The Demise of Radio

In the New York times article about the plight of traditional radio, Richard Siklos sums up the problem in one sentence, while talking about a particular commuter who has tuned out over the air stations:

Mr. Glassman, who is 51, said he turned a deaf ear to radio primarily because of the advertising and because he finds the playlists of his favorite stations too mainstream and limited.

It’s a two-headed monster that is killing traditional radio.  The first is the limited playlist that appeals to a very limited demographic.  Back in the day, narrowly crafted stations weren’t an option and so people found the station that was closest to their taste and stuck with it.  Now, thanks to satellite radio and online services, there are an infinite number of programming choices.  What used to be good enough simply isn’t any longer.

The other, of course, is advertising.  I’ve talked about it plenty- people’s lives are hectic and stressful enough these days.  They will no longer tolerate someone screaming in their ear about how some car dealer will not be undersold, etc.  People want radio, which is primarily a car-based experience, to be a relaxing influence- not just another run at their wallet.

It’s funny though.  I talked the other night about listening to WOWO at night on my little transistor radio when I was a kid.  I bet I logged hundreds of hours listening as I fell asleep.  I don’t remember the ads.  I’m sure they were there.  Maybe they have gotten more intrusive.  Maybe now that I am part of the targeted demographic, I have lost the ability to tune them out.  Maybe technology like XM and TIVO have spoiled me. I just know that I can’t remember hearing the ads I can no longer tolerate on WOWO when I was a kid.

And I know that for a few bucks a month, I don’t have to tolerate them.  That, together with portable music players and CD-Rs full of MP3s, is what will eventually spell the end of traditional radio.

Right now, the majority of radio listeners (230 million to 11 million) still suffer through traditional radio.  That tells us two things.

One, that there are other negative forces at work against traditional radio, such as the loss of greater numbers of younger listeners.  My hunch is that many of the people who listen to traditional radio are casual listeners- who have the radio on because it is the only option in the car, but who are not committed listeners.  I also expect more and more people are gravitating towards talk and sports radio, which is generally local by defintion and probably less subject to listener erosion than music radio.

Two, what is a bad situation now for traditional radio is only going to get worse and more and more people gravitate to other music sources.

HD Radio will stem the bleeding, but it won’t stop the migration to ad-free pastures.  Radio stations can go online, but that doesn’t help the narrow playlist problem.

If there’s a way for traditional radio to regain momentum, I certainly can’t see it.

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