Despite its historical resilience, some researchers say that if radio doesn’t adapt to the rise of digital, its days are numbered. According to Larry S. Miller, director of the Steinhardt Music Business Program at New York University, in the recently released white paper called Paradigm Shift, the digital disruption that has shifted all media has finally hit radio hard. (Link to Miller’s research here.)
Oink Ink Radio’s Dan Price offers his thoughts on the traditional radio versus digital audio debate. Dan is founder and executive producer of Oink Ink, a creative services firm. In a career spanning 35 years, he has written, directed and produced some of the most successful radio campaigns ever. He also has nearly a thousand national and international radio awards under his belt, and has served as Jury Chair for Cannes, One Show and Clios’ award shows.
Price says that radio had not only survived the introduction of television but also satellite networks and music streaming services — both of which were to have supplanted radio. And so, “from a historical perspective, these newer, digital competitive content providers have been introducing themselves more regularly in these past 10 years than any had in the decades before it,” Price said. “But I’m not so sure these outlets are a threat (to us and radio advertising) in as much as they might just be (for companies like ours anyway) the new definition of ‘radio’.”
Q: From your perspective, what is the new definition of radio?
Price: To me, radio is any audio-based source of news and entertainment. Podcasting, for example. Is that not radio? If not, why not? It might just be the contemporary version of radio, as we used to know it. Things like podcasts and streaming services still provide that intimate “theater of the mind” that had always separated radio from other media, but it does so in different packaging. It’s all still content typically consumed while the listener is doing something else. (After all, the listener is always doing something else when she listens to the radio or enjoys a podcast).
Q: How do you compare what traditional radio offers with the variety of new audio formats?
Price: While these new formats are able to provide more personalized features, the one thing they can’t do as well is the flavoring of local-ness. (Not in terms of geo-targeting, but in the spirit of the local radio station and its local, on-air personalities.) For example, in Philadelphia, you have not one but two sports talk radio stations. That’s tough to reproduce in the form of streaming or in longer, pre-recorded formats.
Having said that, I do believe radio needs to work harder to add more relevance to stay competitive with newer platforms. How can radio maintain what it does so well, while offering a more personal (maybe interactive) experience and return to the days when it served as the authority when it came to, for example, discovering new music?
Q: Other than its ability to be local, does traditional radio have an edge these days?
Price: When my kids (ages 23 – 31) recommend that I listen to a new band or song, it’s not from the radio that they found it. It’s via some digital means. YouTube, podcasts, who-knows-where-else. Why is this? Why has radio become so formulaic? When are an entire audience of “Gen Z-ers” all-but ignoring radio? Its “edge” is certainly waning for that demographic.
I mean, again, “radio is being out-innovated” (per Miller). Is it because of so many fewer radio station owners than was allowed decades ago under federal restriction (which has perhaps limited the number of autonomous creative thinkers exponentially)? I’m not sure, but YouTube and Spotify and the others offer unlimited CHOICES-ON-DEMAND. Radio does not (to the extent that you can’t select specific songs when you want them or craft your own playlist). You, of course, can always choose to change the dial.
And so, while it may have an edge in familiarity and pervasiveness and local-ness…it will surely lose some of that if it doesn’t learn to utilize new technologies.
Q: What do you see changing in the short-term future in the traditional vs. new audio formats competition?
Price: Smartly, digital radio is attacking traditional where it will make the biggest impact — in cars. In just three to four years, 75 percent of new cars will be digitally connected. As far as I know, traditional radio has done nothing to compete with the likes of Amazon Alexa or Google Home. (According to Miller, 70 percent of the owners of these audio devices say they now listen to more audio, which seems like another opportunity lost.)
Q: From an audio advertising perspective, do the additional audio formats simply mean more opportunity?
Price: Absolutely. For Oink Ink, “radio” is now being delivered to consumers via other, newer methods. Radio is now audio delivered on smartphones, tablets, laptops and smart speakers. While all of these content producers will continue to compete for share, we in the ad business are afforded additional, new venues by which we can advertise to subscribers. So, the additional audience and outlets represent an opportunity for us and our clients.
About Dan Price: For 35 years, Dan Price has been a sought-after director of talent, and has produced thousands of Oink’s commercials over the years. He is also a contributing writer, co-creative director and manages the business operations for the entity. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.