Detroit — The annual Clear Channel Communications Inc. winter bloodshed came to Detroit early this year, as the media giant cut at least eight staffers in the market, ranging from longtime talker Frankie Darcell of Mix 92.3 to the quickly popular JAG of Channel 955.
This isn’t the first time Clear Channel has cut deep and it certainly won’t be the last.
Clear Channel can claim that “like every successful business,” their “strategy continues to evolve as we move forward as a company.”
And by forward, they mean backward. But they’re not alone.
Eventually all of the layoffs will catch up with Clear Channel and other media giants. So how does radio save itself? To look to the future, you must first look at the recent past. Radio has stripped itself of personalities, limited their playlists and failed to do anything special with the Internet.
The Detroit radio market — like many across the nation — has been decimated during the past handful of years. Popular personalities — Jeff Deminski and Bill Doyle, Scott Vertical, and on a temporary basis, Mike Stone, Bob Wojnowski and Beau Daniels — have been canned, and that’s just scratching the surface.
Those who felt Clear Channel’s wrath on Thursday will likely be replaced by someone in-house, or worse: a radio personality from another market who just shouts the name of random suburbs into the mic for four hours in an effort to sound like he or she lives in Detroit. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Billy The Kid, heard weeknights on Channel 955.)
But Clear Channel and others have also stripped most of its talent of any personality, giving them limited time to talk. And when personalities are allowed to crack the mic, it’s usually to dish out the station phone number and to inform listeners of the next song, which coincidentally are things we already know from our 21st century radios and cell phones.
There’s no better way to concisely sum up why fewer and fewer people listen to the radio than to read the words spoken by Don Tanner, marketing executive with Tanner Friedman and a former radio personality, in an interview with The Detroit News.
“Why should the next generation — those raised on iPods and downloading — listen to terrestrial radio?” Tanner said. “What is the value proposition? The music alone is not enough. Live, local personalities are more vital than ever to radio’s future.”
Taking the conclusion drawn by someone outside the forest who can see the mostly deforested radio trees: Radio personalities cost money, but if they are good, they will make the radio station money. The same goes with any medium: You get what you pay for.
The problem is media giants, strapped for cash from acquiring massive amounts of radio stations, don’t want to spend the money.
So where is radio headed?
The toilet. That is, radio could end up in the toilet, because the future of radio is in the palm of your hands: your cell phone, or more specifically, anywhere with Internet access, which yes, includes the bathroom.
Internet-based radio is the future, just as the newspaper of tomorrow will be entirely online and you’ll watch most — if not all — of your television programming on the Internet.
How quickly radio can catch up will determine who will be spared from more massacre and survive long enough to tell the tale. To go back to the metaphor from two paragraphs ago, it’s time to poop or get off the potty.
(And no, you cannot simply slap the same mediocre programming on a stream, just as a newspaper can’t slap the mostly mediocre content on the web and call it a day.)
It will be a revolution. And one based on past successes: live, local and different.
And there’s a small bit of anecdotal evidence that suggests it will work.
Pat DeLuca, who for six years hosted the No. 1-ranked morning show in the Canton, Ohio market on WDJQ-FM, decided to take his show online earlier this year, creating The DeLuca Show Network. The network, which started with a three-day-a-week live morning show and continuous music throughout the rest of the day and night, now has a full radio lineup with live programming from 7 a.m. until midnight. (LIVE.)
The station, with little to no money and no substantial marketing, now attracts tens of thousands of listeners, sells ads and does remotes in the Northeast Ohio area. (LOCAL.)
It also has one of the most comprehensive (and legally obtained) music playlists and in hours of listening I have been unable to locate a two-hour block where the station has played the same artist twice. (DIFFERENT.)
Nobody knows for sure if DeLuca’s station will last in the long run, but he sure as hell is going to go down swinging.
Consider the following:
- Internet radio attracts an upper-income audience. Ad revenues drive radio, so follow the money.
- Already about 42 percent of Americans listen to radio on the Internet, and while much of that includes streams of terrestrial radio stations, the industry is shifting, especially when you consider more and more are listening on their smartphones.
- Smartphone use will double to more than 1 billion worldwide by 2015.
Like other forms of media — most notably newspapers and television — the Internet is not killing radio.
Radio, newspapers and television stations never properly adapted when the Internet started to take off. Twenty-first century management thinking — check that, 21st century management decisions — is now the saving grace to preserve a prosperous future for all three media industries.
Need proof? Ask anyone under 30 if they’d rather read a newspaper, or get news from online; listen to terrestrial radio, or pull up their favorite station on their iPhone; or stay up late to watch their favorite TV show, or watch it with their friends whenever they want.
Then remember this write-up in, let’s say, 2020.
If I’m wrong?
Then let there be bloodshed.