September 30, 2023

Where Does Radio Go Next?

This is from Eric Rhoads, publisher of Radio Ink. And I’ll definitely be going to the DASH conference he mentions.

The mantra, it seems, is “Stay strong, deflect criticism, remain positive at all times, avoid conversations about change, and understand that we will remain strong no matter what we face.” Sometimes radio sounds like a politician, remaining blindly committed to a position even when times have changed

Today’s radio CEO, whether the company is public or private, big or small, is faced with a difficult challenge. For the sake of the continued health of their business, they must keep investors, advertisers, and employees engaged and interested in radio, and they must deflect all the hype about the shiny new objects popular in the media at the moment.

Since I got into radio in 1969, the threats have been the 4-track in-dash tape, the 8-track tape, cassettes, the CB radio (almost every teen had one in the ’70s), CDs, satellite radio, and the smartphone. It’s no wonder many radio CEOs don’t seem to believe the predictions of radio’s demise. Each of those technologies was supposed to destroy radio, yet it’s remained strong.

But is it different this time? My friends in Silicon Valley say an era of self-selection and ubiquitous wireless signals does not bode well for radio’s future. That said, keep in mind that Silicon Valley is targeting radio because online audio services want what radio has: loyal listeners, mass audiences, and billions in ad revenues. It is in their interest to say that radio will become irrelevant.Though evidence exists that online audio listening is growing and that a fairly high percentage of consumers are using these services, there appears to be no indication that radio listening is on the decline.

But that does not mean radio CEOs can play ostrich. At the moment, radio is all but ignoring Pandora, which claims to have amassed an audience equal to a top-rated large-market station. Many don’t believe its business model is sustainable. But Pandora is building out offices in 50 top markets and hiring top local sellers from radio. One Pandora seller told me of taking 80 percent of a big local radio budget in a major market after the advertiser conducted a brief test. And Pandora is on over 1,800 devices and has a position on the dash of every new Internet-enabled car. Can it be safely ignored?

As an industry, I think we have to seriously consider the two biggest movements in consumer adoption: the smartphone and the connected car. By 2014, there will be more users accessing the Web through mobile than the desktop. In 2012, 600 million smartphones were sold, and smartphones are now outselling PCs. One expert tells me that the typical 15 hours a week of radio listening, along with normal Internet usage, will not exceed what’s allowed under most data plans. Many in radio insist data costs will slow online audio consumption — yet 68 percent of Pandora’s monthly 1.4 billion listening hours are on mobile devices.

The connected car not only has Internet access, most can access a smartphone and replicate it on the dashboard. Though AM and FM still have a place in the car, the consumer will have more choices than ever — apps for Pandora, TuneIn, and iHeart will be in almost every vehicle. Local stations will need a strategy to make sure they have an icon on the dash, or that they get a precious “favorite” spot on one of the aggregators.

I’m not anti-radio, nor do I want to see this industry I love suffer a moment of decline. Yet I believe it’s important to embrace change, understand it deeply, and have a solid strategy in case some of the prognosticators are right.

Months ago I wrote a piece saying some automakers were planning to drop AM and FM from their vehicles. I later retracted that, because my facts were slightly off. But I felt the need to get exact answers, and to help radio understand the looming reality of the connected car. That is why we have created a new conference.

We have partnered with Jacobs Media and Shuman Consulting Group for the first Radio Ink conference designed to bring radio, automakers, online radio companies, and advertisers together for a dialogue, and a chance to become aware of each other’s most important needs.

DASH: The Connected Car AudioTainment Conference will be held October 23-24 in Detroit. One and a half days away from the office, to gain a real understanding of what you need to know right now. DASH will deal with the issues of mobile and in-dash Internet audio, explain how you can make money on new interactive components, and pin down the exact realities radio is facing from the auto manufacturers.

This will be an important moment in radio history, and one we believe will impact your business quickly and help you prepare for what is happening right now. To learn more, visit

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37125 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.