FM, Online, AM, HD (In That Order)

This blog post from Mark Ramsey made me open my eyes real big the other day.

Mark makes the point that, even though there are some very successful AM radio stations, there aren’t a lot of people in general listening to AM radio.  In fact, when he averaged fifteen PPM markets, 65% of people, from age six on up, do not listen to AM radio.  Do the math, and you see that, on average, about a third … 35% … do indeed listen to any AM radio station.

That’s pretty low.  It’s not going to go up anytime soon.  Meanwhile … 39% of people listened to online radio in the last month.  That is going to keep going up.

So, I got three things out of this … in addition to Mark’s great point, which is something I’ve been preaching … don’t get hung up on how your trucks get to the store.  A transmitter is just one platform out of many, and is no longer enough by itself.

OUR MAIN LIMITATION IS OUR VISION

If you were no longer limited by a transmitter, what could you do?  If you could “broadcast” to everyone around the world, you wouldn’t have to be local, if it didn’t fit your business model.  You could focus on a narrow niche of music (or other content) that doesn’t make sense on a terrestrial radio station.  If your fans are accessing you on a screen instead of a dial, you could put on a clean, uncluttered audo stream.  You could have tons of relevant content on your site that people could peruse when they chose to, instead of when you directed them to consume it.

By the way, if you break out of the traditional radio vision, you’re no longer limited by what Arbitron says about you.

MARKET FORCES WILL NOT BE DENIED

The law of supply and demand really worked in our favor when all there was to listen to was what came out of transmitters.  The heritage of our brands is helping us in the online world, as are the tastes of our biggest fans, who tend to be the ones who stream us.  Still, what’s going to help sustain us as the audio entertainment world gets flattened out, and you don’t have to have a scarce government license to participate?

There’s a ton of really bad internet radio out there.   Economics is the reason.  It’s really, really cheap to start an online station compared to a broadcast station.  I programmed radio stations for a bunch of years, and I know that almost everyone in the station thought they could do my job.  Play some songs; say some stuff; how tough can it be?

Who’s going to start the big online radio brands?  As newsworthy as Pandora and iHeartRadio have been, they’re not really targeting new niches that could be viable options with worldwide online radio brands.  Let’s say you were passionate about bluegrass music.  There’s no way you could be successful with a local FM bluegrass station.  If you’re a fan, you might take it upon yourself to use Pandora or iHeartRadio to create a bluegrass station for yourself.  There’s nothing about that experience that connects you to bluegrass performers and other fans, which is something that a great online community could do.

What’s the difference it takes to create a great online brand?  The investment in programming, marketing and content.  It would be different than on broadcast radio.  You’d be integrating content across your stream and your website and your social media about a form of music with a narrow but passionate appeal.   The big splash in the new pool is there to be made.

WHAT ABOUT THOSE HD STATIONS?

If you’re running HD-2 stations that almost no one is listening to, why don’t you stream them online, too?

You believed in them enough to put them on in the first place.  Why stop there?  Creating a separate website with a “listen live” stream for them would make these stations more viable.  Only a small percentage of average Americans even understands HD radio, much less listens to it.  The audience for online streaming is growing; real people are listening on their smartphones, computers and tablets.  You could even throw a cheap Google AdWords schedule at it and see if you could start getting some cume to help you sell spots on that stream.  You won’t get huge cume.  What you could get, instead, is incredibly loyal fans that would be an awesome match for some well-chosen advertisers.

You’re not limited by geography.  You’re not as limited by budgets; building a website and streaming a jock-free operation is a heck of a lot cheaper than running a terrestrial radio station.

Got a thought or a comment?  Chime in below, or on the CMD Facebook page.

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