Godin Sticks a Fork in Radio, Gifford Chews On It
I’m a big fan of author Seth Godin. I read his books, follow his blog, and when I saw he was coming to Seattle for a half-day session I jumped at the opportunity. I think Seth is a big thinker and while he’s marketing-minded he has wide-ranging opinions on wide-ranging topics. At our session he jumped from chastising those in attendance for daring to “waste the revolution,” permission marketing, the difference between artists and workers, the important role of parents in education, and the death of radio, among many others.
In regards to radio, Seth was answering a question I asked, “What’s the future of radio?”
Seth responded, “Terrestrial radio is d-e-a-d. Dead.” He went on to explain that radio was built on the model of scarcity. If you owned a radio station you were one of say 14 radio stations in the city. The number of commercials were finite as were the number of places you could place commercials. In three years, when wi-fi is readily available in everyone’s car, those 14 stations become 14,000,000 stations, including channels you can program yourself, and thus scarcity is gone forever. Your options are infinite.
While not a revelation, hearing it out loud in a room full of people is stinging. I’m sure I was a little red-faced, as my stomach dropped and I considered for a half-second that I should quit this crazy business. I recovered. So now what? Do we all just close up shop and call it a career? Nope.
The key is for “radio people” is to stop being defined by the delivery system. We are artists who create and sell content. That won’t change. How we create it, how we distribute it, and how we sell it will change. Welcome to the radio revolution. In order to save “radio people” from singing the same, sad, bitter tune that the record and publishing industries are right now, we need to think about how we do what we do differently.
Consumers want what they want, when they want it on the device of their choosing. It’s no longer mass media; it’s personal. That’s actually good news, because now we can focus on improving the quality of our content. You see, in order to have “mass consumption” of a product it (radio, a widget, or otherwise) has to appeal to a mass of people, which means it’s likely average. Godin described this as a race to the bottom — the cheapest, the most efficient, the “good enough.” Good enough radio content has succeeded for years and years. Now the game is changing and the most successful of us are racing to the top, which means your audio content needs to stand out from the crowd — be remarkable. It has to be so great that if you were to go away tomorrow, you’d be missed. If not, you’re just a cog in the radio/audio wheel. And cogs are interchangeable.
So, yes, radio as we know it will come to an end. That puts the responsibility on all of us to help determine how it evolves. In order to do that we can’t wait around be told what to do. We all have a tendency to show up and do “our job.” In order to influence the future, we need to think of ourselves as artists who do work. Godin encourages us to stop waiting for the map to appear and instead create it ourselves. “True art,” Godin says, “is when someone solves a problem for the first time in a creative way.” This means no longer using the excuses we’ve used so well for so long; my boss won’t let me, it’s not my job, and I don’t have the authority to make change. Be a leader. Help solve problems. Get involved. Make the impossible, possible. It’s time for us all to push forward, try things, fail, learn, try again.
Let’s get to work.
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