So said the headline of a July 16 press release from Alan Burns & Associates. And we have heard this claim before – many times. Type the words ‘Radio, Greatly, Exaggerated’ into Google and you can find other articles which trot out the famous quote from Mark Twain bent around radio in some fashion or another.
Every time someone asserts, as Alan does here, that radio has not shuffled off this mortal coil, I think of the poor old man being thrown on the dead cart in Monty Python and the Holy Grail screaming “I’m not dead yet” only to be told: “You’ll be dead soon enough.”
Because when we employ this trope, all that most people will process is “Gee, there must be a lot of such reports” and a focus on the word “demise.” After all, only an entity in the process of ‘demising’ needs to keep telling everyone how robust it actually is. This is not to criticize Alan Burns – he and the others are attempting to state a positive. I just believe that all anyone will hear is the embedded negative.
Much of the defense of over-the-air radio has centered on how much listeners will always prefer what AM and FM bring – that curated, easy, lean-back experience. And this is precisely why the AM and FM powers-that-be should change course and encourage Arbitron (or at least someone) to measure ALL of radio. Not just AM and FM stations and their attending streams, but also podcasts, satellite radio, pure plays, and HD. And anything else that comes along. Because while AM/FM listening may be declining a bit in total hours of usage, to my mind radio is booming. When one thinks of all of radio, I have to believe there is more consumption than at any time in history.
Think about it. There are so many more choices and so many new ways to access them. Time-shifting is now a relatively easy option for radio if you care enough to do it. Why did Spotify come to America and how did Songza recently launch successfully? Because radio, writ large, IS very much a healthy, thriving, and growing medium. It is just expanding beyond AM and FM. In some cases, this expansion is happening with “legacy radio’s” guidance (think iHeartRadio) and, of course, in other cases by companies with no direct connections to the AM and FM media companies (SiriusXM, Pandora).
But instead, we have allowed ourselves to get mired in a discussion of ‘what is radio?’ Is Pandora radio or not? As I have argued strenuously, the discussion is pointless. If we accept that, at the very least, one can’t easily consume any one of these while also consuming another; they all compete for a finite amount of time no matter what the ‘technical’ definitions say. And not for nothing – Clear Channel seems to count all usage of iHeartRadio the same when it reports the numbers, both the streams of over-the-air radio stations (“Radio”, by their definition) and the custom stations (“not Radio,” so they say). And their promos invite you to listen to hundreds of stations or create your own, which would also suggest a lack of differentiation by the consumer. And one more point – if measured in a total universe, AM & FM license holders may become more motivated to develop new approaches and innovations.
AccuRadio’s Kurt Hanson argues regularly that we are entering a new “Golden Age of Radio.” In the UK, where all forms of radio are measured together, this assertion has already been made. As I travel around the globe I generally hear nothing but optimism about the medium and its expansion in creativity and influence.
Only in America does one hear the echoes of Mark Twain. Demise? Not even close. Radio, when one thinks of it appropriately, is indeed stronger than ever before.