radio technology

Where do Good Ideas come from?

No Msg Zone by Quiet Nights of Gotham @ flickr

No Msg Zone by Quiet Nights of Gotham @ flickr

I’ll have to admit I was both appalled and amused by Mark Ramsey’s latest blog item, “Text Messaging – New Revenue for Radio”. Mark, quite rightly, challenges radio stations to go out and investigate the opportunities that SMS Text Messaging can bring to radio stations, and the revenues it can create.

I’m amused because it’s a very symbolic reminder of how great the chasm is between radio in the US, and radio in pretty much the whole of the rest of the world. I can’t think of a country in Europe, Asia or Australasia where the radio stations aren’t using SMS as a primary component of audience interaction, and raising some revenue as a result. Indeed, so great and enthusiastic has been the engagement of radio and TV broadcasters in the UK to embrace revenue generating SMS activity, that it’s provoked a rather nasty backlash from consumers and regulators. Wouldn’t Mark’s blog have been even more effective if he’d Googled on the subject a bit, and appended a warning along the lines of “hey, but check out what happened in the UK when they tried to push it too far, and learn from them”?

Assuming that SMS has been part of the UK broadcasting landscape since 2001 (and I can say with some authority that the DAB station “Core” in the UK was using SMS as its primary listener contact from 15th November 1999), we’re at least 5-6 years ahead of the US. Come learn from us, but start by understanding that you’re not forging ahead into unknown territory.

When I get the opportunity to talk at conferences or with broadcasters who are at different phases in their development of new technology, I always try and highlight the things we have seen go wrong. Knowing what can go wrong and how to avoid it, in my opinion, at least as valuable as knowing what went right.

What appalled me about Mark’s post is, in fact, not really about Mark’s post. What worries me is the widely held assumption that the US radio industry is leading the global development of radio, and that US commentators are more informed and astute than their European counterparts. Not only does this apply to things like SMS messaging, but also subjects like “Why WiMax is the perfect platform for radio” (wrong…) and in programming areas too – witness the flocking to the “Jack” music format.

I consciously decided not to attend NAB Europe in Barcelona this year after some disappointing and frustrating experiences at the last two events. It’s marvellous to bring speakers from the US over to NAB Europe, but could someone please tell them to adjust their attitudes before engaging mouth? Europe may not speak English, but we’re miles and miles ahead of the US industry, which has got stuck in the turgidity of consolidation and insular thinking. From the feedback I received from colleagues at the event, my decision to stay home and work on other projects  looked to be a good one.

This is not a diatribe against the US radio industry and US commentators. They are where they are, and in a lot of cases their landscape is dramatically different to the one the rest of the world lives in. Europe’s infatuation with PSBs will never be understood outside of Europe (and even those of us who live here do wonder sometimes), and I’ll never understand the popularity of Country and Western as a music format. Celebrate the differences rather than trying to iron them out. If anything, my concern is that people in the industry don’t look outside their comfort zones when looking for innovation and future thinking. There are great things happening in radio in Europe, Asia and Australasia and just because those great things are being done in German, Italian, Swedish, Malay, Chinese, or Thai doesn’t lessen their value to a global radio industry.

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