Now Cough

Monday, September 18, 2006

Weak Signal

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was rightly pilloried for the lame explanation for going to war in Iraq with not enough troops and not the right equipment:

You go to war with the Army you have.

The same sort of explanation can be applied to the much lower stakes world of public radio: the sound of it is in the hands of the producers and creators we have.

Depending how you look at the latest audience numbers, the trend is either flat or falling. In any case, radio is not a growth medium and neither is public radio.

Yet this last weekend in Philadelphia a few hundred station program directors -- people who decide what gets on the air on public radio stations -- clapped and seemed to approve of a variety of programming ideas that go in one direction, when all the demographic research goes the other.

Take Sound Opinions produced at the gutsy Chicago Public Radio and distributed by American Public Media. This is an ok show, passionate and smart. But it follows the rest of a public radio pattern: hosted and produced by a white staff and largely focused on things of interest only to that audience. As a podcast, it certainly has a devoted listenership. But of all the programs to launch this year, is this where money and attention should go?

Core listeners to public radio are declining. Boomers still have fact as all listeners get older there is some age-appeal to public radio. But as so much data show, listeners are listening in places other than radio. And that is a trend across all racial groups.

Jacobs Media cites many lessons learned in its consulting practice, but this one stands out:

Listen to the audience

As Mark Ramsey wrote recently, people want choice:

While very few folks have tuned out radio altogether, time for more choices must come from somewhere. And it's going to come first from the industry that consumes most of it: Radio.
The NYT [includes] a very telling graphic which will come as no surprise to you.
And it's worth noting that the age groups with the biggest declines are NOT the groups with the most satellite radios. But they ARE the groups with the most iPods and the most Internet savvy.
Think about that when you next hear the industry obsess on satellite radio. Then ask yourself who this obsession is for: The industry, the consumers - or the "Street."

...and maybe that's why a show like Second Opinions does better as a podcast, because as a mass appeal broadcast it'll have a struggle.

As Spanish becomes increasingly the dominant language in LA and the iPod and all portable listening grows, what will be radio's appeal?

  • Local

  • Variety and risk--lots of it

  • Stars

  • Uniqueness. Not repurposing, not the same voices and songs and patterns

  • Audience creation

  • Originality

  • It was hard to hear any of this in Philadelphia.

    Photo by Unhindered by Talent

    Sunday, September 10, 2006

    Five Years Later

    The Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan.

    The reputation of the United States is lower than it has been since Viet Nam, even among our allies.

    This past week, the number of US troops killed in Iraq surpassed the number of civilians who died on Sept 11.

    Support for the Iraqi constitution is fraying among Iraq political factions.

    The president admits there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

    The British disabled an apparent terrorist plan to blow up more than one US airliner in flight over the Atlantic.

    FBI, CIA and immigration watch lists are not yet coordinated at airports and points of entry.

    First responders are still not prepared for biological and nuclear attacks in major cities.

    Federal homeland defense funds are not primarily directed at NYC and Washington, DC.

    The FBI does not have adequate computer systems.

    The president and the vice president have never spoken under oath about what they knew leading up to 9/11.

    No one in the US government has ever been held responsible for the failure to connect the dots on 9/11.

    Osama bin Laden is still free.

    There is a constant atmosphere of fear and foreboding when the war on terror has no end.

    Arron Dack died on 9/11 and left behind his wife Abby and two children, Olivia and Carter.