OK, I made up the Clinton and the Pope parts. But it seems like there's not a week that goes by where XM or Sirius isn't signing a big name or kicking off a big branded channel.
A friend recently toured one of the satellite companies, and was awed by the facilities and the internal attitude. The place was buzzing with excitement, as programmers were running around, jazzed by the content they were creating.
Meanwhile, in commercial radio land, it's been anything but enthusiastic. While there are new shows, new stations, and occasional innovations, most radio programmers (be honest now) aren't exactly feeling like they're in the midst of a creative renaissance. The resources aren't there, budget cuts are omnipresent, and there simply isn't a corporate mandate demanding new, different, or big.
Of course - as I reminded my friend - the satellite radio companies are hemorrhaging money. And that's the point. Wall Street permits new media the slack to invest (translation: generate red ink) as it invents and innovates. Terrestrial radio? No way. The only way to please the investment community is to keep finding ways to do more with less.
So while commercial radio cuts back, satellite radio continues to climb the hill, plowing huge amounts of money into sports, personality, talk, and music programming. Yes, it's counter-intuitive.
And on another front, HD Radio marches on. Now there's nothing wrong with this investment in radio's future, and it is indeed remarkable that radio's chieftains have come together to make this initiative possible. But in the best case scenario, HD Radio is years away from being viable, much less present in enough homes and cars to truly make a difference.
Where will satellite radio be by the time that happens? And what will commercial radio be doing to sound great during these HD Radio growth years? HD Radio is a nice down-the-road idea (like hydrogen powered cars), but what about right now - today?
We keep hearing that content is the big issue, but is commercial radio truly investing in its programming? Are we addressing the youth exodus that will never end unless we take immediate action to start developing programming that is actually geared toward them? Are we dealing head-on with our growing advertiser issues that increasingly challenge operators to prove that radio is still a fabulous deal? Are we creating content and distribution options that excite listeners and advertisers? Yes, we're in 95% or more of homes and vehicles, but this is more than being about penetration. We have to provide programming that's compelling to both listeners and advertisers.
Radio doesn't want to be in the position that Bill Ford now finds himself in. Having to come clean, announce painful initiatives, and admitting miscalculations are all formulas designed to evade bankruptcy - all uncomfortably announced in front of the whole world.
Between where we are now and where Ford is now, there has to be an industry leader who can do more than simply step up and announce that we're playing fewer commercials. Only bold initiatives and great innovation will be enough for radio to avoid an even bigger mess than we're facing today.
Where's the alliance that takes on that challenge?