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Radio stations: We're still relevant in the Internet age

Broadcasters launch public-relations campaign that may do little more than point out the industry's woes with iPods, the Internet, and a vanishing audience.

LAS VEGAS--Over-the-air radio broadcasters have a plan to stay relevant even as their listeners continue to migrate to the Web.

Radio Heard Here, a new initiative from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the HD Digital Radio Alliance is focused largely on trying to convince the public that radio remains relevant.

The plan calls for a public-relations campaign, including video ads on YouTube, and a method to connect players online. But there's little real meat. In reality, it's a response to those skeptical about the industry's chances to survive in the Internet era who have lately given radio plenty of static.

BusinessWeek's Jon Fine wrote a column in February titled "Requiem for Old-Time Radio."

Without even getting into the problems the iPod has posed, Fine notes that revenues are plunging and listeners are leaving. The Internet has turned countless people into disc jockeys and enabled them to compete with traditional radio stations. And radio's carefully controlled and limited playlists compare unfavorably with the vast array of music available on the Web.

"The explosion in both expression and availability, first on independent labels and now everywhere, thanks to the Internet," Fine wrote, "began overtaking commercial radio stations well over 20 years ago."

Naturally, radio broadcasters don't see it that way. They note that radio still plays a huge part in people's lives, during their work commutes, for example. They point to the development of high-definition radio and how automakers are starting to adopt the technology. They maintain that commercial radio can and will fit nicely on the Web.

NAB CEO David Rehr told an audience at the NAB 2008 conference here Monday that what radio has always offered is "connection" to listeners. "Technology hasn't changed that," Rehr said. "It has just changed the devices of delivery."