March 24, 2020
An Open Letter to Radio (coronavirus edition),
The coronavirus has already achieved what an invading army would never have dreamed possible – overrunning America and bringing our economy to its knees in a matter of days.
When it comes to AM/FM radio, the coronavirus is set to accomplish what satellite and streaming platforms have attempted, but failed to do for more than a decade – erode the ratings of music stations overnight.
After all, being the 800-pound gorilla of audio with the most profitable and resilient business model along with the largest total reach of any media platform, we have much to lose.
The situation is further compounded because unlike television, our heaviest users get up and go to work every day, which for the moment, is no longer happening.
Conventional wisdom also reminds us not much listening occurs at home on the couch.
Even with the growth of smart speakers and mobile apps, these devices won’t be able to offset the loss of overall listening. This is especially true during drive time as commutes switch from driving across town to walking down the hall.
What’s radio to do?
Let’s get out in front and lean into what’s going on.
Does anybody think less of the aviation industry or their favorite airline because commercial travel has come to a halt?
Even the most casual observer knows that when business travel dries up overnight, airlines are in for severe turbulence.
Like the airlines, it’s taking a global crisis on the scale of a modern world war to significantly impact radio listening.
Reason being: The backbone of radio listening and the backbone of our economy are one in the same – the American worker.
If there’s any doubt that our core audience is upwardly mobile with a paycheck that provides disposable income, this global disaster is going to prove it.
Radio must own our story with confidence and conviction.
National TV news airs every morning and evening. In this constantly changing environment, that’s not frequent enough.
Meanwhile, cable news is a never-ending stream of alerts and loud opinions that only the most avid news junky can consume.
Not to be outdone, social media updates your news feed by the second and is full of unverified information and conspiracy theories.
None of these scenarios serve “the public interest, convenience and necessity.”
Radio is trustworthy and local – two essential attributes in this public health crisis.
Our ability to provide reliable updates every quarter-hour is an essential part of our story.
Trusted voices on the radio – they are companions.
This is going to become even more important as people settle into a work from home routine. A video chat with your best friend at work is nice, but the companionship radio provides will be increasingly essential.
Speaking of video conferencing, despite many of these companies growing their stock price in the midst of a historic market downturn, the business model these platforms operate on is not well suited to make money during a temporary surge.
They have to scale up additional network resources and many of the new customers are not generating revenue due to the freemium model. As soon as bars and restaurants reopen, virtual happy hours will be kicked to the curb.
Further, many of their existing paying customers are encountering technical issues as a result of this surge in usage, which has sparked concerns about the long-term impact on their brand reputation.
For radio’s part, we can have the entire city tune in without any incremental increase in the cost of doing business.
News/Talk is predictably experiencing that surge right now.
We have an amazing over-the-air business model that we often take for granted in this digital age.
We’re able to serve our communities and each additional listener doesn’t increase our costs. It’s another angle of our amazing story as the internet pipes are set to burst.
Radio has always done some of its very best work when responding to a disaster and this coronavirus is no different.
As we navigate this global crisis, we’re going to generate even stronger insights into why our employed audience is so valuable.
Even before we roll up our sleeves and win listening back, radio will have an opportunity to make the case to both new and existing clients that on-air messaging must be an advertiser’s first dollar spent during the recovery; allowing them to reach the people with paychecks and money to spend, rather than the people still sitting on the couch.
Radio’s 100th anniversary will be unlike any other.
Together we will continue to drive radio forward.
It was initially written to coincide with Labor Day, radio’s unofficial holiday, a claim made possible by the dominant percentage of listening that’s delivered by employed persons across markets and formats.
President and COO