Monday, October 8, 2007

Radio industry gets a bad signal

Expert warns listeners will tune in to new technology
TV/Radio Writer

In an address that made the musings of Nostradamus seem rosy by comparison, a respected industry observer warned radio executives Wednesday that their industry would all but evaporate within 20 years.

Michael Harrison, publisher of the talk-radio magazine Talkers, told a group at the National Association of Broadcasters Radio Show that competing technologies -- like Internet, Wi-Fi, podcasts and cell phones -- would all but fill the niche they now occupy.

"These are dark times for terrestrial radio," Harrison said. "And most people in terrestrial radio are in denial of it."

Meeting this week at the Charlotte Convention Center are more than 4,000 radio industry executives, on-air personalities and station owners for the NAB's annual gathering.

Harrison, who entered broadcasting in 1967 and has published Talkers since 1990, said he believes most listeners will abandon the traditional AM and FM radio services and migrate to new technologies in the next two decades.

"The next 15 years will be the demise of terrestrial radio as we know it and the rise of the extraterrestrial," he said. Just as Vaudeville gave way to movies and horses to the automobile, he said, radio will be overtaken by gadgets that serve people's needs more efficiently.

Radio isn't an industry in need of a pep talk -- profit margins of 40 percent are not uncommon at stations and listenership has held up well compared with the erosion of broadcast television.

But advertising revenues are flattening, innovations like HD radio have been all but ignored by the public and the industry is struggling with finding a revenue model that works with new technology like Internet streaming.