Not Buying the Facebook, Google Argument

(Orig­i­nal­ly Pub­lished in Radio INK, Nov 13 2018)

(By Kevin McK­in­ney) The notion that Face­book and Google are steal­ing ad rev­enue from radio is com­plete­ly false. Radio is giv­ing rev­enue to Google and Face­book. Nobody is steal­ing. So why do Google Facebook Radiocon­sol­ida­tors claim this? They use the Inter­net as an excuse to con­vince leg­is­la­tors to allow them to gob­ble up more sta­tions. The hor­ri­ble irony is that the more they con­sol­i­date, the more they push rev­enue to Face­book and Google.


If radio is to com­pete, it has to be unique to each region. How­ev­er, con­sol­i­da­tion stamps out local fla­vor when com­pa­nies down­size to show prof­it. That’s the only way they know how to prof­it: to buy, gut, and sell. It’s bankers and high finance elites who are push­ing for con­sol­i­da­tion because they are the only ones who ben­e­fit. The win­ners make mon­ey off of the finan­cial agree­ments and man­age­ment strate­gies. The qual­i­ty of the prod­uct is irrel­e­vant so long as they can col­lect their man­age­ment fees and interest.

Twen­ty-two years ago con­sol­ida­tors went to Con­gress with an urgent mes­sage. They said they had to con­sol­i­date radio because cable TV was threat­en­ing their indus­try. The notion is laugh­able. Cable TV nev­er did threat­en radio, nor did col­or TV, black & white TV or…the lat­est boo­gie man, the Inter­net. The medi­um of radio is only threat­ened when radio pre­tends to be live with phoney voice-track­ing and absen­tee pro­gram­ming. No human would choose to play the end­less loop of cor­po­rate music and com­mer­cial marathons that lis­ten­ers are served.

Con­sol­ida­tors are also wrong to refer to the Inter­net as broad­cast­ing. Broad­cast­ing implies it is cast for a broad audi­ence. The Inter­net is a packed menu of nar­row­cast­ing. There is no reg­u­la­tion to ensure that the con­tent is fam­i­ly friend­ly or any mar­ket pres­sure to give the best con­tent per hour. It’s just a library with social media attached to it. Radio, on the oth­er hand, could have the advan­tage of being local and thought­ful­ly curat­ed for the max­i­mum rel­e­vance for the largest region­al audi­ence. Only peo­ple in Cleve­land want to hear about Cleve­land char­i­ties, and small Cleve­land bands that they might see at small local clubs. Sad­ly, Cleve­land will have to go to Google and Face­book because radio is not serv­ing them anymore.

I remem­ber when ram­pant con­sol­i­da­tion made radio stop play­ing local bands in rota­tion. I looked every­where for an option to replace what I’d lost. Even­tu­al­ly, the Inter­net came along to pro­vide some solace. What I miss, though, is find­ing that con­tent at the same time as every­one else. I miss being able to sing new songs with strangers. We can all still sing Queen togeth­er but there’s no crit­i­cal mass dis­cov­er­ing the same song at the same time for pod­cast listeners.

The loss of that crit­i­cal mass is a loss for our econ­o­my. Shame on con­sol­ida­tors for rob­bing com­mu­ni­ties of their abil­i­ty to hear them­selves en masse. Con­sol­ida­tors are beg­ging for com­pe­ti­tion to go away. Which is con­fus­ing because they got rid of com­pe­ti­tion 22 years ago with the Tele­com Act of 1996. What they real­ly want, is an excuse to fire even more staff and claim those sav­ings as a short-term prof­it. They know they’re lying to us about their motives. But are we awake enough to see through this?

Com­pe­ti­tion makes great busi­ness­es thrive. Com­pet­ing radio sta­tions try to out­do, one-up, out­per­form, out-cool, and be more con­nect­ed to the lis­ten­er than their rivals. Once upon a time, the world cul­ture was the ben­e­fi­cia­ry of the com­pe­ti­tion in hun­dreds of Amer­i­can cities as local DJs became ambas­sadors for local music move­ments, cul­tur­al devel­op­ments, and local busi­ness­es and char­i­ties. The thirst to be #1 is what spurred sta­tions to intro­duce the best bands to audiences.

There is still a glim­mer of hope for radio. Let’s start by ask­ing what is good for the con­sumer rather than what is good for radio. It’s by serv­ing the cus­tomer that radio can be rel­e­vant again.

The con­sumer is not ask­ing for more cook­ie-cut­ter for­mat-copied radio. They are not ask­ing for radio to pre­tend that it’s Twit­ter or any­thing on the Inter­net. Radio is an ana­log tech­nol­o­gy in a world full of peo­ple try­ing to escape a dig­i­tal world. The future of radio would be bright if there were live DJs who were allowed to play the music they want­ed to and speak about what they want­ed to. Radio would shine as the most pow­er­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tions medi­um on the plan­et if there were local­ly run, live, spon­ta­neous com­mu­ni­ca­tions occur­ring over it. But that’s not the case. And so we may pass the time on Spo­ti­fy or doing one of the zil­lion things that social media is urg­ing us to do or react to. I don’t know about you, but I want my local radio back for my san­i­ty as well as the health of my city. It’s time for media pol­i­cy to be tak­en back from Wall Street and giv­en back to the cit­i­zens of this country.

-Kevin McK­in­ney is the Pro­duc­er and Direc­tor of the doc­u­men­tary “Cor­po­rate FM” which you can watch on Ama­zon Prime HERE

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