From The Corner Office – October 2010

October 12, 2010

The Forecast Is Mostly Sunny

I am writing this column having just returned from the Radio Show in Washington, D.C.  This combined NAB/RAB conference was a well-attended event with over a thousand broadcasters converging on the Grand Hyatt to discuss the present and future of our business.  More importantly, there was a marked change in the atmosphere from recent years, with owners, managers and staff alike all recognizing that there is reason for optimism as we plot our path toward the future.

First and foremost, most broadcasters are seeing a better financial performance this year than last; we have turned the corner and gotten through the darkest leg of the trip.  And while certainly no one is claiming that everything is sunshine and roses, most broadcasters I spoke with are experiencing a year of steady improvement and building confidence on the part of their customers.  We are seeing some of radio’s most stalwart advertiser categories resuming their spending after the recessionary pause.  Like the general economy, the radio business is healing in a gradual and methodical fashion.  Is it as quick as we would like?  No.  Is it a “pop” that gives us a kick into high gear?  No.  But as I said in this space last year, the “new normal” is a world in which growth is hard-fought and incremental.  This is exactly what we are experiencing, but from where I stand, radio is holding its own and growing in this new media landscape.

I believe that there are several reasons driving this:

  • Radio’s close connection with its customers, both advertisers and listeners.  Our local orientation means that we are face-to-face with advertisers, and I think we’ve done a good job of rapidly adjusting and assisting them with new challenges as they have occurred.  It is a lot easier to explain that business has changed and make adjustments with your radio account manager than it is to figure out which keywords on a search engine are going to bring new customers into the business.  Radio has always been the targeted, flexible medium that can reshape an advertiser’s message in real time.  To our listeners, radio has reflected and spoken to the tough times that many of them have experienced.  Whether it is something as simple as reformatting a promotion to pay someone’s rent or mortgage for a year, or more community-oriented involvement sponsoring local job fairs, Greater Media stations and many others have reached out to help our listeners and communities.
  • Radio has embraced its online and interactive capabilities. At the Radio Show, there was no debate about whether we should be going interactive.  Unlike past years, that is now a consensus conclusion.  This year, the conversation was about the best way to get there.  There was a healthy collection of providers who are offering more customized and effective solutions to the online challenge.  Radio is trying a variety of different approaches and experimenting in many different segments of the interactive world.  We are now creating video as well as audio, both streamed and on demand.  We are rapidly creating social media communities with our listeners, who are more than eager to interact with our personalities in this new and intimate way.  I am confident that we will find the most effective union of online and on-air capabilities.  This is where our flexibility and creativity will shine.
  • Radio continues to dominate audio media experiences for a broad swath of the American public.  When you cut through the chatter and the hype, here we are almost in 2011, and broadcast radio maintains its position as the dominant music discovery source.  Despite all the new competition from innovative online competitors, even young listeners still look toward their favorite station for a taste of what’s new.  That’s a reflection of the equity and trust built over time; radio will maintain that position as long as we continue to be innovative, creative and responsive to our listening audiences.  Recording artists who ignore their debt to radio and the music industry try to downplay this value, but it is undeniable.
  • When it comes to information, news, sports and opinion, nothing can beat the hometown voice of radio.  With every urgent weather forecast, breaking news bulletin, or election season, our medium proves itself once again.  It is because of this ingrained reliance that the NAB and many of us are working hard to get radio included in cellphones; not just because it is good for our industry, but we know we are a strong, secure, reliable channel of necessary information to our communities.
  • We are watching closely the evolution of the car dashboard and the new multi-purpose online and on-air devices that are in the development pipeline.  Radio knows that we will share “windshield time” with online and interactive media of many kinds, but we are also prepared to fight to maintain our position as the companion of choice for millions of drivers each day.

It is a new world with new competitors and new partners, but radio continues to do what it does best:  adapt.  Certainly if the conversations at the NAB were indicative of the overall health of our industry, there are good reasons to be confident as we transform ourselves in the 21st century.  Nothing happens overnight, but the change over the past 12 months has been dramatic.

How has your business evolved in the past year?  I’d love to hear about it; just drop me a note at AskPeter@greatermedia.com