Is There Still Room For Entertainment In Radio?
September 10, 2013
Publicly-traded media companies, mergers, stock options, layoffs, music services, Board of Director meetings, leverage buyouts, mega-corporations becoming mega-mega corporations ... this is not the radio most of us signed up for. I actually do not have a problem with any of the aforementioned, but I do wonder if there is room for entertainment. Not for one minute do I buy into the propaganda that Americans have outgrown the antics of yesteryears' disc jockeys.
And before you start with "according to research," I will give you some common sense research: Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Pawn Stars, any of the Real Housewives shows, Steven Segal Lawman, Millionaire Match Maker, and Duck Dynasty. And this is only a partial list of the reality TV shows. They are all corny, contrived, kooky and pointless, but entertaining. These shows make money because they reflect our society; still into personality and make believe. So why is it TV conglomerates get it, yet their radio counterparts try to convince us that Americans have evolved to a higher plain of entertainment sophistication? Instead of trying to figure it out by myself, I turned to social media and asked if radio has run out of room for entertainment. Here are some of the responses from broadcasters:
Oh yes; there is still plenty of room for entertainment in radio. Radio is 50% entertainment and 50% information; give or take 10%. Which I think is a perfect mix.
I listened to a morning show in Washington, D.C. yesterday. They talked for 20 minutes and said nothing. And the sidekicks got paid for laughing at it. You, too, JC. Except for bad morning shows, air talent is only allowed to say a few scripted words and play a ton of music. So, when a station gets good ratings, they think "Ah hah! It's because we play a lot of music!" But most stations are doing that and people want to listen to something. So, someone comes up with a higher share. There's an occasional exception to the "talk less but entertain" idea. I grew up on Dan Ingram at WABC, New York. He could fracture you in seven seconds. But a "Dan Ingram" is rare. In general, I don't understand why so many stations are allowed FCC license renewals, especially the voice tracked ones. I don't hear them serving the community.
They better be because all my mobile/digital devices do everything else better and to my personal taste. Nobody in the metaphorical suit-and-tie wants to broach the necessity of actual entertainment because they can't successfully replicate talent that can entertain on broad platform basis. Yes, I know you can syndicate a great talent everywhere, but that doesn't help stations on a local basis. They are far more effective in the sales effort than a national talent. With national agency buys down yet again that leaves local sales with the brunt of the selling. Ask eight out of 10 sales peeps what's easier to sell locally and they'll yak yak incessantly on the advantages of having a local talent.
Entertainment in radio is a rather broad topic. If you are referring to the average radio DJ in small-market radio, I believe the answer is NO, there is no room for entertainment as unimaginative PDs continue to press announcers for MORE music and LESS talk. If one is a creative on-air personality, their talents are wasted and their assets (skills) are lost under such draconian formats. PDs are so anxious to fit everything into a certain format, they miss the bigger picture-- what do the listeners ACTUALLY want? Listeners will turn to the stations that offer the programming that entertains them, and talented on-air personalities are an important part of making the stations content and sound interesting.
Definitely room for entertainment in radio (and Internet radio as well). Finding talent is the hard part ... giving them room to breathe is even harder. You cannot force someone to be entertaining. They either are, or are not. The most important aspect of entertaining radio is making it relevant and personal to the listener. Keep it real. As for consultants ... Some are excellent, and they have wider access to talent ... but it's really up to the local programmers to coach talent on a daily basis.
In my market, which is a fairly big market containing four cities, all I hear for my age group is "garbage." I know consultants as a whole and I'm sure there are those that don't fit this mold tell owners to program to a demographic of 18-35. Even our five TV stations do the same thing. I have never understood this thinking. The BIGGEST audience out here now are baby boomers. The kids are grown, the house is paid for and we are the majority out here that you're broadcasting to. It makes perfect sense to me that as a whole we should be the ones the stations should be programming to.
Listen to the music being used on national buy advertisers. It's what's classified as "oldies." If I had a FM station in this market, it would be the hits from the '50s to the early '80s. It would have a news team and jocks behind the mic that give a station its identity! First with breaking news, First with guys and gals on the air that know the music they are playing, and First in sports programming. This is so simple but everyone keeps stumbling right over it. Can an AM do it? Absolutely! What an AM lacks in sound quality can be made up in good programming! The AMs in this market sound like crap! The only reason they are on the air is to keep from having to turn the license back in! Good pre-transmitter processing is a must with an AM. AMs didn't sound as bad as they do now because at one time AM was "The Thing." Now, AMs are secondary as long as the owners can get FM translators or they have an FM and the AM is just there.
Pretty soon, local AM and FM will have to compete with over 700,000 Internet stations that's coming to cars I've been told in 2016. So I think a lot of stations including big conglomerates that own a lot of radio property across the country had better wakeup and stop and give thought to what's country and what's not. Screaming guitars in Country to me is not Country. Is there room for the 18-35 demographic? Of course there is. There seems to be a lot of decisions that can be made by just plain old common sense! If I am the majority of those out there in the audience right now, then program to me with news, a good music format, sports and some good personalities behind the mike! Play good Country, play good Oldies, and play good AC. Oh, and don't have the knee-jerk reaction of changing format or your on-air staff going solely on Arbitron. In other words, go on that gut reaction that you know is right for your market! Entertain your listeners. Get off running everything off the network or off the "bird." Give me local people I can talk to and meet and identify with on the air!
Obviously, the topic of entertainment in radio hits a lot of buttons, pardon the pun. Maybe it is time for some maverick to create a new position at stations for the sole purpose of working with an air staff. Although it comes with the job description, these days PDs/Brand Managers do not have enough time or energy to devote to creating on air entertainment. I do like many of the current syndicated long-form shows, but it would be nice if the same level of entertainment were present once the satellite switched back to local programming. If your station is an exception to this, I salute you for a job well done.