Radio Digs Its Own Grave as Cultural Currents Shift

Stolid biz loses a generation; Wi-Fi in cars could deliver a crushing blow

The major music business, the “new music” business, is built upon radio, it depends upon it.

There’s a fiction that we still live in a monoculture. This concept has been blown apart on television, where there are five hundred channels available, but the Luddites in radio still believe the Internet didn’t happen, that we’re all prisoners of the dial, where there are few stations and little innovation.

PHOTOS: Top 10 Radio Markets in the U.S.

There are radio alternatives (i.e., Pandora and the forthcoming iTunes Radio). Please don’t confuse Spotify and Rdio and Deezer and MOG/Daisy with radio, they’re nothing of the sort. Oh, they might have a Pandora or iTunes Radio component, but these streaming services are retail replacements, lending libraries wherein for 10 bucks a month you can go into the store and borrow anything you want, as long as you return it. Also, you’re not limited to one album at a time.

The radio alternatives represent market fragmentation. Because Internet in the car is not yet here on a widespread basis, they’ve had little impact on car listening. … Then again, we’ve experienced tapes in the car, CDs and iPod hookups. Terrestrial radio listenership is not close to what it once was. Radio used to dominate; it’s still the biggest player, but its market share has receded dramatically.

Sirius XM benefits from its automobile deals. That was the essence, even more than the programming. At this point, 10 years past launch, almost all cars are satellite-ready. Not everybody pays, but subscriptions exceed 20 million.

SEE ALSO: Jay-Z Announces New Album in Samsung Commercial

When Wi-Fi hits the car, or whatever type of cheap Internet access deploys in automobiles, Sirius XM will be challenged too. Right now, Sirius XM’s Internet play is laughable.

Most people under age 20 have never experienced good radio. So when baby boomers and Gen X’ers start waxing rhapsodically about their old-time favorites, wanting them to come back, it’s the equivalent of wishing that musicvideos would come back to MTV.

Insiders believe that there’s no revolution in terrestrial radio because the owners know it’s headed into the dumper. They’re just milking it for all they can before it falls off a cliff. So if you’re waiting for format innovation and fewer commercials … you’ll be waiting forever.

SEE ALSO: Veteran Rockers Stage Digital Revival

The challenge of Spotify/Rdio/etc. is … to tell their subscribers what to listen to. That’s what traditional radio has done best. So far, these services have not succeeded because they’re run by techies, and curation is all about human effort, not algorithms, otherwise we’d all be in relationships determined by computers.

Terrestrial radio sells records and builds careers. Just not as well as before. The reason we see so few diamond-sellers isn’t because of piracy so much as the fragmentation of the audience. In the old days of the walled garden, of radio and MTV dominance, if something got airplay, it went nuclear; now radio just plays to its niche.

There’s very little innovation in the music played on alternative and active rock stations. Hip-hop killed rock and roll, but rather than innovating, rock and roll stayed the same. And now electronic music is killing hip-hop. Sure, kids want something different from their parents, but even more, they want to own the scene, they don’t want to be dictated to, they want something that’s testing the limits!

Look at trends. Ten years ago the major labels said no record ever broke on the Internet. Look at Psy’s “Gangnam Style”! Radio is dying and YouTube and other alternatives are growing.

We, as a culture, want to feel included. That’s what the radio of yore was all about. To grow mass, you’ve got to make us feel included. In other words, it’s all about culture. Talk radio has culture. As does public radio. After that, it’s a vast wasteland of sold-out stations with the same fl aw of network TV. … Trying for broad-based appeal, they appeal to no one, and cede their market to excellence. HBO and the cable outlets killed networks with quality. … If you don’t think new services will kill terrestrial radio, you must like inane commercials, you must like me-too music, you must think airplay on one of these outlets will sell millions of albums, but that almost never happens anymore.

Read more Bob Lefsetz columns at

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 210

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Jonathan says:

    While this is a reasonably thought out article, it is way to ahead of d realities of ds time outside of the USA urban markets.

    Radio I’m it’s traditional sense will be like this for many many tears to come in Europe, Asia and Africa. These places contribute the most listening population across d globe.

    I however do agree that there is a great need for we programs managers to be more sensitive about changing demographics in our markets. What I actually do strongly recommend is for the curbing of national broadcasters as we know it today and to grow local broadcasters that are more sensitive to the needs of their immediate markets.

    Internet penetration on a per head basis is so way behind I. There at of the world such that the idea of wifi radio will only be laughable in cars meant for outside of the major American cities.

    The most tenacious character of radjo has remained it’s simplicity, the more complicated it gets, either technology wise or in some other regards,then it will not be accepted- see the examples of sirius and DAB.

    Radio is changing but not in the extreme directions you have sometimes noted here.

  2. dbanimate says:

    radio won’t completely die – it will continue on life support like newspapers and network tv. i find it interesting that most of the comments here are from older people (like me) who grew up with radio as a major player. kids aren’t posting here because radio isn’t even on their radar anymore. Teens and 20 something’s tell me once in a while they’ll catch a morning show, but they don’t really listen to radio. they have access to millions of songs anytime they want and they play them anyway they want. radio is a relic their parents were into.

  3. I agree with the comment that radio is not the innovator it once was. I am of the generation that listened to good radio and decided to continue offering it… on-line. Playing the same 300 records over and over is not a fair offering to the listener. It burns them out rather quickly. While I haven’t played “new” music in decades, I have found a winning format for “oldies” that is attracting a thirty-something demographic. Once-upon-a-time, as a programmer for over forty-years, I would have said not to get nostalgic with oldies radio. Today, I believe it is an alluring plus. I am offering listeners 100 years of top 40 hits: 1900 to 1999 (emphasis on 1955 to 1979) plus music from Disney TV, film and theme parks, classic commercials, classic radio jingles, TV theme songs and more. I call it The 20th Century Soundtrack. Although I am an internet based station, I am also on a local broadcast station during afternoon drive, where the response has been remarkable! I use the broadcast hours as an “infomercial” for my internet stream and am actually telling the listener that internet radio is the future, to get them used to tuning into a stream rather than a frequency. To hear what I am “innovating” on-line, use this link. While it may seem like a “shameless plug”, this is not my purpose. I felt others should hear what can be done to attract listeners to internet radio listening.

  4. Barb Wunder says:

    I’ve made a lot of dumb moves in my 58 years, but the decision I made when I was 22 to get out of radio (unless I was a big star or an owner) by 40 was a darned good one.

  5. Ah yes, a rare moment of hubris from Phillip. We’ll call you when we need a consultant, I’m sure.

    • We wonder if George Foreman made a lot of money off of Ali’s ….hubris..? Is radio not “theater”..? Is radio not just a voice inside your head..? Therefore this comment section is just like radio..?

      is it not..?

      2 B…or not 2 b…….we wonder if Mary Beth is rolling on the floor behind her desk…?

      Charlie……….keep smiling.

  6. Harley says:

    This has to be one of the most interesting, enlightening and just plain FUN discussions I’ve ever been a part of. A few follow-ups, if I may;

    As I said earlier, I’ve been in the biz since the 70’s and now run a college-owned public radio station and teach broadcast practicum…and I believe that radio as we know it is in its final days.

    To those who say that radio has survived challenges and new media before, I say yes…BUT…with those challenges, it still possessed a certain exclusivity. That is to say, radio = portability. If you wanted music or news or sports, radio was the place…the ONLY place you had to turn if you weren’t parked in front of a TV set. Sure there were records, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs. But how convenient was it to carry all that with you? My smart phone carries the equivalent of a trunk full of CDs and it (along with my wallet and keys) is always with me. It also carries every radio station in the world that streams, TV shows and movies on-demand, podcasts and a gazillion other entertaining distractions. And more to the point, it offers many of them when I want them. That’s called “convenience”, and people will migrate to what’s convenient every time. Especially when a new convenience offers a lot more than the old one.

    To those who point to disasters like Sandy and the recent spate of tornados as radio’s strength, I say that to hang radio’s future on transient events that give it a couple of days or weeks in the spotlight are missing the big picture. It’s like the days when America was making the transition from the horse to the automobile. Sure, sometimes the car broke down or got stuck on a muddy road. Then you broke the horse out of it’s stall. But as soon as the car was fixed and the roads dried out, the ol’ grey mare was back out to pasture.

    Finally, to Mary Beth (and dog-gonnit dear, I hate to do this because it seems like everyone is piling on you), I need some clarification. Because you say that though listening trends didn’t change, the PPM showed a 35-40% DROP in AQH compared to the diary in those markets. So the PPM, which hears radio that the wearer may not even be listening to…in fact, hears radio the wearer may not even be hearing and records it all shows a DECREASE in AQH listening? And a big one at that! Now while I’ll agree that the diary is a far more accurate tool when assessing listening habits, it seems to me that PPM would be a much better way to track EXPOSURE to radio. And if you’re not being exposed, you can’t listen. So if PPM is hearing 35-40% less radio exposure than was recorded previously in diaries, what are we to surmise?

    And we haven’t seen the worst of it yet. Because as goes the car, so goes radio. Radio has been our steadfast companion medium in the car since the ’30’s. But linkable dashboards and cars that are “mobile hotspots” are about to exponentially widen our circle of in-car companions.

    Will radio survive? No. Not in its current configuration. Radio (and I’m talking primarily music radio) has to completely re-invent its programming and delivery. New music and lots of it. Playing the same 350 auditorium tested hits is not gonna cut it in the future. It’s barely cutting it now, sending listeners in droves to all the music services mentioned in the previous 200+ comments. Jocks need to become music curators and give context to what they are playing. Because the listener can get the latest on Honey Boo-Boo and the Real Wives of Muncie Indiana anywhere. Incorporate video, because in the very near future (and even right now) the lines between video, audio and recording are blurring and will eventually disappear completely. Morning shows need to segment into easily pod-castable portions that are available on-demand and can eventually be monetized. Stations that do this will have a chance.

    The problem is that most of radio’s greatest innovators, free thinkers, the best and the brightest have been purged in favor of corporate-friendly sycophants. At the most crucial point in its history, radio’s real leaders, its battle tested Generals, have been replaced by bean-counting lieutenants. Maybe that can be a good thing…allow us to cull the weak out of the herd and get back to a more reasonable number of terrestrial signals like we had pre-1985. One thing is sure…change is here. You can hop off that horse, slide behind the wheel and go with it…or you can keep selling buggy whips from your stand next to the interstate.

    • Sir Harley, So True!

      “The problem is that most of radio’s greatest innovators, free thinkers, the best and the brightest have been purged in favor of corporate-friendly sycophants. At the most crucial point in its history, radio’s real leaders, its battle tested Generals, have been replaced by bean-counting lieutenants.

      However, we all must have faith and do our part. Survival of the fittest and adaptive radiation.
      “I’m only Sleeping” — The Beatles.
      “The Best is Yet to Come” – Tony Bennet.
      “I’m On The Outside Lookin In” – Little Anthony aka Tough Tony and The Imperials

  7. Eldon Luoma says:

    Radio is great especially AM with its long distance capability. If the internet goes down radio is there. Any idiots who thing it is dead does not know radio very well. I know big corporation radio has tried to kill it but check out all the great independent owned local Am and Fm stations across the USA and other locations. Some not only broadcast locally on AM but now stream on the internet. I have high quality AM and FM long distance radios and 4 internet wi-fi radios that get eover 12,000 stations worldwide. Local over the air AM and FM is important especially for emergencies

  8. KRG does not do pensions. I deal only in supportable facts. And a passion for radio, what it means in my life, my 23 year old goddaughter’s life, Richard Greenfield (BTIG analyst)’s 10 year old daughters (all 3 LOVE Z100 in NY). The kids across the street (11 and 12 year olds) who love KIIS-FM. You see what you want. I see what like and what the data from dozens of sources tells me. Each of us has a perspective to which we are entitled. I just happen to be able to support mine with endless sources of data.

  9. Austin says:

    Is it video killed the radio star or internet killed the video star or tv killed the radio star or internet killed the tv star or..

    You want to know the number 1 reason each kills the previous – advertisements lag behind. So the public has a semblance of peace for that oh so brief moment, such as:
    AOL killed the ICQ star (then AOL bombared the mail/email/chatroom with ads)
    the Blogospere killed the IM star (then plastered the sites with as links)
    Myspace killed the Blogospere star (then bombarded the site with ads/sold out to the man)
    Facebook killed the Myspace star (then bombarded the site with suggestions)
    Twitter killed the Facebook star (the bombarded the site with adtweets) AND
    (insert non advertised supported ‘next big thing’ here) killed the twitter star.

    It is not rocket science, people flee from ads.

  10. nick koster says:

    I have been in radio for 43 years……to not realize radio has lost its mojo is burying your head in the sand…your job will soon be gone, like many of our compatriots….an old man bought an art gallery….people loved the art and bought it, but the old man was a businessman, and artists were nuts and driving him nuts,,so he fired all of the artists and got computer art… none of the people who used to like the art in the gallery ever come there anymore….the old man is Lowry Mays………..the art gallery is the radio business he killed

  11. Kimo AKane says:

    Spoken like a true record guy.

  12. Reach is same as 70s (92%). Can’t honestly track TSL/AQH nationwide or in any of top 48 markets except for past year and a half, when Arbitron completed its transition of diary measurement markets to PPM measurement markets. As Arbitron will explain to you, while the way people listened to radio did not change when they turned on PPM, the resulting data changed a lot. AQH dropped 30% to 45% from what it was in same market under diary measurement. PPM Data CANNOT be compared to diary data. So anyone who pulls a trend of nationwide listening that includes data prior to 2011 is painting a picture that just isn’t true. Nor is it true for any market from the time they transitioned to PPM. It is a disservice to you and to radio to issue such trends.

    • (An open letter to Mary Beth Garber)

      Dear Mary Beth Garber ( EVP/Radio Analysis and Insights Katz Radio Group)……..

      Your insight and rebuttal to Bob was very insightful. The trail on this story is very revealing because everyone here is IN the radio business or associated with it. Maybe that is why everyone cannot see the forest for the trees. There has been great input on various formats here from different people; but they fail to realize what these formats are truly capable of. Historically, radio information flow has been one way….from the record producer or “promoter” via the pay for play DJ to the listener. Radio is now “Two” way irregardless of the limited call-in listener numbers allowed. Think about this comment section and observe the “multi-player” list. It will be so also for Radio. Listeners have never been paid to listen before…….that is going to change the entire landscape. What BITCOIN is doing to the money market is what paid listeners will do to “information channels”. Think of a radio station or Pandora or Spotify or a tv station or newspaper as a NASCAR track. On a NASCAR track there can only be so many drivers and cars; but look at where the value is in the fans in the stands. Are fans being PAID to go to NASCAR…nope. That will soon change also. The GPS tracking in the phones they are listening to the race with…. will tell WHO that they are there..?? Why would advertisers care..? Why would phone users care to get paid to turn on the option..?

      Mary Beth Garber, I highly wager that as soon as you walk into the Katz Radio Group and ask your “superiors” ….. “I know what radio stations do; but how many here understand what RADIO is capable of..?” They are going to smile or laugh or joke. Tell them that your PENSION is no joke and that anyone who wants to buy any of your stations are going to pay dearly for it. Have them read this comment by me and then ask them to THINK….out loud..! Observe their reactions because it is going to be very “profitable” in certain terms..! I know….I have done this before. The entire financial dynamic to radio will just have to be tweaked.

      You state “…radio sells records and builds careers”. Well, think of it in these terms ….” “bets” records and builds a promotional “army”.

      You state….”..Anything that costs money has a built in barrier to usage, which is something the music players will find out as the mobile phone companies limit data usage and increase data usage charges….” Well, why would mobile phone companies limit data usage if users and the company were getting a “cut” of the ad revenue themselves (unless what….?).

      You state…..”… If “it’s the ads that will kill terrestrial radio”, then it follows that it is the ads that will kill every music conveyance site or platform — and that’s just not happening. In fact, several leading radio companies have invested heavily in developing creative teams to help advertisers improve their commercials. And KRG has done studies to help advertisers understand how listeners react to their commercials so they can revise strategy accordingly….” Mary Beth Garber, surely you jest. When you ask your fellow executive team …” What studies has KGR done to help listeners understand how to get advertisers to react to how their ads are being used so that listeners can revise their listening for pay strategy..?” Watch the smiles disappear from their faces..!

      Mary Beth ….I cannot stress the importance of this question to your fellow KRG staff..!

      You state…..”… “Most people under 20 have never experienced good radio.” In whose opinion? Tell that to the teens who make their moms turn on their favorite CHR on the way to school. To the millions of kids who come back to the same radio stations day after day, week after week. Who show up at station events….” Mary Beth, you obviously have kids like I do. My daughter knows how to USE radio and her phone. Can you remember how iCarly made money..? Did her webshow have a PENSION? …nope. But KRG employees do and that matters. Did iCarly have sponsors or was iCarly a sponsor for Disney..? My daughter knows the difference.

      You state…….”… “the Luddites in radio still believe the internet didn’t happen” makes me question whether or not you’ve paid attention what radio stations are doing with streams, apps, websites, software programs that enable the listener to select music in real time, interact with ads, buy music and social media like Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts that enable listeners and personalities to communicate with one another. Radio personalities in just the top 25 markets have over 18 million Facebook fans and more than 27 million Twitter followers…..”
      Well, Mary Beth as EVP, we wager that you realize the tie-in that you left out that is very profitable. If KRG needs any type of “informational” consulting concerning advanced radio and media financial capabilities…I am rather reasonable. (Actually, no I’m not. Your pension demands the best….not reasonable!)

      Thanks for your time,
      Philip Branton

  13. I basically threw three App developers out of my office Monday morning after they started chanting the mantras of new media about Radio. Radio’s dead, no one listens anymore and the internet is winning. Thank you, Mary Beth Garber, for setting the record straight!

    (P.S. – the idiots sitting in my office were there to try to sell me an App for our Radio stations – sigh!)

    • Dear Charlie Ferguson,

      It would be really helpful to know which three Apps you were trying to be sold. Surely, there are fine people who indulge in Variety that may offer you more insight to the needs of certain apps for your radio stations. You may want to look at the App called “layar”. It is primarily used in print media. How could this be used for promotions for your live remotes..? Concert flyers..?? …or football programs that your stations may cover…? How would your DJ’s use this..?

      One can’t help but wonder if no one listens to radio anymore then why do you have an office to sit in..??

      Charlie ….your obviously a smart man. There is a new magazine in the Charleston area called “Charlie” ..! Have you ever read it or seen the “layar” app residual effects..?? Go to readCharlie dot com and see 4 urself..! Your bonus is waiting……

  14. Remember the bumper sticker: Mean People Suck ? Folks who are ready to throw Real Radio under the bus out after 100 years of service might apply. Real Radio has its issues. Content and Live, Local Connect is essential be it talk or music. As long as speech communicates, Real Radio will continue to be everywhere, free and wireless. The innovation will come from somewhere. And, if it’s popular and profitable it’ll show up on Real Radios and ever other gadget receiver on the planet, and beyond. The folks at fault are the lemmings who follow the leader and try to outguess ratings methodology. I’d like to find the rocket scientist who convinced many non-comm FM’s dtich music for talk. Stay tuned, innovation will happen because there are millions of listeners and even more receivers for AM and FM stereo. Just don’t be so quick to announce the demise of Real Radio and the broadcast innovators who will have more shots as the bigs lose value and presence. As Tony Bennet says, “The Best Has Yet to Come.”

  15. Nick says:

    Companies like are in fact REAL online radio. Unlike the playlist centered Pandora and Spotify, Radionomy is real, emotional, human based programming that provides users with the ability to create real radio programming. This is just one example of the future of radio.

  16. An open letter to Bob Lefsetz:

    Bob, usually I appreciate your candid observations about music and the businesses that are part of it. I applaud your comment about how wrong most media are in what they report or, worse, repeat without seeking facts to support the claims. In another blog you wrote, you said that “You can tell your own story online. If you’re concerned about the truth, do so. But the real story is you can’t inform everybody, no longer how much you protest, people will spread rumors and false information.”

    Your recent comments about radio have inspired me to follow your advice and offer perspective different from yours regarding radio today. You are certainly entitled to your opinion. But even online there are real facts to take into consideration and they very much disprove your take on the subject.

    • “the Luddites in radio still believe the internet didn’t happen” makes me question whether or not you’ve paid attention what radio stations are doing with streams, apps, websites, software programs that enable the listener to select music in real time, interact with ads, buy music and social media like Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts that enable listeners and personalities to communicate with one another. Radio personalities in just the top 25 markets have over 18 million Facebook fans and more than 27 million Twitter followers. Clear Channel created iHeartRadio. CBS and others are on TuneIn. Yeah, it occurred to them the internet might be big and that it could really be a way for listeners to become even more involved with their favorite radio stations. Yes, there are some radio station owners who eschew the internet. They represent a very small portion of radio listening.
    • “Terrestrial radio listenership is not close to what it once was.” The percentage of every segment of the population that uses radio every week is 92% — which is pretty much what it was in the 70s.
    • “[Radio’s] market share has receded dramatically.” That is the prevailing perception, thanks largely to people like you with big internet followings and a disregard for the facts. Several research sources will show you that, for example, 96% of monthly listeners to Pandora listened to AM/FM radio in the past week. They’ll show you that music player sites in 2012, including playlist creation services like iHeartRadio — accounted for under 7% of all the time spent listening to any radio platform. That is up from less than 3% in 2010, but “dramatic”? Especially when other research shows that the time spent with audio entertainment of any form has increased from 7 hours in 2003 to over 8 hours a day in 2013. There is more share there to share than ever before.
    • “Most people under 20 have never experienced good radio.” In whose opinion? Tell that to the teens who make their moms turn on their favorite CHR on the way to school. To the millions of kids who come back to the same radio stations day after day, week after week. Who show up at station events. Who friend personalities and stations. For most of them, the only thing radio could do better is carry fewer commercials (the consensus since radio first began carrying ads), but then, these kids respond to those commercials because they’re part of the radio experience. And the “under 20” audience levels through the breaks stay at about 90% of what they were before the break, so we know they hear them. Even Pandora knows that advertising is critical. And has increased their load.
    • If “it’s the ads that will kill terrestrial radio”, then it follows that it is the ads that will kill every music conveyance site or platform — and that’s just not happening. In fact, several leading radio companies have invested heavily in developing creative teams to help advertisers improve their commercials. And KRG has done studies to help advertisers understand how listeners react to their commercials so they can revise strategy accordingly.
    • About Sirius XM. Despite being in zillions of cars, only 10% of people use the service. And only their music channels are commercial free (but not promotional free). Sirius will never be able get the rest of the public to subscribe. Look at Spotify. There’s a reason it has 4 times more ad-supported listeners than paid subscribers. Anything that costs money has a built in barrier to usage, which is something the music players will find out as the mobile phone companies limit data usage and increase data usage charges.
    • “…radio is headed into the dumper”. Yes, I’m sure that’s why most of the companies that own radio stations continue to pour time, money and talent into making their stations better, more connected, more effective. That’s why people and companies are buying stations. Come on. I understand dramatic license, but really.
    • Radio does look for great indies (we’re feeding a voracious beast here, one that wants new music and radio is the overwhelmingly primary source for new music — and where the vast majority of listeners go to discover new music). One of our companies even has a “Rising Stars” competition to find and showcase them.
    • Then we get to the single point where we agree – “…radio sells records and builds careers”.
    • And then back to disagreeing. “…radio is dying”. No, it’s not. It’s adapting. It’s morphing. Evolving. If it didn’t do that, there would be an argument to make about its dying. But from my perspective — and from what the actual evidence shows — radio is thriving.

    Radio is not without challenges. Our own companies are and have been expanding beyond broadcast because they know that is a growing part of the future. We have to find more places to train more young people and let them unleash their ideas about what radio could be. We have to get a uniform measurement system for broadcast and digital platforms. So it’s not a perfect world for radio (or for any other medium, if you think about it).

    What we do not have to do is call the funeral director. Radio is always ripe for criticism and change. But it is very much alive and thriving.

    Mary Beth Garber
    EVP/Radio Analysis and Insights
    Katz Radio Group

  17. Doug Ferber says:

    I wish guys like you would do a little research before you write articles like this.

    Since on line audio listening came into vogue there have been several natural disasters…Katrina, Sandy, blackouts in places like Washington, DC, etc. You’ll never guess which form of communication was still functioning after the storms passed…Radio, my friend. The broadband lines were either down or jammed up because of limited capacity. People turned to Radio stations such as WWL, WTOP, WINS, etc to get news and information. Radio is not going the way of the dinosaur or the newspaper.

    While admittedly a little late to the digital party, the Radio industry has begun to make inroads that I am confident will help uneducated critics of the medium like you Mr Lefsetz understand that it is not going the way of the MTV video. Listenership of traditional Radio stations has leveled off at 93% of the U.S. population, so the “newness” of internet audio listening is starting to end. In addition, soon you will see 30 million Sprint smartphones on the market with an FM chip “turned on” that does not require any broadband/data use. Your smartphone can be used just like your old transistor radio was in the Luddite days…ultimately portable and with you all the time. And take a look at your mobile phone statement after your next long drive when you’ve streamed Pandora or Slacker for 7 hours…hope you haven’t gone over your data allocation or you’ll see additional charges on that bill. The industry expects most manufacturers to follow suit and before long all of these FM chips (which by the way already reside in many smartphones) will be turned on. Here’s a link to the Sprint press release.

    Finally…Clear channel has done a great job with iHeartRadio. Check the numbers…it’s growing rapidly and offers the same services that Pandora does in addition to the ability to listen to your favorite traditional Radio station.

  18. Max says:

    Dumped sirius a couple years ago for internet radio in the car. Jango is the best! Never heard of itunes radio. Here in SF bay ota radio quit playing “new” music years ago. You can’t find it if you want to.

  19. Reader says:

    Hip-hop died a long, long time ago.

  20. suibne says:

    Music in America? Come on…….it’s like everything else in america, politics writ small. and it sucks.

    • Ah yes – Radio is like America and it sucks. Could we please implement some sort of IQ test or special section to put these type of thoughtful additions to the discussion?!?

  21. Mark Tea says:

    It would help if there was some decent content being produced. I am in a work environment where I am subjected to the routine display, or should I say brandishing, of a lot of the “rap” style, I think it’s a stretch to call it music. The same drooling dopeheads snarling over the same boring backing tracks. Yawn. There is a reason why “classic rock” endures with tunes mostly from the 70s: they wrote songs then and knew how to play their instruments!

  22. tmay101 says:

    I live in a small town too far from big cities to pick up my favorite channels/programs. I bring my smart phone to my car, plug it into a charger and click on the app IHeartRadio and listen to my favorite stations which stream on the computer from other cities, and I dont have to worry about reception quality.

  23. Chris Stevens says:

    Mr. Lefsetz, there are independent operators trying to counter the exact problems you see in radio. The problem is people who find it in vogue to attack terrestrial radio help encourage people to not consider their local independent stations, and write all terrestrial radio off as a “vast wasteland.” Some of us are working hard to be local, relevant, and not a Clear Channel/Cumulus cliche jukebox. Not every local cafe is McDonalds, sir.

    • Mr. Stevens you make a good comment about being local and relevant. Take a look at most radio phone apps that are in play. Really look at them. Next, just go down to the bus stop or bar or grocery store and see how people use their phones. Radio stations are always running promos but what are they not doing to garner more “listeners”..?

  24. Jeff Missinne says:

    Don’t you get it? Satellite radio is the ULTIMATE form of “McRadio.” Whether station owners realize it or not, local personalities DO connect with their audience. They’re the people who will keep radio alive…if they just have the chance!

  25. Doug says:

    Hey, here is an idea….let’s play dozens of commercials an hour and the same handful of songs over and over and over and over….that is SURE to boost listenership!!

  26. Bill Stewart says:

    Where’s my Dino Radio???

  27. Chris says:

    What exactly is so laughable about SXMs internet? I’m listening to it right now.

  28. Andrew says:

    What a great article – I couldn’t agree more. I am the manager of 28 stations for a large radio group and finish up at the end of this week. I am tired of head office programmers making decisions that impact on my ability to be successful and then giving me grief when I can’t sell what they dish up. Our best employees in recent years have been college media graduates who have a great handle on new technology and how to integrate social media into traditional radio, despite the protestations of head office programmers!

  29. Tony says:

    The day I hooked up Sirius in my car some five years ago, I took the antenna off of my car. Enough said.

    • Great radio died when FM became a resource to commercial interests. Music lovers are not in charge and that in of itself is the problem.
      The American culture couldn’t find good taste in a 5 star restaurant…

  30. matthewd says:

    Cars don’t even need Internet access to kill radio–I have a 4Gb flash drive plugged into my car with 600 tracks and a 8Gb microSD card in my phone with tunes streaming over Bluetooth into my car’s speakers–why would I ever use the radio? I may be a GenXer but I much prefer finding new music I like on SoundCloud, BandCamp and YouTube to listening to the same stuff (with commercials) over and over on radio.

  31. Al says:

    I love Podcasts and Satellite Radio. Yet, I also like to tune into 91X in San Diego, KROQ in LA or KNDD in Seattle as much as KJR in Seattle, Ticket in Dallas or WEEI in Boston for Sports Radio. First problem in Radio, too many stations owned by same company which the FCC ignores. With high rights fees for Sports on TV these days, you will be hard pressed to find a large amount of play by play sports on local radio or even local sports even in markets with no professional sports team. ESPN dominating sports radio stations has harmed local live sporting events from being aired, as ESPN says air this game or you do not get to air the NBA Finals. Local radio should be local and instead it has become nationally influenced by either ESPN on the sports side or on the music side. Be it the Ryan Seacrest Morning Show types or Clear Chanel airing certain bands in multiple markets for favors. Satellite Radio is weak in local programming in talk – but that will soon change. Sports play by play being a magnet for Satellite Radio as listeners of Sports want to hear the game and not some guy 3000 miles away talk about it. You have radio stations that are the “sound” of their city, from music, to talk, to sports. Newspaper people dying to get on air, to the point that they will help sabotage another radio station by not listing what that other station is airing in their daily listing section. With Howard Stern being the only real must tune into radio show, which has been on the decline over the last few years, with Stern’s taking away and not replacing Artie, slowdown of interviewing top guests and fewer engaged live on air radio appearances – satellite radio is about sports and finding new music. Radio should be local – but it has gotten less and less away from it. Want to hear a college game – you can find it on Sirius as it is a struggle on local radio. Meanwhile local radio will not air a local High School or Small College Game or local sports talk – as the ESPN’s of the world control the content from a national level. You want to buy the time, local radio stations want MORE money than what they could get per spot – as they want total control. Radio should be locally focused – but they have gone further away from this – which is why they lose money.

  32. Doug S. says:

    Change is coming!
    Technology is advancing and accelerating everyday at such a high rate, what was high-tech 6 months ago is now substandard and the same for Advertising, Marketing, Radio and to many other industries to list here. Radio i see coming the the end of an era one day soon with internet radio moving from not just online global listeners to like that is building local online stations in cities all across the country to cater more to the local station listener.

  33. As a longtime broadcaster, and an even longer-time listener, I have watched with great concern as the industry of radio has drifted further and further away from the things that had made it so great in its heyday.

    The ironic thing is that radio listeners really do want the same things they have always wanted. Quality programming. Reliable information. Responsible content. Intelligent marketing promotions. Theater of the mind. Consistency. Dedication to the highest quality.

    Listeners want to be courted. They want to feel like the radio station cares about them. Throughout my career, I recognized that in most markets, there were only one or maybe two stations that did all the little things and the big things right. In almost every case, these stations dominated the ratings, and in almost every case, the radio stations were managed by people with keen business sense, who understood that to be the best, you have to hire the best, and you have to out-spend your competitors., The payoff would come in the form of higher ratings, and greater advertising revenue.

    The great stations also guarded the quality of everything that aired on their stations, including the commercials. If an agency sent a spot which was sub-par in either quality or content or both, it was rejected. And locally produced spots were always tight, smart and on-target. Same rules applied to promotions. Everything had to be top-shelf. The great stations were no accident. They were teams, built by people with talent, passion and exceptional personalities.

    Program directors were the head-coaches. They met with staff every week, and every detail of the programming was designed for success. Personality was huge. Egos were held in check by the knowledge that the product was more important than any one team member, and with that understood, everybody was privileged to be a part of a championship team.

    Sadly, radio was infected in the early 1980’s by an in-flow of “consultants” who were all really just snake-oil salesmen who had never worked on-the-air, and who believed that they could exploit a station’s heritage to score a quick spike in revenue, without any concern for how that might destroy the trust the broadcasters had worked so hard to gain and maintain with their audience.

    Great radio was destroyed across the board in virtually every market by advances in technology which promised to deliver exactly the same quality program without the very large cash outlay for an actual staff of air talent. As time went by, the consultants cozied up to the station’s ownership and General managers, wining and dining and convincing them that they would spend pennies on the dollar and never look back once they realized how much money they could pocket with the newer technology.

    Of course, it was all a load of cattle-droppings. Quality was compromised, and once the fractures took place which usually involved the highest-paid talent being fired, it was then impossible for those stations to regain the audience they had before they cheapened their product and abandoned their audience. Jilted listeners are as hard to recapture as jilted lovers. Once the damage was done, it was like Humpty Dumpty. Owners grew frustrated, and many just gave up and either sold out or treated their stations like tax write-offs.

    Radio’s relevance waned. New options emerged for audiences in the late 80’s and early 90’s with the advent of music channels on cable and satellite, and eventually personal listening devices or computer jukebox programs gave people the ability to cut the cord with their radios.

    Listeners grew jaded with music radio. Nobody would play their favorite songs consistently without polluting the playlist with junk. Nobody wanted to listen to psychotic segues like going from a mellow old song like Chicago’s “Color My World” back to back with Vanilla Ice. The music industry was now controlled by urban contemporary executives who aimed at a totally different demographic than the record companies of the good old days.

    Adult contemporary radio stations began disappearing, replaced by news-talk(on the AM dial) and the FM’s just kept on veering toward CHR, and a huge group of listeners, the baby-boomers, have been isolated and doomed to wander in the radio desert.

    Radio has been dying a long, slow death, largely because nobody involved in the process understands the elements necessary to achieve greatness, and nobody who owns radio stations seems inclined to spend the money it would take to rejuvenate the romance between radio station and listener.

    Radio is personal. If you can’t touch people with programming that reaches them in a very personal way, you’ll be ordinary. Ordinary doesn’t win. Ordinary is a sell-out.

    Extraordinary radio begins with extraordinary people. Finding those people, and equipping them with the tools to empower them to exceed expectation is the rarest and most difficult thing to do in today’s radio marketplace.

    It is not impossible. However, it is unlikely in most cases because the downslide of radio has left the industry with very few people who have the acumen, talent and experience to gather together all the elements necessary to build that rare gem of a station that hits the sweet spot with the audience.

    Great radio never apologizes. It never has to. Sadly, over 99 percent of stations today owe constant apologies to their audience.

    Can it still happen in 2013? Of course it can. WILL it happen? perhaps it might, but only when ownership begins to understand that there is still a uniqueness to broadcast radio, which cannot be matched in the digitized world of Pandora or ITunes or Spotify. Great radio is equal parts science, talent, passion, and effort. Great radio costs money. Great radio is always worth the effort, worth the investment. Until radio executives realize that there is no substitute for real-live talent, the on-line jukeboxes will continue to win by attrition.

    And the biggest losers are the local listeners, who are inexplicably under-served by the radio stations which are licensed to do business in their local market.

    • Scott Thompson says:

      As a long time FM listener, i will not insult you by attempting to write anywhere near as eloquently as you have spoken here. I will say that your statement is absolutely correct concerning the listener that wants to connect with the on air personality and be a part of the radio experience. I’ve tried Pandora and sure it is good to have any type of music at your finger tips. There is nothing like the feeling of closeness that you get from a long term, high profile and local DJ. But then again, I grew up turning the dial to my favorite station.

      • Rick Stacy says:

        I read your comments and it saddens me greatly. I say this with humility but I am one of those programmers and air personalities that to this day creates great radio and personality. But it is a constant fight since I created and programmed Power 99 in Atlanta and Star 98.7 in Los Angeles and many others. Now there is no resources AT ALL! I remember in Atlanta when the Braves hit the World Series we built the world’s biggest Tomahawk and made it to the cover of USA Today. I couldn’t get the money to buy the nails for that today. All the company cares about is the companies stock price today. A station that once took 20+ people to run, now operates with 3. I don’t know even where to look to find someone that cares about the business anymore. The small companies want to run like the big companies and the big companies keep trying to find ways to operate with part times and nothing more.

      • I couldn’t agree more with either Scott or James Jones. I went to Emerson in Boston to become a DJ in 82. I found I was always making tapes for friends and digging the new sounds before they hit commercial station. I was locked to WMBR and WBRU and to Powerhouse WBCN. But once I started interning and seeing the inside, I knew that the hosts at the commercial station, while still having some choice , they didn’t have very much. I left and came back to college radio some 6 years later as a volunteer on a live local music show on a tiny Ivy League station.
        Now 25 years later I am DJing still at the community level. Doing what I love for a handful of appreciative listeners around the globe. We hope to go terrestrial this fall when the FCC opens up a short LPFM filing window. We know that our little town here in the south needs a community radio station that serves the people of our town. We know NPR affiliates here and there with their lock on translators will never fully serve us…and they’ll keep on playing the classical hits to a dying generation.
        Yet here are a group of volunteers, as old as in their 60s and as young as teens, building something new that is already heard round the world…and when we can have it in our cars, it will be the power of social media and the Local effect that brings out our listeners and helps keep us viable.
        The bad segues will happen…but we’ll still be breaking new ground and keeping the flame alive over all those old tracks you never hear anymore. We have soul and that’s the heart of the matter.

  34. tim says:

    I will just say this. If the record companies had not turned the music business into a beauty contest, and fashion show, and just stuck with actual musical talent, they would not be in this mess. In this day and age do you think Janis Joplin, Hendrix, or bands like The Who or Ill say it….even the Beatles would have a chance if they were up and coming musical acts? No, of course not. Record companies would rather have Justin Beiber, and Lady Gaga put out their musical garbage and praise them for being huge stars. The public will eat up anything MTV will throw at them. Too bad really. There are tons of acts out there with 20 times the talent who will never hit mainstream simply because they might be fat, or not have the right look.

  35. Ed says:

    “Hip-hop killed rock and roll”. Wow, what planet are you living on ? ! Classic rock and alternative rock are all my teenage daughters listen to. They can’t stand hip-hop and say it’s for girls. I have always been stunned at the teenage boys that listen to hip-hop. It truly is a feminine music but, then again look at all the feminine teenage boys out there. My wife and I are in our fourties and we have both alternative rock stations set in our cars that are big here ion LA. We love it! As far as I’m concerned the sooner rap and hip-hop die, the better.
    – Ed

    • WKJ says:

      Ed, you hit the nail on the head….the boys are the feminine side now. They really are. My daughter will go to the range with me, go hiking, camping, get dirty, and sweaty, doesn’t worry too much about how she looks until the time is right for it. The guys she goes out with? Afraid of guns unless they are in a video game, dont’ like being outdoors, are afraid to get dirty and sweaty, spend more time in the bathroom and get more concerned about their clothes and appearance than most women I have been out with.

  36. Rico Suave says:

    People still listen to the radio??? Put a fork in it already it’s done! Like listening to a poverty iPod where they get 5 new songs a year, and still “rock” the stuff they were playing 20 years ago. I’m 36 and they still regularly play all the same songs they used to play when I was in high school. Regularly meaning > 50% of the time.

  37. So many people feel the need to predict the death of Radio and preach gloom and doom. If terrestrial Radio stations are trying to be ipods set on “random” they’re not going to do very well. If they focus on being great local sources of information and entertainment, I suspect they’ll do just fine. Let’s also be clear – Pandora isn’t going to fill our local car dealer’s showroom with buyers on a Saturday anytime soon – but our Radio stations do it for different dealers every weekend.

  38. Dick Kline says:

    I wonder how many listeners WCBS 880 News Radio has driven away. The news is secondary to sales pitch after sales pitch. On top of that they steal more time to give you the names of the people behind the scenes. The news they trickle down to you is as cosmetic as it gets. This is a news station. NO! It is a radio station designed for endless sales pitches. It all about the buck, not the news.

  39. Codger says:

    well most of what i hear on the radio as far as Rock goes which is my main musical interest is just crap! the screaming in a gravelly voice just diesnt do it for me. i listen to mucis to hear music! somehtign to enjoy and relax not soemthing that makes me irritable. Now i have no probblem with it we all hav eour won tastes and i wouldnt expect tyoung inner city peopple to enjoy leonard skynard or peter frampton or the greatful dead thas why we hve different stations. but what happene dto justdecent mucisc where people had decent singing voices and knew how o play an instrucment?
    I’d like to hear somethign tat wasnt 30 year sold that showed some musical talent mastery of the instrument or the voice what a concept how about a band thats mucical and can sing at the same time. Im not saying there are loads of great bands out there they just dont seem to get on the radio much these days.

  40. It is inevitable also that Record Labels will fall..!!! Due to the fact they have so closely aligned themselves with main stream radio basically telling radio what to play. Or can you say “payola” or “play-ola”…. the new kids on the block like will begin the demise of Big Label dominance……. You can’t dictate to the masses what they must see or hear.. They will turn on the dictator and eventually do their way…!!

  41. I’ve never wanted radio, but it was the only choice I had for most of my life. Now that I have Rdio, I have the world’s biggest mix tape, which is all I’ve ever really wanted. I am perfectly content and am happy to wave goodbye to something that was, at best, an intrusive inconvenience.

  42. Mike Bratton says:

    “Most people under age 20 have never experienced good radio.”

    Remarkably true. But the funny thing is–if the conglomerates would actually go back to the live-and-local days of good radio, they could reverse the trend. And most people under age 20 would think they’ve really discovered something.

  43. amy says:

    Good stuff. Unfortunately, I don’t believe networks have yet been “killed” by “HBO and the cable outlets”, so we’ll see how far your theory goes.

  44. Sirius/XM may be poorly managed from a programming perspective, and there are commercials on many channels — of very questionable content and quality — but one thing that it beats local radio on is the clarity of the signal. Except for maybe two channels in my medium-sized market, if I drive 10 miles in any direction, I start to lose a terrestrial station. Static is unforgivable in this day and age. It is the same as a record skipping over and over. If I am not moving, I can get about 10 channels clearly. Does that really compete with the 200 channels on Sirius/XM or the thousands I can get over my Internet connection? Just blue-tooth the Internet sounds with a couple of speakers, and I can’t imagine ever listening to terrestrial radio via antenna while at home.

  45. LuvSanDiego says:

    After a few months of in the office the car radio is painful unless it’s on talk, news.

  46. BHirsh says:

    Baloney. There is a sizable plurality in this county who depend on broadcast AM radio to get the information the mainstream media ignore or fail to acknowledge, and we aren’t going anywhere. If you don’t think that Clear Channel, etc. don’t KNOW that, you’re delusional.

  47. RWEagle says:

    It all starts with talent. Unless, and until, more people learn to play their instruments, the music business is going to suffer. What we are hearing a lot of is the noise business.

  48. Checkmate King Two says:

    One reason for the decline of the traditional music industry and its venues is in the quality of the product they produce.
    Much of the stuff my daughter and her friends listen to is dirge-like, funereal, projecting a cataclysmic hopelessness, or else it’s more of the primitive, aboriginal “crap” genre, with its lyrics-written-by-a-six-year-old, that passes for music nowadays.
    That may be how the future trends for the industry, but it doesn’t seem like much of a future.

  49. Jay King says:

    “Picky” is right. Your view of music is in dire need of expansion.

More Music News from Variety