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Tuesday, July 3, 2012
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Web Site Design & the Radio Industry

The first time we mentioned this subject at Audio Graphics was well over a decade ago. Call it runoff from educating myself in HTML (the software code used to create web pages).

My first observation remains the most apparent: "When a radio station builds a web site, its managers move from being broadcasters to publishers." If you want to get the full impact of being online, there needs to be an understanding of how a site visitor moves over a printed page. Colors, fonts, graphics, indexes, etc., are all elements of the print world which a radio industry executive needs to comprehend, prior to building a web site.

This observation is also apparent: Few persons are paying attention to esthetics in the radio industry.

"As you go through the 6 radio industry web sites, count how many times you see anything 'local' on a home page..." To understand, you first need to see web sites as they should be designed - simple, leading, with little that confuses. Simple, in that a web site should offer few choices on its home page. Leading comes from a structured layout, which "moves" a visitor through the site. The last item, confusion, is equitable to what someone who concentrates on delivering audio may consider a "tune-out."

It's not hard to show well done web sites. Pandora, Spotify, Tunein all stand out as internet destinations which don't let pizzazz get in the way of functionality. When you hit any of these pages you know there is but one goal, to listen to music.

Two top webcasters can also be shown as good examples of functional simplicity when it comes to delivering the online radio experience: and Digitally Imported properties (made up of,,, & ROCKRADIO.COM).

While coming close to being in the ballpark, (with its CBS Radio ownership) leans a little towards what you are about to see from most broadcasters. It loses simplicity in trying to squeeze too many items on its home page.

For a look at what not to do, I assembled 6 radio industry web sites from different groups. What's curious about those selected is that they were the first six web sites I randomly visited, from the "Alternative Radio Stations" page at RadioRow. I did no cherry-picking. I'll also attest, through my experience, that these represent "typical" radio station web site designs.

96.9 WRRV - Poughkeepsie, NY - Cumulus Media
89.x - Bingham Farms, MI - Bell Media
92.1 - Mobile, AL - Dot Com Plus, LLC
101x - Austin, TX - Emmis
99x - Estero, FL - Beasley Broadcasting
105.9 The X - Pittsburgh, PA - Clear Channel

I'm not going to spend much time on talking about what's wrong here or what's right with those web sites selected from the pureplay community of internet radio stations. As they say, a picture is worth ten thousand words. If you wish to learn anything, just click on each station mentioned and view what the broadcasters serve. If your eyes don't glaze over after just a few seconds on any of these, check your pulse.

I do want to highlight one element because the radio industry is so keen on speaking about it being "local." As you go through the 6 radio industry web sites, count how many times you see anything "local" on a home page - even a mention of that station's home town.

The "local" card, which is played with nearly every story read about the radio industry, is a facade that's easily demonstrated via the near absence of local mentions on these web sites. This is a problem that's standard practice when the radio industry goes online.

What is it that a radio station wants to accomplish when it sends its broadcast audience to its web site? If it is a return, unprompted visit, then what's displayed above offers nothing as incentive.

Simplicity, leading the user (as a tour guide does), and keeping the confusion factor low are objectives to generate repeat visits.

When you start to throw in the overabundance of self-promotion - as seen in the 6 station links above - it all unravels. The radio industry does little good for its users, listeners, and advertisers by following this strategy.

There can't be anything in the way of a radio station's web site visitor absorbing how to listen, or looking at an advertiser's message. This is why I urge you to go to each of these radio station web sites (pureplays and broadcasters). Compare them, and see why there's so much talk about people moving their online listening to pureplay operators.

At some point, the radio industry must understand that it's no longer a domination of frequencies that produces a winner. The visual aspect of radio is becoming a more important element, as audience and advertisers move online - where a station manager must be a publisher.

Radio industry execs need to comprehend that they are at a time when continuing down the old path is at their own risk.

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