Date Of Death: TBD -- A Readers Opinion
April 22, 2011 at 10:26 AM (PT)
From time to time, at its discretion, ALL ACCESS will publish a thoughtful "Op-Ed" opinion piece from our readers, that we feel has broad value. These opinions do not necessarily reflect the individual or collective opinions of the staff and management of ALLACCESS.COM. Your comments are welcome below concerning, our first installment from JOEL FRANK.
Enjoy the rest of PASSOVER, and have a HAPPY EASTER! -- JOEL DENVER, President & Publisher
JOEL FRANK writes:
Several weeks ago every newspaper publisher in America had an obituary for CHARLIE SHEEN written. All of the information was filled out except the Date Of Death and the document was placed in a drawer labeled TBD. Right in front of it was The Radio Industry’s Obit. Written over five years ago -- it too is/was waiting for a death date. I don't believe that radio is on its last breath -- but nor do I think that radio is #WINNING.
Many problems face radio; the scariest part is that the majority of the problems are internal. The two biggest issues being: a.) Radio, along with the music industry, was not prepared for the technological boom and then did not accept it right away; b.) We have lost our focus.
I got into commercial radio late 2002. I was the last generation of radio people who could walk in the door, get a job from the ground up and have mentorship to learn every department. Since then, the world changed and we as an industry were not ready for it. More so we didn't accept it. There was no longer young talent and there was no place for them to be groomed. Companies were freezing hiring, downsizing, giving more responsibility to less people ... and they became anxious.
Instead of letting an intern go live at two in the morning to learn, veterans voicetracked. Promotions teams were sacked and jocks were given those duties. Jocks were sacked and computers were given those duties. Local programmers were sacked and multi-format regional or national programmers were given the duties. Sales people were sacked and local businesses stopped being represented. There was nobody to train interns or handle promotions. Nobody to build the mystique and culture of radio -- nobody to defend it against the writing of the industry’s obituary.
SPITZER changed how we do business. Consumers listening habits changed. The economy blew up. We didn't do enough for our local advertisers that supported us for years. They went out of business. The Internet moved from a part of our day-to-day life to an integral Pavlovian NEED. We as an industry were not early adapters to change. We kept the same technology at our stations assuming the public would never know. What we found out was that the public was smarter than us and adapted quicker.
We were late to the social networking game and then in our haste to get with the program we misused it. Instead of using the elements of FACEBOOK and TWITTER to reinforce our radio stations we created a whole new entity that we could not support. In essence we have cannibalized our stations with the misuse of social networking and have not used it to effectively put listeners on our frequency.
Instead of hiring young people with new ideas who have been taught and in some cases created new technology and ideas, we kept hiring the same people who refused to budge. Eventually forced to change, those titans of radio industry made excuses and only did as much as they had to do to keep their jobs, including forcing out the dreamers and idealists. Local ownership lost their stations to the banks and big corporations, and the big corporations used radio as a commodity for their even bigger businesses instead of treating the industry with respect.
Mainly, we ignored our listeners.
We stopped asking our listeners what they wanted. Instead we gave them what we thought they wanted. From AM Talk radio to NPR to FM music radio we forgot that we are only as viable as the people listening to us. Listeners want to not only be entertained and informed, they want to feel like they are a part of something. Radio, unlike TV, has always been able to make that connection because it is a non-visual medium. A listener is forced to escape into the radio.
Instead of embracing that, the industry has run away. The DJ has gone from a celebrity to a bland sound byte. The Programmer has gone from a tastemaker to a button-pusher. Sales people are selling snake oil and making bad deals for their clients. Promotions teams that at one time drew customers to businesses and worked with the community to provide exciting events are non-existent.
Instead of serving our listeners, our clients and our community, radio is now serving the banks and Boards of Directors. Instead of evolving early we have stayed behind the 8-ball. We are on a never-ending "Monsters Of Rock" nostalgia tour, never creating a new audience. And disappointing and lowering the expectations of the ones that we have.
We play scared. We allow ARBITRON to control us instead of maximizing the listener’s influence without advertisers. We've become reactionary instead of having courage. Stations flip formats less than a year after they've signed on. Talk show hosts are fired after one negative e-mail. We've insulted our listeners by succumbing to the lowest common denominator -- so they leave.
We are not in competition with Internet radio, satellite radio, or digital music. Instead of embracing those options we have changed to the point that we have run our listeners off to those outlets instead of creating an atmosphere where both can exist profitably. STERN didn't go to SIRIUS for the money. He went so he could do his job at his highest level. PANDORA’s mission statement wasn't to overtake terrestrial radio. It was supposed to be a supplement. We've created the demand for these services by having an inferior product. Instead of being innovative, our best idea was HD RADIO, which has a top spot in the "Laser Disc Hall Of Fame."
As we've seen in the last decade, when a consumer is disrespected, when they have their intelligence questioned, and when they are presented with better options, they will leave.
We've lost our position as the tastemakers. We've lost the "cool" factor. We've lost our personality and voice. Why would a listener come to us? "At-Work Listening" has become a bigger goal than appointment listening. We'd rather our stations be background music than entertainment. We sell encyclopedias door to door for revenue instead of selling a lifestyle with long-term benefits.
Regardless of format we don't live in a demographic advertising world anymore. Demographics have moved beyond their traditional stereotypes. Black people listen to Rock music and old people are buying cars. Women are not only the household decision-makers but also the purchasers. We ignore that the world is changing and sell and promote radio like it has always been promoted and sold. Demographically and stereotypically.
Technology has the world evolving at a faster pace than any time in history and our industry stays five steps back. We make conservative choices in the hope of treading water instead of having courage of advancement.
What are my solutions for radio?
If you are employed in an authoritative position, mentor a young professional. Bring in interns and let them work. Be okay with mistakes and teach people how to correct mistakes. Don't think about the next trend or book. Think about the trend or book three years down the road. Service your local advertisers regardless of budget. Find out what your listeners want. Program for the masses, while still respecting the fringe. Be cool again. Be cutting edge. Don't be scared to piss people off OR to make them feel good. Respect the airwaves. Respect your community. Be a part of your community. Be involved in your community. Care about making a profit but be okay with occasionally losing money within reason. Don't just skim through music. LISTEN to music.
Don't treat radio as a commodity.
Radio is a canvas that can entertain and educate. It can make profits and support families. It can be an authoritative voice and a voice for the people ... but IT IS NOT A COMMODITY.
Respect the profession. Respect the industry. Take chances. Reflect your community.
Good Radio IS Winning.
JOEL FRANK is a 12-year radio vet who has done stints at WAVF, WCSQ, WYBB and as APD/MD at Triple A WCOO/CHARLESTON, SC. WCOO was named best radio station in CHARLESTON by THE CHARLESTON CITY PAPER for 2007, 2009 and 2010. He can be reached at (843) 607-3024, or at JoelFrankus@yahoo.com.