You probably heard about this when you picked up your copy of The New York Times this morning. Personally, I print the online edition out every day and wipe my ass with it. I usually save the sports pages for last, though. It's good to read on the can and always the last square to go. You know how it goes. Anyhow, this excellent story about the radio industry was pretty hard to ignore. It seems broadcasters are having a bit of trouble, especially those folks over at Clear Channel. According to the NYT story, the communications giant is considering selling some of their 1200+ stations, especially those in smaller markets. The article cites the sale of radio stations by CBS, Disney, and Susquehanna Broadcasting as precursors to such a move.
Of course, the mid-to-late '90s was a great time to be in the radio business. The Telecommuncations Act of 1996 allowed companies like Clear Channel to gobble up radio stations by the dozen. In turn, the company pulled in record profits. Clear Channel founder L. Lowry Mays swam in pools of champagne and dined on meals of fresh horse. He cleared brush with future presidents and shook hands with dignitaries. He gave pennies to immigrants and sipped crude oil from a twisty straw. Okay, maybe not ALL of that is true, but the point is, he was filthy stinkin' rich. Got it? But now, he swims in olympic-sized pools of water, just like the rest of us.
Obviously, traditional radio has fallen on tough times due to the alternatives. Satellite radio, iPods, and online streaming have all contributed to this decline. According to Arbitron ratings, and as reported by the NYT, the amount of time people tune into radio over the course of a week has fallen by 14% over the last decade. Much of this decline is due to the failure of traditional broadcasters to adapt to new technology and the internet. However, more recent attempts by traditional broadcasters include implementation of HD Radio, introducing experimental formats, an emphasis on more local content, reducing the length of ad spots and offering more user-friendly online streaming. Only time will tell if it'll make a difference.
Truth be told, HD Radio is years away from mainstream use. Until then, expect some significant wheeling and dealing. Who knows, maybe there's hope for the medium of radio yet.