Fixing Radio; a continuing series …
Radio is still among the most popular of all available media, dwarfing the on-line services as far as reach and even beating television for overall reach. So what is causing revenue to stay far below what it should be, considering how far the economy has come since the drop in 2008?
My personal belief is that today’s young-buck programmers and executives don’t have history on their sides … indeed, they seem to shun history, forgetting that what worked in the past will probably work today, as long as it is updated to match the modern audience. Yet often programmers seem ignorant of the elements of good radio.
You probably have your own ideas, and I’d like to know what you think as well. Here are some examples of what may sound like good ideas, but ultimately are not … ideas intended to help but actually hurt a station’s success:
• Long music sweeps. This sounds like a great idea: keep a listener looked for 45 minutes and then run the commercials as a block. Ratings soar and advertisers and the station win. The reality: long sweeps of music force a station to group commercials together, so that the typical commercial break ends up as long as 10 minutes … or more. No one will listen through that, so listeners change stations or tune out completely. Advertisements are thus worth less and stations must give price breaks to advertisers, lowering revenue.
Solution: Limit sweeps to three or four songs, with a maximum of 20 minutes. Commercial breaks should be limited to no more than three (two is better) ads. Listeners won’t tune out, commercials are actually heard, and both stations and advertisers win.
• Music marathons. Music sweeps on steroids. Many stations run 18 minutes of commercials per hour … you think taking two hours or more of prime time and forcing those potential ads into other hours helps? Really? In the end, stations lose out on revenue, advertisers lose the ability to market products and services, and listeners lose out too.
Solution: Only run sweeps when — and this should never happen if your sales staff is worth anything — you truly have no ads to run. Ratings mean nothing if you can’t capitalize on potential revenue from advertisers.
• Thinking advertisements are bad. Yes, there are bad advertisements. But advertising in general should be considered a service and a positive part of your programming. I myself had windows installed on my house due to an ad I heard on KFI (640 AM). I had such a positive experience I have recommended the company to others and used them again for another project. I never would have found them without the help of KFI.
Solution: Embrace ads. Consider them a service to your listeners. But don’t abuse them: make sure the quality of the ad is as high — including its entertainment value — as is the rest of your programming. Never run more than three at a time. And never run ads for competing products or services in the same set.
• Accepting bad commercials. Yes, revenue is important. But just as the fictional WKRP in Cincinnati ended up dropping a very lucrative campaign for a funeral home, you cannot run ads that are tune-outs. No station should ever run ads from “Kars for Kids,” for example. Guaranteed tune out.
Solution: Your program director should have final say for everything that airs on the station. Don’t let the sales staff dictate what makes it on the air. And make sure your PD is good enough to know the difference between good and bad.
• Running too many commercials. It’s easy to think more ads bring in more revenue, but in fact the opposite is true. In their heydays, both KHJ (930 AM) and KIIS-FM (102.7 FM) set revenue records while limiting ads run per hour. The rule for KHJ in the 1960s was eight minutes maximum per hour and no more than TWO commercials per break. KIIS-FM limited ads as well when they almost single-handedly brought top-40 back from the brink of death in the 1980s … then set ratings records.
Solution: Just limit the ads. Fewer ads per hour makes each ad worth more. Far more than the loss per spot with more ads. Advertisers want to be heard. They will pay if you can guarantee it.
• Sponsoring everything. If you follow the above, your revenue has already increased. Having everything sponsored (“traffic brought to you by,” “weather presented by,” etc) just makes you sound cheap. Plus those quick mentions register as normal commercials to listeners.
Solution: Realize you are broadcasting in the public service. Some things should be considered as the cost of running the business. News, traffic and weather are but three.
• Forgetting what makes radio great. It is obvious that just playing music is what will keep listeners tuned in. Problem is, I can find music on my phone. Or on Spotify. Or on SiriusXM. Radio has to give listeners a reason to tune in.
Solution: Stop selling your listeners short. People want to be informed; some of the best, award-winning newscasts came from music radio stations: KHJ, KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM), and even the original KDAY (now KBLA, 1580 AM). Information tailored to listeners is a reason to tune in, not tune out. As long as it is entertaining, they will listen.
• Clutter. Many stations have dropped jingles, as jingles are old fashioned. In their place are highly-produced segments that are so full of clutter that they are actually annoying.
Solution: Programmers need to listen to their own stations; so often what may sound great in the production room sounds horrendous on the air, especially if it is repeated often. And while jingles may seem old fashioned, one thing they have is they work. Is there anyone who grew up in Los Angeles who cannot sing the jungle for “93-KHJ?” “Kiss-FM?” Or even “A little bit of heaven, 94 point seven, KMET … tweedle-dee?”
Even if you shun jingles, your on-air presentation cannot be cluttered. Presentation is everything. Your station needs to be relevant to your listeners; stop giving them a reason to find other entertainment sources.
The preceding programming tips come from the heart.
The notice at the late-Richard Irwin’s reelradio.com is promising: “Please stand by. Reelradio will return. Thank you for your patience and continuing support.”
The radio recording museum has been down since just before Irwin’s death, and many had hoped that his legacy would live on. I have no details right now but hope to in the near future.