A friend of mine from outside the radio industry sent me a blog post today lamenting the imminent demise of radio. It was a typically simplistic take, based on the shopworn notion that local radio can't possibly compete with digital media's specialization and global reach. Like most doomsday warnings of its kind, it misses the mark by a country mile.
Local radio can still compete precisely because it's local. The intimacy and immediacy of local, personality-driven radio still trumps all. People aren't robots - at least, not yet. We like to relate, and a well-crafted local radio program is infinitely more relatable than anything else out there.
This point is lost on the author of the aforementioned blog because he's not a professional broadcaster. Unfortunately, he has that in common with the people who run radio in the age of corporate media consolidation. At the upper management level, decisions are made almost exclusively by executives with no understanding, respect or passion for the medium. Their priorities are to add pennies to the share price and top up their own bonuses. The easiest way to do that is to cut costs, and the easiest costs to cut are labor. The upshot is that experienced, savvy broadcasters are being phased out in favor of cheap, disposable labor. What's worse, there's no dedicated mentorship process in place, and even if there were, too many of the newer generation of broadcasters think they have nothing to learn from the old guard. Hubris and mediocrity are a dangerous combination, especially at a time when management is always on the lookout for someone willing to work for less.
I'll always be grateful that my 30 year run on commercial radio was in the employ of real broadcasters who understood and respected the medium, and valued and rewarded talent. Those days don't have to be over. Radio can not only survive - it can thrive, but it needs to play to its traditional strengths, rather than try to compete with new media on new media's terms. Sadly, that requires vision and an appreciation for the craft - two things that no longer exist among the decision-makers.