Radio Waves: 1/31/20

How radio can re-make itself into relevancy again

I didn’t realize there was such a thing as “iHeart apologists.” After destroying radio as we know it and having not one but two record-setting layoffs — most recently last week — I didn’t think they wold have any supporters at all. But the ink had barely dried on last week’s column when the comments started coming in.

Don’t blame consolidation (which brought the likes of iHeart). Consolidation saved many stations. Today’s realities. Young people don’t listen anyway. Yada yada yada.

The truth is, Clear Channel/iHeart, Cumulus and Entercom are what created the mess radio finds itself in today. Without those very companies devaluing content and cutting costs exactly where they should not have been cut, the radio industry created low expectations from both listeners and advertisers alike, to the point where we find ourselves now: Mass firings, devalued properties, small markets with no live in-studio personalities. 

To be clear: I believe radio will not succeed until iHeart, Cumulus and Entercom are gone, and rules are in place to prevent others from growing so large as to create the essential-monopoly powers that the big-three enjoy … the powers that dragged down everyone, not just themselves.

But that’s not what this week’s column is about. This week is my take on what stations can do to make radio more viable. And I truly think that any station can do these things. The focus this week: positives!

So what does radio need to do? Job one is to promote itself. For an advertising-based and promotions-based industry, it amazes me that radio stations do such a lousy job promoting themselves. Sure, most have websites, but unless you’re already a listener, a website is meaningless. So what to do?

• Get out in to the community. Send a station van or reps to events all over the city. Visit colleges and high schools. Special events. Host events if needed. Tie in with hip local businesses. Independent coffee shops. Sponsor a high school play or athletic event. Make a presence at First Thursday San Pedro. Let people know who you are and what you do. Let your reps and DJs mingle with the public. It’s cheap, and a guaranteed way to increase your station’s presence.

• The average person doesn’t win big prizes, and such contests don’t necessarily lead to increased listenership. But while you’re out in the community, pass out something special with your station logo on it. I still use the Mark and Brian toothpaste tube pusher I got years ago advertising KLOS (95.5 FM) to this day … if your station appeals to a college-age crowd, pass out simple things students can use, all with your logo on them… bookmarks, phone chargers, stickers for their laptop computers. Think outside the box – real estate agents know how to do this.

• If you have the budget – advertise. Movie theater preview times, bus benches, Facebook, Instagram, newspapers, cable TV. Make the ads quick and hip, something that attracts attention.

• Want to get the audience that has left radio for online services? Why are you just letting them go? Visit high schools and colleges to get your name out, but don’t stop there. Ask students what they listen to. Get ideas for new music and new programming. Find out the music and bands that they are listening to on Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud … why aren’t you playing them? Why do listeners need to go go on line to hear new music? Shouldn’t your station be the place to hear the latest?

• Instead of having someone running the board playing nothing hut music all night or on weekends, hire a college kid or even a high school kid or two or three to do it. You don’t think they’ll get their friends to listen? You’re crazy.

• Embrace advertising. Stop telling your own listeners to tune out when an advertisement comes on. All music mornings? Dump them. They cheapen your station, doing exactly opposite of what you want. Make sure your ads are entertaining, minimize advertisements per hour (no more than eight minutes)and per break (no more than two), and you’ll go a long way toward pushing ad rates to the area they should be. The only reason ad rates plummeted was greed, playing up to 20 units or more per hour and as many as 10-15 in a break … who would listen through that? Advertisers realized you didn’t care, so they stopped paying the higher rates.

• Constantly evolve. KRTH (101.1 FM) has remained relevant playing oldies precisely because they don’t play the same oldies they played in 1972. Or 1978. Or 2018. I hate too mention them because they ARE an Entercom station,  but they are programmed superbly and have remained a top-rated station for years. And it’s a reminder that I detest the parent companies, not the individual stations… 

• You can’t afford big name talent? Train your up and coming talent and then let them run wild within the constraints of the format you run. How many times has a station earned its best ratings just before a format change? That’s due to restraints being dropped. Time to let that happen before you have to change.

Basically, don’t live in the past, but use what worked in the past to guide you to what will work today. Radio has the potential to be vibrant and relevant to everyone, including those who have never even hit an AM or FM button. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s everywhere. Stop pushing listeners away. Make it exciting, and different. Spotify is boring … your station should be better.

There’s. more, but I’m out of space. Hopefully this will open a dialog… What are your thoughts?