Thursday, January 07, 2010

Why Radio will Survive the Media Shake-out of our Decade

Jim Forsyth, News Director at WOAI Radio, appeared earlier this week at the monthly PRSA San Antonio Professional Development Luncheon to talk about the new wave in radio. But who cares about radio?

In an era where we are rapidly watching newspapers and their traditional model of newsgathering go away, Forsyth believes radio is poised for continued success, despite the fact that pundits and media watchers have been predicting its demise for nearly 50 years.

Well, guess what? Subscription and Internet Radio is not only NOT killing local audiences, it is enhancing and expanding them. This was the message Forsyth delivered to his audience of 50 local public relations pros.

He called radio a “fast frigate” and compared the medium to the “big battleships” that are television stations. Radio reporters have always been nimble and able to gather stories “where the grass grows” while television has often distanced itself from its audiences with large sets and capital intensive news gathering methods.

He categorize radio as the ultimate tool for multi-taskers because it goes with you –in your car – and you can tune in while you are doing other things – the backyard barbecue or hanging in the house. “We live in a busy word and people don’t have time to make an appointment to watch 30 minutes of news.”

He credited radio’s current success with audience to controversial talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh who has given new live to the call-in medium. In fact, Forsyth widely credits Limbaugh and others like him for elevating the status of the AM dial in the past ten years.

While many mediums are searching for a new business model and in fact, this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the New York Times was scheduled to preview a new reading gadget, Forsyth pointed to the Comcast model in which cable subscribers get free show downloads from the Internet.

While many thing of radio as low budget, Forsyth was very proud of the fact that his station delivers 4 hours of news each morning with only 7 people. One alarming trend in radio which Forsyth said is already spreading among media markets is the new “hub and spoke” philosophy, not unlike the way airlines route you around the country, by using their hub airports to drive you to a spoke destination.

Here’s an example: their San Antonio-based radio station is now producing and delivering news for sister stations in Waco, Brownsville and Wichita, Kansas. He also shared an example of the Los Angeles affiliate now gathering news for their Minneapolis partner.

Jim paid the audience a huge compliment saying that there are few cities in America who have such a plethora of professional PR Practitioners (thanks, Jim!), but said that this aggregating multiple markets-worth of news will have huge implications for gathering and reporting news. San Antonio PR pros are lucky that the news gathering is happening here and not being “shipped overseas.”