Paragon turned 35 this year, and as I reflect on radio in 1988 vs. 2023, the changes are gigantic. Radio in 1988 was closer in technology, sound, and spirit to 1953 as compared to 2023. I am struck by the radical changes since Paragon began.

  1988 2023
Technology Analog Digital
Distribution AM/FM Streaming, apps, smart speakers, HD
Devices Radios Phones, computers, smart speakers
Studios One primary Multiple including remote and at home
Studio Equipment Turntable, cart machines Computer
Studio Playback Reel-to-reel, carts, records, CDs Automation
Media Audio Audio & video
Ownership Commercial: Countless national & local owners

Non-Commercial: University licensed non-commercial

Commercial: 3 huge consolidated national owners & a handful of others

Non-Commercial: Community and University licensed public media

Public Radio Listenership 11 million 30 million +
Competition Other radio stations Digital streaming & narrow content platforms
Revenue Significant national advertising Primarily local advertising including digital and events
Formats Could count on 2 hands Dozens including multiple ethnic
Content Locally produced Primarily nationally produced and syndicated
Program Distribution Reel-to-reel and 3-meter satellite dishes Small dish satellite & internet
On-Air Hosts Mostly local & in-studio Mostly syndicated & voice-tracked local hosts
On-Air Operators 3rd class operator permit Nothing
Daily Logs Paper Computer
Scheduling By hand Software
Music Distribution Vinyl and CDs Digital downloads
Listener Feedback Request lines Social media, texting
Music Information Books, periodicals, radio Internet
Music Reporting Phoning in adds Automated monitoring
News Sourcing Newspapers, TV Internet, news feeds
Research Quantitative: Telephone

Qualitative: In-Person Focus Groups

Quantitative: Online

Qualitative: Virtual Focus Groups & In-Depth Interviews

Marketing TV, billboards, telemarketing Websites, geo-targeted social media


Which leads me to ponder, “What hasn’t changed in radio since 1988?” The success factors remain remarkably similar:

  • Focusing on the LOCAL audience
  • Know your market.  Audience research is critical to providing a unique and appealing station that separates from the pack and fills a void in your market.
  • See it, then be and live it.  This requires a comprehensive strategy that begins with your Mission, Vision, Goals, and a Target Audience, and includes a thorough and accountable implementation process.
  • Local talent
  • Community engagement
  • Radio stations are like babies that require continuous love, patience, feeding, and attention.
  • New is hard.  Being new interrupts the status quo and upsets convention, and there are many forces that want you to fail.  Starting from scratch is not for the faint of heart.
  • If you choose to be different, be very, very, very different.  Being sort of different won’t be noticed.
  • When in doubt, always turn left.  Keep taking chances and always make the bold vs. safe choices.  Otherwise, the magnetism of our culture and industry will keep pulling you back into the middle.
  • It’s not about just thinking outside the box.  It’s about knowing when to work inside and outside the box.  There are valuable tools on both sides of the box and the trick is knowing when to use them.
  • People + Plan + Resources.  Radio is a simple business.  If you have the best people with a great Action Plan and the resources to implement it, then success will follow.
  • Being “brilliant on the basics” matters every day.  Just like you notice when a little something is out of place in an app or at a restaurant, the audience hears those things on your station.  Fix them or listeners will make other choices.

Paragon itself has morphed with the times. In 1988, we were strictly a radio research firm without consulting, and our primary clients were three radio groups that no longer exist – CBS Radio, Nationwide, and Susquehanna. Today, Paragon is a full-service media consultancy working for the leading LOCAL operators in America, including numerous NPR News and music stations spanning Triple A, Jazz, Classical, and Urban Alternative. In 1988, our Denver headquarters housed the entire staff, while today our staff works from their homes across America. Our recent rebranding with the slogan “Content Reinvented” tells you where we think radio is headed. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

Learn more about Mike Henry.