Radio Is Changing ... Don't Get Left Behind
December 8, 2015
We are winding down another year of radio and the future is fine; radio has expanded and readjusted with the addition of new media and new delivery systems. Recognizing the past can shed light on how to proceed for the future. There are new ways based on old successes. For example, artists and air personalities are always trying to find ways to boost social media numbers -- YouTube, Tweets, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. The numbers generated could become one hell of a base for a fan club. Can you image what the stats would look like if an artist or a radio station organized a fan club? In fact, who's to say someone isn't doing this now?
My point is, there are no new ideas, merely new ways of getting things done. The forefathers of today's contemporary radio music formats could never have imagined the changes that would happen to what was once just an inexpensive way to sell advertising.
Brief History Lesson
In the early '50s, television was the new media king and radio faced extinction. Two owners, Gordon McLendon and Todd Storz, were credited with giving birth to Top 40 and music formatting. Then in the '60s, Bill Drake and Gene Chenault took things one step further with "Boss Radio" - a format dedicated to making the music the star, highlighted by personalities taught to entertain in a concise uptempo manner without clutter. Along the way came more innovators: Rick Sklar, Paul Drew, Mike Joseph, Buzz Bennett, Sonny Joe White, Ken Dowe, Lee Abrams, Jerry Clifton, Jim Randolph, Jerry Boulding, George Wilson, Ron Jacobs, Frankie Crocker, Jack McCoy, Bill Tanner, Randy Michaels, Jim Maddox, Bob Pittman, Jim Mason and others.
Move Your Calendar Ahead To 2016
No ratings system is perfect; there will always be constant updates similar those software updates to fix glitches. The fact still stands that terrestrial/traditional radio is a part of old media accustomed to controlling the outflow of entertainment and information. There lies the problem: Consumers are involved in new media ... Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and Twitter. They contribute, participate, and set the tone for public opinion -- streaming, Spotify and YouTube. Much of radio is attempting to change its playbook to improve, but too many are doing it at a snail's pace. There are companies who understand digital interactive and ways to market content as a part of their radio brand. Even advertising agencies are slowly beginning to reposition the ways to market the product of radio.
Think in terms of one unit and inter-linking the two related media worlds. Old media is proud of what it required to become a part of an elite club, the apprenticeship of hard knocks and years of field experience. Today, anyone with a smartphone or a computer can communicate and shape thoughts of others.
Programmers are churning out the daily business of radio with very little energy left for futuristic broadcast endeavors. Programming was once about original thinking, personality and fun ... not slogans substituting for substance. It is nearly impossible to create under florescent lighting in meeting rooms at 8 in the morning. By streamlining air staffs and eliminating the "difficult but creative" types, the product has suffered. In order to transform the existing programming pabulum from complacency to entertainment, reintroducing parts of the original creative process would go a long way towards revitalization. The past is the present and future.
The recent Nielsen Audio Client conference featured high-profile personalities such as Radio One's Donnie Simpson, Entercom's Mark Thompson, host of "Mark In The Morning" at KSWD/L.A, and Westwood One's Zach Sang of the syndicated "Zach Sang And The Gang." Let me share with you what each said about air talent and radio
Simpson: Talent has been suppressed in my opinion. Anybody can play music; it's how it's presented. If it were just about music, anyone can listen all day long in a number of ways. I think radio has lost its balls; it's not progressive anymore. I don't see the energy anymore.
Thompson: The key is to give the best content available. Personality is our only hope; it is what will keep us alive. The key is no matter where you are, you are the best content available.
Sang: Radio is made up of two things -- incredible music and incredible personalities.
Fix The Airwaves
The place to begin is still with the sound of the stations. Currently there are three approaches: local air talent, national syndication, and voicetracking within or from outside a market.
Solutions for improving the quality of entertainment at music stations include:
- Training more personalities at local radio or for syndication
- Rehire qualified programmers to train and work with talent
- Re-evaluate the balance between the sales and program departments
- Reinstate the creative Production Director position
- Refocus on the importance of music
- Restructure station clusters for individual station thought (competition breeds creativity)
- Discontinue the practice of one person programming multiple formats
- Get stations up to speed using other social media platforms as an extension of personality radio
One more thing: Stop the cookie-cutter programming and allow for local nuances when it comes to music. I applaud the companies who have mentoring programs for grooming employees to move up in the ranks; but always remember, those innovators I mentioned earlier learned their craft up the ranks. Being perfect means never learning how to face adversity or how to increase the possibilities for success. If he or she has no prior programming experience other than scheduling music, the PD title will not make them programmers. At the end of the day, the product for every publicly or privately owned radio station is the music and all the know-how it takes to deliver ratings for continued or increased profit.
Reality Can Create Clarity
Too Many Owners, VPs, GMs, and Market Managers are under the delusion that all radio people are created equal. Therefore, working down to a price and not up to a standard has become the norm. Only innovation, vision, and looking to present consumer realities can continue the daily reinvention of the radio industry.