Commentary: Nonprofits can learn a lot from what's kept radio going all these years

Joe Waters, Nonprofit Quarterly, 5/30/12

Reports of radio's death have been greatly exaggerated. I still listen to radio and you probably do, too. It may not be conventional AM/FM radio, but even if you listen to Pandora or SirusXM, it's still radio. Listeners of just the AM/FM dial totaled over 241 million in 2011, up 5% from six years earlier. Despite being pronounced dead many times, beginning with the arrival of the television, and being panned by critics as old world, radio has survived for over 100 years and is poised to grow in this century, too. Nonprofits can learn a lot from what's kept radio going all these years, and the steps the medium is taking to be relevant for decades to come.

The present and future is local. One of the reasons radio is thriving is its ability to meet the needs of local listeners and advertisers. Consumer demand for local causes is equally strong. The Cone Cause Evolution Study reported that 91% of consumers believe companies should support a cause in the communities where they do business.

Personality is key. Local radio hosts command attention and loyalty from listeners. The fact that radio encourages us to choose is a key to its success, and something nonprofits can learn from. Stand for something and stop trying to be everything to everyone.

It's not the medium. It's the emotion. A recent study on radio mentioned the emotional triggers AM/FM has for listeners. But instead of leading with emotion, nonprofits incessantly ask people for money. As an industry, nonprofits need to give people a more compelling reason to tune in.

But medium still matters. Radio is stepping up to meet the smartphone and tablet challenge. Nonprofits have to adapt to mobile technology and target supporters where they are and where they care. If a technology that has been around for over a century can change, so can nonprofits.

Pick your battleground. The real battle for radio supremacy will be fought inside the automobile. Radio has a clear competitive edge in the car, compared to people's homes, where the television and the Internet rule. The battleground for nonprofits isn't in people's cars or homes, but in the hearts of supporters that will sing along until they hear something better. It's a crowded dial. Your nonprofit's reception better be good.


Study: Internet radio is on the rise, thanks to social media and tablets

Jeffrey Van Camp,, 5/15/12

The number of Americans listening to Internet radio rose another 8% in the last year, reaching 42%, according to a new study. Among those with broadband, 65% listen to Internet radio. Oh, and broadcast radio use is down 47% among younger generations from a year ago. Of course, these results aren't surprising when you consider that the study was commissioned by TargetSpot, a digital audio advertising network which stands to make a lot more money as Internet radio takes over. [But] we're not disputing the trends here. The study shows that Internet audio listeners also make a lot of money, meaning they'd make a great investment for your advertising dollars. Other interesting stats from the study:

  • 28% of people use tablets for Internet radio (up from 15% last year)
  • 48% spent more time this year listening to Internet radio on a tablet
  • 54% use Internet radios built into their car
  • 32% use a portable Internet radio player with apps built into it
  • 35% link their Internet radio listening to a social network
  • 32% like seeing music listening habits from friends on social networks
  • 27% have Liked people to see their listening habits on a social network (Facebook)
  • 67% continually look at their Internet radio player to check the name of a song or artist 

How musical artists get paid for Internet radio airplay

Attorney Chris Castle on The Huffington Post, 4/30/12

I had a chance to talk to Mike Huppe, President of SoundExchange, about how artists get paid for the public performance of their recordings. (See Part 1 for the backgrounder).

How many services use [SoundExchange] and how many people [do you] pay royalties to?

Currently, we collect digital performance royalties from about 1,600 services that send monthly reporting logs and payments. Every quarter [we] send out anywhere from 15,000-20,000 checks to all the registrants who come through SoundExchange to collect their money. As of today, we have more than 20,000 rights owner accounts and over 48,000 artist accounts. When the money comes in, we basically split it 50/50. 50% of money goes to record labels or whomever owns the master and the other 50% goes to the performer - 45% goes to the featured performer and 5% to non-featured. We pay performers directly, regardless if they are recouped through their record label.

Where do you see SoundExchange in the next 5 years?

SoundExchange is currently the #2 digital revenue source behind iTunes for most record labels in the U.S. We are growing fast because of all the ways music usage is changing. Although we squabble over royalty rates with the service providers, we view ourselves as partners that enable music service to do what they do best -- creating new ways to listen and discover music. In the long run, we want them to succeed. We want them to create new business models, new ways of listening to music and we feel that SoundExchange enables all of that. We are the back office to a lot of these new business models emerging on the web. In the next five years, we hope to continue increasing digital royalty payments (we went from $20 million in 2005 to $292 million in 2011).


A radio showcase for festival of Shakespeare's 37 plays from 37 countries

Public Radio Exchange website

This spring, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London [has invited] 37 theater companies from every corner of the world to present a different Shakespeare play, using their own cultural styles and language. This unprecedented global Shakespearean celebration is unlike anything that's ever been attempted in the 400 years since Shakespeare's plays were created. [A] radio audience can experience this adventurous, global project through a 4-week series of 2 minute daily programs.

Each episode of "Shakespeare Moments: Globe to Globe" features brief interviews with artists about how Shakespeare and their cultural traditions intersect, as well as excerpts from performances and interviews with artists describing what Shakespeare means in different countries, and how theater brings people together everywhere. 


"How do you show dance on the radio?"

Richard Scheinin, Mercury News, 5/4/12

Opera companies, symphony orchestras, country-music bands and Broadway shows: All are digitally broadcasting their performances to movie theaters around the country and sometimes the world. Ira Glass, host and producer of public radio's "This American Life," talked about the show's HD special [presented on May 10th in movie theaters]:


"Just recently I was sitting watching a dance company, which is something I never do. They're called Monica Bill Barnes & Company, and there was something in the quality of what they did that reminded me of stories on our radio show. And I thought, 'Oh, our audience would really love this. This is just like our show, except without words.' Only, how do you show dance on the radio? And then I started thinking, 'Oh, we should do another one of those cinema things.' You know, the public-radio audience doesn't usually get together in these kinds of numbers; it's exciting for them. But when they come out to an event like this, it's so shocking for them to see us, because they have no idea what we look like. We have that going for us for the first ten minutes. People are hyped up. Then we have to deliver."

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