The Price Of Tea In Torrance
September 11, 2015
Not too long ago -- six months, actually -- a great big supermarket chain merged with another great big chain, and the feds ordered them to spin off a lot of stores in some western markets where they both operated, sometimes across the street from each other. So the companies looked around and found a really small independent chain in the Northwest that was willing to a) pay a steep price for a large number of discarded stores, and b) expand several-fold all at once. And the little chain took over the stores, instituted a plan based, apparently, on what they thought people would want from their stores, and.... filed for Chapter 11 this week.
This sorry tale of business failure has some application to the radio business, because the mistakes this company made and what some radio companies are doing on a routine basis bear some similarities. You have to know the market and the audience BEFORE you enter a market, or make critical programming decisions like changes in format or hosts or shows. The grocery thought that it could define a market that doesn't really exist or is already served -- a mythical "not Whole Foods, not regular groceries, somewhere in the middle" segment -- at higher prices than the standard grocery. This market segment existed only in the new entrant's mind; if they'd done research, they'd have found that anyone in that category already has less expensive, more targeted, better quality options. Add the newcomer's assumption that it didn't need to do any marketing on radio or TV or social media and that newspaper circulars would do just fine, and that's a perfect method of ending up in bankruptcy court, that plus overextending yourself buying the stores and spending on inventory.
I see radio doing the same thing when formats or lineups change. Some flips are researched and target an underserved market, but a lot more are based on things like what the parent company's comfortable doing -- hey, we do format X in three other markets, let's do it in our new market, never mind the demographics and psychographics. Or it's about grabbing the hot new format before anyone else, whether it's demonstrated staying power or not. (Is Classic Hip Hop the new Jammin' Oldies? Maybe or maybe not, but "we'd better do it before anyone else does" better be accompanied by "we've done the research and there's a need for this here.") And it's the same for the kind of talk show you do: Is the opening in the market for political talk or entertainment? Is there enough audience for a new idea, or are you relegated to slicing off a piece of another station's target audience? Who's your target, and what are you going to do to get it?
You clearly don't want to go in unprepared, but so many big moves seem so ill-considered, I'm not sure what the process of development was. For every station and show that hits the ground running, I hear plenty that seem slapped together with "10,000 in a row!" and nothing much else. Imaging and marketing can only do so much. In order to really compete, you have to offer something that you know -- not think, but KNOW -- the people you're trying to reach are starving to get. Do they need another country station? Maybe, if the one they have isn't good enough, but you need to know that, and you need to know if the market can support what you're planning. You don't want to be that grocery, rushing in because you can, offering nothing that people really want, and failing.
And you don't have to be. There's ALWAYS a hole in the market for the right format, the right show, the right product. But it might not be what you think it is. You might look at the market and think, hey, there's no Alternative station and two Country outlets, let's do Alternative, when the demographics and revenue and culture in the area might indicate that the real opportunity might be a third Country station. You might think, huh, lots of Sports talk, but just one conservatalker, so let's do political talk, only to discover that there was room for a better Sports station and no room for more election discussion. All I'm saying is, don't think that you know better than the audience what they want. If you do your research and due diligence, through looking at the demographics and the competition and the culture of your market, you'll learn what they want. Ignore that at your peril.
Something else you can't ignore is the need to have something to talk about on your show (and how's THAT for an awkward segue? Not quite Dean Martin-into-"Satisfaction" train wreck segue, but close), and All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics is here for you with hundreds of items and ideas and bad jokes, all up-to-date and available now by clicking here. And there's the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. This week, there's also "10 Questions With..." Eddie Finocchiaro, who's been hosting the online "HamRadio Show" for several years and provides some insight into what it's like to develop a show outside the usual channels.
Oh, and, of course, Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
Now, I gotta go and -- no lie -- do some food shopping. No, I'm not gonna go to that store that misread this market; WAY too expensive. If they'd only thought to ask me....