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Monday, July 23, 2007

2010: A Radio Odyssey

Did you see the film "2010", the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey? A joint American- Soviet expedition is sent to Jupiter to discover what went wrong with the U.S.S. Discovery against a backdrop of growing global tensions. Among the mysteries the expedition must explain are the appearance of a huge black monolith in Jupiter's orbit and the fate of H.A.L., the Discovery's sentient computer.

It was released in 1984. Good times.

That was before the Internet, before rap replaced pop, before iPods replaced discmans, file sharing changed music purchase habits, satellite radio, digital music, Internet radio, and terrorism was something that happened overseas.

Hard to believe we're closer to 2010 now than we are to 2001.

And 2010 will be a tipping point for radio in many ways.

From developing behaviors of radio listeners, changes in the ways they use radio are occurring more rapidly than perhaps is commonly known. Much like time-lapse photography where you don't recognize change unless you piece together views of behavior over long periods of time, the change in media has truly been a rapid development over a short period of time and radio's 'light at the end of the tunnel' is more likely to be an on-coming train than an end to difficult times.

And like the movie "2010", if radio had had the ability to send a probe into the future back in 1984 to learn what went wrong, hindsight would most surely have kick-started an industry wide reaction that would have perhaps led to a different outcome.

For here we are a mere 29 months from 2010 and radio is running out of time.

Running out of time to remain competitive.

Running out of time to develop its people.

Running out of time to adapt to the digital universe.

Running out of time to learn how to microtarget.

Looking back over the last 6 years of work with clients of Bridge Ratings, it is becoming agonizingly clear that while the radio business has made solid efforts to grow its industry and to adapt it to the changing technological realities, it truly has not done enough. And this is what concerns me: current senior management at radio's best companies is not embracing the fact quickly enough that the future of our business rests solely on their shoulders - on their watch.

Today's senior radio managers will be long gone leaving their trainees the keys to the kingdom. It is the opinion of many that the next generation of radio leaders, in general, do not have the technical and operational knowledge or experience to lead this business into the future.

Left in the hands of less experienced, inappropriately trained and myopic junior management, the industry will struggle to maintain status quo.

There is little going on in the area of strategic development in our business: programming development, creative sales development, new revenue stream development, marketing development and personnel/management development.

Frankly, I'm flummoxed (great word) about why this industry doesn't respond to the implications of its future.

Certainly, there has been plenty of coverage of multiple future forecasts about impending change and how fast it is occurring and the impact of audience attrition. So, it isn't non-awareness - and it isn't stupidity.

It is inertia more than actual resources that is the problem. And inertia in many ways is a much more difficult quagmire to be free of.

Yes, 2010 is coming fast and radio seems less prepared to exist in a technologically accelerating world.

It does, however, have a resource most of its competitors covet: its people. And its people are what just might save the radio industry from being swept over by the tide of change.

Let us hope that the powers that be know this too.

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