An FM Tuner on an iPod, HD on the new Zune, and the popularity of iPhone radio apps suggests that the New Media purple haze is wearing off. Each day it becomes clearer that all the cataclysmic predictions about radio disappearing are no more accurate than the sandwich-board bearing street preacher predicting the end of the earth.
But the hope that an FM enhanced Nano will save radio is no more accurate than the prediction that the iPod would bury radio.
Two years ago this month we posted a warning regarding technology in this space. As radio high-fives our technological victories, it is worth repeating that warning:
Radio is suffering from a serious case of technology envy. Trade publications, consultants, pundits, group heads, and Wall Street analysts are all absolutely convinced that declines in radio listenership has been driven by the multiple threats of satellite radio, Internet radio, and iPods.
It's very convenient to blame our troubles on these other technologies and propose that our own technological response will solve the problem, because that way we don't have to look any further.
We don't have to take an honest look at 21st century commercial radio and wonder whether our problems perhaps have nothing to do with technology. If we did, we might rethink both the source of the problem as well as the solution.
The fact is, radio today is Boring with a capital B. Ask listeners, and they will tell you. Radio is boring. And we have no one else to blame but radio itself. Radio is boring. And that fact will not change if all we change is the way we deliver it. Boring HD radio is just as boring as boring AM radio, which is just as boring as FM radio.
Let's be honest. The sad state of radio has little to do with technology.
We need to stop believing that the source of our problems is newer technologies and that some new technology is going to solve radio's problems. Innovation in programming and offering what people want to listen to is the only thing that will save commercial radio. It saved radio from television, moved millions of listeners from AM to FM, and is HD radio's only chance.
Radio programmers need to be empowered, encouraged to innovate, and supported. Otherwise HD channels, streaming technologies, and all the other technologies we might embrace will be nothing more than quad stereo for the 21st century.