In My Opinion
By Steve Moffitt
Is there a future for Radio? Or, will the Internet kill that, too.
It was in August, 1922 that the first paid radio announcement was aired on AM 660 WEAF, New York. It was revolutionary at the time. Up until then stations had provided content, but no one had figured out how to make a sell-able product out of radio. WEAF, which was owned by Bell Telephone and its parent company A. T. & T. sold 10 minutes of air time for $50 dollars to the Hawthorne Court Apartments. No recording of that original history making announcement exists, but many followers came after it. Today, selling air time is the business of commercial radio.
Once radio figured out that it could sell air time, it began attracting advertisers to itself – away from newspapers. Newspapers started going out of business, or adapted to compete better. Radio today is facing a similar scenario - only now it is on the receiving end. What is that threat? The Internet – more specifically content delivered by internet connection.
Like it has done with other industries, the internet is changing broadcasting forever. If you don’t believe me, then ask yourself why local radio stations sell web marketing services along with air time?
Radio has consoled itself by pointing to the fact that radio is still king in one very important environment – the car. Drive time listening numbers have not only remained strong over the years, but have even grown – along with population. This has been because auto makers have not included any kind of internet connectivity in the vehicles they manufacture. That is, until now.
Auto makers are sounding the clarion call to Radio broadcasters that new vehicles will increasingly not have radios built into them. Instead, connected media devices (think part smart phone, part CD player, part I-pod, Part computer and you get the idea) will take the “real estate” normally reserved for traditional terrestrial radio sets.
What does this mean for Radio Broadcasting and Catholic Radio Broadcasting especially?
One thing that has not changed, even with the changing user habits of the ever-changing demographics (Baby Boomers use media differently than Generation X’ers and so on), is that media users still prefer local news and information sources to out-of-market sources. This means that local radio can still offer a product that their local market will want, they’ll just have to find a way to get it to their audience via streaming. Additionally Radio, especially Catholic Radio will have to adapt in order to make themselves present in the new medium of Internet programming.
Local Catholic Radio groups have traditionally been content to provide “good enough” local programming (Not to reflect on National Providers like EWTN, Redeemer Radio and other providers who are increasingly creating better and better quality programming). But, in the realm of media today “good enough” isn’t. Audiences are used to high quality programs, production values, and sound quality from the delivery source. When they don’t find it, they gravitate to other sources for the information they are seeking. They tune out.
Radio stations that survive this upheaval of the status quo will be those who improve their products (shows) and make its delivery available via internet connectivity – along with (for now) their radio signals.
Catholic Radio doesn’t, for the most part, sell advertising. But it does compete for audience and so should excel at providing quality programming. Doing so will help them gain listeners and will help build their donor base as well. Also, it will help them reach new audiences with the Gospel message.