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Ground Hog Day

Last Friday we recognized Ground Hog Day. That day when a marmot is the focus of predicting the end of winter. The groundhog wakes up from hibernation on February 2. If it sees its’ shadow when it emerges from its’ burrow, we have six more weeks of winter. If it doesn’t, spring will arrive soon. What Ground Hog Day used to mean has changed in modern day nomenclature. Today it’s used as a reference to something repeating over and over. Unchanged. Coming from the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell, the reference as it applies to radio would be how we keep doing the same thing without change. We expect radio to have a resurgence, but we do nothing to make that reality.

When one closely examines radio and its’ history, there have been very few changes since the launch of what was once known as Top-40. That was a seismic shift that happened 70 years ago. Album Oriented Rock was another. That happened 54 years ago. While talk radio existed before Rush Limbaugh became a nationally syndicated host, he is recognized as the talent whose show brought an audience back to the AM while creating a genre known for its’ focus on politics. That was 36 years ago.  There have been variations of existing formats, like Adult Variety (think “Jack”) but very little in recent years to create a seismic shift in content.

Maybe my desire for a new approach is futile. When radio was changing the media landscape there was only Radio & TV, Newspapers and Magazines. That was it. When I speak to friends of a certain generation, they brag about the once huge listening audiences of legacy media. There’s seldom acknowledgment that the level of competition today is greatly magnified because of technological, social, and familial changes. Entertainment and information is portable and on-demand. Radio isn’t just competing with radio today. It’s competing with everything. Everything. Like all of media faces.

A dissection of what could be a possible lifeline would necessitate a willingness to change and break away from “Groundhog Day” behavior. We must first realize that audio listeners today curate their own experience. That means that radio content has to be everywhere. Over the air (OTA), Online, On Demand, On Podcasts, and mobile by being on apps. Not just a landing page for an app. Apps that are high-tech and enable live, on-demand, and rewind. Provide unique streams. Information and communication between the listener and the talent. Looking to the future … the ability to skip songs.

Smart speakers put radio back in the home and in the workplace. Which is a great opportunity for the medium, but too few have balanced audio levels, create glitch-free transitions, and as a result they have downgraded the listening experience. Perfect sound quality should be the standard. Not the exception.

Digital delivery is nearly equal to OTA listening. The same can be said for those who have not considered the opportunities available to radio with the Connected Car. Quu is one example of a company that is enhancing the in-car radio experience for advertisers and listeners by employing the senses of sound and sight. My perception though is that too few in radio are focusing on being a multiplatform product. There are other businesses whose success is dependent on delivery that are more committed to perfection than radio. That concerns me because I believe in radio and its reach.

It’s not enough to be “good enough.” Content has to be at a higher level. Be that investing in local personalities, using syndication or voice-tracking. That isn’t settling. Radio is being judged today against better medium. Medium that you can’t ignore. That’s new, fresh, and engaging. Like the movie Groundhog Day, we continue to live the same day everyday expecting a different outcome. We know what to do. We just don’t have the stomach to do it.

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