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What the Radio Disney AM switchoff means to radio

In the US, Disney have pulled their stations off AM. Devastating blow, or multiplatform moment?

By James Cridland
Posted 16 August 2014, 6.29am edt
Disney | ABC Television Group
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Depending what you read, Disney's removal of their stations from AM/FM is a devastating blow for radio - showing that radio "doesn't matter".

Industry analysts in the US are running around like headless chickens, claiming that this is the end of days for broadcast radio. If Disney - of all people - don't believe in radio, then what next?

Here's the thing. Disney does believe in radio. But it doesn't believe in AM.

What has actually happened

Radio Disney had 23 radio stations in the US. It is yanking all but one of those stations. As I understand it, 22 of those 23 stations were on AM. AM radio. For a kids service. Seriously?

So, Radio Disney isn't closing down radio. They're closing down AM.

Let's not pull any punches here. Disney is saying that AM radio isn't right for young (music) audiences. And they're right. It sounds crappy. AM isn't built into any consumer electronics these days: no phones, no tablets, no power extension leads. It suffers from interference from broadband, from your 'fridge, from lightening, from light switches. It has a limited frequency response (albeit less limited in the US than in Europe). It's a terrible, terrible place to put music.

The announcement comes with data, reported by BroadcastingCable.com:

According to someone who has seen the figures, Disney’s internal research finds that among Radio Disney listeners six years old and up, 37% listen to the radio via satellite, 35% listen to radio via the Internet and 31% listen using mobile devices. By comparison, just 18% listen to radio via AM and FM broadcast.

First - WTF? Really? 18% of listening was coming from their mostly AM network? I'm amazed it was so high.

Second - how much clearer do you want this? Radio Disney is important to the company, has lots of listeners (via SiriusXM and online), and is clearly producing great programming.

It's not the death knell of radio.

It is the death knell of AM for music radio. But we knew that anyway.

And, oh goodness, when I agree with Mark Ramsey about something, I know there's something wrong with the world.

Please, US radio industry, cure your myopic view

Eric Rhoads's piece is heartfelt comment from a good man with a long radio history. I like and respect Eric, and his thoughts are very similar to many other comments I've read. But, US radio thinking like this is platformist. It treats radio as a transmitter, not as great content delivered how the audience want it. It's like considering a newspaper company merely as a printing press operator, not as a producer of powerful reporting.

Here's the thing. Audiences don't care about radio transmitters. They don't care if it's AM, FM, HD, Sirius or cans with string. They don't care how much data it uses or battery life it chomps through. They care that it's the content they want, on a device they have, in a place they want to consume it.

The myopic US radio industry hasn't looked outside its borders, where this consumer change has happened for years.

As one example - youth radio stations in the UK are doing really well... on the TV. Up in the top of the programme guide on all TV platforms here, you'll find lots of boring blue screens with audio from simulcast radio stations. Kids today have TVs in their bedroom, not AM radio sets. So, KISS or 1Xtra on the television offers content they want, on a device they have, in a place where they want to consume it.

Parts of Europe gave up AM radio broadcasting a long time ago. In other countries, like the UK, audiences for music radio on AM are almost all in steep, terminal, decline. Yet, radio listening here is at an all time high. That's not because we've clung onto AM, trying to force our platformist beliefs onto our audience. It's because we've ensured that UK radio is a multiplatform environment. Only 56% of radio listening in the UK is to AM/FM. As the audience has changed, we have too.

This is a definition thing

Once more, this comes down to an inability in the English language to define "radio". The platformists will define it as an AM or FM transmitter. If you're into platformism, you'll care deeply about radio receivers and frequency spectrum - to the exclusion of all else. Platformism is a religion which has no place in the modern radio industry.

Radio isn't defined by technology. It's defined by content. Radio Disney's listeners are listening to radio - a "shared experience with a human connection", as I define radio - on things like SiriusXM or a stream via a mobile. That is still radio.

A radio broadcasters' job is to ensure that their great radio content is the content their audiences want, on a device they have, in a place where they want to consume it. And that might mean, in the case of Radio Disney, closing down those pointless, wasteful AM transmitters.

Please cure your platformism

Platformism was probably relevant thirty years ago, when radio could only be delivered via AM/FM. But today, it's the main thing that is holding the industry back. While some of us in Europe are cured of platformism, it's a belief that still runs the US industry. It's an ugly belief, and it urgently needs a cure.

FM/AM still has a place. News/talk is still very strong on AM. FM still has the majority of radio listening in pretty well every market in the world.

For the platformists - your job is to ensure that broadcast radio gives a similar user experience to other platforms, so that listeners choose the content they want, on a device they have, in a place where they want to consume it. Be in no doubt: people won't choose to use FM/AM/DAB because it's broadcast radio. They'll choose it because it gives the user experience they want.

That's why I think the NextRadio app and RadioDNS is a huge part of broadcast radio's future - because it makes FM/HD/DAB as compelling as the experience of streaming. It offers people the content they want, on a device they have, in a place they want to consume it. But, crucially, things like RadioDNS - when implemented properly - hides the platform from the audience: using FM/DAB/internet interchangeably. Because the audience don't care about your transmitters.

In short

Does Radio Disney's closure of its 23 AM stations mean radio's dead? No.

Does it mean platformism is dead? I sure hope so.

James Cridland — James is the Managing Director of media.info, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. His website is at james.cridland.net, where you can subscribe to his weekly newsletter.
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Comments

2 years, 8 months ago

Just back from Memphis in Tennessee as it was recently the celebration of what would have been Elvis' 80th birthday. While there I had a chance to pop into the ELVIS RADIO studio and talk with their main presenter - Argo. The station is starting to reach a wide audience via both SiriusXM (www.siriusxm.com/elvisradio) and the Internet. I was told that as a majority of new cars now come with AM/FM/XM sets that listenership is climbing rapidly and while we were there on of the artists who performed at the Birthday Pops Concert with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra was being interviewed and, as it was the 80th celebration, there were listeners from across the USA outside the station at Graceland. So at least some American radio is no longer platformist though I did notice that one of our taxi drivers was listening to the soul and blues station WDIA 1070 AM (www.mywdia.com/).

PRO2 years, 8 months ago

When we can resolve the issues around mobile internet streaming, then I'd agree that platformism is dead. It isn't yet, when you consider than you still need a linear platform to listen to radio outside of the home, either FM/AM or DAB.

However, I think it's the right decision for Disney to pull it's AM network of stations off considering the target audience.

Absolute Radio should be the prime station to take off AM considering it's forward thinking digital/online policy, but I doubt Bauer currently would want to lose one single listener, despite a core loyal audience on the medium.

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