Depending on whom you ask, it’s either the most challenging—or most exciting—time to work in radio. There’s certainly no shortage of challenges, from a small army of streaming services vying to lure away audience, to an increasingly difficult advertising environment. Yet some radio managers believe there’s never been a more exciting time to be in the business.
On their Q2 earnings calls CEO after CEO pointed to a slower-than-expected ad market as one reason for softer financial results. Today’s digital dashboard and tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles bring their own set of hurdles as radio strives to remain relevant in an era of infinite content choices.
But at the same time, with audio no longer confined to what can be transmitted from a tall tower in a big field, radio’s content creation opportunities—and the monetization channels they open up—are only limited by one’s imagination.
“That’s what makes it the most exciting time in my history in radio because we have so many different ways to attack the needs of a client,” says Phil Zachary, VP/market manager for Entercom Boston. “We have far more at our disposal when we’re sitting in front of a prospect than we’ve ever had before.”
Zachary, a 34-year radio manager, isn’t one for pie-in the-sky optimism. He fully understands that the obstacles the medium faces are real and need to be tackled head-on. “The challenges are there and we have to reinvent ourselves and alter our thinking to adapt to the changing market conditions,” Zachary says. He sees a parallel with the retail industry, where digital disruption has brought a record number of store closings, and the grocery business, which is being forced to adapt as Amazon looks to fundamentally change the way we buy and receive our food. “Look at what happened to retail over the last 10 years. It’s ‘adapt or die’ right now,” Zachary says. “In our business it’s the same thing.”
While some broadcasters may pine for the good old days, when competition was limited to just the other stations on the dial, it’s clear that tomorrow’s radio won’t look like its past incarnations. “The radio of the future is going to be very different,” Zachary says. And while the medium is challenged, in some ways it’s for the wrong reasons, he contends. “A lot of it is just a misunderstanding of how powerful radio continues to be,” he says. “But that’s OK because I think it’s fostering a sense of creativity and accountability and a real focus on positive outcomes for the client that maybe we didn’t have before. It’s causing us to raise our game.”
For Hubbard Phoenix VP/market manager Trip Reeb, there’s no time like the present to be in radio. Consider that this comes from someone who cut his teeth programming rock stations during the format’s glory days, made the less-than-common transition from programming to management and has managed some of the most powerful brands in radio, including “The World Famous” KROQ Los Angeles. Reeb also enjoyed the idyllic gig of managing radio stations in Hawaii. “I’m as happy or happier than I’ve ever been being in the business,” he says. “Given what possibilities we have going forward, it’s a very exciting time.” It’s also a competitive one, he admits. “We have all sorts of new types of media and ways for people to connect with each other, so sure, there is plenty of challenge,” he says. “But you have to believe that we are equal to the task.”
And the key to doing that, he contends, is for the industry to maintain a sense of optimism about what is possible. “We have to make sure we are able to recognize the challenges and creatively confront them and elevate our game to make the medium as good—and actually better—than it’s ever been.”