Let’s fix the radio or at least fix what we can

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(By Mike McVay) There’s a constant harping within the industry that we need to “fix the radio” and we need to do it fast. The answer is usually “we can’t afford to make the necessary changes”. This line prompts a discussion about the length of commercial breaks. No one has the courage to take short-term financial losses for long-term gains. Local and private owners have the best opportunity to bear this pain. Public companies will not post more losses than they post or diminish the gains they anticipate.

The most common reported failure is that the radio plays too many commercials. This is a point that is indisputable. It’s also not a guaranteed “fix” for radio. If your content (music or spoken word) is poor, you have little or no air talent, your audio quality seems subpar, and your competitors sound significantly better than your radio station, running fewer ads won’t save you. It just means we hear more about your weaknesses.

We need to focus on the people who use the radio the most. It is the “low-hanging fruit” for radio. Whether it’s your research or a listener advisory panel, respondents must be radio users, as they are the ones who will participate in an evaluation survey. They didn’t give up radio as their first choice. A radio listener can and will react to what is on the air. To convert a non-radio listener or bring a listener back from outside, you will need to have a product that is significantly better than your non-radio competitors and you need to market the stations’ advantages or uniqueness.

My intention in the future is to satisfy today’s radio listeners first. Stop erosion. Build time spent listening. Create word of mouth. I think it is on these three objectives that we must focus our attention. My intention for podcasters is different. The focus should be on appealing to specific podcast episodes in a crowded, noisy world.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t strive to improve the radio listening experience. To do this, we need to run fewer ads. We need to have better produced ads that employ high quality production, that’s important too. Create an image for your station that reinforces your brand and presents a sense of whimsy. Excellent imagery makes a station memorable. Pay attention to your digital feed so that there are no ads and cut songs. Make sure your online automation doesn’t show the same advertisements or PSAs over and over or back to back.

Be part of the community in which you find yourself. Focus on what’s important to people in your market and reflect their causes, concerns, interests, and activities. Track trends in your local community and incorporate them into the content you curate. If being local is an advantage, then talk about neighborhoods, local sports teams that include school sports, advertise community festivals, and own big events in your community. The advantage of radio over everything else is local connectivity and the frequency with which you reach your community.

We’ve known for a long time that if a personality can create a loyal following, it makes the station more resistant to competitors who want to outrank your station. Entertaining personalities can and should be taken into account for all slices of the day. Talent that has built a following is the one thing your competitors, including those on other platforms like satellite and DSPs, can’t easily beat. They need to disrupt your lineup to get your followers’ attention. Recognize that on-air personalities are important to sales. Endorsements move products, sell services, expand customer base, and bring warmth or depth to an advertiser’s product that is otherwise lost without talent embracing it.

Respond to the question; Why are you known as a radio station. Being at the top is important if you want to score in the leaderboards, but it’s also important to win in the court of public opinion. The most visible radio station, provided you have good content, creates word of mouth. Word of mouth is still the #1 way consumers learn anything. It may have started with marketing, but when people see this marketing and tell someone about it, it spreads quickly. The radio has a better current image with listeners while it is tarnished beyond reality with advertisers. Being everywhere and being seen everywhere makes up for the image deficit of the media. Being better on air and motivating an audience to engage with an advertiser solves many radio problems.

If you really want to “fix the radio” fast… start by focusing on those who listen to the radio and super serve them. It’s a heavy burden to try to create a new audience by attracting non-radio users. This is where you focus once the audience erosion has stopped. The radio won’t be fixed with this lens, but it’s a start. We have to start somewhere.

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