r Imagine you're a reporter for a major newspaper or TV network. It's early January, and there are trade shows going on for two of America's largest industries. One is in a warm, glitzy Sun Belt city. It's a trade show for a hot industry, one that consumers are buzzing about. Articles will appear on front pages of newspapers, as this industry has been able to capture the imagination and excitement that Americans crave.
The other is in the heart of the Rust Belt, where the temperatures will be freezing, if they get lucky. This trade show is for an industry that's been around for a century. It tends to move at a snail's pace, and rarely gets consumers buzzing.
Which would you cover if you were a reporter or an assignment editor? Which show would your readers or viewers want to know about?
That precise scenario is playing out in reality this week. In Las Vegas, the Consumer Electronics Show is buzzing, as consumers anxiously await the next cool tech toy and application that they'll find on store shelves by the end of the year. In Detroit, the North American International Auto Show will be happening concurrently. Yes, the excitement will center around concept cars... Which may be available around 2009 or 2010, if at all.
And of course, the big buzz at the NAIAS will be... Ford's partnership with Microsoft, the oldest of high tech companies, to create Sync, and the fact that many new models will have a connector so drivers can listen to their iPods.
Hot vs. cold. Old vs. new. The choice is clear.
Radio has a lot in common with the American auto industry. Most Americans drive cars and trucks, and most still listen to the radio. But the buzz problems facing both industries are the same. What's the coolest new thing that radio has done that's captured American's imagination? Was it Howard's departure? As of today, it's certainly not HD Radio, and won't be until terrestrial radio provides channels that are unique, and able to motivate listeners to go to Radio Shack or Best Buy and purchase a receiver.
And there's one other parallel between these two trade shows. The CES is a CONSUMER trade show, even though consumers can't attend. It's a showcase for the industry, designed to highlight the next big thing. The NAIAS is a convention where designers and industry chieftains gather. Yes, a million Detroiters will attend (what else is there to do in Detroit in January?), but there's no doubt that the bigger noise will be made in Vegas rather than Detroit.
The 2007 NAB Radio Show in Charlotte has a great deal in common with the NAIAS in Detroit. It's a convention - a gathering of investors and industry leaders. It will do little to promote the industry, above and beyond the perfunctory trade press coverage. It will generate very little in the way of real ink or broadcast stories. What outlets are going to send national writers to Charlotte for a radio convention? At least the NAIAS being located in Detroit makes some sense because of the obvious Motor City connection.
We need to think about the NAB Radio Show in the same way as the movers and shakers of the CES. Our radio convention needs to be in a major media center like New York. It shouldn't be designed for a GM in Shreveport or even a PD in Oslo. It needs to be geared to the head of media at BBD&O. Or the Account Manager of Budweiser. They're the ones who need to be exposed to the power, appeal, localism, and consistent results that only come from including radio in buys and plans. The NAB needs to put our industry's best foot forward and generate some noise. You can't do that in Charlotte.
Otherwise, radio could end up like the American automobile industry. And we know how that's turning out.