The radio industry plans to promote itself in coming weeks via a string of high-profile print and on-air ads featuring testimonials from music stars such as Nelly, Alicia Keys and Ludacris, as the medium finds itself the latest of a number of aging industries fighting back against new-tech rivals.
In the past three years, the nation's nearly 14,000 AM and FM stations have come face to face with a new threat: satellite radio. Washington's XM Satellite Radio and New York's Sirius Satellite Radio charge a monthly fee to beam more than 100 channels of largely commercial-free radio to customers. Both services started with zero subscribers and have grown to a combined 4.3 million as of the end of 2004.
Though that number represents only about 1 percent of the total radio audience, traditional radio executives have grown tired of satellite radio's claims -- that AM and FM radio is canned and over-formatted, devoid of personality and new music and too full of commercials and repetitious playlists.
This comes at a time when radio -- following a wave of late-'90s consolidation -- has settled into single-digit revenue growth. The average time spent listening has dropped from 20 hours 45 minutes per week in 2000 to 20 hours per week in 2003, according to Arbitron Inc.
"There have been a lot of urban legends and falsehoods articulated in the public of late, and radio operators are stepping up and telling their story," said David J. Field, president of Entercom Communications Corp., the nation's fourth-largest radio chain, with 100 stations, and one of the companies behind the campaign. "Some of the arguments about being homogenous or not being innovative are absurd. We are more innovative today than ever before."
The promotional ads, sent to thousands of radio stations yesterday, include the tagline: "Radio. You hear it here first." The campaign is designed to show AM and FM radio as the place that exposes listeners to new music.
Nearly every major radio chain -- including Clear Channel Communications Inc., Infinity Broadcasting Corp., Emmis Communications Corp., Radio One Inc. and Bonneville International Corp. -- is donating airtime, which the industry estimates is valued at about $28 million. Additionally, a print campaign will launch in youth-oriented magazines such as Vibe, Spin and Entertainment Weekly, all aiming to run through February.
The newspaper industry -- which has faced declining circulation since 1987 and continues to lose readers to the Internet -- fielded a similar promotional campaign some years ago, featuring celebrities such as former NFL great John Elway reading newspapers.
The radio ads feature pop stars ticking off career accomplishments and allusions to hit songs, laid down over a musical track. Canadian rocker Avril Lavigne, whose 2002 single "Complicated" rocketed her to stardom at 17, chips in:
"Before the cover of Maxim, before stomping the red carpet, before I stole my father's ties, before the star on my wrist, before boy-beaters beat out wife-beaters, before I got nominated again, before the pop-tart drama, before I toured the world at 19 and 'Complicated' made things so complicated, you heard me -- Avril Lavigne -- on the radio."
Field said none of the artists are receiving compensation, either in payment or promised airplay for their music.
The first round of ads targets youthful listeners, particularly hip-hop fans, because "they tend to be opinion-leaders," Field said, adding that coming spots will feature singers from other genres, such as country.