By Michael Harrison
Odds are your usual haunts in the newspaper, magazine, general entertainment and information arenas have become cluttered with terribly annoying pop up ads, videos that start playing loudly without invitation (sometimes more than one at a time) – and maddeningly confusing hodge-podges of editorial and commercial content laid out in such a manner as to make it almost impossible to follow an article without being sidetracked into a unwanted advertisement. (Hmm, which one of these three arrows should I click?)
How about the emergence of that creepy entity known as the “sponsored” or “promoted” story that innocently sits among the non-paid editorial content on so many of our distinguished bastions of journalism.
Then there is the increasing syndrome that — unless you have the latest version of absolutely every brand of software or app – makes loading any page a herky-jerky, exercise in instability. Now you see it, now you don’t — or worse, now it never comes at all unless you click the link again and again while chanting a magical incantation.
These days it is easier to find your way around the streets of Boston without a GPS device than it is to navigate the latest crop of big-time media websites. Even Obamacare couldn’t get it right.
Doesn’t it also seem lately that many of your favorite destinations on the web are no longer working quite right? Or have you just simply been too busy to notice? Or worse, are you privately blaming yourself for “falling behind” in knowing how to maintain your grasp of the ever-changing digital universe? (OMG, I don’t have the latest version of Flash!)
Freaks and geeks
Clearly an unholy alliance of the techno-geeks and sales-freaks have taken control of the major league media website show. The true internet content programmers and strategists have lost their hold on the situation. They have stopped programming with the sensibilities of the user in mind. Sound familiar?
Add to this digital junkyard scene, increasing revelations about the unreliability of bloated internet stats (check out the latest “house cleaning” by Instagram which is merely the tip of an ugly iceberg of deceit) and it suddenly makes the old diary method and even PPM systems used in radio seem (cough) dependable by comparison. (Please keep in mind, it takes every bit of objectivity I can muster to say anything good about the way radio ratings are concocted, past or present.)
And don’t get me started about the larger looming threats to privacy, well-being, and even societal survival indicated by the Sony hack fiasco and the chilling implications of North Korea’s imbecilic (but dangerous) digital sabre rattling.
Don’t get me wrong
Whenever I write anything about using caution when diving head first into the opaque waters of the digital pond, I am often accused by folks in the business who are fixated on selling the shiny new gizmos (and don’t know my background) as being reactionary or, worse, a Luddite.
So, just a moment of digression… TALKERS magazine began calling itself “The Newspaper of Talk Media” (meaning on-air and online) one year after its inception in 1990. Even more interestingly, yours truly predicted and hailed the coming of “The Electronic Magazine” on April 25, 1981 in Billboard when I was a radio industry columnist and music chart consultant with that publication. Here, check it out by clicking here. Add to that, I was the PD of WZLX in Boston when it had what was arguably the first website (or certainly one of them) of any radio station in America!
I have steadfastly been one of the industry’s loudest advocates of radio entering the digital age since before most of us even knew there was going to be a digital age! That gives me the intellectual capital to point out 1) the significant shortcomings of the internet; 2) the inherent value still remaining in the old school of AM/FM broadcasting; and most importantly 3) why terrestrial radio should not be so quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater in panicked surrender as it finds its way to a place of meaning in this wild frontier.
Platform is co-king
Anyone who, in their fit of digital intoxication, touts content as being king should go back to school and study media theory as well as art appreciation – not to mention geometry, quantum physics and even Eastern philosophy.
No matter how important content might be (and, granted, it is) – it cannot (certainly on this plane of existence) have any real value, in terms of communication and marketing, without an equal degree of importance placed upon the platform by which it is presented. This is an inescapable fact of reality. You can’t serve a cup of coffee without a cup.
Okay, so why am I getting esoteric on you at this point in the discussion? Because the internet is no more a platform than the airwaves are a platform. The internet and the airwaves are “grounds” upon which platforms must be built.
Here’s an example of what I mean – the ocean is a “ground” and a boat is a “platform.” Do you want to cross the Atlantic in a rowboat or on a solid ship? Hey, you can even swim. But doing so will quickly teach you how dangerous, dark, murky and yucky the ocean can be when not navigated with the benefit of a platform with what is best described as “integrity.”
Build and protect your platform
People are increasingly aware of what a cesspool much of the internet has become. In another year or so, being an “internet anything” will have all the respect of being a street performer in Times Square unless prestigious platforms and digital “theaters” are created for “content” to sail on its polluted waters. An example – look at the marvelous job Norm Pattiz is doing with the platform Podcast One.
Owners, programmers, marketers and curators of the AM/FM stick should stop and appreciate the potential history and dignity that can yet be generated and harvested by caring for the preservation of the “radio station” as a platform of quality and pride. There are so many potential ways of doing this that would be in harmony with the broadcast industry’s need to integrate its products into the digital world and rise above the embarrassingly cluttered and substandard fray into which both arenas can easily sink.
Michael Harrison is publisher of TALKERS and RadioInfo. He can be contacted at either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.