Monday, June 15, 2009

The Soul of the Airwaves, Part Two

All this talk about saving black radio is very interesting. There are many bloggers, prognosticators and pundits announcing the impending death of black radio and imploring the public to step forward and save it. They say black radio has lost sight of what it means to the community. Black Radio is becoming almost irrelevant.

Now, as a black radio veteran I can tell you that the medium is certainly important - a conduit to culturally relevant music, news and information. , Black radio is all about lifestyle. This is the history. But real business conditions affect the art and legacy of black radio:

With consolidation, we saw the soul of black radio change and, in a lot of cases, evaporate. Corporations are able to own multiple properties in a market, giving them powerful leverage in the sales and marketing arena. Music choices are made from a central headquarters location, corporate creative elements enter the airwaves, homogenizing the sound of local heritage properties...

The advent of syndication has removed the local appeal from black radio in critical dayparts. This is a key ingredient in the essence of black radio. Listeners want to connect with their station from a community level. And while nationally syndicated shows find success across the nation and some of them do a good job of connecting with the market, the casualty is that local feel that is so important to the community.

No Urban Dictates is a longstanding battle fought by black radio for years. The war for advertising revenue parity is a tough and gritty conflict. If you are in black radio and reading this, you need to take this moment and give one of those account executives a high five...

Portable People Meter has just changed the advertising game and is the main challenge of a major market black radio station. We were already in the throes of the aforementioned advertising battle and now they throw this in. They have changed the paradigm of how the audience is measured. The PPM does not accurately reflect who and how many people are listening.. They are under-sampling in the community and that short changes us at the bargaining table.

Performance Rights Act is making its rounds through Capitol Hill and possibly could become Law. H.R. 848 is sponsored by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and would require stations to pay performing artists for playing their music. This will severely exacerbate the challenges faced by black radio. The argument is that the station benefits from the songs they come out with, therefore the station should pay the artist. If that is the case, then the playing of a song is like a commercial, because artists are hoping that the consumer will like the song and that will translate into the purchase of their CD. Like a commercial encourages the listener to buy the latest widget. If its hot, sales will soar... if it's wack.... Speaking of wack, if the record is wack does radio get a refund???

These are just some of the real business issues facing the black radio station. The question is now how do we adapt and overcome market conditions in order to survive? The basic way we even operate as broadcasters has changed. The listener has so many more choices. And as we adapt to market conditions and changes in media consumption habits, our art changes...

Save Black Radio? Yes, Black Radio is in a state of strategic inflection. Change or cease to exist... And you know what? We(black radio) will survive.

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