You’re at a cocktail party and a stranger asks you what you do. You tell him or her that you work at a radio station. While raising his or her glass of Chardonnay to lips with an outstretched pinkie finger the stranger sneers, “I never listen to commercial radio.”
We know that about one in ten Americans don’t listen to radio. Talk to them and you’ll find out that many feel radio is vulgar, pedestrian, and vacuous. For them, the airwaves are full of repetitious songs and mindless chattering DJs.
To them, commercial radio is a vast wasteland, and they can’t imagine listening. Just like they wouldn’t be caught dead in Walmart, couldn’t dream of eating a Big Mac, and would never consider buying an American car.
They are America’s radio snobs.
Neither satellite nor Internet radio has impacted the number of radio snobs. Their decision is not driven by technology, but rather some innate unwillingness to be one of the masses.
What satellite and Internet radio has done is give radio snobs additional excuses to avoid commercial radio. In the past, snobs claimed they preferred LPs, then CDs. Now they can point to digital alternatives as preferable to all too ordinary commercial radio.
From time to time broadcasters look at these snobs and see them as an opportunity. If we just get a little more sophisticated, they would listen. If we just offer them the right kind of programming, they would listen.
Which has led to some odd decisions like stations sponsoring polo matches, and programmers creating Euro-centric programming. No matter how creative, these efforts have failed because radio snobs simply won’t listen to commercial radio.
Commercial radio succeeds by appealing to the majority of Americans–the Walmart shopper and the McDonald's diner. Radio snobs don’t fill out diaries. They don't carry meters. The people that we depend on are regular folks.
Regular folks don’t shop at Whole Foods, they don’t spend five dollars on a cup of coffee, and their family cellular plan doesn’t include unlimited data. Which brings us to the iPhone.
Less than 5% of Americans own an iPhone.
Let’s put that another way. Ninety-five percent of Americans do not own an iPhone. 95%!
If 95% of Americans don’t own one, why is there a rush to embrace the iPhone? Why do pundits think a radio app is going to transform radio?
The regular folks, the people filling out diaries and carrying meters, are still listening to commercial radio on a radio. Yet, all we hear about is radio’s need to get on the iPhone. Isn’t this just another attempt to appeal to radio snobs?
Don’t we have our priorities mixed up?