August 5, 2016
The other day, I saw a Facebook conversation about how radio personalities should dress for remotes. The discussion involved whether you should show up dressed uncool (dad jeans, polo shirt) or not, and there was debate over....
...Oh, it doesn't matter what the debate was about. It's 2016 and we're still talking about the kind of remotes I was decrying when I started this column over a decade ago, the kind I dreaded when I was programming.
You like radio stories? Here's one:
So, it was my very first day on the job at a station in a major, major market, and a couple of the jocks were talking about a remote they'd done that Saturday at a car stereo place that happened to be near my home.
"How'd it go?," I asked (to the best of my recollection, that is. This could be a figment of my imagination, which would be an indictment of my imagination, really).
"Not too good," one of the jocks said. "Nobody came."
"Nobody? Like, how many. Really."
"Nobody. Zero. Literally nobody. We promoted it all week, but nobody showed up."
"What did we offer to get people to come out?"
And so it went, time and again. Sales would book a remote, we'd send the street team out with the van and a bunch of promo CDs and hats and visors and cardboard fans, and if we were lucky we'd draw a few people, nothing outstanding. But I could take comfort in the fact that for many years, I've seen the same thing happen to other stations -- every year, at our local "street fair," one of the very biggest radio stations on the planet appears and it's pathetic, a card table and canopy with a couple of disinterested interns in the shade, ignoring the crowds that ignore them. And I'll see stations' canopies and vans in parking lots at car dealers and fast food openings all the time, forlorn and sad-looking. I've told you how that makes radio look, but that's still the go-to promotional thing for so many stations, and it does the medium a disservice.
But you know that, so what can we do about it? Not much. And why? I've given this thought, and it would be easy to say, well, we don't have anyone at the local stations thinking big, but that's also misreading the problem. I think it's systemic, and it comes from the top.
Let me explain first by asking you about other media. When you hear about a TV network, who are the people who run it? Usually, it's someone who worked up from producer into management, but it's always someone whose experience is on the programming side, because the product they create in order to sell advertising is a creative endeavor (yes, even reality TV), and you want someone who knows what shows will work. There are sales people at the top, too, but the programming and image are shaped by programmers and marketers. New media? Basically, the same -- there are creative people and tech people in charge. In neither case are all the decisions coming from a sales perspective. Radio? Salespeople. We've been ruled for the most part by people who worked their way up the sales ranks, and they are not always the most creative people for programming and marketing purposes.
That's how we get remotes being the go-to marketing thing for radio. They're sales-oriented. You can get car dealers to buy that. Never mind that the typical radio remote looks sad, feels like 1982, and makes you appear small-time, no matter how big you are. It's easy to sell, so that's what we get, and when so many companies are in every-dollar-counts mode, you're going to do that kind of thing if it gets a sale closed this month.
What radio needs is more show. The industry needs more people with creative vision who can use tools that matter in 2016 -- social media done right, live events that aren't card tables and canopies or just a jock introducing a band at a concert, not just jumping on trends but owning them and being nimble enough to move on to the next one before it's too late. Sales? While TV integrates product placement and podcasts are trying sponsored content with unobtrusive pitches, radio is still doing things the way they were done 20 or 30 years ago. In fairness, there IS some movement in the live event category, at least on the biggest-market and national level, and radio DID invent the native advertising that podcasts are living on, but, still, radio, especially on the local level where it can still outreach other media, needs someone to generate excitement, not hand out bumper stickers that will never see a bumper or post generic, rehashed memes on the station's Facebook page.
What should you wear at a remote? Wear whatever you want. It doesn't matter. The image you should care about is the one you project where your audience lives now -- online, or on the air. Turns out nobody knows you're wearing cargo shorts on the Internet... unless you tell them, that is.
Whatever you're wearing (I do not want to know, thank you very much), if you're prepping a show -- any kind of show, talk or music or making weird noises for three hours -- All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics has the news items and kickers and bad jokes you need, all in one place, available by clicking here and at the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. And there's the Podcasting section at AllAccess.com/podcasts.
Full Disclosure: I have also been serving as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, a division of Legendary Pictures and Legendary Digital Networks, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities. There's gonna be some changes soon in that regard, but for now, the disclaimer is still active. How's that for a tease? (Not all that interesting, I know, but whatever.)
I will give remotes one thing, though: I did like getting out of the studio now and again, and remotes were an excuse for that. Maybe they made lousy radio and didn't help the stations' image, but everyone needs a change of scenery once in a while, even if it's just a change from the inside of a radio station to an empty parking lot at the dollar store. When you've been in one place too long, even asphalt looks good by comparison.