Another year and another ranking of Radio Ink’s “40 Most Powerful People In Radio” is on the streets and on coffee tables at stations everywhere.
And guess what? It continues to be comprised of CEOs, EVPs, and other heads of companies. This is nothing new. Now I know that inside the corner offices, those fortunate enough to be on the list track their actual rankings from year to year. And that’s understandable – they are all competitive people and it’s an honor to be proud of.
But as I was perusing this year’s list, I flashed back to 1999, and one of the early Summits in Los Angeles we put together as part of the R&R Convention. Jason Calacanis – new media entrepreneur and visionary – was our keynote speaker. Jason didn’t know a great deal about radio (besides being a fan), so in preparation for our event, he studied the current potpourri of radio trade publications.
And it was an unforgettable moment when Jason held up a copy of that year’s Radio Ink’s “40 Most Powerful” issue and told a full house that the list consisted entirely of corporate captains - in his words, “aggregators.” He openly questioned whether a medium that is about entertainment and information should be celebrating corporate achievement while content creators were left on the sidelines. Jason noted that not a single DJ or programming person was on the list.
And that was 1999.
Today, the media landscape looks a whole lot different. Pandora claims to be a major player in virtually every radio market, satellite radio has not gone away, HD Radio has not happened, and consumers are getting their content fix on a multitude of different screens and gadgets.
Yet, this year’s “40 Most Powerful” list looks an awful lot like it did back then. Yes, the names have changed. Now there’s Bob Pittman instead of Lowry Mays. But the job titles are all the same.
Despite the cataclysmic changes that have impacted the world of media, radio continues to be viable in spite of the competition. A recently released Nielsen study confirms that radio is still the go-to source for music discovery, and pure-plays continue to mimic traditional radio attributes.
But ultimately it will not come down to who best juggles the bottom line or who can make the best case to the investment community. The best content and the best distribution – or as Jon Stewart once said, the donuts and the trucks – will still be standing.
That’s why radio needs to celebrate its content creators, its true talent, its connections to consumers, just as the movie, TV, and other media industries do when they hand out award.
It’s not about CEOs, CFOs, DOS, or consultants. It is the people on-air and the geniuses behind the scenes who make it happen. That’s why millions of people tune in radios day in and day out, year in and year out.
The fact that a “40 Most Powerful” list continues to overlook the intangibles that come out of speakers and ear buds continues to speak volumes about the state of radio 13 years after Calacanis’ fiery speech. This is no knock on Radio Ink. It’s a great publication that celebrates the biggest power brokers in radio. And they would probably say that their new issue devoted to the best PDs is their tip of the hat to the programming side of the spectrum.
But none of Radio Ink’s Top 40 people would be where they are without Rush Limbaugh, Kevin Weatherly, Ryan Seacrest, Tom Poleman, or Tom Joyner. You could make the case that they hold a great deal of radio’s power. And every time people like Howard Stern, Adam Carolla, Steve Dahl, and the Magnozzi brothers leave the business (yes, public radio is radio, too), the industry’s infrastructure gets a little weaker.
What defines power?
Is it controlling the bottom line and expenses?
Is it attracting millions of consumers to tune in and engage?
I will leave that question to all of you, and the folks at Radio Ink to debate either in this space or in theirs.
But until we start seeing some people on their “40MPPIR” who are behind the mic or who provide the architecture and the content, you have to question radio’s priorities and vision. Why can’t radio celebrate innovation, whether it comes from the corner office or the on-air studio?