22/01/2022 By RuneLite
A belated Happy National Radio Day to you all! I enjoyed your pictures and memories across all of social media. Some of you shared photos in rinky dink studios from their past, others shared photos with former co-hosts, and then there were some of you that shared memories from your time in an entirely different format all together. They were all great, and it was fun to learn a little more about you and this business’s past.
But now that photo sharing and back slapping is in the rearview mirror, we need to focus on the future. Every year someone is predicting the demise of broadcast radio. Every year we point out that said prediction is wrong, but there are plenty of stations, companies, and talents that are stuck. That makes them vulnerable.
In the media business, if you are not evolving, you are dying. A powerful stick, a spot on the FM dial, and strong talent can still take a station far, but consumption patterns were changing long before anyone knew the words “Covid-19” and since they have become something we say daily, most of what we thought we could count on has been turned on its ear.
So with that in mind, and with the desire to see future National Radio Days celebrated with smiles as opposed to blank, melancholy stares into the void, I started making a list. What can stations do and what can leaders in the industry prioritize in order to see radio continuing to succeed in the next decade?
Here are ten suggestions.
1. INVEST IN THE BOTTOM
Of course you want to maximize the success of your biggest properties and stars. That is how you maximize profits. But in order for this business to remain healthy, you have to lay the ground work for the future.
Invest some of your time in educating and helping the part-timers improve. Make sure your producers know how to book guests and can command the talents’ respect so that they can truly steer a ship. This is how a ratings win can turn into prolonged dominance.
2. OFFER CONTINUING SALES EDUCATION
Jeff Caves has opened my eyes to all the things I didn’t know about the sales side of the radio business. One thing that has become clear in reading his work is that too often, young sellers are hired and thrown into the fire, told to figure it out. While there is a certain amount of the sales game that just has to be learned on the job, no one should be left flying blind. A great manager knows that an employee that learns more can earn more, so give your earners every opportunity to learn!
3. MAKE YOUR STATION UNAVOIDABLE
Across this industry, marketing budgets are either shrinking or they are a thing of the past entirely. There are so many options for consuming our content now. Marketing is more important than ever. Does that mean old school billboards? Does it mean creating audiograms and paying for a social push? Does it mean guerrilla campaigns like slapping stickers on light poles around town? Yes. Anything you can think of and can afford is on the table.
4. BE CRITICAL OF YOUR PLAY BY PLAY POSITION
Play-by-play is expensive. We are talking about price tags in the tens of millions depending on the team and league. For some markets and stations, that price can be right. There is tremendous value for KFAN in being the home of the Vikings in Minneapolis and for WEEI being home to the Red Sox in Boston.
In a lot of markets though, the asking price is not based on reality. If you’re in Charlotte, does it make sense to spend big money to carry the Panthers, a team that still sells more tickets to fans of the away team than its own fans in some weeks? Does it make sense to shell out a single dime to carry the Florida Panthers if no one is going to the games? Sometimes, the smarter use of that money is investing in the day-to-day on air product.
5. SELL STUFF
I have written about this before. We swim in a pool of fanaticism. It isn’t just our P1s and their dedication to our stations. It is all listeners and their devotion to the local teams. Take advantage of that like WFAN does in its store. Sell some t-shirts, koozies, stickers, and other stuff with the kind of images and messages that fans will support but teams don’t sell.
6. DITCH WHAT DOESN’T MATTER
Every station in a college football-crazy market counts down its own preseason top 25. Every station in an NFL market previews every team in the 32 days before the first game kicks off. Why? Maybe gambling has changed the equation a little bit, but these segments always feel like an ego stroke to me. I lived in Birmingham long enough to know that the overwhelming majority of listeners there do not care if Wisconsin is #17 in your preseason poll. If you’re going to talk about it for ten minutes, that is ten minutes they are tuning out, because you aren’t talking about the SEC. Let the networks preview the nation. As a local host, it is the local audience that matters most. That is who you have to serve.
7. QUIT HOMOGENIZING EVERY STATION
Is your station owned by Audacy? Is it safe to assume your imaging is a lot of jingles? Is your station an ESPN affiliate? I’ll bet every penny I have that it is called “ESPN (insert frequency and/or name of market here)”. Is your station owned by Cumulus? I’ll go ahead and assume that your logo works in elements of either the CBS Sports logo or the one for The Ticket in Dallas.
When a major corporation owns a whole lot of sports stations, it makes sense that there is a standard ownership wants to see each of those stations live up to. When that standard beats all of the local identity out of a brand though, you don’t have a standard, you have a cookie cutter. The push back is that listeners aren’t familiar with brands in other markets, and that is true, but your talent is. Your programmer is. Sucking creativity out of a creative field guarantees a substandard product.
8. BROADEN YOUR TALENT SEARCHES
There will always be room for seasoned pros in sports radio. Talking for somewhere between ten and fifteen minutes is not easy. Neither is having a conversation for the entertainment of someone outside of the conversation. If you are only listening to demos and looking at a list of stations on resumes when you have an opening to fill, you are excluding a lot of qualified candidates.
YouTube, podcasts, and apps like Greenroom have made it possible for people to work on their craft and in same cases, build real followings. The next time you have an opening, ask for resumes and demos, but check these platforms too and see if you can find a future sports radio star that is just waiting to be discovered.
9. STOP OPERATING LIKE A SERIES OF SILOS
There are some very successful stations that have fostered an environment of competition inside its own studio. That is fine. If it works for them, then let it keep working. More often than not though, it is smarter to follow the advice of Minnesota’s PJ Fleck and get everyone rowing the boat in the same direction.
Cross talk, repurposing audio and using hosts from other day parts in guest segments can open up the station’s entire world to listeners that only tune in during the same time window every day. Remember, consumption patterns and habits have changed. Just because someone isn’t near a radio during the mid day doesn’t mean they wouldn’t download a podcast later.
10. REMEMBER THAT THERE ARE NO RULES
If all of the pictures from National Radio Day make anything clear, it is that we are in a cool business that used see plenty hosts and stations forge their own path. We can point fingers at what corporate ownership has done to the business all day long, but in a lot of cases, it is laziness and complacency that has set in and convinced otherwise talented content creators that there show has to sound a certain way or the station has to do certain things to sound legitimate.
Why? This isn’t a format that was built by analytics or by playing it safe. People thought Jeff Smulyan was nuts when he and his partners flipped the switch on WFAN in the 80s, but look at where the format is now. Every step forward we have made has started with someone saying “well, why can’t I do it this way?”.