Rockin’ info highway

Will the ever-increasing drone of the fast-approaching infomation highway, not to mention the buzz around new media marketing tools, be enough to effectively drown out the voice of radio?

Don’t shed any tears for Marconi’s invention anytime soon — radio has survived nearly 50 years of the television age, and seen the rise of MTV, the CD format and the Walkman with virtually no adverse effect.

Norm Pattiz, chief executive officer of radio programming giant Westwood One, points to radio’s booming $ 10 billion dollar business. “That’s more than domestic box office receipts, it’s more than domestic record sales.

“I think that radio’s a more important part of the mix than it’s ever been,” adds Pattiz. “In terms of marketing records, I think it’s still the most important. There’s no denying the importance of MTV and direct-retail promotions and things of that sort, but I don’t think anyone would deny, in terms of marketing currect product, there’s anything more important than radio, and I expect it to stay that way.”

Scott Young, NARM VP and Wherehouse Entertainment chief executive officer, tends to agree. “It’s definitely the most important marketing tool for me…radio is the backbone. It’s always open to hammer away atmy customers. MTV and film exposure are great one-hit techniques to create a buzz, but you can’t run a business on that.”

Young’s remarks reflect an overall general sentiment: Of those interviewed, children’s product marketers are virtually the only ones for whom radio does not play a major role in their campaigns.

Both investors and advertisers are attracted to radio’s stability, as well as its increased amount of format choices, as evidenced in the rise of such diverse formatting as rap and hip-hop, alternative, modern rock, new age and country.

In fact, radio only generated one major complaint: its snail’s pace in introducing (playing) new acts. This should be offset by radio’s segmentation revolution, due in large part to a 1992 government ruling on duopolies that allows ownership of more than one AM and FM in any given market.

Initially, the government worried that ownership concentration would result in less format choices. Actually, the opposite has occurred, according to Gerry Boehme, senior VP/director of research for Katz Radio Group.

“It’s economy of scale,” says Boehme. “When you’re selling more than one (format), the individual vehicle doesn’t have to stand completely on its own. You can actually afford to program to smaller segments, but super-serve those segments.”

Radio remains mostly impervious to the new-tech onslaught because, simply put , radio is a monopoly; there is no competition.

“Radio is basically the only medium that adjusts to people’s lifestyles,” adds Boehme. “Because it doesn’t demand that you live or act in a certain way. You can be indoors or outdoors, at work or in a car; you don’t need any connection in terms of a line.”

Big thorn

The one bit of new technology that could potentially be a big thorn in radio’s side is still very much in its infancy. DAB, or direct audio broadcast, is a proposed method of delivery that would employ satellite transmission, but the size of the required hardware would probably preclude any potential threat to radio’s current mobile accessibility, according to Boehme.

Says Pattiz: “Let’s face it — radio is the prototype for all of the emerging media that you see right now. If you take a look at all the attention being paid to the growth of cable and narrowcasting on television, that’s nothing more than what radio started back in the ’50s when it had to compete with network television.

“I’m amused by the super information highway,” continues Pattiz, “because information on the highway is what radio’s been giving for a long time, and as long as there’s people in cars, and people on highways, radio will be fine.”

Besides format fragmentization, other new trends seen na-tionally include entertainment and talk-radio formats geared towards a younger audience than their previous 45-55-plus mainstay a la the tabloid radio of Howard Stern, and the rise of nationally syndicated personalites, as in Radio’s Golden Age.

Futurist and featured NARM speaker Watts Wacker looks into his crystal ball and points to music’s enhanced role beyond that of mere entertainment, perhaps servicing creativity needs not currently being met in the workplace or elsewhere.

It’s allowing our minds to expand,” says Wacker. “It’s like Charles Osgood used to say, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow on the radio.’ It’s a wonderfully creative medium where we’re looking for the opportunity to find more creativity in our life than where we had it in the past, and we can take advantage of that.”

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