Radio as it Exists Today & Syndication

Radio as it Exists Today

Brad March, former CEO of the Austereo Network, reports that the listening of music is 80% through radio even though radio is accessed through computer generated devices such as iPads, iPods, or tablets. In an attempt for radio stations to function as home base, the Austereo Network is creating new ways to listen through apps on smart phones or Apple Inc. devices. In turn, March supports the reputation of radio stating that radio is the perfect partner for social media. Now, companies like Facebook and Pandora have realized the key to their success is gearing up toward the local markets, just as radio does.

Secondary research from Douglas Ferguson, Professor of Communication at the College of Charleston, reports in the Journal of Radio Studies: “Uses and Gratifications of MP3 Players by College Students: Are iPods More Popular than Radio?” Ferguson looks into how college students are using the modern technology tool of iPods in comparison to radio listening. Some of his results showed that motivations for using the players included boredom, stimulation, entertainment, relaxation/escape, and loneliness. An important finding was that the use of MP3 players appears to be serving college students as a substitute for listening to traditional radio. Adding to Ferguson’s research, was the survey conducted for this research concurring that people do listen to music via iTunes on their iPhone and/or iPad, as well as via apps like Spotify, and Pandora. This opinion transfers among the ages questioned. They admitted that these types of media allows them to have complete freedom and control to listen to the music they want as well as when they want to hear it, instead of listening to radio personalities who may ramble on and on.

“The future of radio news: BBC radio journalists on the brave new world in which they work,” was further investigated by Anna Luscombe. In the Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media, she researched radio listeners in the United Kingdom and discovered that they increasingly are using new digital platforms – internet, mobile phone and podcasts – to tune into their favorite and new radio stations. She claims “Digitization has allowed radio to emerge from its box on the counter or in the dashboard and take flight across national borders and boundaries, across time and history, beyond streaming broadcasts, out of the house or car and into our pockets and headsets’ (Hilmes 2007). This is definitely true since technology is always changing and demanding. Journalists have to become multi-skilled, working across the spectrum of print, radio, TV, and online networks.

Yet, there are nay-sayers like Matt Newton, a staff writer for The Brabble.com, an Internet magazine, who speaks of “The Death of Radio and the Future of Media.” He describes radio as something that “used to be” magical and “used to have” famous DJs where you “used to hear” your favorite songs. While Newton focuses on the negatives of radio because of his personal impulsiveness to listen to what he wants, when he wants, and where he wants, he supports Podcasts to feed his frenzy. Podcasting makes audio files available online and poses a threat to radio. For a very small cost, Podcasters can produce music, local news, and public-affairs programs that are instantly available and always accessible. While this may be true, Newton unconvincingly supports his argument when he puts his foot in his mouth referencing the 1st amendment: “People have the power of choice now and how great it is!” However, according to McKee, popular audiences don’t passively accept what they’re given. They make interpretations in their own way and make the appropriate choices on what works best for them. In addition, Richard Hardiman, a radio DJ in South Africa, admits that live radio does provide the listener with current music and a radio personality, he believes that “The future of radio is online, device-driven and in your car. ” Nevertheless, listeners do need to have Internet or a smart phone to have this option. Hardiman proceeds to toss the final dagger into the heart of radio by identifying the use of the Internet and smart phones as the fuel to the decline of live radio.

In a similar but different view, Michael J. Saffran’s symposium on Radio Localism lists the vessel where radio is tuned in that affects the numbers of the listening audience. He found that seventy-six percent of respondents surveyed listen to local radio in their car. Their commute to and from their work place keeps them trapped in their cars and committed to the radio for their listening pleasure. Similarly, McKee support this commercialized popular culture. He confirms that this culture is a working-class culture where social classes are not separated since it provides a hopeful sign of increasing popular access to the public sphere. Conversely, Jake Sutera references Donna Halper, a well-respected radio historian and author in “The Future of Radio: Is Live and Local Content the Key to its Success?” and states that Halper believes radio must change back to its local content with emphasis on informative non-boring programming if it wants to survive within the circuit of young adults, ages18-24, in the 21st century. Saffron identified that new digital media serves as the substitute for radio as college students have resorted to their iPods for listening to music. While this may be true, Mary Ellen Kachinske voices opposition, explaining that “radio, satellite, television, or internet are all related; it is all show business, and young people want to be a part of it. “It’s a wonderful thing (radio) because the nay-sayers are saying that radio is dead, and it’s not. And it’s never going to be.” She continues to explain that radio stations like the MIX have a web site and eventually will become a web site with a radio station.

Consumers’ Union spokesman Joel Kelsey states the importance of putting low-power FM licenses in the hands of communities in order for communities to have an alternative to the easy go to, take-out, syndicated national programming: McRadio. Likewise, Prometheus Radio Project’s program director, Hannah Sassaman, argued the importance of building local radio stations that are accountable to local civil rights, school, neighborhood, and community groups. In an attempt to assess the validity of Sassaman’s claims, Glenn Hubbard, assistant professor in the School of Communication at East Carolina University, conducted a study on “Putting Radio Localism to the Test…” Results revealed that the listening audiences shared the sense of community mindedness and favored locally originated programs, while taxing the operating expenses of a radio station. On that note, radio stations need to be connected to their local community since consumers are plugged into what’s going on in their hometown.

Syndication Explained

Yet in an effort to save money, radio stations enlisted the idea of syndication to save operating expenses. Celebrity DJs record their show from a location distanced from their listening audiences. The entire show could use one DJ, be transmitted to thousands of stations, be pre-recorded, and then be played back on a different station within the same company. Nevertheless, Halper acknowledged radio syndication as a disaster just waiting to happen and added that the use of psychographics alerted corporations like “All Access Music Group” to a bad decision. One example occurred when Chicago radio station, WLIT, went syndicated in 2007 to bring Whoopi Goldberg to its programming. It dropped its hometown DJ and netted a huge drop in their listening audience. Corporate decision makers had hoped to create a grandiose economic scale and maximize their profits. However, with that event, WLIT’s VP/Programming, Darren Davis, admitted fault to underestimating Chicago’s love for their local DJ, Melissa Forman, cancelled the syndicated show, and brought back Chicago’s loved DJ.

Through an email correspondence I had with Clear Channel’s VP of Programming, Darren Davis, he agreed that syndication could prove to be disastrous, he emphasized that the key to radio’s success is high quality content that consumers love. While some great radio shows originate locally and some great shows air nationally, the ratings hold true that people do indeed love national shows with hosts such as Ryan Seacrest, Elvis Duran, Delilah, and Rush Limbaugh. Listeners love how entertaining those shows are, regardless of where the shows originate. What I found surprising in my research is that very few people knew anything about syndication. While they do listen to radio, they do not know much about syndication.

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