Radio: There will be no more new music formats

Mark Ramsey says the last successful new radio format was the Variety Hits format, “Jack.” I barely remember that format (now 15 years old). Mr. Ramsey says there as been no new youth-based format on the radio fail in generations… and there never will be “but because the tastes are so fractured among millennials that there is no popular thread of music that isn’t already absorbed sufficiently well by an existing format.”

I’m not sure who would care about this theory besides someone who programs a radio station. He offers some insight into who listens to which formats and why but it all seems a bit… academic to me. Like reflecting on Mayan culture.

People still listening to radio. Even for news.

“91% of Americans ages 12 and older had listened to traditional AM/FM radio in the week before they were surveyed in 2015, according to Nielsen Media Research. […] In research asking about how people are learning about the U.S. presidential election, 44% of adults said they learned about it from radio in the past week. Radio outpaced both national (23%) and local (29%) print newspapers, although it trailed local TV news (57%) and cable TV news (54%).”

Pew Research State of the News Media 2016

A finite amount of attention

“Perceptual Load Theory states that we have a finite amount of attention and that once that capacity is maxed out, we cannot process anything else. To test whether paying attention to radio traffic reports can be bad for our driving, Gillian Murphy asked 36 people to drive a route in a full-sized driving simulator while listening to a traffic update on the radio.”

Listening to the radio could impair drivers’ concentration

Will radio find a home in your next car?

This article says yes (I think). Everyone seems to agree younger listeners are turning to their phones for audio but there are still lots of folks listening to the radio.

Ninety-three percent of U.S. adults listen to radio weekly, according to Nielsen. 96 percent of U.S. adults (and 94 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds) owned a radio in 2008; today, 79 percent of adults do, and just 68 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds do.

The big radio companies are apparently in the shit but that might be the result of some bad business decisions as much as changing listening habits.

iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel), the largest radio company in the U.S. with 850 stations, currently trades for just around a dollar a share, down from around $6 last April. The company is loaded down with debt, and restructuring or bankruptcy could be in its future. Cumulus Media, which owns 454 stations, trades at just $0.54 a share, and NASDAQ has warned that its share price is so low it could be delisted. Emmis Communications stock trades under a dollar. And CBS announced last month that it is planning to sell off its radio stations.

I could certainly have done without the CD player in my MINI. And probably the radio but I don’t think that was even an option.

Warren Krech: 40 years behind the mic

Warren (“Krech in the Morning”) Krech is retiring from radio at the end of the month, wrapping up a career that started in 1972. He’s been on the air in Jefferson City, Missouri, since 1984. Almost half a century of getting up every morning at 3 a.m. Be hard to find someone more involved in his community than Warren and it’s hard not think in terms of “end of an era.” He has seen and been part of a lot of changes in radio and talked about them in this 16 minute chat/shoptalk.

When time stands still

In late summer of 1972 I had been “promoted” from baby-sitting the automation that ran our FM radio station to a live shift (3-7 p.m.) on the AM station. I had recorded weather reports for the FM station but being on the air live was intimidating.

Our stations had no affiliation with national news networks so our only source was the Associated Press wire. Every hour the AP teletype would spit out a national news summary, timed to run about five minutes for a typical reader. At our little stations, the announcer on duty did everything, including reading the news at the top of the hour.

Steve Mays - KBOA

At precisely the top of the hour, the FM automation stopped cold for exactly five minutes. The person “running the board” on the AM would throw a switch that “simulcast” the two stations for those five minutes so the same live newscast could go out on both the AM and the FM. At precisely five minutes past the top of the hour, you throw the switch back as the FM automation takes over again.

I found this procedure challenging. More accurately, I found the last 30 seconds challenging. If you were in the middle of longer story you had to find a place to break in order to “make the join.”

After a week or two I started getting comfortable with this operation and then one day I finished reading the news — every story — and looked up at the clock and saw that I was a minute early. I couldn’t flip the with to send the FM back to automation because it would result in a minute of dead air. The Ultimate Sin for new radio guys.

I don’t remember how I filled that minute. Probably with weather, maybe a couple of “community highlights.” All I really remember was the knot in my stomach and the sense of time dilation.

It’s unlikely that I’ll ever be in a situation where I have to “fill” for a minute. But if I am, I’m going to tell this story.

An end of radio

Bob Conner, Chief Engineer_4778633546_o“Just as newspapers fell off a cliff, radio is about to follow. It’s going to happen faster than anyone expects. And of course, it will be replaced by a new thing, a long tail of audio that’s similar (but completely different) from what we were looking for from radio all along. And that audience is just waiting for you to create something worth listening to.”

Seth Godin blog post