NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Radio has achieved what few other traditional media can claim -- audience growth, to the tune of some 4 million new listeners in the past three years, with more than 235 million people tuning in to AM or FM radio each week.
But as Jeff Smulyan, president-CEO of Emmis Radio, said at the New York Market Radio CEO Summit yesterday, "The radio business is on fire. But on Madison Avenue, we may be considered a dinosaur."
That's why the radio industry's biggest initiatives in recent months have been all about embracing new media, from building their own music-recommendation products such as Clear Channel's eRockster and CBS Radio's Play.It to a new partnership with Microsoft's Zune that enables radio listeners to purchase songs they hear on more than 450 radio stations from their Zune FM tuner. Mr. Smulyan is also spearheading the industry's next big distribution initiative -- to make radio available on all cell phones.
"It's not a performance problem, it's a perception problem," Mr. Smulyan said of radio's current role in the overall media landscape. "There's a disconnect between what we are able to do and advertisers, agencies and buyers. Broadcasters are every bit as passionate as they used to be. But we don't have much leverage because of the perception that radio is dated."
As recently as five years ago, the radio industry tended to view digital music stores and streaming radio sites as threats, Clear Channel Radio CEO John Hogan said. "It's extremely important for us to recognize these platforms as opportunities. We're looking at partnerships with all kinds of people."
CBS Radio CEO Dan Mason said he has already seen incremental benefits of streaming with some of his top stations online. "For a company that didn't stream a radio station five years ago, we're getting over 200,000 listeners every day. The interesting thing about this audience is you can watch them tune in on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour basis."
Creatives tune out
Radio has also suffered from a disconnect with the creative community, as less and less agencies are equipped to produce audio commercials. Peter Smyth, president-CEO of Greater Media, said, "The problem with creatives is they don't see radio as something they want to write for. It's important and we really have to tap into those people."
Mr. Hogan added, "The worst thing radio can do is expect people can come to the medium. Radio people have developed a sense of entitlement. The phone's not ringing as frequently as it used to. We have to get back to focusing on great ideas. We want radio to get seven or eight pieces of the pie."