Radio Looks Back Ten Years
August 30, 2011
Every generation has its seminal moment. Pearl Harbor. JFK. Lennon. 9/11. Events that change, if not history, at least mindsets and attitudes.
Like just about every little kid, I asked my parents where they were when they heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. And 30 years later, they could recall that day verbatim.
Ask anyone over 45 about December 8th, 1980. (I was walking into a dorm at the University of Minnesota and everyone was gathered around a TV in the lounge).
Ask, well, anyone about September 11th, 2001. (I had taken a shower and came downstairs to find a message from Russ Allen about "Man, what a weird day. Planes flying into buildings..." I ran in, turned on the TV and history was unfolding.)
Radio is kind of generational. Every 10 years or so, we usher in a new legion of programmers. What we pass along to these people is what we'll be listening to for the next 20 years.
We're an industry that's always been hesitant to be real and deviate from music sweeps and fart jokes. As one Mensa candidate told me after a local tragedy several years ago, "People don't listen to music radio for news!" No, maybe not, but if you don't acknowledge what everyone is talking about, you're going to look like a f**king idiot.
I'm big on "acknowledging." It doesn't have to be a candlelight vigil with 5,000 people after a horrific mass murder at a fitness club (Clear Channel in Pittsburgh). It could be a moment of silence. It could be a candle on the website. It could be some guests on the morning show.
What happened after 9/11 was that a lot of the new generation of PDs discovered that, shudder, we could be more than Battle Of The Sexes and Family Four-Packs. Their stations went out and did actual passionate, emotion-evoking tributes and responses, and they discovered that on occasion we can raise ourselves up to be relevant media.
It was very affirming for them. And when Katrina came along, some of them remembered these lessons and reacted quickly and decisively and did amazing things. And the rest fell back into old habits of over-thinking and over-analyzing and got lost in the morass of other vibe-less jukeboxes.
It's a Sunday and today's Minneapolis paper listed all of the television programming that will be dedicated towards honoring the 10th anniversary of this tragedy. If you fail to acknowledge (there's that word again) this, you're going to again sound like fools.
What can you do?
3,213 seems to be the number that most people agree upon is the total killed in the attacks, minus the hijackers.
It's a Sunday. Contact all the churches and have them ring their bells 3,213 times.
Blow up the website. If I go to your site and you have something about Kim Kardashian and NOT 9/11, that's beyond offensive.
Do something visual. Think like a TV cameraman. That is the story they're going to be tasked with getting the local angle on. 3,213 empty shoes in a plaza is a dramatic and powerful image. Wild in San Francisco put 3,213 luminaries on the beach and listeners kept them glowing for several days.
Scroll the names on the website. Release 3,213 doves from a park. Hold a candlelight vigil.
Find locals who were there and can tell their stories. Is there a local connection with a victim? A college student who moved to New York? A spouse? This would allow you to hyper-focus on their memory and do something that is truly meaningful and local.
"Never Forget" is the slogan. Go out with a video camera and create a film of people on the streets talking about that day with "Never Forget" as the theme. Kind of like "It Gets Better."
Anything that you can do to allow the audience to be involved will be a home run. Power in Miami had an old-fashioned fire bell in a cradle and on the 1st anniversary listeners could step up, ring it and read a name. The tolling bell echoed through all of downtown Miami.
And don't forget that we're in two wars as a result of these attacks. No radio station can ever go wrong with honoring troops and their families. On the 10th anniversary I already have four clients who are taking the patriotic military approach and doing something for families of deployed soldiers.
At the end of the day, just as with any opportunity for radio to do something compelling, there will be stations that do something and connect with their audience on an emotional level ... and there will be the idiots who miss it.
Remember that all of the ratings gimmickry in the world can't beat a station that's connected to their listeners.