It's no secret that a high degree of copying goes on within the radio industry. Over the years we've seen this time-and-again:
if something works, multiple stations begin replicating it. There is usually a minor change in the mirrored format so the copier can claim they've "improved" the original concept. But we all know that what works in Des Moines soon ends up in Decatur, Youngstown, Austin, Tampa, and Seattle.
The sports talk format is a good example; only minor adjustments between stations separate what I call "content config."
My qualifications on commenting here is that I was on the management team that put the nation's 4th sports talker on the air in 1990. We didn't have a clue about how to approach the format - fact is, everyone was laughing at us. But, with persistence in attempting new things and not being afraid of failing when trying "new," WKNR in Cleveland became the highest ranked sports talker in the nation for four consecutive years (Arbitron).
"The rock format is now either all music or music with banter around sex, getting high, and identifying hot moms."
Many of the sports talk stations celebrating the format's 25th anniversary this year still use what we pioneered - like rock music as bumpers. Music was an integral part of the format, required because we knew that peeling away fringe listeners of other formats was key in expanding our sports audience. Here's a promo that demonstrates how we worked music into sports (yours truly supplying creative, vocals and production).
Rock is another format that's had a run, though it's not holding up as strong as sports talk for a few reasons. 1) "Rock" has a variety of formats splintering the audience (alternative, modern, classic, etc.) whereas "Sports" is sports. 2) The generation beholding rock stations is not as tied to radio because - being youthful and male dominant - more listeners evaporate into new media from the rock format than others. 3) Rock stations also have, for the most part, dwindled to being not much more than a double entendre, innuendo haven.
Besides the loss of air personalities that created the "rock jock" persona, rock radio lost attachment to its communities. Time was when nearly any youth-targeted bar had banners supporting local rock station(s). Those same stations would host afternoon concerts in the park, or listener appreciation nights at clubs. And there was more on-air conversation about who made up the music groups, with no talk on how big the breasts are on the Cougar that the host wants to tap. (I once heard the female co-host on a local rock station take a couple of minutes to describe how she goes to the bathroom.)
No doubt, testosterone runs strong in a rock station's audience. We seem, though, to have taken that concept to an extreme in on-air conversation and for what appears at rock station web sites. Many of the latter are disguised soft-porn.
Just a couple of suggestions on what's needed to give relevance to rock radio again. Consider this a "how to" for drawing males back from their smartphones and laptops.
1) Talk on-air about those smartphones and laptops. There's a plethora of topics:
technical issues, interesting web sites, new tech tidbits, gaming, etc. Young males are inquisitive and tech smart. Feed them information to help get more out of those dumb boxes we call smartphones and laptops, and you'll draw a following.
2) Cars are cool. Not everyone is in the market to own one, but they all are interested in what's under the hood. The joy of seeing pictures of finely detailed rides is something that will not change for males, and talent can talk on-air about what's posted on your station's web site.
3) On the flip side of owning a car are Zipcars, vehicles you rent for getting from point A to point B. This concept fits in with millennials' desires to not buy into their parents' ideals of materialism. Updates on this whole lifestyle
would fit fine with any rock radio station. Here's a great read on this.
4) New music rules. Sure familiar tunes still rank, but a rock-n-roll lover loves to find new music. For this you may rely on what the labels push your way, or uncover your own new acts online. End goal is to establish your station as a place for discovery. (There are many online services like my own RRadioMusic.com
, which introduce new acts to programmers.)
5) Speak sports. There's no reason a rock jock cannot discuss sports. The relationship between rock and sports talk is the reason we ran rock-n-roll bumpers at WKNR in 1991. The then-popular "techno sound" didn't make good sports background music.
The rock format is now either all music or music with banter around sex, getting high, and identifying hot moms. It's a rare day when I hear content containing something outside of these topics on Cleveland's few rock stations. Listening to surrounding towns, I find mostly voice-tracked snarkiness.
Maybe it's time to pull back on the large variety of rock formats by offering wider music diversity within only a few - say, classic rock, rock, and hard rock formats. Sans sex talk and snide snippets on dope, delivering substantially more programming that cater to this audience's love of music would help. (If you don't assume youth operate strictly off testosterone-based motives, then I won't claim an absence of it.)
Rock stations should be a center post of information that supports the rock lifestyle. For this we need people behind the mic who communicate.
Pushing the envelope on idiocy and then having the staff laugh incessantly is getting old. We've given this approach enough time, and it's resulted in nothing more than pushing young males to online content in numbers greater than other demos.
It's time rock radio rolls into these new times.