The Radio Station of the Future….

Jerry Del Colliano is radio’s equivalent to blogger Bob Lefsetz … at least in so much as he’s the dominant voice in the blogoshere when it comes to radio.  This blog post of his has been making the rounds recently.. .with his permission attached at the end that’s it’s okay to share it.  Enjoy.

The Radio Station of the Future
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
By Jerry Del Colliano

KCRW has it right.  The Los Angeles public radio station is not really a radio station, which is why it has a bright future.  Think about it.

The top ten radio groups fight every day to promote on-air radio even as  they are cutting back programming resources and firing talent.  To them, radio today is almost exactly what radio was ten, twenty or more years ago – except worse.  That is, of course, insane because the world has changed a lot lately.

Technology grows exponentially now.  No one can stop it.  And some, like Steve Jobs at Apple, have harnessed technology to actually lead the consumer change.  But most radio stations look to the past for solutions.

Add to that the downsizing of radio caused by consolidators and their Wall Street investment bank owners and you have the present formula for failure or as I like to call it, “Too Big To Care”.  But there is hope for radio.  Not in the past, but by embracing the future as KCRW has done.  Others have as well.

National Public Radio has learned to become a content machine for the mobile Internet even as much as it is a national radio syndicate.  A little less crowing about 230 million weekly radio listeners and a little more innovation to find the next 230 million fans. Here’s how:

Create content not radio. That may sound awful to radio people but consumer behavior has changed and focusing on just the on-air programming will have predictable results. Radio can’t be depending on over the air broadcasting when consumers are depending on their mobile phones and tablets  to hook them up with content and information on-demand.

Apps and iPad-friendly websites are two good ways to endear yourself to listeners and join them in the digital space. Apps are very specific to an area of focus such as music discovery, local news or anything local for that matter. The iPad-friendly websites I suggest you create are more universal and cover a larger body of your entertainment content.  Yet you cannot find one radio broadcasting company willing to invest even 3% of its annual operating budget in things like this. To them, apps and websites are add-ons to radio and that thinking is getting them in trouble.

The radio broadcast will be more vital when what happens on the air stays on the air. That is, create a free broadcast experience for listeners who want to tune in and hear your content in real time. Unfortunately, radio groups have been compromising what they put on the air to save money and please Wall Street investors. Think about it. Non-commercial stations such as KCRW and others have to ask their listeners to support them.

Here’s a great litmus test for a radio operator. If you removed all commercials and asked your listeners to be 100% of your financial support, would you be out of business? If the answer is yes, fix it. KCRW gets 40% of its operating revenue from underwriters or what we would call advertisers. The rest from member donations and a small amount from The Corporation for Public Broadcasting the later of which is threatened by Washington politics.

Social networking is not just Twitter and Facebook although broadcasters see it that way. You are creating a social network built around your brand or format. In fact, before the Internet radio was in a sense a social network – albeit a one-way line of communication. The goal should be to gather “fans” not P1s and offer these fans something special for being part of what you do – your group, your “clubhouse”. Just as KCRW offers supporters “fringe benefits” or discounts at thousands of LA area stores, you can offer your listeners a deal far better than any couponing competitor because yours are club members, fans that can build repeat business something Groupon has not been able to do.

Curation or expert narration of music discovery is the absolute consumer need that is not being satisfied because ratings conscious radio programmers know better than listeners. Anyway, short playlists get higher People Meter ratings, right? Right on ratings. Wrong in winning fans.

To be blunt, more and more people don’t own radios.  Truth to be told, when was the last time you (a media person) bought a radio – just a radio?

I caught Jennifer Ferro, KCRW’s General Manager, talking with Mark Ramsey on what makes KCRW so potent a threat in the digital future.  She said radio is the method of delivery not the content.

Go back and read that line again. Radio is the method of delivery not the content.  Ferro continued – if you think of yourself as a radio station, you live and die by the technology.

I have not heard a smarter explanation of why traditional radio is failing and what it takes to build the radio station of the future in the same breath.

Think about it.

That’s how to turn radio around.

Please feel free to share my articles with your friends.

Author: goat

I've been on the air in Northern Colorado since 1978. The Colorado Playlist is broadcast on 30 FM frequencies in the state. I am also a musician, talent buyer and business consultant. Email me at

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