World-Herald Going Online With a Call-in Show: Desperate Boondoggle or Death Blow to Radio?

Elsa

In March, the Omaha World-Herald will begin offering a daily afternoon call-in show online, with former Omaha television and radio host Mike'l Severe as a host. The World-Herald paints it as moving to where the audience is heading. Severe went on in an interview with Tom Shatel, his new co-worker:

"It's being in your car with an Internet-compatible vehicle system, being able to listen to what's going on the web, listening through your earpiece to your favorite show, having your laptop or phone on the seat and dialing up your favorite show.

"I don't think AM radio, in its current form, is what we're going to see in five years. The future is very bright for this, and I didn't want to miss the opportunity."

Certainly, the internet is changing the way the world operates. Look no further than Lincoln, where the athletic department is installing wifi in Memorial Stadium for the 2014 season. Or the World-Herald's declining circulation rates as more and more people give up the printed newspaper to get their news online.

But is the web going to supplant broadcast radio in five years? Color me skeptical.  Keep in mind that the internet has been commonplace for nearly twenty years, and newspapers are still publishing. Could it eventually? More than likely, though technology still has a way to go to make this truly as convenient as radio.  Compare the ease at which you can adjust your car stereo while driving as opposed to manipulating the phone. And while there are always going to be early adopters, new technology takes years to become commonplace. And seemingly old technology is slow to be retired:

Eventually, technology is going to make internet radio and television as easy to consume as over-the-air radio and cable/satellite television is.  Separate phone apps for each station isn't a scalable solution. Nobody wants to deal with dozens of icons on their phone and try to find it while driving.  It's going to take some sort of usability pioneer to put it all together to make it simple enough for the masses.  It's not something that's going to happen in five years, though.  15, maybe.

My first take is that this is the latest attempt by the World-Herald to guess where electronic media is going - and their track record as pioneer. 30 years ago, they tried a cable news show. Then they tried to bring the French Minitel terminal to the US.  Over the years, they've experimented with paywalls, Vimeo channels, etc.  I can't think of one that has really worked and stood the test of time.

It'll be interesting to see how this affects the World-Herald's relationship with the other broadcast media outlets in the area. Shatel, Dirk Chatelain, and Sam McKewon all have regular radio segments on radio call-in shows throughout Nebraska. Will the World-Herald steer their staff away from the radio to try and push the audience towards their own online venture? It depends on how the World-Herald views these interviews: do the interviews promote the paper, or does the paper promote their new online call-in show?  Despite the different delivery mechanisms, the new "Bottom Line" show will be in direct competition with sports call-in shows in both Omaha and Lincoln.  And if the World-Herald tries to limit their reporters availability to radio stations, would those radio stations turn more to the Lincoln Journal-Star and Hail Varsity, elevating them to higher visibility in the Nebraska media marketplace?

The World-Herald thinks that audiences today want to listen, not read anymore. I'm not convinced of that. In fact, CornNation blog-posts generate many times more interest than our podcasts. Certainly, there are times where listening is more practical than reading:  driving, exercising, or at work. But to this day, one of my biggest annoyances is to click on a link and get audio instead of something I can read.  Audio and video can be very compelling in specific circumstances...but I read faster than anybody can talk.  It's not enough to simply have audio and video; the audio and video have to be compelling.

And I do have to wonder whether Severe is the right host to attract an audience. He's built a reputation of saying outrageous things both online and on air, and when you call him on it, he'll shut you down forcefully. (More than one member of the CornNation team has been surprised when Severe blocked them on Twitter...)  Maybe it'll work if the World-Herald is looking to generate controversy. Is that how the World-Herald gets people to make the quantum leap?

So do you listen to sports talk shows online or over the air? Would Mike'l Severe and the World-Herald editorial staff be a reason to switch your listening preferences?

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