TCI Insight — Radio: Truly Thinking Outside of the Box

By Maury Tobin

The influence of radio is immense because it is a personal, widely available and primarily free medium. Radio allows you to hear, not just imagine, a laugh; to engulf yourself in a program while driving; to cook dinner to the backdrop of interesting stories; to stay abreast of what is happening in the world; and to be part of the greater conversation.

But it’s logical that when many people, including communication practitioners, think of radio and its impact, they likely think of radio in its traditional form: a box or display with a dial that you turn. This is generally known as terrestrial (land-based) radio, through which a FCC-licensed frequency, tower and transmitter are needed.

However, due to the many advanced ways people access radio programming – through a computer or via Smartphone devices that allow the user to stream live audio and download podcasts – radio’s reach is increasingly endless. Now, even the definition of radio is evolving.

Despite radio’s competitors continuing to try to cobble together a crisis of its failure and antiquity, the certainty is that this medium is morphing and its future is healthy. Indeed, analyses show that radio stations are becoming effective multimedia adopters.

“I think that’s where a lot of what we do may be going,” says Jay LeSeure, program director at WCMY-AM, Ottawa, Ill., in discussing radio outlets’ abilities to provide unique content that fits consumers’ individual needs. “I think the on-demand podcast and that instant availability when the listener wants it, is going to be, really, the trend for the future.”

WCMY, for example, has 24/7 streaming audio on its website, provides stories in both audio and script form, promotes what content it wants to showcase, highlights “lively open phone conversations,” and provides at-will programming.

What WCMY is doing – shifting its practices on how radio programming is applied and delivered, based on emerging ways in which consumers can access information – is indicative of how my business philosophy is growing as well. Changes in maximizing content distribution choices and new trends motivate me to explore varying multimedia options, and to continue to expand the services, and the skills, I offer.

As a PR pro, I study, and learn the technology back-end, of the very diverse ways people receive, and seek, information, from print, cable news, smart phones and radio, to Twitter and Tumblr feeds, blogs and customized messaging. This ensures me a good grasp of current and relevant strategies. And things are progressing dramatically, I’m learning.

From recalling the once-ubiquitous faxed press release to today’s more sophisticated audio and video streaming, it is clear the meaning of integrated communications has changed. Another case in point: I regularly work with the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) and arrange Radio Media Tours (RMTs) focused on building public awareness about colon cancer and screening. But this past year, I also helped produce video podcasts which provided up-close, virtual tours of healthy, to diseased, colons. Made possible by the lens of a camera used by a gastroenterologist performing colonoscopies, these podcasts were fascinating and unique. ACG notified its target audience about them through its e-mail newsletter.

I remain keenly aware of the many content choices the public has, and the massive flow of information that exists. I know this is challenging to the PR industry and requires new thinking about what “media” is and how to maintain relationships. But the über-debates over both PR and radio’s futures reveal two things: one, PR is being re-shaped; and two, radio will remain viable in a world of 24/7 news buzz, social media, and personalized communications.

Listen to our podcast interview with Jay LeSeure, talk show host at WCMY radio.

Maury Tobin is the President of Tobin Communications, Inc., a firm he founded in 1996 that provides integrated campaign and digital services. Tobin earned both a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a Master’s Degree in Public Communication at American University.