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At this year’s Arbitron Client Conference and Jacobs Summit (thanks to those of you who attended, by the way), the most bandied about number was “93.”

Aside from the fact that it’s the much quoted percentage of radio’s national reach, it is now being hailed as the retention level for sitting through commercial breaks. An Arbitron/Coleman Insights/Media Monitors study at the Arbitron Client Conference had everyone buzzing.

A lot of salespeople will no doubt use this data to prove their point to their clients – that radio marketing reaches its loyalty audience – while perhaps also working their program directors that a few more commercials or even an extra break or two might not be a bad thing.

But other sessions at Arbitron’s Conference and our Summit used another number that perhaps the industry ought to pay attention to as well. That’s because this 93% number is part of the problem. Yes, it has a purpose and we all know how important it is to justify radio advertising to increasingly challenging buyers.

But radio is too often focused on the wrong issues, the wrong metrics, and winning arguments that no one cares about. We have so many numbers available to us that we often forget about which ones are most important to radio’s future.

We continue to ask the wrong questions.

Should we use the “bowtie” or “hourglass” model for our stopsets?

Is Pandora radio?

What will Randy do in Philly?

Why aren’t there FM chips in cell phones?

Is Rock dead?

Bob Pittman reminded the room – again – about the importance of radio telling “the story better.” And believe me, it has nothing to do with 93% commercial retention rates.

In fact, I would argue that the most important number at this event was the number 1.

While some of us remember it as the “loneliest number,” the fact is that if you listened closely to speakers throughout the Summit sessions, the Power of One was a popular and ongoing thread in some very diverse presentations.

Radio futurologist James Cridland started out Summit 16 with a powerful presentation that suggested that radio companies in the U.S. ought to start working together to “tell the story.” His position is that unlike countries like the U.K. and Australia, American radio is often so competitive with one another that it fails to “speak with one voice.”

140 Characters Conference founder Jeff Pulver reminded the room that every individual – every one – now has an important voice because of the power of Twitter and the real-time web. He cited his thesis that new media + old media = NOW media. And the rise of U.K. performer Susan Boyle to fame in just eight days proves that individuals can create powerful moments using the new tool kit and become major league stars.

Dial Global and MSNBC’s Ed Schultz told his story about how one guy from Fargo could take his career in his own hands, pay $150,000 for a digital television camera and uplink, and launch a multi-media brand. And he told the room that if their stations’ DJs aren’t taking every opportunity to make every possible appearance and use every available outlet to help the station, “get rid of ‘em.”

Brooke Gladstone, NPR’s On The Media co-host, reminded us that retention is really about the ability and power of one great story on the radio that can keep an audience engaged, intrigued, and enthralled.

WMMR’s Bill Weston told the room that you want to engage and connect, “You gotta have a human being in the chair 24 hours a day.” Yup, that one DJ who connects, posts, tweets, and picks up the phone and makes that contact that other media cannot hope to match.

And finally, WTOP’s Jim Farley reminded us that even with all these incredible multi-media multi-platform news sources around us, one guy – in this case, Paul Brandus – a 20 year news veteran who started sending tweets from the White House and created a powerful brand. @WestWingReport has more than 87,000 followers on Twitter after being in existence for about a year. In contrast, MSNBC with all its reporters, TV exposure, big name shows, history, and financial resources has 155,000.

ONE. There’s incredible power and it can be any one of us with a vision, passion, heart, and the ability to use the new tool kit.

Or 93%.

Which number are you going to be talking about in 2012?

Fred Jacobs

About Fred Jacobs

Fred Jacobs, created the Classic Rock format, and has been a leading force in Alternative and Mainstream Rock. Currently, Jacobs Media services are used by nearly every major broadcasting company, including CBS, Entercom, Emmis, Cox, Greater Media, Citadel, Journal, and others. Jacobs Media has also provided consulting services to The Corporation For Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio, and public radio stations around the country.