Is Radio Irrelevant? Keeping Afloat in a Sea of New Media

Though the "Golden Age" of radio has long since ended, some say the medium can survive as long as it's adaptable.

Like other traditional broadcast media, radio is fighting to remain relevant. New technologies have changed how people consume information, with iPhones and satellite radio allowing instant access to vast content. Though the "Golden Age" of radio has long since ended, some say the medium can survive as long as it's adaptable.

A radio station's key value, they say, is its ability to target specific communities with relevant content. Online outlets like Pandora and Spotify can offer variety and customization, but can't deliver breaking news to a targeted market. "Our success in Connecticut is all about being local," says Kristin L. Okesson, Vice President and Market Manager for Cox Media Group in Connecticut. "During Tropical Storm Irene last year, some Connecticut residents lost power for over a week. Television stations were off the air, and people needed information; radio served that role."

Cox took the opportunity to help their listeners. "Our three music stations simulcast a news-talk format for almost five full days, with the music jocks delivering critical updates that our listeners depended on," Okesson says.

Radio also remains crucial for music sales and artist exposure. Although radio has lost some ability to break new music, getting airtime on a Top 40 station drives sales. "It's a myth the younger generation doesn't consume radio," Okesson says. "Consider Z100, one of New York City's biggest stations. According to Arbitron, almost five million people ages 12 and older listen to it. For a station targeted toward the young end of the demo, that is very promising."

What about those who deliver news, interview artists and keep commuters company in the morning? Radio personalities such as Ryan Seacrest, Elvis Duran and Rush Limbaugh have drawing power and dedicated audiences, and may ultimately keep radio thriving.

The radio industry needs to evolve with technology and consumer expectations to compete. Online streaming is imperative, but many outlets are exploring the convergence route, augmenting their broadcasts with blogs that examine pop culture, sports, politics and local news.

Okesson remains optimistic that radio can thrive in an age of hyper-customized media consumption. "Recently, a $75 million deal was announced in the New York City radio market," she says. "WRXP will be sold to CBS radio to simulcast their popular sports talk WFAN-AM. If radio were dead, would CBS spend $75 million? No way."