Exploding radio

Exploding radio

: At the well-stocked snack table at the Foursquare conference, I spotted a badge that said “Sirius” and I dropped my muffin to make sure to congratulate the man for getting Howard Stern and helping to reinvent radio. I handed him my day-job card but also my blogcard, which advertises “blatherings on citizens’ media, politics, technology, and Howard Stern.” It’s my fan-club card. The nice man didn’t run away.

I suspect that Stern will be on satellite sooner than later. After a brief hiatus when he wouldn’t mentioned satellite for fear of causing some corporate upheaval at Viacom, Stern has started talking about it again and also has started making noise about whether Sirius will buy out his terrestrial contract so all can move on. There’s also been a little chatter about whether Viacom should buy Sirius but I doubt that.

This got me wondering about what I would do if I were in Viacom’s shoes. I hope they don’t pluck the nearest Stern clone. It’s hard to call that the “safe” choice but it is; it’s the obvious and dull choice. They need to reinvent radio.

But then I thought about the man with the Sirius badge. It’s so much easier for him to reinvent radio. And for you, you podcasters, you.

Broadcast radio is stuck in the same bind as the rest of old media: They’re mass in a new world of niches. They can’t afford to go niche; the franchise is too valuable, the revenue too big, the stockholders too antsy. They, like TV broadcasters, have to pray they find the next big thing (but not so big that they get fined to hell and back by the FCC).

What would you do if you were programming any of these entities? I’ll start a list. But I’d love to see what kinds of radio you’d like to hear — whether on broadcast or on satellite or via podcasting. My start:

: Reality radio: The best part of Stern besides Stern is his audience and their often startling creativity. Their song parodies and gags are often inspired (and, yes, just as often insipid). What about the first radio station that makes the audience the star, that highlights the best pieces and parodies and rants, challenging the people to create ever better bits. It works on broadcast or on the upstarts.

: Niche radio: The dating show — real people, real dates. The new-mom show. The divorce show. The retirement show. The job-hunting show. The gadget show…. This won’t work on broadcast. But it most definitely works on podcasting. And it works on satellite if they’d be smart enough to also podcast it so you don’t have to schedule listening. This isn’t appointment radio. It’s download radio.

: Reading radio: Read the stuff I don’t have to read — the latest issue of The New Yorker, the best op-eds, the occasional blog essay. Surprise me.

Just a start… what do you want to hear?

  • TXBueller

    I love the production value and thought provoking programs of many of the nationaly syndicated NPR programs but I often tune away because I get sick of feeling like I’m being pushed up against the drivers window by the sheer force of the left wing attitude.
    I get sick of listening to anybody on the right (save Limbaugh because he has good production) cause I don’t want to be ranted at *all the time* by that side either.
    Give me high production value, well written, calm(!) independent minded, spoken word radio.
    And please no Gold-Bond or gold buying commercials!

  • Marc0n1

    I’m reading your post as I’m sitting here in the radio studio doing my show. Things have become so formulaic and automated that I fight boredom by reading blogs while the music plays.
    So yeah, I’d love to see the things happen that you suggest. It’s hard to imagine these things happening on local radio, both for budgetary reasons and, sadly, because the crappy stuff that commercial radio puts out is the crappy stuff that the audience demands.
    Individuals will deny this (“I can’t stand the repetition.” “If they’d only play more variety, I’d listen more.” “I don’t want just music, I want engaging personalities, too.”), but every place that expanded playlists and unusual programming has been tried, it fails. Everywhere, all the time. Ratings vary, but in general this fact has been true for 50 years. (I exclude talk radio and shock jocks)
    One reason Howard is so popular is because he’s truly unusual, and finding even a few more people as compelling and entertaining isn’t likely.
    Besides, I think broadcast radio’s future is, as Jeff likes to say, hyper-local. Currently it’s moving in the opposite direction because of consolidation, but perhaps after it all collapses (as it has several times in its history), radio will wake up and find its next identity.

  • well, i only listen to New Yorks Z100. i like it, cuz im a teenagaer; but i usually get disappointed by the degree of my generation’s Ignorence, reflected in those kinds of stations.
    wuold you give my blog a visit?! im gunna be more than happy if i find out that someone like you has visited my blog. please, make my day!

  • With podcasting, vlogs, and the such emerging as a common medium, its exciting to see the various ways people can take control. MSM may not die, but its not see we have more “common people” options available.
    Long live the people!

  • Angelos

    Radio died when it got rid of creative DJs who could actually decide what to play.
    Two anecdotes:
    -Years ago, my office faxed in our requests for the “3 o’clock rock block” on the local classis rock station. Three Talking Heads songs. At 2:55, before the commercial break, we heard we won, and would get the prize (pastries from a local deli). At 3:00, they played three completely different Heads songs. When I called the DJ, he explained that we chose “deep tracks”, he had to play “hits”. You know, “Burning Down the House” etc. The same damned songs they play 5 times a day anyway!
    -Another time, I was the 16th caller, and won something (a 2-foot cigar, if I remember). I went to the station to pick it up, and while waiting around, I saw the playlists for the next 2 days! All nice provided by the mothership.
    Throw in 20 minutes of commercials, the same 40 songs all day in various forms of rotation, and they lost me 5+ years ago.

  • When will you start Podcasting your blog? Maybe a daily 5 minute update? It’s far easier than you think.

  • MadMan

    In terms of making the audience a part of the show, Howard does that a little bit and used to devote a little more time via “radio graffiti.”
    But anyone who listened to O&A in their NY prime knows that half the show(s) was about their stunts and half used the “instant feedback” of the audience to completely goof on or vent at whoever was in the hotseat.
    They also ended every show via the audience and “what I learned today…”
    Half the time the audience was the star coming up with mostly brilliant material (only the funny stuff from the feedback made the air and there was a lot of really funny stuff) and cracking up everyone in the studio and I’m sure the listening audience.
    Serious questions only people

  • Is an interactive podcast even possible? The concept of a podcast is the ability to download a pre-created show, as opposed to “live” content. How could the audience be included? A regular blog-style comments section would suffice, I suppose.

  • You recently asked us for mp3 solutions for your sermons. I’d be curious to hear your sermons because I know they’d be different from most.
    Thinking about it now, I also had the idea that maybe I should expand my buffet review blog into podcasting…

  • How about a station that plays nothing but unsigned artists or nothing but songs that are available free on Amazon.com?
    There are some really great radio stations on the air (and we web, which is how I listen to them):
    WNCW in Asheville, NC plays a mix of Americana, folk and folk/rock/jam
    KCRW in Santa Monica, CA plays an eclectic mix of jazz and folk
    And of course, AIR AMERICA RADIO!

  • One of the things I don’t like about modern day radio giants like Viacom is the loss of local flavor. I make the round trip drive from DC to a home in Georgia 3 or 4 times a year. Over the years, the listening has gotten progressivly worse. Its either the same top 20 Wal Mart certified modern country hits or the same top 20 easy listening country songs.
    NPR news provides some relief, as does the occaisonal rightous religious sermon, but even those are disappearing.
    What I would love is to see more room for higher powered local flavor radio – bring out the local eccentrics (who I find, in DC at least, now broadcast over the cable community access networks – think an audio waynes world in the background with lots of cheap visual text PSAs running). College radio sometimes does it, but too often focuses on thrash punk or other such fare. Good for them, but I want even more variety. I don’t know if satellite radio can pick these guys up again.
    I like the idea of read radio. I’ve always felt the best parts of NPR’s news broadcast are when columnists like Frank DeFord, etc. read their latest opinion piece. I agree with the first commenter on the left wing politics of most of these – enough already – but the impact of the presentation is great and the quality of the production is top notch. I see this as a wonderful growth area – a show deadicated to reading the Editorials of all the major papers. I’d listen to that driving in. Especially on satellite, maybe each newspaper can begin broadcasting someone reading their entire op ed page. Make it downloadable so I can listen on my iPod while riding a metro train too crowded to read the paper.

  • I hereby claim “podcasters” is a very creepy [email protected]#$%ing word. Thank you.
    Any upheavel in radio will merely be a shift in corporate ownership – and music better tailored to your own tastes (But is that really a great thing – how to discover new songs, groups?)
    That’s a mix-tape, in this case digital and mobile, rather than analogue.

  • All european soccer, all the time.

  • Old radio has a long tail too, just like old books. We are trying to build a “place” for organizing radio, old and new.
    Early users show a long tail with thousands using programs we know and thousands more finding all kinds of niche oriented radio available.