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Talk Radio, Online College, Deep Content and the 2012 Campaign: Embracing the Disruption

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
What do New York Times' columnist David Brooks, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, and Thomas Nelson Publishing Chairman Michael Hyatt all have in common?

In addition to being guests on my radio show yesterday, that is?

Each is thinking long and hard about the spreading disruption brought about by the new media revolution.

In a May 3rd column, Brooks reviewed the "Campus Tsunami" that is uprooting and rearranging the world of higher education with breathtaking speed and force.

Christensen, long known as the guru of "disruptive innovation," applies the theories associated with fundamental change to personal life in "How Will You Measure Your Life?", a new book he has co-authored with James Allworth and Karen Dillon.

And Hyatt has studied all the storms that have broken upon publishing and condensed all the lessons he has learned about marketing and product sales into Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World.

Put all three on the same radio show and you have a blockbuster of information and transformative thinking. You could access all of that content in podcast form if you subscribed to the Hughniverse, and some of it in transcribed interview form --Brooks and Christensen-- if you visit my website.

But the best way to hear it is in real time, mixed with callers to provoke as well as time to reflect during commercials, news and weather --critical evaluative time as well as a link to interesting and valuable products and services. A three hour oasis in the middle of a media desert.

As Brooks and I discuss specifically and Christensen obliquely, talk radio is the only place you will get such an option. The rest of broadcast media is quickly dying off because the options competing for attention span are so many and varied. Cable --poor CNN, now the graveyard of ratings success-- is sinking fast, swarmed by an army of competitors that move much more quickly and with much more depth.

But if you are in your car, you must listen to audio of some sort or be breaking the law in most places. And the best kind of audio --the addictive kind-- is both interactive and enriching, substantive and funny, startling and useful.

Brooks is alert to the emerging demand for the very best in everything when it comes to spoken word. Colleges and universities will simply not be able to foist bad teachers off on students paying huge tuitions. Online giants like The University of Phoenix are already offering the very best teachers in the world, and the rising generation doesn't care nearly as much as preceding cohorts about "pedigree," especially if it isn't the very elite among the campus "brands." Similarly, the old "network" brands in television just don't convey "trust" anymore. The opposite, in fact.

As a result every college in the country is pushing content online, but are hobbled by an inability to package and promote it. Except Hillsdale College, which is years ahead of the competition and gaining ground every day. (A quarter million viewers signed up for Hillsdale's Constitution 101: The Meaning and History of the Constitution over the past two months, a free series of ten 40 minute lectures, and a monument to innovation in the delivery of content.)

Every television network is desperate for new ideas but all save Fox end up with Piers Morgan and ratings black holes.

Every person with a product or idea to sell is trying to get noticed, as Mike Hyatt understands better than most.

Every person is desperate for meaning in their life and their work, as Clayton Christensen understands.

Only colleges and television refuses to help with those missions.

The new technology allows everyone a shot in both endeavors, but it requires a willingness to abandon every preconceived notion about what works.

Which brings us to Campaign 2012, another example of the potential for disruptive innovation to change every assumption.

In the past week my audience contributed close to $20,000 to help Scott Walker stay in the Wisconsin statehouse. (They did so via this link.) They also helped Tom Cotton win his primary in Arkansas and are fueling Ted Cruz's surge in Texas.

These listener-contributors want to help save the country and are willing to join and contribute to communities of interest to get that done. The campaigns --I hope someone in Team Romney is reading this-- that engage those activists not merely as donors but as advisors and friends in real and innovative ways are going to tap into an amazing moment in American history. They are going to bond with their supporters.

If Mitt Romney, or Ann or one of their sons or senior staff daily makes time for even 20 minutes of real, authentic and exclusive content from inside the campaign, the legion of people willing to help financially and via activism will grow exponentially. This is Brooks' insight applied to campaigns: people want access to the best, and in the world of politics and governance, that means connection to the leaders without intermediaries like the folks in the White House press room. Make access to the virtual briefing room a badge of participation, either via a level of contribution or a specified number of volunteered hours, and the numbers will be huge if the content is good.

We have just begun to experiment with the extended form of the show, and 3,500 people are paying for podcasts, a closed chatroom and an after show featuring my radio show's producer Duane Patterson. This is a small version of Glenn Beck's television network, but one focused solely on audio content which is the future because people cannot watch screens while they are driving, running or exercising in some way, but they can safely and effectively listen. Cost sunk into television sets is lost costs. Cost sunk into audio is a multiplier. Every campaign can learn this and provide content.

And not video. As Brooks noted to me, video is often much, much too slow. Audio is also slow but it has a semi-captive audience in the driving public. Television never has a captive audience because the iPad has freed everyone. Neither does any professor facing a room of laptop-equipped students.

Too many in Washington, like too many in New York and Los Angeles and almost everyone in higher education, believe that the old ways --sit-downs with big name television reporters or loads of tenured pipe-smokers-- are the most effective means to make news, attract students and change minds.

Those networks and those campuses are like all the old restaurants and hotels along Route 66 and its equivalents just as the interstates opened.

They aren't going to vanish overnight. They are just going to be empty.

Meanwhile the old radio sticks in small villages, medium sized towns, and the largest of cites will fill up with the very best in audio, both AM and FM. The very oldest broadcast medium is ideally positioned to take back the audience it lost over the past 60 years to television.

NB: I'd love your take on this, especially if you are in broadcasting, education, or publishing. My email is hugh@hughhewitt.com. And if you are a program director at a radio station, tell me what you are doing to take advantage of the new age when everything old --the spoken word-- is very valuable, again.

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