The Future of Radio: Q&A with Radio Consultant Fred Jacobs

future of radio dj jackie morales broadcast radio

Radio’s future depends on what it can deliver that other mediums can’t, namely, personality and connection. (Pictured: Jackie Morales from 101.5 Jamz Radio)

Newspapers used to be our society’s main source of information for anything from foreign policy to sports scores, but over time, as more options became available, advertisers and audience members dwindled.

The death watch was on.

In recent years, major market papers in cities like Seattle, Cincinnati and Denver all closed up shop.

Others have cut their print frequency, or gone to an all-online format, or filed for bankruptcy.

We are all watching as newspapers lose the battle with emerging technology.  Is broadcast radio next?

A recent study conducted by Audiometrics concluded that only 3% of teens in the United Kingdom consider radio as their favorite way to consume audio. 36% prefer their smartphone, 35% their Ipod, 16% their laptop.

“As a radio person that gives me chills,” says Fred Jacobs, President of Jacobs Media, the largest radio consulting firm in the United States for rock formats.

“US radio has its same issues – how to be relevant to teens in an environment when their choices are infinite. The implications are obvious when you lose a generation (or two) to other media, not to mention, radio faces increasing difficulty of attracting bright young people to work in the medium when they get out of school.”

What is the future of broadcast radio? Is it destined to follow the path of newspapers? Click To Tweet

What is the future of radio? According to Fred Jacobs, it can be bright. Here’s more with the man Album Network voted one of the most influential contributors to radio in its history:

The world has become ‘On Demand’ – my kids get mad in the car when I can’t control exactly what song comes on next – what does radio have to do to stay relevant with the next generation?

Jacobs: Radio has to focus on two different streams – becoming more of a discovery medium again that is well-curated. And developing personalities that matter to kids.

If it becomes a music war – an iPod or Spotify versus the radio – you know who’s going to win that battle with a 14-year old. Radio needs to focus on what it brings to the table that other platforms or media cannot.

To survive radio need to be a discovery medium and develop personalities that matter to kids Click To Tweet

I just watched a presentation maintaining that only one percent of all radio ads really work to convince and get results – do you agree?

Jacobs: Radio commercials – by and large – are abysmal. There’s no getting around that.

I think everyone agrees they have to be better, but broadcasters need to commit more resources to improving their quality, which would lead to better results.

While traditional advertising is challenged by search and other more “accountable” methods, a great endorsement commercial from a trusted personality can sell a lot of cars, homes…anything.

That 1% figure is low, even in this environment.

future of radio wrif detroit broadcast radio

Inside the booth at WRIF rock in Detroit

It seems most industries are driving toward a data driven decision making model, does radio rely on research and data to help craft long-term planning?

Jacobs: To some degree, there are more metrics in radio. Having said that, you can’t test what doesn’t exist. You can work around the margins, but until you put it on the air, you just don’t know.

Our client here in Detroit – WRIF – recently ended its relationship with 20-year icons Drew & Mike in the morning, and replaced them with a growing show that was on the Alternative station. You can’t “pre-test” how these things are going to play out, even if the new show had ratings at its former station.

Similarly, Cox Tampa’s 97X recently flipped its format to listener driven radio where every song is voted for by listeners. You just can’t use the data to know whether the audience will accept these types of things, much less love them.

In both of these cases, these new changes are working, and well, but data is rarely predictive and often measures what’s happened, not what will happen.

Data in radio is rarely predictive, it measures what happened not what will happen Click To Tweet

Jacobs Media is the largest radio consulting firm in the US dedicated to rock formats – but you knew that – how do you approach consulting a large market station as compared to a small market station?

Jacobs: Great brands are…great brands. So the basic elements –  serving listeners, advertisers, and communities are all the same whether you’re in Philly or Poughkeepsie.

In some ways, connecting with all three is more easily done in a smaller market where radio likely matters more to consumers and simple promotions involving anything from high schools to car dealers can stand out and resonate. Problem is, smaller markets typically have fewer employees to accomplish these tasks.

Larger market stations are challenged to stay relevant and visible in an environment with many more entertainment options and distractions. For morning shows, however, big markets are preferable because there’s simply more local material to work with.

But fundamentally, the challenges – getting ratings, building brands, converting ratings to revenue – are the same.

You have a personality coach on staff – can you explain his role?

Jacobs: Personality is the secret sauce for broadcast radio, always has been. But in this amped up environment, DJs, shows, and hosts become even more valuable.

They all need some level of coaching and honest feedback in order to thrive over time, and that’s where Mike Stern comes into play.

Idea generation, feedback, encouragement, and the group dynamic are all part of the mix. When you think that Tiger Woods has coaches to help out with various aspects of his game, it becomes obvious that even the best air personalities need criticism, a pat on the back, or both.

Even the best air personalities on radio need criticism, a pat on the back, or both Click To Tweet

What are the most important skills or attributes to be successful radio talent?

Jacobs:  Passion, commitment to the station, the community, the music.

The ability to provide more than just your show – to bring other skills to the station (production, appearances, music scheduling, etc.).

To connect with the audience socially, and effectively, whether on Facebook or Twitter or in person.

To be real. Consumers can tell when you’re mailing it in, when the volume on the studio speakers is turned down, when you’re going through the motions.

It’s still a great job when done right.

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for &

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.


  1. […] “One of the most important skills to succeed as on-air talent is to connect with the audience socially – and effectively – whether on Facebook or Twitter or in person,” according to radio consultant Fred Jacobs. […]