Back to School

August 1, 2001

What we know about using the Web today may be akin to a 16th century map of the western hemisphere.

At this time of year we tend to think about moving to the next educational level. Whether we are professionally involved in academia or just regular life, the shared experience of our school years brings back the annual fall memory of fresh starts, new books and sharp pencils. In today's technology-driven environment, learning never ends, so this feeling can be valuably applied to our careers as they continue to develop and change.

Here are a few recent examples that show the value of such study and its ability to substantially influence or amend previous practices.

WWW, the early years

Many stations are learning how to use the Web as an important ancillary service outlet. Rather than simply using it in a duplicative fashion to stream their air signal (which others like the RIAA and AFTRA are learning how to exploit), or as a typical business/promotional site, a tour of some current radio station websites shows numerous cool ideas. One is the posting of recipes mentioned in a talk show on food preparation. Consider listeners struggling to commit an ingredient list to memory while driving and their relief in hearing the host say, “This recipe is available on our website.” This creates real good will for the station and builds strong branding to listeners. (Now all they have to remember is the station's URL.) This association is strengthened if the site is later consulted and the recipe is easily found, nicely formatted and ready for printing.

Similar value is provided by any listing of useful, broadcast-related information, such as discographies or bibliographies of artists or authors interviewed on air. Several stations present elements of their playlists as well, such as new artists added in the current week/month, or top-10 artists of the year. Local arts calendars and other event lists make sense, too.

The jury is still out on actual revenue production from a radio station website, but it's important to remember that our knowledge and exploration of this area is not yet complete. Some recent studies conducted by the Interactive Advertising Bureau ( and others show that the much-maligned banner ad may actually have been too small to be effective. New Web-advertising aesthetics are developing with larger, more intrusive styles, and these have been found to be up to 40% more effective than banner ads. Of course, that may not be saying much, given the sense of how ineffective banner ads have been. But these studies are also finding that the metric of click-through usage may be a naïve way to gauge effectiveness. Just because it's uniquely possible to directly measure a Web-ad's impact in this way doesn't mean that the ad won't have a more traditional, impression-based, indirect value. What we know about using the Web today may be akin to a 16th century map of the western hemisphere.

Another case of climbing the learning curve was recently reported by XM Satellite Radio. In an attempt to reduce the pain of paying a monthly service fee for radio content, GMAC Financing will include XM's $9.95 monthly service charge in car lease or loan statements of consumers who wish to enable their new cars with the satellite radio service.

Closed minds need not apply

It's easy to look back and see how dumb we once were, but much harder to acknowledge that we'll someday (probably soon) feel the same way about our present level of understanding. We must therefore vigilantly remind ourselves to keep our minds open to new and revised thinking, particularly for areas in which our experience does not yet run deep. The common wisdom in new technologies is often nothing more than the perception du jour.

You don't have to look very far in radio broadcasting to see some lessons learned the hard way in this respect. Many major markets have an FM station owned by a non-profit organization that is not in the reserved band (88.1 to 91.9MHz). Nearly all of these situations exist because the commercial broadcasters who were original licensees of those frequencies believed that FM would never succeed, and thus gave away their FM channels as charitable contributions to the non-profits. The tax benefits seemed brilliant at the time, but a few years later these broadcasters realized the premature and uneducated nature of their decisions. Live and learn.

Life would be dull indeed if we knew all the answers all the time. That's what makes continuing education so much fun, and so essential.

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