "Hot Celebrities." (My 21-year-old son would much rather look at ways to make his car hotter, or tips on tech. He knows where to find better listings of "babes.")

In another five years the number of people listening to radio for traffic reports is going to tumble more quickly than it rose.

If radio wants to prevent continuing audience erosion, it needs to rethink how people are accessing items of importance. Knowing that it ignored the draw of traffic reports in the early 1980s, you’d expect the radio industry to be way in front of the curve on this upcoming move to cell phones; although, the example above shows it’s not.

Now that traffic reports are available on the phone, complete with video cameras pointing at a person’s main road home, and on a "when I want" (demand) basis, traffic reports on the radio are not the draw they once were.

When the traffic audience leaves, will radio industry executives again claim they didn’t see this coming?
A bigger question for radio may be this: "What of value will be left in its programming that the audience can respond to immediately, when a cell phone responds immediately to them?"

(source: Ken Dardis, www.audiographics.com)

Publisher’s Note (Correction):  An erroneous bit of information ran in this article. I stated that it was my understanding Jim Varga – a tech specialists who I admire – was fired from Clear Channel’s Cleveland radio group. I stand corrected, and offer an apology to Jim Varga and the Cleveland Clear Channel cluster for this misinformation. As Jim states: "I put in my 30 day notice and left with a great working relationship and they are still clients of mine today." Ken Dardis – Audio Graphics, Inc.