The NAB Radio Show in Washington two weeks ago was a upbeat reflection of the present state of the broadcast industry. But sandwiched around that conference, in the last three weeks, I have spoken at three digital media conferences – and as someone who has grown up on over-the-air radio, and based a career on representing radio stations, the discussions at these conferences raised many questions about the future of the radio industry. At the Radio and Internet Newsletter (RAIN) Summit East in DC, prior to the NAB Radio Show, I gave a summary of the royalty issues facing Internet Radio operators. At the Future of Music Policy Summit in DC the next week, I spoke on a panel on the Future of Radio. And at the Digital Music Forum West in Los Angeles last week, I moderated a panel on music licensing issue for digital media companies. At each of these conferences, the focus was on the digital media, not on over-the-air broadcasting, and many times the question was raised as to whether traditional radio was still relevant in the digital age. I’m not sure how many times I was asked, when I told someone that I am a lawyer who represents radio stations, what I plan to do next when my clients are extinct? Even in media-related industries, many seem to regard radio broadcasters as old-school – a throw back to some other entertainment era. Yet, what surprised me was how these same people who questioned the relevance of radio were all able to talk about what songs were or were not being played on the local rock station, or about the crazy thing some local DJ said that morning and the contests running on radio stations in their market, or about the story on NPR that kept them in their car seats when they were sitting in their driveway at home the night before.
At each of these conferences, in listening to the discussions of the issues facing all the new media (like how to make money), the dark view of radio seemed overblown. Radio still seems to be a vital medium, especially if it can emphasize the advantages that it has. Harnessing the power of radio with digital media creates platforms that neither has on its own. In many ways radio, of all the traditional media, is best able to use its place in the media landscape to expand in the digital world. Radio has always excelled in reaching niche audiences, in much the same way that the Internet now does. By playing to its strengths, whether that be music, news, talk or sports, or some combination thereof, radio can expand its connection and provide broader and deeper services to its listeners, and serve its audiences like never before. And all the digital media companies seem to recognize this potential, but seem to be discounting radio’s ability to capitalize on its advantages.