Do you recall last week’s Monday Morning Memo entitled The Power of Once Upon a Time? In that memo, I said, “Storytelling is a form of selling. It allows us to use the old and familiar as metaphors to help us determine the right course of action when facing the new and different.”
Below is a column I wrote for Radio Ink that will appear in that magazine a few weeks from now. Radio Ink is the bible of every radio professional in North America. Notice how the Tom Leding story illustrates The Power of Once Upon a Time.
Contemplating Radio’s Future
Jeffrey Eisenberg is a top-tier consultant to online businesses who, with his brother Bryan Eisenberg, wrote a string of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers. Marley Porter is the gifted architect who designed the campus of Wizard Academy. I spend a lot of time with both of them. During a recent visit with Marley, our discussion turned to radio.
“Why don’t radio stations report their audience numbers in real time? Why do they use this Arbitron PPM thingy?”
“What do you mean, Marley?”
“Don’t they know when someone turns on their station? Don’t they know when that person turns to another station or turns off the radio completely?”
“Marley, you seem to have radio technology confused with internet technology.”
“But aren’t radio stations broadcasting on the internet now?”
Out of the mouths of babes and fools…
I called Jeffrey Eisenberg and described Marley’s imagined radio paradise. “Jefferson, is there any reason this couldn’t happen in the future?”
“Roy, the technology exists now – right now – to do everything Marley described. Not only could an online radio station know – in real time – exactly how many people were listening, they could also know the geographic location of each of those people as well as their names, addresses, educational attainments, income levels, and pretty much anything else the radio station desired to know. Smart phones are streaming online radio today and they usually have a GPS function, so the technology is already there. What I can’t predict are the regulatory hurdles and industry lobbyists that would have to be overcome before any of this could become reality.”
Set aside for a moment your fixation on towers and transmitters and licenses from the FCC. Expand your imagination. Consider the landscape of radio two or three decades from now: The GPS function of smart phones allows online radio to remain completely local. Your telephone is registered to you and billed to your home address. That’s all we need to know. The ads that will be inserted into your breaks will be for businesses in your trade area. And guess what? You’ll continue to hear these local ads even when you’re traveling hundreds of miles from home.
Delivered through smart-phone technology, audience measurement would be instantaneous, continuous, granular and accurate. The radio station would even be able to print mailing labels for every household that heard a particular ad.
I’m enough of a geezer to remember when 8-track tapes were introduced. I was, in fact, one of those goobers who hacked a hole in the dash of my car to allow me to install one. Years passed, then cassette tapes came along and 8-track fell by the wayside. But cassette didn’t come to stay. CD technology kicked its plastic ass and remains to this day the foremost form of physical distribution.
I believe satellite radio is to broadcasting what cassette tapes were to physical distribution; a momentary half-step offering too little advantage to earn it a long-term seat at the table.
Online radio is to broadcasting what CDs have been to physical distribution.
Relax, radio people. None of this can happen quickly. But it could happen. And maybe it even should, don’t you think?
When I was selling radio as a 20-year old kid with a hole hacked in his dash, an older insurance tycoon named Tom Leding took me under his wing. Tom set the world’s record for the largest single policy ever sold and for many years was the number-one salesman among his company’s 14,000 agents. When I was feeling discouraged I’d pop into Tom’s office and he’d tell me a story or two. I never knew why Tom cared about me, but I was always glad he did.
One day Tom told me a story about the 8-track and cassette tapes of his own childhood. “Roy,” he said, “when I was growing up, everyone pulled water from a well. There was this one company that made absolutely the best oak buckets. Every general store sold them. It was the oak bucket everyone bought. Then along came this new contraption called a hand pump. It mounted over the top of the well and the water came to you as you pumped the iron handle up and down. The oak bucket company chose to ignore this new technology. In fact, they even disparaged it. That’s why they went broke and disappeared; they thought they were in the oak bucket business when in truth, they were in the water delivery business. With their brand recognition and their distribution channels, that oak bucket company could easily have become the leading hand-pump company. And after that, they could have become the leading supplier of faucets and fixtures when indoor plumbing came along. But no, they were in love with oak buckets and that’s really sad.” Tom then looked steadily into my eyes, “Roy, never fall in love with oak buckets. Always remember the business you’re in; the customer delivery business.”
Today I’m just doing my best to honor old Tom and pass along his advice.
Roy H. Williams