From the Desk of Dave Van Dyke...

Can You Hear the Future Coming?

Dear Radio Executive:

In recent months, Bridge Ratings & Research has compiled an amazing amount of data measuring not only radio listening estimates, but also radio listener behavior.

We're measuring new formats this year that show great promise as the radio industry gets creative in the face of all the adjustments that are occuring in listener behavior primarily related to digital audio alternatives like Internet radio, satellite radio, MP3 players and the iPod, CD's and the cell phone. (see "Where Did My Listeners Go? Parts 1 and 2 on this site).

2004 was somewhat of a turning point for audio entertainment's momentum as strong signals have been sent by radio listeners, primarily 12-29 year olds, that "on-demand" gratification is where it's at. Traditional radio is finding it difficult to compete with other instant gratification alternatives because of this elemental need. No doubt the iPod, with ten million+ units sold, is paving the way.

And now, the iPod has spawned yet another broadcast competitor - Podcasting. What is going on !?

The term podcasting plays upon the terms broadcasting and webcasting and is derived from the name of the iPod portable music player. Podcasting is not directly associated with Apple's iPod device or iTunes software. Podcasting is similar to time-shifted video software and devices like TiVo, which let you watch what you want when you want by recording and storing video, except that podcasting is used for audio and is currently free of charge. Note, however, that this technology can be used to pull any kind of file, including software updates, pictures, and videos.

In its infancy this year, this digital option fulfills the instant gratification need with less professional, albeit more creative and interesting broadcasts. Complete amateurs are uploading their own music shows, talk shows, educational shows, poetic reading shows - talk about narrowcasting! This is the ultimate in choice.

Quick on its heels, traditional radio began offering their own, more professinal content. And this week, Infinity Broadcasting announced they were converting an under-performing radio station in San Francisco to content solely produced by listeners in the form of Podcasts.

We salute Joel Hollander and his team for taking the leap of faith for this move, naming the station KYOURADIO and providing a place for listeners to upload and hear podcasts.

The radio industry has come to realize that there are serious issues involved with reinventing its traditional radio product: content and fresh new talent among them. KYOURADIO takes the most direct route to these challenges by forging a combination of the old technology (AM/FM radio) and the new (digital media in the form of Podcasts).

This combination of old and new is traditionally how markets and industries move along the technology highway. It has been shown time and again, that a combining of technologies moves the mass populi easier and more quickly to adoption. It's the comfort of the old when added to the new that moves adoption along. Infinity's move to combine the technologies will do more to move our audiences toward acceptance and it is a bold effort to give early Podcast adopters a traditional radio solution for a mass meeting place to upload and hear fellow podcasters.

What's intriguing to me is the combination of this very personal, on-demand podcast content with the mass appeal of a traditional AM radio station. If this indeed gains acceptance, this combination of technologies might slow, even a bit, the momentum away from traditional radio by the 16-29 year old.

The challenge, of course, is how to fill 168 hours a week with compelling Podcast content. In the beginning we have to expect this experiement might offer some fairly unlistenable content from a mass perspective, but with time, the audience and the station's producers will learn what works and what doesn't. Seeking content input from non-traditional broadcasters (listeners) may be the spark that ignites the attraction of a new group of talent to our medium and that, too, is only a positive.

KYOURADIO's leap of faith and perhaps its eventual success will encourage others in our business to try its model or something all-together new on dysfunctional signals.

You don't have to listen too closely to hear the future advancing on us quickly. Since the beginning of 2005 there has truly been seizmic movement in the radio industry:

  • The realization and subsequent reduction of commercial spot loads
  • Increasing numbers of stations adopting new formats
  • "Deconsolidation" in the form of corporate splits and word of station sell-offs
  • The industry's acceptance and creativity in new technological advances to improve its product.

It's a matter of time, of course, before we learn what will stick, but the wonderful thing is it is happening and happening more quickly than some of us suspected. Traditional radio historically has not been quick to change. But in the face of new competition and technology, it is embracing change in some cases with little or no research. This is exciting.

Bridge Ratings & Research will continue to watch and measure these changes. Because of our ability to reflect the audience mind-set and listening patterns very quickly, our studies will hopefully offer a mirror into which the traditional radio broadcaster can look and determine the success of this change. And fortunately, the mirror we look into will not be a rear-view but rather a current view.

Your feedback is vital to our company's on-going success. I look forward to hearing from you regarding this very important issue.


Dave Van Dyke


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