News From Audio Graphics:
How to Fix a Broken Radio
It's been a nasty couple of days for execs in the radio business. Friday, RAB issued its report on radio revenue: "Total combined local and national ad sales for the month declined 1% over August of 2003." Monday morning, Radio and Records readers opened this headline: "Analyst Shows Pessimism For Radio In 2005."
Don't need to go over the details, although something is said when you see a 5% drop in national buys. The world is changing and radio has been going in the other direction. It's time radio groups admit they pulled back too far and need to start investing in some of the elements that make radio a great community glue, that draw listeners in instead of forcing tune out.
1) Get back to news. The essence of a community is what it has happening locally. We don't find this out on radio anymore. With the exception of a newstalk station, how many (stations) in your town offer a newscast during the day?
2) Get back to public service. This is an extension of news, done free, for groups in your town that don't have an ad budget but do have substantial numbers of people in them. Speak about the happenings of one, and you receive their loyalty. Public service doesn't need to take up much time, but programming shouldn't be nearly void of it.
3) Creative - "Theater of the Mind" is radio's lost legacy. It was stated here, in 1999: "How often, in the last twenty-four hours have you had an image planted in your mind by any of your town's radio stations? We don't do that very well anymore!" This applies to commercials and programming.
4) Hire those talented folks who are now on the beach. In the past few years thousands of radio pros were let go as the industry consolidated. Most were the experienced, more expensive professionals who know how to create programming and commercials that keep an audience. Now Sirius and XM Satellite radio are hiring them, and word is getting out.
5) Decrease profit margin. It's been a wild ride for investors; they've made a lot of money off of cutbacks in the industry. Only they've dismantled it in the process.
6) Play more new music. You don't have to expand a playlist by hundreds of songs to accomplish this. But you should take advantage of the thousands of quality artists who have something to offer, instead of concentrating on a few labels with the bucks to buy airtime.
7) Train account reps to be media consultants. To date, most radio sales people know how to sell a :60 or :30 hole. How to best use that time is not something they are proficient in. The just announced "Clear Channel Radio Creative Resource Group" is a good start.
8) Stop the promotions. Not totally, but hearing about a station event every time the music stops has jaded the listener. They have to deal with too many sales pitches and want a friend who shows them what's cool discretely. Constantly pounding the audience with station promotions only reduces the ability to bond with it.
9) Let stations compete within a group. There is no competition anymore. Some stations within a group are given programming that other stations deserve, merely to shore up an audience. Let the staffs from each do head-to-head battle with others in their group, and make it a known fact to the staff. Give something to fight for.
10) Start mentioning high schools again. Want to train tomorrow's audience? Get them in the door today. Radio has all but abandoned teenagers. In turn, teenagers have abandoned radio.
There's nothing worse than to have the leaders of an industry not acknowledge when they are in trouble - that's exactly what we've been treated to by RAB. Regardless of what Wall Street says, RAB President Gary Fries always points to the positive (as minute as it is). Here's his response to the latest drop in revenue: "In breaking down the various markets we are seeing some very encouraging results." How about addressing the not-so-encouraging results?
Five and six-hour airshifts are too long; talents are brain-dead by the time the shift is over.
Five or six stations are too many to program. There's a reason why, long ago, programmers only controlled one station. Assembly line production doesn't create quality. How can you expect it to? Finally, give a radio station a voice: Commentaries by general managers on issues of the day let the audience know where you stand. (Think how far this would have gone had some questioned our rush to war with Iraq?)
Until the above is addressed, radio has problems.
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