I’ve Been To The Mountaintop

The future of Radio…

I’ve seen the future of Radio, at least part of its future, and you can too. It’s in the current edition of Fast Company, in an excellent article about NPR entitled “Will NPR Save The News?”

Here’s a taste, for those of you managing 15 stations in 3 separate markets who are too busy to think, much less read.

“NPR’s listenership has nearly doubled since 1999. It’s programming now reaches 26.4 MILLION listeners weekly – far more than USA TODAY’s 2.3 million daily circ or FOX News’ 2.8 million prime time audience. When newspapers were closing bureaus, NPR was opening them, and now runs 38 around the world, better than CNN. It has moved boldly into new media as well: 14 MILLION monthly podcast downloads, 8 MILLION web visitors, NPR Mobile, an open platform, a social network, even crowdsourcing.”

Here’s what NPR’s new CEO, Vivian Schiller, who came aboard in January directly from NYTIMES.com says: “I’ve worked in a lot of big media companies now. I mean, this is my fifth (The NY TIMES, Discovery Channel, CNN, TBS) and I’ve never seen such a connection between the institution and its audience members. The power of that is extraordinary. The journalism and the credibility – that’s the obvious stuff. It’s the personal connection that’s the secret sauce.

So, how’s the personal connection with your listeners?

Still mainly contests and Morning Show games? Don’t foget that mass email blast to your entire database once a month. That has their first name, right? That’ll feel personal.

Sure it will.

The same way all that junk mail with your name on it feels personal as you dump it into the recycle bin every day.

Isn’t there one owner willing to try a different way? Or will we continue to cut the very things that could strengthen the personal connection we might have with listeners?

We can pretend we don’t know what listeners want from us. After all, we can’t afford research this year, not in this economy. We can use PPM as an excuse to further cut back on air talent and truly relevant content. Clearly, listeners only want music, nothing else. We can surrender long term market share to short term economic storms, use syndicated shows to cut expense, voice-tracking to avoid salaries and benfits. It is what it is. We can believe we can’t learn anything from those tree-huggers at NPR. They don’t know what real competition is…

But while you do all that, ponder this: NPR’s Morning Edition has a 24-hour staff. And this: “NPR’s median radio listener is 49; it’s median podcast listeners is 33.”

Maybe, just maybe, there’s another way. (Hint: I don’t think NPR is banking on classical music anymore.) That way is relevance, real personal connection, and providing content listeners want and can get nowhere else.

How often does your station meet those criteria?