Is it just me, or did someone just tape a “Kick Me” sign on radio’s back?
Every time I turn around, someone is declaring radio dead, ineffective or outdated, while declaring podcasting to be the wave of the future.
Just before the holidays, conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham announced the end to her nationally syndicated, 3-hour daily show at the end of 2018 in favor of a podcast, saying, “Podcasting is where all the action is happening now, and I intend to inject my own brand of humor and substance in the national conversation with in-depth interviews, conversations and even more audience interaction.”
How can you have more interaction in a recorded podcast than in a live, call-in show with listeners? You can’t! It was a departing shot at the industry that has brought her fame and fortune since her radio show premiered in 2001.
The truth is that Ingraham now has a higher profile and more lucrative gig at Fox News, and unlike Sean Hannity, she can’t do both. I don’t blame her for the decision. I just don’t know why she had to kick radio on her way out the door.
Then last week, James MacDonald, the teaching pastor on Walk in the Word, announced to his staff that he is removing his program from all traditional broadcast outlets.
He said, “Traditional broadcast is a dying thing. What that means is that the cost of it continues to rise while the demographic of it continues to age and the response to it continues to diminish.” MacDonald said that Christian radio is “increasingly trapped in an old generation. We want to grow and reach more people than we ever have before but less of the, you know, 75-year-old lady in Kansas City who’s listening to her third sermon today, and more of the young adults, or even college student, who’s consuming their media on their mobile device.”
I believe both Ingraham and MacDonald are going to be surprised that their podcasting ventures will bring in only a fraction of their prior audiences and revenue.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that podcasting is an important part of what ministries should be doing to expand their listenership. But it’s a mistake to frame the radio vs. podcasting debate as an either/or. Modern-day audio consumption is not a zero-sum game. Radio programs are enhanced by podcast listening, but I am more confident than ever that podcasts will never fully replace traditional radio.
First of all, podcasts lack standards and quality control. Anyone with a USB microphone, a computer and too much time on his hands can become a podcaster. That’s why there are 540,000 podcast titles out there, but most ceased production after the 7th episode! Lesson: It’s easy to start a podcast. It’s another thing to keep it going.
Also, podcast downloads don’t always translate into actual listeners. If I sign up for a certain podcast and my device downloads it, it counts toward the tally. But is the user actually listening to the program? One expert put it this way, “Because podcasts are downloaded to user devices for online listening or future consumption, it is impossible to measure how they and the ads they contain are consumed.”
By contrast, the restricted access to the radio airwaves (and yes, the costs involved) sets a threshold of competence and proficiency from broadcasters and, in turn, creates a product that is better as a whole. The industry also still has gatekeepers. Station operators require a certain level of professionalism, intelligence and communication skills from the people to whom they give a microphone.
This is likely why radio is still America’s #1 reach medium, with 92% of the adults listening to radio each week, versus only 26% listening to one or more podcasts per month.
For those of us who love Christian radio, I say, “Appreciate and continue to use radio for the great medium it is, and don’t get distracted by the latest Silicon Valley innovation.” If we, as program producers and station operators, continue to focus on the power of traditional radio while enhancing our message with new communication tools, we will expand our platform to the glory of God and the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the end, isn’t that what’s it all about?