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Monday Memo: Get An Uber-Earful

| December 2, 2019

By Holland Cooke


BLOCK ISLAND, RI –Taxis are to take-me-somewhere as radio is to inform-me/entertain-me.

Internet-based innovation is disrupting every legacy industry.  Ask an insurance agent or travel agent or stockbroker or bookstore owner, if you can find one.  Or the record labels or TV networks or cable companies.  Or stores.  Again this year, Black Friday happened on smartphones.  Most AM/FM broadcast hours are now automated.

In today’s Gig Economy, the cabbies’ cartel was ripe for disruption.  Now, hacks who haven’t yet defected to Uber (or Lyft) give you an earful.  NOT making this up: As a New York cabbie crabbed that “there are 11,000 taxi drivers in the city and 14,000 Uber drivers!” an ad recruiting Uber drivers came on the radio!

Radio is being end-run like crazy:

  • Listeners don’t need FM to hear music. Heck, they PAY SiriusXM and iTunes and Amazon et al to avoid 6-minute commercial stopsets.
  • No need to wait for information staples like weather and traffic “on the eights;” or news, or sports scores or the play-by-play that used to be a radio franchise. They’re apps now.
  • While radio talkers monologue, people now dialogue via Social Media.

With content now a commodity, what makes radio special?

The same thing that amuses me so much about Uber: the characters.  Every driver I’ve had is a story.

  • The 68 year-old who drove me recently looked like he might’ve been at Woodstock. He’s a retired Harvard professor.  “What’s the longest ride you’ve ever given?” I asked.  “From Rhode Island to DC,” he laughed.  “How much?” I HAD to ask.  “About a thousand dollars.”
  • I always ask “What’s your day job?” Increasingly I’m hearing “This!”  But one driver I had was preppy-enough that I figured it was a side-hustle.  And he told me “I’m a motivational speaker.  I travel the world, presenting at conferences and conventions.”  So why-Uber, I asked: He smiled, “I’m researching a book on small talk.”

 We used to pay for audience research.

In the 1980s, stations did focus groups.  The 1990s research fad was one-on-one interviews with people screened to represent the station’s target listener.  By the 2000s, research was cut from the budget.

Hosts I coach are accustomed to my mantra that “everything we do is story-telling.”  And like these enterprising drivers, our listeners – who are also coping – are stories.

What if YOU drove for Uber, or Lyft?  Even if only for a few hours a week.  Ask your passenger, “Which station would you like to hear?” and otherwise…converse.  Drivers I’ve had chatted with me about Trump, supermarkets, their teenagers, Netflix, and other everyday concerns and interests…the stuff we used to pay to hear while we were sitting quietly behind that one-way mirror during focus groups.

Holland Cooke ( is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. He is the author of the e-book “Holland Cooke: Greatest Hits” from Talkers Books.  Click the ad banner in the right-hand column on this page for an instant download.  And he hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America.  Read HC’s Monday Memo each week at, and follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke

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Category: Advice