IRM: Dave Mason Interview

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If there was one guy I’d ask about the current state of radio, internet radio and the technology that effects them both, it would be Dave Mason, so that’s exactly what I did.

Dave Mason is an 18 year veteran of talk radio and the host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show “Computer Talk with Dave Mason” heard Saturday’s from 1-3pm EST. Whether you have a question or just want to find out what is worth knowing in the tech world, Dr. Dave is your man.

IRM: There is a slight argument as to why radio is floundering and it comes down to technology vs. deregulation. Last week I wrote an article discrediting the idea that the fall of radio must be attributed to the deregulation that we saw during the 80’s and 90’s. I think that with the rise of the internet technology poses more of a threat to terrestrial radio than deregulation. What do you think?

DM: First, there was no deregulation. There was big change in regulation, but not deregulation. It’s important to understand that. But I’ll call it that so everybody knows what I’m talking about. There’s also a misunderstanding of deregulation that doesn’t take in to account poor decisions made by executives post deregulation. The deregulation of the end of the 20th century allowed the wrongheaded consolidation that killed quality local radio. That doesn’t mean deregulation was wrong. The national media conglomerates were wrong. Check their stock prices for the last few years. But the wrong-headedness of bureaucrat’s is often far worse. In fact it could be argued that the pent up demand artificially created by prior stiff over-regulation, lead to over-valued stations whose owners couldn’t turn down offers made by the national media companies. But the cookie-cutter strategy didn’t work and the stations weren’t strong enough to endure the “McDonalds-ization” of radio.

IRM: What other threats do you think terrestrial radio faces?

DM: Primarily the complete commoditization of inventory, and the lack of exciting local content. There is NO attention paid to nurturing talent and personalities, so we have no radio that anyone wants to hear, outside of the top 5 or 10 national hosts and a handful of large market local hosts. You cannot generate the kind of listener numbers you need by putting the oregano oil guys on all the time. Yes, the station gets a check but you drive one more nail in the coffin at the same time. People tune out and stay tuned out.

Of course the economic environment right now is deadly. Many will not survive this downturn.

There is another major negative factor that dampens excitement about radio is the cool factor. Radio doesn’t have it any more. All the stats about the effectiveness of radio can’t undo that. I don’t know if it will ever come back.

We live in the time of decentralization. Smaller station groups and smaller stations. The management that is good at VERY lean organizations with highly targeted listeners that they can identify and appeal to will be successful. Look at the fragmentation/specialization of cable TV networks. Similar dynamic in radio.

IRM: We’ve talked in private about poor radio station management, what can terrestrial radio station managers do to better radio in the 21st century?

DM: I don’t know if there is a long term answer. The best management I’ve seen by far is Good News Communication’s management (Dave Masons flagship station). From maximizing signal, to efficient, high integrity personnel, quality content and community involvement that matters, Clear Channel could learn a thing or 2 from those folks. The panic of dwindling revenue makes you do stupid things sometimes, and you have to get paid, but we quite often sabotage our best interest for the short term buck. Good News management seems to make the most rational decisions in the upside down “looking glass” world of radio today.

So what is management to do? We have the convergence of the negative response to the change in regulation in the late ’80’s, the complete lack of a farm system to develop talent and content, and the introduction of alternative distribution models, primarily the Internet. Super lean organizations, accurate audience identification, pertinent exciting content, highly effective marketing and promotion ability and effectively leveraging Internet presence are all required by Radio today.

Radio will be more polarized in content, with a few big national hosts, and a few effective local hosts. The stations that have more targeted compelling content that listeners want to hear and advertisers want to support, along with a serious Internet presence will survive.

IRM: Where do you see terrestrial radio in 10 years?

DM: Satellite is on it’s heels so I don’t think they are a major long term threat. The Internet is a big problem for radio, but can be utilized by savvy stations to add to their reach and appeal. Helps get back some of the cool factor. But it must be integrated with the radio portion rather than as an afterthought. The Internet will be the distribution model. AM/FM will be all but gone.

IRM: Do you feel like its not a matter of if terrestrial radio will die but when?

DM: Radio will die eventually, but will take years. Until then it will change dramatically. Weak shows, stations and networks will evaporate. FM will move more to talk as music continues to shrink. But radio will exist for the time being. Cellular and satellite Internet access in cars will eventually become the distribution model of choice. When that occurs, the stations and networks who have not produced an effective on-line presence will die.

IRM: Lets talk taxes. How do you feel about the governments desire to put a new tax on radio?

New taxes will kill an already weak industry. I’ve never understood the reflex of the Government types at all levels to tax what is marginal already. Comprehensive economic ignorance is the only explanation.

IRM: Talk radio is not only on AM radio these days, a lot of talk radio is moving to the FM side of the dial. Do you think talk radio will eventually move over to the FM side of the dial? If so do you think music on FM will be slowly faded out?

DM: Yes, and yes. Then on to the Internet…

IRM: Lets move on to Internet radio. Where do you see Internet radio in 10 years?

DM: Internet radio will be THE distribution model. Cellular and satellite broadcast of the Internet to computers in the car. AM/FM radios and even CD’s will go the way of the 8 track and cassette.

IRM: This is a question that is on everybody’s mind. How long will it be before we start seeing live internet radio in our cars?

DM: As mentioned in my prior answer, it’s on the way. In fact Ford is doing it now. It’s not mainstream yet because reliable, universal geographical access is not available. Give it 5 years for access and another 5 for content availability to work itself out.

IRM: You are a talk radio host, do you feel threatened by the large volume of pod casts and live web casts that are available these days?

DM: No, we are doing it. It’s a no brainer. It’s difficult to stand out in the crowd though. That’s new territory that we are all trying to get our heads around. But a host has no choice.

IRM: Pandora and Last FM, do you like/use these? How and why?
Love them personally, but haven’t seen a way to have them significantly contribute to our business model, other than giving listeners an easy way to hear our incredible bumps…

IRM: Whether you are doing a web talk show or a show on terrestrial radio advertising is a must. One issue I brought up in my article last week was the shrinking attention span of people in the 21st century. Hulu can get away with 15 second spots. Do you ever think that 60 and 30 second spots will become a thing of the past?

DM: It depends on what you’re trying to do. Video lends itself to shorter spots. I think both :30’s and :60’s will continue to be available, because of the lack of effectiveness of :15’s for some advertisers. Remember several years ago micro spots of 5 or 10 seconds were tried, but failed. You have to get the listeners attention, then tell your story. Hard to do in less that :30 seconds for many products.

I think you will have polarization in spot length. Long form spots will become more popular, as will :15’s and even :10’s.

IRM: For anyone that uses the web to distribute information social networking is a must. As a talk radio host what’s your opinion on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace? Do you use them? How and why?

DM: The Internet is still in it’s infancy, and consequently effective business use of the technology is lagging. Add the faddish nature of many of the popular services and it’s clear it has a long way to go. Clearly certain technologies, particularly the social media services can be used to good effect in business, but the details of how to do that most effectively are yet to be fully understood. Even the most successful social media companies themselves are having a hard time figuring out to monetize the millions of members they reach.

I believe you utilize the most popular social media outlets carefully. Overt commercial appeals only isolate you. Genuine personal interaction works. Understand that it is mostly a fad with questionable demographics, but great potential. It can be used to position yourself for the shakeout, so you’ll be experienced and ready to take advantage when we finally get an idea how things are going to go.

It’s easy to be distracted by all the opportunities. Choose carefully and be consistent, and personal. We’ll know more in a couple of years…


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