Free To Fail
June 13, 2014
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. We learn from our mistakes. Insert your own clichÃ©s about trial-and-error here. Most businesses spend inordinate amounts of money on research and development with the understanding that some of it will lead to products that fail. But that's also because there's much to be learned from that experience, and a failure can lead to great success down the road when the lessons are learned. Apple had its Newton before its iPhone, its Lisa before its Macintosh. ABC tried "AM America" before retooling it into "Good Morning America," initially with poor reviews and limited ratings success. Failure is part of the business plan, because when you're trying to innovate, you're going to flop now and then.
That, of course, is not how radio works, and it's a shame. This industry is notorious for resisting new ideas, ridiculing those who try new things, and dancing on the grave of failed experiments while rushing to copy -- without credit -- the ideas that work. It's always been a sore point for me about this business, and I was reminded of it when I saw the news Friday morning that the experiment with electronic dance music on a Boston station was ending in favor of another Country station. I can hear people saying it now: EDM won't work on the radio, ever. See? Failure. It didn't work on a (limited signal) Boston station, so it will never work. (I'll point out a couple of things here: One, I'm not an EDM fan at all, but two, there are plenty of EDM crossovers to Top 40 and even Alternative, so it's not like there isn't EDM on the radio dial, just not as a format in most markets.) This is how practically every other attempt at unusual formats and programming has been received in the industry. I've told you here about the nay-sayers I dealt with in my career, and it's no different today.
Except that it IS different today. Twenty years ago, if you wanted dance music, or talk shows that weren't obsessed with politics, or, really, anything that wasn't offered up on your local AM or FM dial, you were out of luck, and there was no real motivation for stations to try anything new. After all, where were you gonna go? But now, between streaming, podcasts, and online video (let's just stipulate from here on out that a lot of people do get their music from YouTube and Vevo), you can find what you want, whether it's on the traditional radio dial or not.
So, if I'm not happy with the choices I have on radio here, I can easily access alternatives. If I'm tired of the political talk on the L.A. and San Diego stations, I can go online and hear funny people talk about things that interest me, whenever I want, wherever I am. Information? Covered in every possible fashion; I don't need to wait for a business report when there are countless options for business audio online. There are alternative sources for practically every type of talk, information, and/or music. There are great personalities ONLY available via the digital media. It's not the old days anymore.
And that's why radio needs more than ever to start trying new things, innovating, gambling. This requires an end to the internal failure-shaming and the I-told-you-sos. The major impediment is the investor class, which wants results not down the line but right this very minute, but there are enough marginal or even loser stations with which to play. It also requires thinking way, way, way out of the box (and let that be the last time I ever use that particular phrase), because a simple music format can be duplicated and probably already exists online. It means coming up with new ideas with new talent, talking about the things in which new audiences are interested (hey, how many of you talked about the reports from E3 this week? Yeah, thought so). It means new combinations, it means not fearing the wrath of the PPM, it means throwing out the rulebook. It means ignoring those in the industry who seem to want everything other than liner-card Top 40 and Oldies-the-way-it-used-to-be to die a horrible death. And it means that if traditional radio has any chance of lasting beyond the next decade, we can't be uttering the words, "that won't work. They tried it in (name of market) and it was a flop." We have to stop being afraid to fail.
One glance at All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics and you'll know I'm not afraid to fail, at least as far as jokes are concerned. But look beyond that and you'll see that Talk Topics offers hundreds of items and ideas for segments on your shows, plus kicker stories you won't see anywhere else. Use it and your show will not be a failure. Probably. Find it by clicking here. And the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item. Oh, and this week, read "10 Questions With..." K-News/Palm Springs PD Mike Oakes, who's been a veteran of really major stations across the country but has now assumed his very first Talk PD post and has some interesting observations about the format and the job.
And follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and read Nerdist.com and pmsimon.com.
Disclaimer: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries (a division of Legendary Pictures), which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
This was one of those columns where I had a totally different version almost complete before trashing it and seizing on another topic. Maybe I'll try that other one next week. Just because it was a flop this week doesn't mean I can't ever make it work, right?