When Will Digital Takeover? By Andy Meadows

A worldwide crisis has a way of acting as an accelerate for change that was eventually going to happen anyway and I believe we’re seeing that within our industry right now. The pandemic has poured fuel on a fire, bringing into light a massive shift in our listener’s lifestyle habits that had only previously been visible to people looking deeply into the shadows. With the pandemic that shift was clear and obvious because it was so widespread. People woke up later, didn’t commute as often, or as regularly, and their overall rituals and patterns were turned upside down. However, for years now people had already been shopping differently, interacting with people differently and consuming media differently than they had been with each passing year. 

Those changing habits are the main reason why few young people aspire to the careers many of us did in our youth, like becoming a tv anchor, radio personality or an award-winning investigative newspaper journalist that cracks the big story. Now the young are more likely to aspire to becoming a YouTube star, TikTok dancer, Instagram influencer or gamer on Twitch. I’m in no way knocking those aspirations, in some ways their noble in the sense that they require you to build your following and fame on your own without the help of established companies and industries with clear paths for rising through the ranks. 

Exactly how all of these changes affect us is hard to pinpoint but its become clearer recently. There will come a time in the not so distant future where our terrestrial signals are mainly there to promote our digital assets. Outsiders looking into our industry would tell us that time has already come. If that seems absurd to you its probably because your still having success using the same model you’ve used for years and still showing incremental success over prior years. I would argue that some of that is probably made possible by what I call hidden digital dollars but mainly its because the shift hasn’t yet happened completely. 

For years now, first as a colleague and now as a consultant, I’ve been talking to radio people about the importance of creating clickable, shareable digital content. Some of the arguments I was met with a decade ago still persist today, although with much less vigor and angst. Why would I spend an hour writing a blog that nobody is going to see, spend time posting on social media or creating a podcast in a crowded marketplace that doesn’t make any money? Wouldn’t that time be better spent working on my show that has a massive audience and generates a lot of revenue already? But all of that terrestrial value only exists because you, your coworkers and the institution you worked for created that value. Besides, properly using a station’s digital assets only improves a radio show. Its hard to think of a better way to fine tune a stations content than by adjusting it to fit other platforms and getting real-time tangible feedback on it. 

About a decade ago if you were in charge of building and managing websites you were seeing the monthly stats clearly indicating a shift toward mobile and tablets and away from laptops and desktops. Because of that we all started to design our websites to look and function best on a mobile and tablet first while still remaining aesthetically pleasing and functional on a laptop and desktop. I’m simply trying to make the case that we take that same approach to radio. Asking ourselves, what would our station sound like if we programmed it for digital first, but in a way that still worked on terrestrial? How long would our stopsets, our talk-breaks and imaging pieces be? How would we shift our music programming to ensure that we’re still a new music discovery device? What would our promotions look like? How would we incorporate our sponsors into this new model? 

We can’t judge our future success on our past failures. If you’ve tried to devote man hours and budgeted dollars to digital only to see minimal results for either, don’t let that discourage you from doing either going forward. People’s habits are changing, now more drastically then ever, but the question is are our habits changing? We can’t cram an old media and model into new platforms and expect it flourish. 

I was incredibly inspired by some of the innovations I saw from radio people during the pandemic. The rush to build home studios so we could still provide a friendly voice to the people of our communities, embracing new technology like Zoom to still do contests and benchmarks and coming up with inventive ways to support our local businesses and charitable organizations. Now let’s turn that innovation toward reinventing our industry in a way that will work now and going forward for the next hundred years. 

What do you think? Comment below or email me with your thoughts at andy@radiostationconsultant.com.

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