If you're reading this after eating a big meal, think about coming back later. For those of you with courage, continue reading, because I have a focus group story that will make radio people very uncomfortable.
Recently, we conducted some focus groups among teens and listeners in their 20's, trying to get a better fix on new technology and how it's impacting terrestrial radio. In the course of the discussion, respondents were comparing radio to iPods. Some pointed out that the iPod offers control, while music on the radio is "pushed" at them. Others mentioned that radio has commercials, but the iPod is "commercial-free." And a couple of group members pointed out that radio is free, but it costs money to download music (if you do it legally).
But then one young guy said to me, "The iPod is portable, and radio isn't. I can take my iPod with me anywhere."
That comment stopped me down, because if you've worked in radio for any length of time, portability has been a radio advantage since the early days of the transistor in the 50's. But when you step back from our day-to-day radio wars and think about it, radio has all but lost its portability, especially for the young. When was the last time you saw someone walking around with a Walkman radio? While we've been consolidating, Apple's iPod has all but stolen our portability right out from under us. It's cool to walk around with an iPod with those signature white ear buds, but carrying around a Walkman? Please.
To make it worse, this comment came up in subsequent groups. As respondents explained to me, the radio is tethered to cars or clock radios, while you can take iPods anywhere. There simply isn't a cool piece of hardware containing an AM/FM radio that you can buy anymore. And satellite radio has figured it out. That's why they're working hard to market little units that get their product out of vehicles and into people's lives. And the cell phone business represents the future of portable entertainment. Phones have games, Mp3 players, cameras, ringtones, and texting. But not radio.
Our mission just became more difficult.