Radio Needs A Steve Jobs


What you see, depends on what you’re looking for.

Today I watched an interview with Steve Jobs recorded in 1995. What he had to say included some great lessons for radio.

Central to the development of the personal computer was the pioneering work being done at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, which Steve first visited in 1979. They showed him a Graphical User Interface that they were working on (which is now the way we interact with computers and mobile devices. Before GUI, all interaction was text based). Jobs described it as the best thing he’d ever seen in his life. He recognised its potential. He said it was obvious to him that someday, all computers would work like this.

Jobs said it was good that they showed it to him because the technology crashed and burned at Xerox, they didn’t see the potential. He said he learned why later, after working with John Sculley who he brought to Apple from PepsiCo. He said Pepsi would change their product once every ten years and to them a new product was a new size bottle. So if you were a product person, you couldn’t change the course of that company very much. It was the sales and marketing people that influenced the success of PepsiCo. So they were the ones that got promoted and ended up running the company. Jobs said that was OK for PepsiCo but the same thing had happened at Xerox because they had a monopoly. If you were a product person at Xerox and you came up with a better copier you couldn’t make the company any more successful. The only people that could do that were the sales and marketing people. They end up running companies. The product people end up getting driven out of the decision making forums and the companies forget what it means to make great products. The product genius that brought them to that monopolistic position gets rotted out by people running these companies that have no conception of good product versus a bad product. They have no idea of the craftsmanship required to take a good idea and turn it into a good product and they have no feeling in their hearts about wanting to help their customers.

The same thing has happened to radio. It’s being run by sales and marketing people. They’re the ones that get promoted and are running radio companies. Some are even working in programing. They are the people having the biggest influence on programing decisions. Even product (content) driven programmers are spending more time solving sales problems than working on delivering great content.

Programmers now pay lip service to the concept of “content is king”. When research tells them listeners say they want more variety, they don’t adjust the content, they adjust the marketing and put sweepers on the air that say, “We play more music variety”. Programing people have BECOME marketing people, spending more time coming up with a new logo or strapline than they do coaching talent. The truth is most have no idea how to coach talent, they can’t help them structure a bit for maximum impact or suggest where to take a running bit next. So instead they concentrate on getting the talent to “caress the call letters” or create “forward momentum” or complain that a stop-set started late. They’re not programmers, they’re just Format Police.

Steve Jobs could have been describing today’s program directors when he said that sales and marketing people have no idea of the craftsmanship required to take a good idea and turn it into a good product and they have no feeling in their hearts about wanting to help their customers.

The problem has become so ingrained in radio that when we hear about a radio station investing in a Breakfast Show, we instantly know that means marketing not content. It means adverts on busses not extra resources, or writers. Radio stations are not looking for new content ideas or even ideas people, they’re only looking for new ways to sell and market the same tired old product.

The internet is different, it’s all about the content. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and podcasts are filled with new interactive content and brand new ideas from ideas people. The first “flash mob” was a viral video, not a radio station stunt, why not?

The next big content idea is out there and it could change everything as dramatically as GUI changed personal computers but radio’s not going to find it. The people in charge won’t recognise it even when it’s right in front of them.

Watch that full interview with Steve Jobs here;

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