Monday, November 24, 2008

Opportunities Ahead #2

Be Special: In our overcooked quest to be consistent and drill ourselves into the audience's brains, because ratings were mostly about un-aided recall, we've fallen into a very repetitive format drill.

--The breaks happen at the same calculated time every hour.

--We do 9 or 10 or 30 minutes of music every hour.

--The jock format is backsell, liner, billboard all the time - of course we open with the calls and positioning and the game is how many time can we drill it down without sounding way too obvious. Why listen - you know what they are going to say and we also nearly always know that a long SPOT set is next so let's just move on and ignore the jocks.

--Every hour is the same - you can almost smell the current tracks coming or the power 70s song in the mix.

--And it's the same day after day - week after week.

It's no wonder we can just 'hard drive' it and no one even notices.

Why does every hour and every day have to be the same?

If the new Guns and Roses is out today can't we break it up and throw in a few phones or play it a bit more than we would normally?

If it's Halloween can't we fire up some theme music around it, maybe drop in a 'haunted house' backdrop over the breaks, have the audience talk about their costumes and parties?

If AC/DC or even Seether is in town why not celebrate with some special music sets, maybe catch the band after the sound check or if you can't get that set just invite the audience to get fired up for the show on the air.

Nothing special today? Make it up - rewind back to the 90s for a 3 pack every hour and a little history of the era and maybe a few bands that we all remember but don't test in power anymore.

Yes, we all know the dangers of trying to spend a whole day with a one-hit wonder band or digging too deep into the music, but do we have to take that all the way to being so predictable and boring?

I bet if you could do a 'vulcan mind meld' with the audience you'd find that many of their complaints of being too repetitious and the same music 'over and over' are more directed at our formatics than they are at our playlist.

When we do research in Rock radio one of the highest testing features is nearly always Two For Tuesday. It's a day when the whole stations sounds different with 2 songs from every artist and one that we've done since the late 70s. We really don't know if it has killer numbers in the ratings with the diary system and so many filling it out 2 days later, but I bet when we start breaking out PPM numbers in markets where the feature runs you will see Tuesday is worth something.

The key is not to get too cute here or get too far from playing big artists and making sure the big hits are always close at hand.

It also doesn't always have to be music driven or filled with talk. You could use your imaging to have fun and entertain also. How about a 'quick movie clip' day dropping a few quick 10 sec movie audio - you could also have the audience guess and win a DVD or movie pass (movie Monday?).

Just remember that if you promote it for a few days and make it memorable on the air you don't need to do it for 5 years in the same repetitive manner to make it work.

Surprise them and you will entertain them. Be consistent to a fault and you will just be predictable and boring.

The problem we face in programming is that we've built this overly consistent and predictable system and now it's the norm and the rule. Our desire not to 'screw' it up and turn everything into a formula has closed more doors that it's opened. It's also produced an operation that is so easy for a computer to duplicate. Yes it keeps the meters humming on the transmitter, but does it make a warm spot in the audience's head? On top of that you don't need the annoying staff with their expenses, health care, and needs for a little extra every year on your back.

I the new world anyone with a stream can do the more music format and now you can also sort of do it on your Ipod, and let's not forget personalized streams like Slacker. Why does the audience really us? If you are just hitting F10 on Selector and firing the log off to the log interface why should we listen?

For many stations it may be too late as the budgets have already hit the wall and digging out the resources to find the time and effort to make a station that really entertains could be too big a mountain to climb. But, the opportunity to build a truly special station in your market has never been more open than it is today. The good news is that we still have a strong reach and considerable cumes to work with. Let's use them before they dry up.

Mix it up, make it special and make sure they know about it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Opportunities Ahead #1

Be Local: No doubt the biggest opportunity for radio is that it's LOCAL. While most of the new media, cable networks, broadcast networks and nearly all the web is national or even world wide most of the audience's world lies in their local area. We all know this, but in the end we do little to capitalize on it.

We used to at least cover the local news, but now that is even in the backseat or not on the air at all for many stations. Much of our programming has become networked through syndication and our music playlists are tailored to national trends. It's resulted in one of the biggest complaints we get about terrestrial radio - it's the same everywhere.

Even if you have syndicated personalities like Bob and Tom you can work to make them at least seem local. Working them into your local segments through production, making them part of your promotions and imaging with a hometown spin can help. But, you have to back up that morning show with strong local personalities in the other dayparts.

You also have to give your local talent the room and coaching to build a local presence. If all they do is read the positioning, backsell a song, ramble through a liner and billboard you might as well voice track it from another market.

The key to making it happen is in designing the station to have room for the talent shine. Then you have to back it up with careful coaching and making sure they are well prepared for every opportunity. They also have to build themselves into the community both on and off air.

The stations I work with that do the best job in building their personalities into local fixtures put a lot of effort into working with the talent. Most of the PDs meet nearly daily with every jock and take 15 minutes to see what they are building into their shows. The staff knows what is the most important thing in the audience's world and also what is the most important thing going on at the station that day. These are the basic building blocks to making their show pop.

Spending 45 minutes with the other dayparts (outside of mornings) most days is a simple task and one that clearly pays off.

You also have lots of avenues to be local in your imaging and promotions. How many times do we jump on an AC/DC concert in another market and forget to look for ways to make it local? While the prize may be in Chicago why can't there be a local angle to doing it in Madison?

We also have to make sure we are present at as many local events as possible. Entertaining the local audience in our backyard has to be a top priority.

Being local is really central to all the next 3 or 4 opportunities we'll cover in this series, that's why it's FIRST ON THE LIST. Make it your top priority and you will have the foundation for a new world for radio as the biggest and perhaps the last local media in your community.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Opportunity Lies Ahead

As the buzz of the election winds down it's time to act. Obviously Obama has a very long list, but so does our world. Some may look at all that's ahead and just get depressed. Others will see the opportunity to march boldly into a whole new world that's filled with fresh potential. Right now the environment reminds me of an old lyric from CSNY's Deja Vu - 'the darkest hour is just before the dawn.'

Obama's team summed it up with a great 1 word positioning statement - CHANGE. Hillary and later McCain wandered through the positioning statement of the week - Maverick, Country First, Experience and on and on. Obviously the election became a huge win and now we await action on all the dream, hopes and promises.

In our Radio world there has also been lots of talk about change, but is there any action? Are we seeking new opportunities or just cutting back in every direction trying to save the the month or quarter?

The opportunities are really pretty obvious and Next Week I'll tackle the 4 big ones that lie ahead.