Radio Towers Gone in Ten Years: Win, Lose or Draw for Social Media?

Though not as widely covered as some of the other speakers at D8, Vivian Schiller, president of NPR, made a few heads spin with her statement that Internet radio will take the place of terrestrial radio within ten years. One would be hard pressed to find another major executive at an “over-the-air” broadcaster who would cede the airwaves, much less put a date on the towers going dark. Her comments were more likely discussed near radio station coffee pots than in new media blogs. But, heads up – this is more about new competition and opportunities than something “old” going away.

Radio has assets social networks need and that presently are just slides on business plan PowerPoint decks for many digital-only content providers. Listenership figures can be staggering when compared to Internet-only media. Local radio stations are expert at building loyalty/community among listeners and getting local advertising. While radio advertising is down overall, local ad spending on radio is rising. Google tried and failed to get in on radio ad revenue, but some smart, facile social media company could get it right through radio affiliations.

National radio operations are good at aggregating content for national distribution. Schiller acknowledged a number of local news operations and independent journalists empowered by social media that could gain national exposure through radio network marketing and distribution. Even Rush Limbaugh started out small.

For the most part, terrestrial broadcasters have not done a good job extending their brands into social media. But some or most will eventually get it right and they have strong brands to back up their efforts. Affiliation with the NPR brand is likely to be one reason so many musicians are allowing NPR Music to stream their live concerts and make them available on what appear to be permanent archives. The artists are promoting these collaborations with NPR music on their social media pages. Will artists have to choose between NPR Music and the rumored YouTube live streaming?

Lastly, even if all broadcast radio migrates to the Internet, it would be a pity for those towers to go dark. US radio is the most reliable, redundant point-to-multipoint data distribution network in the world, with an unmatched coverage footprint. That’s got to be of value to someone who needs to push a lot of data. Especially if there really is an FM tuner tucked inside of each iPhone.