Can radio survive the downturn in ad revenues brought on by COVID-19?
Of course, it can.
Radio itself will survive no matter what. It is free and easily received on an instrument found in more homes and cars than any other. And when it successfully serves the local community, it cannot be duplicated.
The better question is, can radio in its current form survive the downturn in revenues brought on by COVID-19? I’d say no. And InsideMusicRadio’s Jerry Del Colliano agrees.
The problem is that the promised efficiencies of large companies owning many radio stations never offset the massive debt that these companies took on in the name of becoming large. Note the goal was not to become better, just large. They wanted to dominate. To control the market. It was a “sure thing” gamble … that they lost. Instead, they undermined their own successful business model that relied on serving the local audience with top-notch programming.
Indeed, when things hit the fan, they responded by cutting talent. The companies then undercut their own advertising rates in an attempt to attract more advertisers, cheapening their own worth. This required more ads to make up the shortfall, cheapening that worth even more.
Del Colliano says in his April 20 column that “the coronavirus and ensuing economic recession has ripped into the fundamentals of the radio industry,” that radio advertising may be down as much as 65% for the second quarter of this year, and that the drop “is expected to continue through 2020.” Maybe 2021. “There will be some casualties,” he says bluntly.
Which ones? He says that Entercom (which owns KRTH 101.1 FM, KROQ 106.7 FM, The Wave 94.7 and KNX 1070 AM, among others) and Cumulus (KABC 790 AM) are especially vulnerable. He expects iHeart to make it, though in a vastly different form as he predicts that SiriusXM owner Liberty Media is waiting for the right time to pounce and will take it over.
If that is done, though, I expect massive changes to the iHeart, including the sale of stations.
Is that bad? Temporarily yes, but as stations are sold off to independent owners and small groups, I predict once more that true local radio will return, and that will bring the medium back to the glory it once had.
Hey, I can dream, right?
Longtime listeners to KABC may remember listening to Paul Harvey’s newscasts and commentaries that aired daily. His segments that gave “the rest … of the story” often included fascinating historical stories that ended with a twist … and were required listening for many.
He retired from radio in 2008 and passed away in 2009, but many recordings of Harvey still exist. WGN/Chicago will begin daily airing of “The Rest of the Story” on April 27th for a limited time to gauge interest; if the trial works, the station will continue and explore the possibility of syndicating the segments around the country.
I hope it works – I would love to hear them again. I am not sure which station would carry it, but I could see them back on KABC, KFI (640 AM) or KNX.
Speaking of KNX
Reader Jimmy Noonan of Anaheim has the idea of the week.
“I relish your radio-related ramblings and suspect you may like my proposal.
“Wouldn’t this be the perfect time for a resurrection of the CBS/KNX Drama Hour? It ran for decades at 9 p.m. with an amazing array of classic radio shows: Night Beat, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, the Lone Ranger, the Third Man, Jack Benny, Bob Hope etc.
“Not only is it great entertainment for the entire family to enjoy together, but it also allows you to create your own visuals to accompany the spoken word – theater of the mind! “Please use your immense influence to make it happen. And, no, not on the internet. We need it on AM or FM radio so it can be a community-wide event experienced by all simultaneously.”
I think it is an amazing idea. Perfect for our time — who wouldn’t be better off taking a break from COVID-19 news with a show from the great Jack Benny? To help convince KNX owner Entercom to run these, it would be cheap … and bring new listeners back to radio. In addition to Noonan’s idea, I’d like a return of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, the amazing radios drama series that caused a young me to love radio drama.
Let’s do it.
Richard Wagoner is a San Pedro freelance columnist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org