© 2001, Terrell M. McDaniel, Ph.D.
Gavin Magazine, May 11, 2001 – Archived
In the previous issue of Gavin, I applied the product adoption curve to the current “Is Country Music Boring?” debate. I hope that dose of industrial psychology made you not only see things a little differently, but also made you think, talk, imagine, plan….even scheme.
The product adoption curve is about people, not products, but the two follow a similar pattern. Products, including country music and country radio, have life cycles. At the beginning of the cycle, there are few profits as companies work to expose their products, build new channels of distribution, and create distinctive brands or, in country’s case, sounds. In the middle stages, as the product is adopted, the excitement grows. Everybody joins, competition heats up, the money rolls in, and you have a lot of knock-offs. (Remember the “hat” acts?)
But at the end, the product becomes a commodity, like salt or sugar. Price becomes a big issue. Consolidation occurs, and there is a shake out. Growth slows because the market has peaked. The Suits at corporate wants to cut costs. It seems to be all about efficiency, volume and money. Some folks can’t accept this, and expect for things to just go on like they did in the good old days. (“Why aren’t your numbers like they were in ’96?”) And, there is a lot of bickering, reminiscing and grief over the loss of something that was really great.
Take your own guess as to when the current product cycle for country radio started. My notion is that it started with the Class of 1990: Garth, Clint, etc. Now that era is over, and a new one has not begun. And if one does, it will likely reflect all of the changes that have occurred in the past few years: consolidation, corporate mentality, profit-centered business, and a new, more complicated relationship between radio and records.
One of the big challenges will be centralization. In the past, innovators and early adopters at local, mom-and-pop stations created the new product cycles. They broke a new record, tried a really strange new programming idea and took other risks. If the new idea caught fire, it spread across the format.
Nowadays, centralized decisions on programming and music, along with corporate accountability for Big Numbers, make innovating much harder. But if you don’t grow, you rot. This may give a new urgency to the questions posed in the previous article on product adoption. Exactly where are the innovators now? Are they free to innovate? Are there corporate mechanisms for innovation that can escape the pressures for Big Numbers Today? Has anybody with power and influence tackled this dilemma yet? Looking at your own situation, do you personally have any perspective or wisdom to share?
These questions are urgent because we are not sure when/if a new product cycle will begin for country radio. There are no guarantees. Several new media are setting up to challenge radio’s power. The old business model that made for such a good marriage between radio and records is under pressure. Country radio has “refreshed” the old product all that it can. The new era will be ushered in not by an extension of what country radio is now, but by a revolution.
The question is, who will lead it, and how? And, given the who-would-have-thought-it nature of revolutions, is there any reason why it can’t be you?