This Time, It's Personal
February 22, 2013
"They don't do dedications anymore, do they?"
It was Thursday, my wife's birthday, and she was musing about what people do to send their greetings. She'd gotten the requisite Facebook messages from friends and family, but she's an old radio hand, too, and for some reason it occurred to her that she doesn't hear song dedications on the radio the way she used to. "They don't do dedications," she repeated. "They don't really say anything."
Yep. Music stations follow the research; they shut up and play the music. When they talk, there's practically no interaction with the audience. That's all moved to social media, but there's no interaction there, either; It's mostly blandishments to enter contests or tune in for the next segment. Birthday dedications? Are you a Kardashian? No? Sorry, then.
Oh, I'm sure some stations still do dedications. (Art Laboe's still on the air, right?) But the old connection is missing. And maybe there's nothing radio can do about that, because there are other ways now to publicly proclaim whatever greetings you want to proclaim. Twitter, Facebook, Vine, YouTube -- you can get an international audience for your message, for free. Can't stop that train.
But you can still engage listeners more than you do, just by doing what radio used to do all the time. You don't necessarily have to take dedications, but you -- music or talk stations, especially talk -- CAN put listeners on the air, as callers, as clips submitted online, or by calling out their names for whatever reason. It's funny: People can make their own podcasts, their own videos, they can stream, but there's still a thrill to hear your name on the air on a real radio station, and to hear your voice there. Maybe that'll go away, too, but you should take advantage of that while it's still a thing. In a way, there's something special about radio that arises from how easy it is to do all the other stuff -- anyone can do a social media post or a YouTube video, but talking on the radio, even as a caller or as a name read out over the air, isn't as ubiquitous.
And you can use your station website for that, too. Your listeners are making YouTube videos and podcasts and posting Instagram photos? Why not make room for them on your site? You can have them submit their work and you can post it there -- embed codes make that extremely easy. Again, anyone can post stuff at YouTube, but to get the added exposure from their favorite radio station and the association with that brand is what you can add that someone else can't.
This is all to say that radio may be losing the exclusivity it had, and that might be permanent, but there's still value in the brands and personalities that still rattle around the old boneyard. And if there's any hope of retaining that value, stations and shows need to get more of that personal connection to the consumer. Look at it as if radio is the local Main Street shop and new media are the big box stores at the edge of town, moving in to eat up market share. (Funny how that works, considering consolidation left most of radio in the hands of companies who are definitely not Mom and Pop and not local, but hang with the analogy anyway, because it's not about ownership, it's about market position) If you're the Main Street shop, you can't compete on price or selection, but you CAN compete on service and relationships. Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, etc. have a wide selection of music and customization, but your friends won't ever say "hey, I heard you on Spotify," not even if they download your playlist. A computer can program and serve up music, but it takes a human to offer human interaction. For now, at least. Artificial intelligence is getting pretty good.
It isn't quite there yet, though. (Hello, Siri.) So, use the tools you have at your disposal to get that personal connection going again with your listeners. It's not just all social media, although that's important. It can be as simple as putting people on the air to answer a topic question, or talk up a song, or... well, dedications are so 1972, I suppose, but you can do that, too.
Time once again for the plug for All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics, with hundreds of stories and comments compiled with radio in mind, available by clicking here for the full column or going to Twitter at @talktopics, where you'll find every story linked to the appropriate item. It's all free.
You can also follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, and find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon. And there's my other job: I edit and write for the Nerdist.com website, so if you're into pop culture -- movies, comics, TV, "genre" stuff -- come on by.
No, Fran never did get a birthday song dedication this year. Maybe next year, though. What's Art Laboe's number?