As We Shape Our Tools Our Tools Shape Us
September 13, 2011
Deferred Gratification Still Works
Now that fall's here, it's time to adjust. Remember, there are people who still visit friends and relatives especially on the weekends. Because of this, you potentially have lots of people who could cume your station on a regular basis. Your job as the PD is to try to get focused on the new guys in town. They come for a few days and then leave. They go to your competition or maybe they just go away and start listening to other devices. The same is true of your Internet listeners, although if you can get enough to move the needle, that could work for you.
As we shape our tools, our tools will shape us. When you stop to think that if you're streaming, you could be listened to from across the globe, it does alter your perspective. It allows hometown fans to keep in tune with their favorite station when they're away.
The problem is that these hometown fans listening from afar don't get diaries or meters. Often there are other factors which you can't control, but which affect the temperament of the listeners. Traffic is worse, gas is through the roof and now they can't get into their favorite restaurant or tickets to your summer jam ceremonies because they're sold out or all taken up for dignitaries. You need to find a way to get them to feel good about your station, so when you give them tickets to a sold-out event -- and the only way to get them is to win them from your station -- that's a type of deferred gratification that works.
This fall, it's important for an Urban AC station to try to be as mass-appeal as possible. That means playing some young-end songs and finding the adult party songs. That may also mean playing some rap songs that fit.
Now, let's talk about the tools that can transfer those fickle fingers to your frequency. You know the Generation Y'ers and Generation Jones are growing up with digital tools, so certain things are second nature to them: cell phones, instant messaging and text messaging. We have to recognize that the tools people use to listen to us are dictating how they will spend their time.
Today it's all about connection and convenience. You have to understand that mindset of the people who are using those tools in order to succeed. Remember, digital media permits listeners now to actually become their own broadcasters -- and they can do it for nearly nothing in many cases. With social media, blogs and podcasts, listeners can create their own audience and even advertising systems with Google and other tools. Today's listeners can listen more not only to other stations in the market, but to a whole array of alternatives. And they all basically present continuous music of their choosing -- without human involvement.
Successful Urban stations have always had that element of involvement with the music and "hipness." Why remove the one thing that sets us apart from the other format-similar stations? Fortunately, most listeners still come to one station to find out what's new so they can keep up -- to know what new songs and artists to download.
Urban is a format ... an arrangement of elements, a presentation philosophy. It's more than a music style. Time after time, consultants and other radio "experts" (these aliens from another format) confuse music with programming philosophy and try to tell Urban PDs that the format the way they're doing it is no longer viable. That's so they can convince management they have all the answers.
But for many of these guys who can't even clap on the beat, what they fail to understand is that Urban radio's prerequisites are relevancy, topicality and correctness. If your station's involved with what's happening right now, that can be viable. Well-run Urban station plans have always included several basic elements: repetition of the most popular current songs, the perception of being knowledgeable about the artists and songs, high-profile community involvement, a highly identifiable delivery, direct listener participation and fun.
Generation Y'ers and Joneses are the real targets of deferred gratification simply because they want instant gratification. They will wait or defer ... but not for too long. You have to hone in on them as a target audience not only with the music, but also with the promotions and the technical air sound.
Too many stations are schizophrenic. They go from hot Urban AC in the daytime to super-youth-driven at night.
When done properly, Urban radio offers variety, recognizes trends, samples them early, sticks with them as long as they're viable, then moves on. Some of us have forgotten what winning Urban formats really are. We've tried to redefine it when it needs no redefinition. We simply need to refocus on it
As an industry, radio will figure out the next several steps we're about to go through -- and the advertising community and Wall Street will follow suit. During that process, Urban radio runs the risk of catching the same cold that general-market radio caught and we don't deserve the germs. Urban radio has the potential to grow exponentially. But as we grow and shape our tools, our tools will shape us.
Although we may experience some growth, there are some who still perceive Urban radio to be very one-dimensional and less sexy than the new media. They see us as being behind the curve of innovation. So what's the answer? Quit complaining about what you don't have. Work with what you've got. Remember, access to assets is not as important as the will to implement.