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After years of what felt like broadcasters apologizing for no longer being shiny and new, radio in 2019 has triumphantly evolved into “audio,” pivoting on the integration of digital assets and podcasting alongside its continuing dominance over the air. That mindset permeated the Radio Show in Dallas this year, where Skip Pizzi, VP of Technology Education & Outreach for the National Association of Broadcasters and co-host of the new Tech Tuesday, summarized, “Radio is no longer the rustbelt.”

With multiple sessions devoted to podcasting, in fact, radio’s on-demand opportunity was on full display with practitioners from inside and outside the industry discussing its future potential and how to overcome impediments to growth. Hollywood hasn’t seen this level of momentum for a new platform since TV arrived decades ago, according to Oren Rosenbaum during “The Podcast Revolution” session. As Digital Media Agent at United Talent Agency, Rosenbaum reps some of the biggest talent that have moved into the medium, including actor Will Ferrell, whose The Ron Burgundy Podcast on the iHeartPodcast Network has become a runaway hit and is helping draw a wider overall audience to podcasting. 

While some large advertisers, like McDonalds and Starbucks, have sat on the podcast sidelines because the medium hasn’t offered enough reach, that’s starting to change as the percentage of Americans using on-demand audio continues to rise. And those that have jumped in “love the intimacy of the medium,” its avid fans and the ability to connect their brand to the host through live reads, said Carter Brokaw, President, Digital Revenue Strategy at iHeartMedia. But big billion-dollars advertisers still need to be educated about podcasting and get comfortable with host-read ads, dynamic ad insertion and the fact that they may not get the scale they’re used to from broad reach media.

Podcasting is one of the reasons radio has brought new focus to audio and that’s energized broadcasters. That new-found enthusiasm greeted the 2,140 attendees of the Radio Show at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas—representing a slight increase over 2018’s gathering in Orlando—as producers the National Association of Broadcasters and Radio Advertising Bureau have been touting the word “reimagined” across the convention’s information website, promising that the future is here.

With brisk traffic on the exhibit floor and an upbeat energy level, the conference had a less insular feel and a broader focus, drawing more speakers from outside the industry to give it a larger media world perspective.

Big players from the advertising world were also actively involved in the show, including a senior media analyst from the world’s largest advertiser: Procter & Gamble. In a follow-up “fireside chat” Procter & Gamble Senior Media Analyst John Fix explained why the company returned to radio after shunning it for decades. “Two years ago, I was in the North American Media Group and I asked the question as a media data analyst, ‘Why is CPG not in radio?’”

Getting advertisers to increase their radio investments became a sort of Radio Show rallying cry. The medium still only attracts 6% of advertiser budgets and its greatest challenge is attracting new dollars. 

“With the consumer we’re doing great. I mean great,” iHeartMedia Chairman and CEO Bob Pittman said during the SRO gathering in which attendees lined up to get into the annual Radio Luncheon featuring the heads of radio’s three largest groups. “I can’t imagine any industry that wouldn’t love where we are and what we have,” Pittman added. “The problem with this industry is we’ve not monetized that audience well.” The industry needs to develop stronger relationships at the client level with big brand advertisers to get on a longer sales cycle that they use to plan their media campaigns, he stressed. 

Wall Street analysts also made the trek to Dallas, with Wells Fargo Securities Media, Cable & Telecom Analyst J. Davis Hebert bringing attendees up to speed on the shifting audio landscape and the latest economic indicators. Speaking during the annual Pillsbury’s Broadcast Finance session, he addressed those newer channels, including podcasting, streaming and smart speakers: “We’re seeing new distribution, and audio consumption is growing faster than it ever has,” he assured.

AM/FM still leads the listener world, capturing 46% of audio time in first quarter 2019, per Edison Research, compared to 42% with ad-free audio platforms and 12% with other ad platforms. Broadcast radio’s “share of ear” is “only moderately down” from 52% in fourth quarter 2016, Hebert said. “You see the share declining but people have more listening options than ever.” 

The 2020 Radio Show returns to Nashville next year. —Paul Heine and Chuck Taylor