Where Have The Flamethrowers Gone?
January 24, 2012
I love radio ... have for a long time. I wandered into an Atlanta radio station Christmas Eve many years ago and was instantly bitten by the bug. I came along after radio experienced several existential crises, such as the advent of America's new medium, TV. I remember the threat of FM nipping at AM in the 1970s. The latest crisis? Radio's current attempt to crush new media out of advertising dollars until radio catches up with this digital upstart. I equate radio to the fable of Lazarus -- with a triple bypass? Can radio find divine guidance or can triage help avoid its inevitable date with destiny? Radio fears formidable foes who are smarter, faster and are already deeply embedded in our culture.
Nothing is forever. Given a choice between gold or "change," I'd choose change as the more certain commodity. Capture your Kodak memories today -- next year, month, week, day, hour, even the next minute will not represent what you thought it would be. One thing is certain, "We'll never again be what we were yesterday, and tomorrow, we will not be what we are today."
Not long ago every market had a big-signal 100,000-pound gorilla thumping its chest at the top of every hour while proclaiming itself the great "Flamethrower." Its hourly ritual was as powerful as any Sunday morning proclamation from the pulpit across the holiest fundamentalist churches in the Deep South. Hallelujah, Jesus ..."and the hits just keep on coming!"
Radio's high priests were doctors of emotions ... Dr. Feelgood's they were. Their presence was felt in every city, town and hamlet. In short they lived amongst us, shopped with us, their children went to school with ours; they participated in the celebration of births, weddings, funerals and passionately announced our sporting events. We especially loved them because they gave us fun stuff and helped connect us with fellow tribal journeymen. Back then they were called disc jockeys. Today, they're "skip jockeys," because they embody a line item in radio's budget that corporate radio says is redundant.
My concern is not about radio's current state, but rather its future, because the present is cemented in old ways, tired slogans and old standards, all of which represent crawling along with fresh lipstick masking an old down-and-out woman in distress who has known much better days. Day in, day out I read about radio's perilous situation and its future path. You can easily separate reports written by true financial analysts and those by radio PR. The radio shiver continues its search for radio listeners' spines to tingle down, and this effect is akin to the irritant of finger nails screeching across a chalk board.
I'm concerned that radio's long-heralded move into the digital space is simply a repurposing of existing radio station signals. I'm concerned that general managers, sales managers and sellers remain confused about digital. I hear these words over and over, "We can't sell what we have; why add anything else to the seller's plate!" That's like the words uttered by some in the early years of the 20th century, "Why do we need those noisy, sputtering, horseless carriages when our horse gets us there just fine?"
I was told by a top-30 market agency, the digital buying leader in the market, "when radio holds value in its digital assets, demonstrates the pride in the product we see from TV, newspaper, etc., rather than masking the cost in bundled radio stuff, we'll take a serious look at it. However, as long as radio is giving it away, I don't want it, I will not pay for it since radio sees it as essentially remnant inventory no matter the disguise."
To radio that stands by high standards, to those stations that have found good balance between traditional and new media, and others operating outside formulaic radio or operating smartly within a formula and template websites, or those who are monitoring their websites carefully and not using them as a dumping ground for value added, to those who are committed to continued personal growth and renewed investment in its greatest asset, people, I say, NOW is your time.
You are today's flamethrowers. You do not need the kitschy top-of-the-hour reverie. Stay focused and bold, stay smart and confident, stay focused and humble. It's precisely why you're winning ... why you've always won. It's because of you this once brilliant, powerful, locomotive can yet be saved from rusting in a deep ravine, having already tumbled over a cliff at the surprising end of the rail line. Help radio save itself from a permanent home atop the scrap heap of history.
Point The Ship In The Right Direction In 2012!