Charles Mefferd “Radio Vs. “The Great Podcasting Dominance” Myth”

Published On January 20, 2019 » 137 Views» Articles, Feature Article

Is it just me, or did someone just tape a “Kick Me” sign on radio’s back? 

Every time I turn around, someone is declaring radio dead, ineffective or outdated, while declaring podcasting to be the wave of the future.

Just before the holidays, conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham announced the end to her nationally syndicated, 3-hour daily show at the end of 2018 in favor of a podcast, saying, “Podcasting is where all the action is happening now, and I intend to inject my own brand of humor and substance in the national conversation with in-depth interviews, conversations and even more audience interaction.”  (Link: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/laura-ingraham-ending-radio-show-moving-to-podcast)

How can you have more interaction in a recorded podcast than in a live, call-in show with listeners?  You can’t!  It was a departing shot at the industry that has brought her fame and fortune since her radio show premiered in 2001. 

The truth is that Ingraham now has a higher profile and more lucrative gig at Fox News, and unlike Sean Hannity, she can’t do both.  I don’t blame her for the decision. I just don’t know why she had to kick radio on her way out the door.

Then last week, James MacDonald, the teaching pastor on Walk in the Word, announced to his staff that he is removing his program from all traditional broadcast outlets. 

He said, “Traditional broadcast is a dying thing.  What that means is that the cost of it continues to rise while the demographic of it continues to age and the response to it continues to diminish.”  MacDonald said that Christian radio is “increasingly trapped in an old generation.  We want to grow and reach more people than we ever have before but less of the, you know, 75-year-old lady in Kansas City who’s listening to her third sermon today, and more of the young adults, or even college student, who’s consuming their media on their mobile device.” (Link: http://julieroys.com/james-macdonald-removes-walk-word-tv-radio-amid-controversy/)

I believe both Ingraham and MacDonald are going to be surprised that their podcasting ventures will bring in only a fraction of their prior audiences and revenue.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that podcasting is an important part of what ministries should be doing to expand their listenership.  But it’s a mistake to frame the radio vs. podcasting debate as an either/or.  Modern-day audio consumption is not a zero-sum game.  Radio programs are enhanced by podcast listening, but I am more confident than ever that podcasts will never fully replace traditional radio.

First of all, podcasts lack standards and quality control.  Anyone with a USB microphone, a computer and too much time on his hands can become a podcaster.  That’s why there are 540,000 podcast titles out there, but most ceased production after the 7th episode! (Link: https://www.radioworld.com/columns-and-views/fact-there-is-so-little-time-there-are-so-many-podcastsLesson:  It’s easy to start a podcast. It’s another thing to keep it going. 

Also, podcast downloads don’t always translate into actual listeners. If I sign up for a certain podcast and my device downloads it, it counts toward the tally.  But is the user actually listening to the program?  One expert put it this way, “Because podcasts are downloaded to user devices for online listening or future consumption, it is impossible to measure how they and the ads they contain are consumed.”  (Link: https://www.impactbnd.com/blog/how-to-measure-podcast-metrics-performance)

By contrast, the restricted access to the radio airwaves (and yes, the costs involved) sets a threshold of competence and proficiency from broadcasters and, in turn, creates a product that is better as a whole. The industry also still has gatekeepers.  Station operators require a certain level of professionalism, intelligence and communication skills from the people to whom they give a microphone. 

This is likely why radio is still America’s #1 reach medium, with 92% of the adults listening to radio each week (Link: http://www.rab.com/whyradio.cfm), versus only 26% listening to one or more podcasts per month. (Link: https://www.edisonresearch.com/podcast-consumer-2018/)

For those of us who love Christian radio, I say, “Appreciate and continue to use radio for the great medium it is, and don’t get distracted by the latest Silicon Valley innovation.”  If we, as program producers and station operators, continue to focus on the power of traditional radio while enhancing our message with new communication tools, we will expand our platform to the glory of God and the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the end, isn’t that what’s it all about?

 


Charley Mefferd is Vice President, Sales and Marketing for Amb-OS Media and a Media Strategist for Ambassador Advertising.  He also works with his wife, Janet on the production of her nationally syndicated Christian radio program, Janet Mefferd Today, which is heard on more than 400 radio stations.  Prior to joining Ambassador, Charley was Vice President of Operations at Salem Radio Network.

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One Response to Charles Mefferd “Radio Vs. “The Great Podcasting Dominance” Myth”

  1. Ockham says:

    I appreciate your sentiments, and to be sure this is not the first time radio has been kicked on the way out the door. Read the comments by Merlin Aylesworth, outgoing president of NBC. Like MacDonald, he has also famously declared that “radio is dying”. In fact, based on his “extensive knowledge of revenue numbers” for both radio and television, he predicted that terrestrial radio would be “dead in three years”. You doubt me? You can find Merlin H Aylesworth’s very words published in the April 26th 1949 issue of Look Magazine. (remember Look? They didn’t change – and they died, but that’s another story.)
    Anyway, the article penned by none other than Mr. Aylesworth himself is called “Radio Is Doomed”. I reckon Merlin and his magical analysis was mistaken, eh?

    History has proven that the 1950’s to present has seen tremendous and even unprecedented growth in terrestrial radio. Mr. Aylesworth missed the coming of FM, of stereo, of format specific programming, non-commercial secular and Christian broadcasting and a host of other coming attractions. These developments would make radio bigger, better, more diverse and of course more profitable from 1950 to present than it ever was in its first twenty five years when he was the president of the National Broadcasting Corporation. But, since he didn’t even own a radio set himself, and was really an advertising salesman and not a content creator or someone who actually cared about radio, it’s not too surprising that he jumped ship when television presented itself. Motive governs behavior – even for a magician like Merlin.

    LESSON? Radio can survive podcasting just like it survived and in fact thrived after the advent of television. We just have to get better at our craft. Just like a cattle rancher’s job is not to make manure, we are not charged with creating “radio signals” or “podcast download files”. That happens by accident more or less, as we create the meat that is content. But we had better make sure we’re good at it. The hard fact is that an audience will find great content, and they won’t much care about the technology required to get access to it. So, just like failing podcasts, wherever radio is shrinking look to poor content issues. Wherever radio (or podcasting) is thriving, look at the content. As my friend and radio legend Bob Lepine has oft said – “Content is king”.

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