Friday, September 15th, 2006

Is Monopoly Radio Dead?

This New York Times article notes that terrestrial radio listening continues to plummet, especially amongst the coveted 18-34 demographic.

In some real ways, this confirms what folks like my friends at the Future of Music Coalition have been talking about for years.

Younger listeners want that mix of surprise and certainty, but monopoly radio has been mistreating them. So they’re heading for the satellite radio, internet radio, and MP3 blogs. If you know what you’re gonna get when you turn on the radio, and you’re not gonna get what you want, why turn it on in the first place? Let a billion programmers bloom.

Slightly older hip-hop gen listeners, meanwhile, are incredibly underserved. There are rock and country and jazz formats that cater to a 35-44 demo, but none in so-called urban music. Contrast this with satellite radio from XM or Sirius, which offers multiple hip-hop formats based on age group. But when we want to hear old-school stuff, we have to deal with listening to our older cousins’ music–lots of Rick James, no Too Short. If you heard me complaining on that new Public Enemy album–yeah, they sampled me! It’s been a good year for me getting sampled, but that’s another post coming soon–this is what I was ranting incoherently about.

So the only terrestrial radio I’m checking for these days are the evening-drive hyphyfied mixshows (itself a concession to local activists and artists that succeeded brilliantly–to no one’s surprise except the Clear Channel execs), new music showcases, and the hip-hop flashback shows on commercial radio, in addition to my longtime community, public, and college radio standbys. I’ve also been loving Pandora (Last.fm has lots of cool buttons but is not user-friendly), satellite when I can get it, and belatedly building my monster mp3 collection.

What all this means is that no one is buying (quite literally) the years of b.s. from the conservatives at the FCC about how media consolidation would build more diversity and localism. They’re leaving the media monopoly model of content providing on their own.

And so Emmis’s Jeff Smutley, I think that’s his name, the famed purveyor of urban reactionary radio at Hot 97, has failed to take his company private after a 40% plunge in stock value and all but concedes failure: “As an industry, we’ve lost the hipness battle.” Clear Channel, whose stocks have been battered, considers dismantling its 27% market share. CBS, Disney, Susquehanna are all, to a greater or lesser extent, throwing in the towel.

Is monopoly radio dead? Are localism and audience-friendly programming coming back? We can only hope.

In the meantime, it’s worth considering–for those of us who write about culture and are feeling moody, angry, and under siege–that this could be the future of New Times as well.

posted by @ 9:49 am | 3 Comments



3 Responses to “Is Monopoly Radio Dead?”

  1. Eric Arnold says:

    hmm, very interesting. you have to wonder when the media monoliths will finally come to terms with the reality that the game has changed.
    just the fact that major labels are looking at my space hits when factoring what new groups to sign is one indication.
    on the radio tip, i recently caught mistah fab’s yellow bus radio show on 94.9. it was dope. not just because he was playing hyphy stuff, but more due to his personality, which ironically is something that was largely excised from formerly black radio during the consolidation wave of the 90s, but has historical roots, a la Frankie Crocker. For all his contemporary freshness, Fab is a throwback to the old-school personality jocks celebrated in Parliament’s Mr Wiggles and Fatback’s King Tim.
    The implication here is that the relevancy of Clear Channel’s hot urban format in the podcast era may depend on them adopting some very un-CC-like behavior, i.e. allowing DJs to express themselves and perhaps even program their own music once again.
    -ea

  2. Q says:

    Ever since I got an FM Transmitter for my IPOD to listen to in my car, I never listen to the radio… if I do, it’s mostly sports talk…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Demographics schmemographics… :-) I’m a 47 y.o. Black female who listens to free streaming House music (& a lil hip-hop)during my work day programming at IBM…I only listen to ‘terrestrial’ radio on my long commute… And that’s only talk radio,AM and FM,all political and social leanings, to hear the latest nonsense being peddled this week…

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