Remember when you were a kid when you had several friends together in a row one of you would whisper a word or phrase in the ear of the kid seated next to you and he whispered what he 'thought' he heard you say into the ear of the kid next to him and so on and so on? The fun part of this game was when the last kid in the row repeated what he was told. Invariably, what that last kid repeated was considerably different from the original message. Oh what fun we had!
Did you know this game is still going on?
Yes sir, and the thing to worry about is that it's being played primarily by members of the print media and the words they are butchering directly impact the image and perception of the radio business.
I must receive at least three calls a week these days from print journalists seeking answers or advice that can help them write a column. Typically, the first question out of their mouths is "So, is it true that radio is dead?" Before responding, I ask why they ask. I can't remember one of the 15 or so journalists I've spoken with this year telling me that they ask because they had found reliable statistics supporting this claim. Their sources have 100% been other print journalists. Even better, they tell me they'd read it on Internet blogs!
This telephone game emaciates the truth as one journalist after another not only repeats a story that is not true but that is often embellished.
The truth is that for the third year in a row our research at Bridge Ratings shows that the number of people listening to AM/FM radio stations on a weekly basis has slipped only slightly in recent years. Between 2001 and 2006 our information indicates this number has gone from 96% to 94% of the U.S. population using traditional radio in a typical week. Use among younger listeners has been reduced more noticeably (92% to 89%), but there are still 34 million 15-24 year olds still listening every week.
It is only fair to mention that time-spent with traditional radio is falling slightly with 15-24 year olds overall - only about thirty minutes a week over the last three years. A small percentage (known as innovators or early adopters) of this younger generation has turned off traditional radio faster than their 'mainstream' counterparts. This is an audience segment radio may never see again unless broadcasters accelerate their adoption of new technologies and get counter-intuitive and rehire some of the key programming minds that have been lost due to consolidation. But there is no significant decline in listening overall.
Traditional radio has gone from being an exclusive club with only one member to a club where multiple players have joined. The Internet, MP3 players, satellite radio - digital technology in general has joined the club in a voting block that is hard to deny. But the club member with the biggest clout remains traditional radio.
Even in-car, long the safe haven for terrestrial radio, is being invaded by these new technologies, but not at levels that would cause any right thinking individual that traditional radio is dead. In a new updated Bridge Ratings study of in-car media use, 74% of those interviewed said that radio was still the medium of choice in-car even when other technology was available including satellite, MP3 players and cell phones!
So, when you read another news story about the demise of traditional radio, remember the days of the telephone game and how much it made you laugh back then; how silly it was that communication along a line of friends could get so mangled that the original message bore no resemblance to the words repeated by the last kid in line. In general, perhaps due to competition for column inches today's journalists write what they think will get published often without regard to truth or reliability.
The truth is out there - it just may require more digging to find it.