However, those great moments can’t disguise the fact that it felt like the NAB was simply going through the motions. In that regard, radio’s trade representative was all too representative of the state of radio.
Let’s compare this year’s show to an earlier show. As the chart illustrates, 2014 was a very slim show compared to previous years. Less than half the sessions, a third of the exhibitors, a single suite compared to sixty or so in the past.
Most telling was the decline in numbers of sessions. Compared to (say) the San Francisco event in 1991, the number of management sessions was reduced by 44%, management sessions were cut in half, and programming sessions were virtually eliminated, cut by three-quarters.
Yes, radio isn’t what it used to be. Maybe a slimmed down Radio Show is just symptomatic of a slimmed down radio industry.
The Radio Show like radio itself talks a good game, yet today delivers far less than in the past.
What does every industry leader highlight as radio’s strength? What do we hear time and time again?
Content! Unique compelling content is the key to radio’s continuing success!
The declaration has evolved from a credo that radio lived by to a hackneyed clique that too many of radio’s leaders mumble as they carry on the business of systematically eliminating original content.
The attitude was evident in the Radio Show’s programming "track." Very little time was devoted to content.
New platforms, social media, and related issues. Do we really need more discussions about Twitter? Do we really need to devote the little time set aside for programming issues on Facebook versus Instagram?
Growing Your Mobile Audience was an hour devoted to "engaging the mobile device listener."
The session consisted of two vendors selling their online platforms. One platform allows listeners to engage directly with each other and the station in real-time, on a platform you own and control.
The other enables listeners to connect with news, sports and their favorite artists and bands using real-time keyword/ song/ artist search, (to) connect with their friends and make new ones from all around the world.
Both are probably fine products, but is either one going to save radio?
If the key to radio’s continued success (and some would argue the key to its survival) is content, maybe the Radio Show ought to make content THE programming topic.
Yes, there were a couple of personality oriented sessions. Kudos to the participants because they were the only people who talked about content and meant it.
But content includes much more.
Any new formats worth discussing? Is EDM really a format? Is Talk Radio really on the ropes? How is the oldies format evolving? Anyone at NAB notice WCBS-FM’s success in a format theoretically well past its use-by date?
The only time mellennials come up is in the context of social media and their obsession with smartphones. OK, we’ve got that. To reach them we need to be on phones and use social media. Got that too.
Now, what formats do we need to offer to get them to listen? Will the next generation want news on the radio? How do formats need to evolve for the next generation of radio listeners?
After all, if your product sucks, who’s going to want to hang out with you, no matter the platform?
The Radio Show is the last surviving national forum to discuss these critically important difficult questions. And instead it offers discussions about Pinterest.
It may seem unfair to pick on the NAB, but these are challenging times. The industry has to make a great many difficult decisions to defend itself against digital competitors. The NAB Radio Show is the perfect (and last) forum in which to explore and debate the many critical issues.
Maybe the direction radio is headed is the right one. Or maybe we’re headed down a dead-end road. The NAB can help show us the way, but it has to take the Radio Show seriously.
Today everyone in this business is expected to do more. Why should the NAB be the exception?