If Radio Won’t Reinvent Itself, Maybe Someone Else Will

How many conventions, state broadcaster association gatherings, and conferences have you attended in the past few years that shared a common theme:


On its face, it’s a strong indicator that many in radio believe the industry needs analysis, research, and new strategic planning.  Simple makeovers with catchy slogans, and they’ve all fallen flat.  That’s because radio needs more than a makeover, or as my wife puts it: “Having a little work done.”

As Mark Zuckerberg will likely find out soon, simply changing your name isn’t going to instantly reimage Facebook.  The platform is entrenched, it’s in our DNA, we know what it is, and what it’s done.  Remember that Google changed its name to Alphabet more than six years ago, a convenient attempt to jumpstart its stock price, putting all its brands – YouTube, Android, Waymo, etc. – all under a fresh umbrella.

Guess what?  Everyone still calls it Google.

And after every radio gathering – in-person or virtual – we come home inspired with pages of notes.  And we immediately go back to our respective corners, doing our jobs the same way.

That’s why nothing really changes.  Industry spokespeople and even some higher-ups may profess the need for change.  But no one has the stomach (or maybe, the stones) to actually do it. That’s not to say there aren’t good intentions.  But like so many things in radio, there are disparate thoughts and philosophies about what’s wrong, and what (if anything) needs attention.  Many believe that because radio’s reach remains north of 90%, there’s nothing broken.  Others contend it’s a “cool” issue – that the case needs to be made that radio is a cool medium.  And others believe a marketing campaign might be able to address all the industry’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

So we go back to our stations and we program our 250 song playlists, run our two outrageously long stopsets each hour, voicetrack whenever possible, and try to make due with less.

And hope no one notices.

But they are.  They can hear it, and truthfully, so can we.  And because AM/FM radio has been part of the mass media DNA of this country for a century, inertia, tradition, and habit all play to the industry’s historic strengths.

If change is going to come, it is more likely to emanate from outside stations, companies, and radio’s traditional structures.

That’s why I always sit up and pay attention when one of the big tech companies or even a startup hatches some sort of plan or app or algorithm that will reinvent radio.  They all talk a good game, but in the end, no one has solved the “Radio Rubik’s Cube.”

The latest of these solutions has been swirling around these last few days, both in Axios and the Verge.  This time, it’s Amazon.  And they’re apparently creating a product, powered by an app (here we go again) designed to recast and democratize radio as we know it.

Don’t laugh.  Amazon has already reinvented how we shop, how we purchase and read books, and maybe just maybe how we travel into space.  Fixing radio?  Compared to Jeff Bezos’ other innovations, reinventing radio should be a snap.

I have made it a point to cover many of these attempts.  First, they’re interesting and we may learn something.  Second, it’s always curious to look at how non-radio people want to repair the medium.  Third, there is an odd form of flattery going on.  These companies wouldn’t be incessantly focused on making radio great again if they didn’t find things attractive, valuable, and even magical about live content – music and talk – traveling through the ether, in real time, day and night.  Many of the people behind these radio wannabe initiatives probably dabbled in air studios in college or at radio stations in their hometowns, and they’re seeking some of the romance we all feel both in the best and worst of times.

All that said, none has managed to pull it off.  Apple – a company that’s pretty innovative – tried and failed with Beats 1.  From day one, Slacker Radio tried the curated radio approach – that is, they had DJs – and that hasn’t worked so well.

Spotify has been circling the field for some time now.  Their morning show concept – “Your Daily Drive” – debuted back in 2019.  It’s a platform that melds your interests with your music choices.  

While interesting and ambitious, I have only run into a couple of friends who use the feature.  (If I’m underestimating its impact, I’m sure you’ll let me know.)

Perhaps SiriusXM has come closest, providing a product that sounds a lot like broadcast radio – sans the commercials.  Its subscription model allows for no commercials (on the music stations at least), along with many more choices than any radio market can offer.

Of course as an advertising vehicle, SiriusXM has serious limitations.  And despite being around in one form or another for well more than two decades, SiriusXM has 34 million subscribers.  That’s not a bad number, but it’s a fraction of the size of broadcast radio’s weekly audience.

When Amazon starts making noise – they’re actually being pretty stealthy – it’s worthy of our attention.  Axios writer Sara Fischer broke the story in late August, billing it as a big story:  “Scoop:  Amazon quietly building live audio business.”  As Fischer pointed out, Amazon is no stranger to audio. There’s Alexa and Audible for starters.  And even Twitch has elements of radio.

The new platform – as yet unnamed – is said to be under the company’s Music division – which includes podcasts.  Fischer reported Amazon was connecting with major labels and bands, as well as looking into live music performances and “talk radio programs.”

Here’s where it gets a little murky.  Fischer says this play by Amazon is “not a Clubhouse-like platform, but more like a digital radio-like tool for live-streaming performances and conversation.”

Reading between the lines, it sounds like anyone can get some mic time; anybody can be a radio star.  Interestingly, while broadcast radio itself may be out of favor, being on the radio is still a widely shared dream, goal, and desire – like a “bucket list” item that can now be fulfilled.

There’s been precious little coverage of this Amazon project – until recently. That’s when The Verge‘s “Hot Pod” newsletter headlined this story:

“Amazon is building a Clubhouse competitor that turns hosts into DJs”

Ashley Carman is the journalist of record, and her information is that Amazon’s foray into the live audio game is an app codenamed “Project Mic.”

The Verge team reportedly got to watch (OK, listen to) a presentation that would allow anyone to “make and distribute a live radio show, complete with music.”  The music piece would put Amazon ahead of Clubhouse.  Like the Axios story last summer, Carman says record labels are coordinating their artists, as well as live events.

Carman notes that listeners would have many entry points to enjoy content – the app, of course – along with Audible, Amazon Music, Twitch, and any device that is Alexa-enabled.  There’s also an auto interface, trending topics, and a search tool to find programming by “topic, name, or music.”

What’s the goal of Project Mic?  According to The Verge:

“To democratize and reinvent the radio.”

Ambitious?  For sure.

Interesting?  Absolutely.

Just imagine – a game for all ages (6 and up), where anyone could slap on a pair of earbuds, crack the mic, cue up a song, and play Preston & Steve, Delilah, or themselves on the radio.

And it begs the question why radio broadcasters could not or would not do some of these same things – with a much greater reach than an amateur DJ “broadcasting” from Spokane, Savannah, or Saginaw.

Still, allowing consumers access to the radio seems to be at the heart of many of these efforts, especially Project Mic.  Radio broadcasters hear this type of feedback all the time.  Listeners want to pick the songs, as well as hear their names and voices on the air.

Radio has presented “Guest DJ” and “Hey, Mom, I’m on WKLH” shows for decades.  Sure, they require some work and prep.  But they create indelible memories.  I hear listeners proudly talk about these experiences in focus groups, telling the story of that time they were on the radio.

These days, fewer listeners bother to call stations.  I’m often told “The phones are dead.”  Maybe that’s because so many stations stopped answering them or they were ringing in empty studios.

Listeners wanting to be on the radio is nothing new.  Wolfman Jack understood the psychology, he played to it, and he became the powerful conduit to hearing yourself, your dedication, and your favorite song on his show.  In many ways, he was a bearded gatekeeper.

Today’s tech companies want to remove the barriers to entry, allowing anyone with a mic the opportunity to play songs, read the news, and chat with fans.

We can wait around for Amazon (or someone else) to reinvent radio, spend a lot of time declaring “It’ll never work,” and then wake up one day to find out a new platform has more listeners and making more money than we are.

Or we could actually step up and reinvent ourselves.  Radio could open its doors to listeners, fire up those languishing HD2s, and use its websites, social pages, and other assets to shine the light on local bands, young athletes, and other hometown heroes so radio stations actually sound like their communities.

The industry could organize an “all hands on deck hackathon” where teams populated by smart combinations of the old guard and new media mavens work together to actually reinvent something.  Yes, radio broadcasting is made up of disparate companies, often with conflicting goals and competing solutions.  Many are well on their way to diversifying their portfolios with podcasting, web services, e-sports, and other adjacent businesses.  But none will get whole if their broadcast radio core isn’t addressed.

Or we could forget all that and focus instead on making our Q1 ratings and revenue goals.

As always, the ball is in radio’s court.


Link to Original Source


Fred Jacobs
President, Jacobs Media


Related posts

The team at 94.9 KLTY has served the Dallas/Fort Worth community for over 35 years. In 2020, the need was never greater. Through their local campaigns, Christmas Wish and Speak Love, they were able to assist many families who were impacted by not only the pandemic, but by hard times in general. The Speak Lovecampaign helped first responders, teachers, servers, food service staff, and many more within the community throughout the year. In 2020 94.9 KLTY’s Christmas Wish campaign brought Christmas joy to hundreds of families in the DFW area. They provided vehicles, food, toys, and other forms of relief to families in their community. They could not have reached any of these needs if not for their listeners and their generous donations to 94.9 KLTY’s nonprofit programs. In total, Speak Love and Christmas Wish raised more than $160,000 for those in need in Dallas/Fort Worth. They also recognized those sacrificial front-line workers and first responders who keep our community safe. Each week, 94.9 KLTY honored them, raised funds throughout the summer, and then presented each first responder with a check as a token of their gratitude. With countless families in need because of the pandemic, 94.9 KLTY also helped the Tarrant Area Food Bank distribute food essentials on multiple occasions in September, October, November. It is 94.9 KLTY’s sincere honor to serve our listeners in Dallas/Fort Worth.


LIFE 96.5 seeks to empower and serve the Sioux Falls area by reaching out in faith to help make it a better place to live and work. They want to lead their listeners to Jesus and help them grow in their faith through opportunities to love and serve others. In January 2020, LIFE 96.5 listeners donated over 950 brand new baby items during the Sioux Empire’s Largest Baby Shower. The Baby Shower grows every year, demonstrating their community’s love and support of the couples who are choosing life for their unborn children. LIFE 96.5 listeners, in partnership with Dacotah Bank, provided gift cards and cash donations to the Sioux Falls School District social workers to meet the needs of 1,000 homeless students. LIFE 96.5 also invited listeners to participate in a city-wide prayer parade, where they prayed for health care and government officials while driving past hospitals, schools, and city government offices. During the months of September and October 2020, LIFE 96.5 listeners provided over 250 twin sheet sets and 100 mattresses to the Sioux Falls Sleep in Heavenly Peace organization for children who are sleeping on floors. Through LIFE 96.5, listeners also made a difference in the lives of patients spending Christmas at Avera Behavioral Health Hospital. Each patient received a Christmas stocking filled with gifts and a note of encouragement. In addition, each Saturday morning LIFE 96.5 staff host Life Connection, a program featuring community leaders and discussing the needs and concerns of the Sioux Falls Community.


89.5 KVNE exists to glorify God by encouraging people, connecting their community, and pointing people to Jesus Christ. When their community was turned upside down by COVID, they knew they had to jump into action and mobilize their listeners to make a difference for Christ. To best serve their local community, KVNE held multiple drives to support local ministry partners and those most impacted by the pandemic. They collected 1,500 gift cards (totaling more than $15,000) to benefit those in need because of shutdowns, gathered over 12,000 diapers for foster families, and collected 150 care packages for senior citizens. They also collected 1,032 fans for the Salvation Army and over 1,000 pairs of shoes for kids heading back to school. Additionally, listeners donated 1,512 care packages for the homeless in East Texas, and KVNE hosted two blood drives to help those fighting the coronavirus. People across East Texas needed connection during the pandemic, so they organized a social media outreach, called Praise Defeats, a coordinated time where listeners shot videos of themselves singing “Raise A Hallelujah.” The videos were shared thousands of times, as they deepened their community’s connection. In addition, KVNE launched a Hispanic Christian music station (Fuzión), started a worship station (Lift Worship), and began a Bible Teaching Station (The Well) – all to help people grow in their faith. God allowed them to impact His Kingdom in profound ways and serve their local community powerfully during an unprecedented time when people needed hope like never before.


Since 1986, The JOY FM has made community service a hallmark of its ministry to listeners – first in Sarasota, and then expanding to Tampa, other Florida markets, and most recently to Atlanta and Middle Georgia. Even with this growth, community outreach remains hands-on, with legacy events like T-Shirts for Turkeys, which helped feed more than 28,700 families in all markets served last year. 2020 created new challenges for serving, so The JOY FM innovated several service projects to accommodate contactless delivery and social distancing. JOY Drop and Restock, a brand-new outreach, collected 30 tons of food to restock local food banks hit hard by the pandemic. Partnering with Natalie Grant and Hope for Justice, Team Freedom approached a grand total of $1,000,000 in 2020 to fight human trafficking. As listeners faced political rhetoric and serious questions about race and justice, as well as practical challenges like hybrid classrooms, The JOY FM programming (on terrestrial signals, as well as its LF Radio and JOY Worship platforms) responded with a recommitment to our mission of “Helping You Find JOY.” Resources for listeners, such as the Off Air with Carmen podcast, was provided to help listeners wrestle with big questions like Christian citizenship. Possibly The JOY FM’s most relevant community service effort for 2020 was prayer. The JOY FM’s Prayer and Crisis Referral service interacted with 620,936 listeners in need of prayer or help. Of those calls and texts, 4,949 listeners reported praying to place their faith in Jesus Christ.


“Hope Starts Here” is more than The Light FM’s tagline. It’s their mission. In 2020, they were intentional in regularly offering community-needed resources and hope-filled encouragement. They hosted their 5th annual Make a Difference training to encourage listeners to share God’s hope and saw 14 people begin a personal relationship with Jesus. The Light FM also visited eight local Law Enforcement agencies to share words of encouragement and care baskets. They partnered with East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and artists of Winter Jam for a private concert and time of prayer with families battling pediatric cancer. The Light FM listeners from five different cities donated 258 wheelchairs, 262 crutches, 259 walkers, 71 transport chairs, and 66 canes to Wheels for the World, which brings mobility and the hope of Christ around the world. During stay-at-home orders, The Light FM began offering free monthly virtual events, including: a graduation ceremony, featuring artists and Bible teachers; a conference with Crown Financial on how to manage finances during the pandemic; Girl Talk LIVE, a women’s event with worship and Bible study; God’s Hope in Crisis training with chaplains of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team; a pastor appreciation event for local churches, featuring Chip Ingram and Matthew West; and a Family Christmas Night with live music, games, and a devotion from The Light FM staff. Even throughout the pandemic, The Light FM also found ways to be out in the public, safely, with six drive-in events featuring movies and live music.


2022 Membership Exclusives

January – 2022 Calendar
February – Mediabase Webinar
March – Social Series for Holy Week
April – Book
May – Virtual Radio Station Field Trip
June – Surprise at Momentum
July – Exclusive Momentum Content
August – Virtual Peer Networking Gathering
September – Fall Fun Box
October – Techsurvey Webinar
November – Noisemaker Promotions Vol 2 Book
December – Christmas Surprise 

*subject to change


Paul Cameron began his career in radio prior to graduating from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in 1980, starting his first job in 1979 as part-time on-air talent at WMKC 96.7FM (an adult contemporary station). In 1980 Paul moved to part-time on-air talent for WHBY-AM 1230 (a news/talk station), and while still working there, began working part-time for WEMI 100.1FM. In 1981, he went full-time for WEMI and over the years served as program director, music director, station manager, and director of radio operations. In 2002 he assumed the role of executive director and general manager for Christian Family Radio, now known as The Family Radio Network. Since 2016 Paul has been chief operating officer and afternoon on-air host. He was part of the transition from one full power station to five full power stations and six translators, all in Wisconsin. Paul has given back to his community by serving on several local boards in various capacities, including The Emergency Shelter of Appleton, The Community Clothes Closet of Menasha, and Loaves and Fishes of the Fox Valley. He also serves on the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Board of Directors and has been a fundraiser host with ShareMedia/Dunham+Company since 2002.


Rob Dempsey has been serving the HIS Radio Network listeners faithfully since 2000, currently working as operations manager and morning show co-host on the HIS Morning Crew with Rob & Lizz. Rob worked as a security guard at television studios for the Home Shopping Network before he was called into the radio ministry. Now, Rob’s personal stories of overcoming obstacles, walking through a long journey to health, and stepping out in faith and selflessness inspire his listeners. Some know him as the guy who lost 140 pounds to overcome obesity, others know him as the 16-year-old kid kicked out of his home to live in the streets, and others know him as being a foster and adoptive parent. Rob and his wife’s kids range from a 34-year-old war hero, 25-year-old social media marketing specialist, 19-year-old honors college student, a 12-year-old they adopted in November 2009, as well as many foster children throughout the last 9 years. Recently, Rob has been on a health journey which included two surgeries, one a major reconstructive surgery. These past two years have been a challenge for Rob, but he continues to show that through God, anyone can become an overcomer.


Since 1989, Mike Harper has faithfully impacted East Texas on-the-air at 89.5 KVNE, where he serves as VP Communications and morning show host. He began as a volunteer weekend DJ, driving from 90 miles away. Mike advanced the cause of Christian radio by serving several years on the steering committee for CMB, and he has taken part in every NCRS/CMB since 1999. According to Nielsen, Mike and Carrie in the Morning has been the #1 Morning Show for a decade (#1 Persons 12+) propelling KVNE as high as an 8.3 share and helping KVNE become the #1 rated station in the Tyler/Longview market. During that time, KVNE won 8 Station of the Year Awards (CMB & NRB). Additionally, Mike and his co-host Carrie Parsons have been awarded “Best Morning Show in East Texas” for 9 years in a row. Mike has shaved his head to reach a pledge drive goal, donned white tights and a cape “for the children,” and stood on top of a building during a remote broadcast. He has daily arrived faithfully at 5:00 am and braved ice, snow, hail, and tornados in an effort to keep his listeners safe, encourage them, and point them to Jesus.


Bryan O’Neal has spent a lifetime entertaining, encouraging, and spreading God’s love to millions over the airwaves, landing his first radio job in 1972 in mainstream Top 40 radio. In 1978 Bryan hosted and produced Portland’s first CCM’s 30-minute radio show on Top 40 62-KGW. He then teamed up with his good friend Bob Anthony to plan a full-time CCM station in Santa Rosa. Eventually that station became K-LOVE. After K-LOVE moved to Sacramento, Bryan became their full-time employee #13 in 1994. In 1998 Bryan worked as the program director for another CCM station, KPAM/Pamplin Media. In 2001 Bryan teamed up once again with Bob Anthony at EMF’s Air1. Bryan was instrumental in moving Air1’s entire Portland staff to the new building in Rocklin, where he worked as operations director and then program director. In 2005 Bryan worked a short stint at KTSL in Spokane, and then became the music director and afternoon host at 89.7 KSGN in Redlands, California. Bryan O’Neal has worked as the program director at KSGN and co-host with Brandi Lanai for nearly 10 years of Bryan and Brandi in the Morning. Bryan hung up his headphones for retirement in March of 2021.


Bill Scott is one of the founders of Vidare Creative, a fundraising consulting company which helps Christian radio stations, through their 365 plan concept, raise the funds they need to grow. Bill has been a part of Christian radio for 39 years. He’s worked at WCIE, The JOY FM, and WAY FM as a production director, on-air talent, program director, and station manager. Bill co-hosted Dawson McCallister Live, which aired on 500 radio stations each weekend. Bill began ZJAM, a syndicated show that aired on 350 stations in the USA, Canada, the UK, and Guatemala each weekend. Bill’s latest show was Xtreme Talk Live, airing each Sunday night on over 200 radio stations. Bill has hosted 700 fundraisers on Christian radio in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Bill also runs Men of Radio, a Facebook group with over 600 men from Christian radio. For the past three years, he has hosted the Men of Radio Winter Retreat in McCall, Idaho, with the focus of getting to know other men on Christian radio so they can walk through life together. Bill Scott believes passionately in Christian radio, and he has dedicated his life to see it grow.