Jerry Lee started a firestorm. But his B101 no-stream protest may be causing more ripples in the radio community than in the music biz. Part of this is due to the fact that the folks running the music show lost their sense of direction years ago. Their snub of radio and denial about its impact on recording artists and their music would be laughable if it wasn't so absurd.
But in radio circles. Jerry's decision has opened the floodgates. Some broadcasters - in typical lemming fashion - are thinking they now have the perfect excuse to end their streaming, thus saving some money this quarter. Of course, this is the same logic that suggests you can slash your way to success. (Note to broadcasters: Consumers are noticing.) Radio's content isn't going to organically get better, or even keep pace amidst all these "staff reductions." And as we know, once the night guy is eliminated, or you've got one PD programming two stations, it's never going back to the way it was.
The other reaction is to suggest that streaming is lame to begin with because radio has already lost the content war, and cannot possibly keep pace with new technologies, social networking, and the immediacy of Twitter. But this "logic" is simply naive, negative, and mostly coming from folks who are no longer working in radio. It's easy to sit on the sidelines, especially in this crap economy, and take shots at the business that used to pay your mortgage. It's another to provide valuable perspective, gleaned from years in radio, and honed by some time away from the day to day rat race. But we're not getting much inspired thinking these days.
Just mocking, negativity, and more gloom and doom. (Trust me - this blog will come under the same fire that greets the CEOs each day, as well as everyone still trying to make a difference in radio.)
So, let's look at streaming - again - and think about the implications of not participating over the long haul. To suggest that mobile devices are just used for talking and texting is absurd. Our Tech Polls clearly show that consumers are doing everything on these devices - and unlike other gadgets, they are with us at all times. As someone who's been living alongside an iPhone for six months now, I can honestly tell you that I do email, web search, get my sports scores, talk, text, Twitter, and listen to mp3s and radio streams - all the damn time. (Ask my wife.)
Just like I used to reach for that pack of cigarettes first thing in the morning back in the '70s, I now grab my iPhone when I jump out of bed to check for emails and alerts. That proximity and ubiquity are keys for radio because if we can keep our local (note the L-word) strong, we can still be very important in people's lives. There's a lot of talk in media circles these days about hyper-local. Hey, radio was all about that before it was cool.
If we're thinking that streaming is just another expense line on spreadsheets, we're missing yet another opportunity. Look, I remember hearing Mel tell anyone and everyone that the Internet wouldn't make any money, and he would never give away his content. That same logic is what's driving satellite radio today to sit tight with its "subscription or die" model.
But for everyone else who missed the Internet the first time around, streaming is the most democratic thing that's happened to radio. Let's face it - there are many areas in which broadcast radio cannot participate in the digital world. But streaming allows our content to be distributed worldwide. We finally can get past these towers and transmitters, and if we're good, anyone in the world can enjoy what we do.
I look at the download stats that our iPhone applications generate. In most cases, 40% of them are coming from all over the planet. Now I don't know whether these people were originally residents of Philadelphia or San Diego. Or whether they are foreign nationals who are enamored by American radio. But the bottom line is that these applications make it possible for anyone to enjoy our content.
So Tom Yates' Coast in Mendocino has an equal footing with KROQ. Or KUJO 99, an Internet-only station, has the chance to build an audience as big, if not bigger, than B101's. And Positive & Encouraging K-Love, a network of Christian stations, often finds itself in the Top 25 free "music" apps on iTunes - sometimes edging out the big aggregated sites. Why does the Public Radio Tuner and these Christian apps compete head-to-head with iheartradio and other commercial apps - because they attract millions of passionate listeners to their focused, quality content. It is being done, not in the future, but right now today.
How can this be happening? Because the Internet - and now its accessibility on high-quality mobile devices - levels the playing field in a way that has never happened before. If radio would stop squabbling with each other, and start to look down the road at access, content, and new platforms, it might find the path to 21st century success.
There are 3 billion mobile devices on the planet - more than the number of radios, TVs, and even computers. And people replace these devices about once every 18 months. In the midst of "the worst economy since the Great Depression," mobile phones are virtually recession-proof. The way that analyst Tomi Ahonen explains it, mobile is the 7th medium - with the ability to provide the features offered by the Original 6 (print, recordings, cinema, radio, TV, Internet) in a neat, handheld, take-anywhere package. That's why streaming and mobile access are so important to radio.
Radio's ability to gain access on mobile devices shouldn't be met with derision or skepticism. This is an opportunity, not something to be mocked. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer didn't have an iPhone app. That's not why they went under this week, but it speaks to the print world's slowness to get their content on mobile devices so folks in Seattle could have read it while they were on the ferry from Bainbridge Island or on the bus riding in from Puyallup. (By the way, the Seattle Times doesn't have one either.) Yet, any radio station in any town - terrestrial or Internet - can have beachfront property on an iPhone.
So enough already with the self-flagellation and the negativity. As my old literary pal, Gnossos Pappadopoulis would say, "I've been down so long it looks like up to me." Radio has to stop beating itself up, and dig its way out of this. And streaming is an avenue that provides that equal footing. If we offer a quality stream (a topic for another blog), we create quality programming, and we make it available to consumers on multi-platforms, then it's just a matter of marketing it to the world (yes, another blog).
But as Erica Farber stated at our "Presidents of Radio" panel in Austin last fall as she offered her platform, "I would first declare a no complain bill. What that means is no one is allowed to complain about anything unless they present a valid alternative to the issue or problem at hand."
A good idea then, a better idea now. It's easy to shoot bullets in the middle of chaos. It's another story to put down the weapons, and work through our issues. So let's hold CEOs, bloggers, consultants, and everyone else to the same standard; if you bitch and moan, you're obligated to offer solutions.
Let's stop being the "Industry of No" and start figuring our way to solutions and success.