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Radio, the Culprit






Radio is probably the key problem, right now. Check out Neil Strauss's article for a real-world confirmation, but this has been growing since the early 80s. A checklist of items:

  • Ever since the 70s radio audience surveys, such as conducted by Arbitron (the "Nielsens" of the radio business), provide crude data regarding demographics and product use, along with a sampling of the size of radio stations' listening audiences. These are "niche" mass-market totals that provide rough averages of behavior, but not a lot of accurate detail. They lead to:

  • Radio marketing consultants, who help devise music-programming "formats" that will attract a "typical" or "average" listener from a demographic group with higher than average consumer spending. There is a great deal of competition for the largest share of the consumer listening audience, so that advertising can be sold at higher rates (closely tied to these audience levels).

  • The increasing conservatism of radio programmers in this environment leads to a narrower and narrower choice for programming, and thus for listeners to hear.

  • But -- record companies still overwhelmingly use radio promotion to market new records! Why? Because it's free, and it gets out to a large audience. (Of course, the record companies spend tons of money to support the radio stations playing their records. Large numbers of field reps are coordinated across the country from central promotion directors at label headquarters, to make sure that airplay is given the greatest chance of occurring all at the same time, to make a dent in the charts.) The audience gets a free sample, before deciding to spend money on a purchase.

  • So, what's the solution? Detach the record marketing process from mass-market radio, and replace it with something with a wider range: the net! When people can listen to samples of new music from the net, and can search from a wide variety of artists, that could crack the addiction to radio. Instead of putting lots of money behind radio promotion, record companies could redirect those resources toward making samples available at the same place people can purchase them, like a record store kiosk, except that the kiosk has maybe a few hundred titles while the net sites can store practically as many as they feel like -- tens or even hundreds of thousands already for places like CD Now! and others.

  • There's still a problem: with huge numbers of titles available (consider this: each month close to a thousand new titles or re-releases are issued in the commercial market), finding the new material that you want (as a consumer) is difficult. It still relies on name recognition, to a large extent. Record companies make money on high-volume sales of a single title, and that leads to a cult of celebrity for successful musical acts -- success is tantamount to widespread mass-media recognition.

  • But, if the net can make sales of smaller-volumes of a title more profitable at smaller margins (instead of reproducing the promtional effort over hundreds of radio stations, you set it up once in a central location, and even multiple entry points are represented simply by extra in-links), perhaps we might see the rise of more lesser-known "middle-class" musicians, who can make their music with more artistic freedom, but still make enough of an income to pay their rent, and send their kids to school, and basically live a comfortable existence without having to be rich and famous. Those artists who are in it mostly for the fame, they can take care of themselves.

-- Dan Krimm, 3/96