Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Different Wavelengths

I don't regret choosing radio for a career. Because of the path I took, I've been able to buy a nice house, marry a shockingly normal, baggage-free wife and have several close friends. It's all someone at my age can realistically hope for. I just wished that radio liked being radio. If there's one positive to be taken from today's terrestrial radio, it's that it gives other businesses a blueprint for what not to do when competition encroaches. What radio has done is de-emphasize it's strengths to focus on tertiary aspects that it can't pull off nearly as well.

Exhibit A: As iPods rose in prominence, radio's response was to pump up the music. More commercial-free music sweeps. Don't be fooled by that. Sure the number of "stops for spots" per hours at many stations was cut from three to two. It's just that the number of spots run during each break increased. Few things are more frustrating than sitting through a lengthy commercial break only to hear a song you hate. I've always given radio first crack at my ear, but if my three primary stations don't give me something like, I'm quickly on to my own music and radio will not get me back for the rest of my trip. More music doesn't work. I know what I like. I don't have to depend on radio to play my favorite songs anymore.

Exhibit B: Radio now seems to emphasize going to the station website more than actually keeping you listening. Imagine going to a store and the clerk tells you that to get the information or product you  need, you can go to their website. Radio does this all the time. Instead of giving the listener all the information they need about an artist, concert, or contest, that listener is constantly told to go to the website for more information. Because really, what business hasn't succeeded with the motto, "Always Give Your Customer More To Do"? By the time the listener gets to their destination, the thought of going to the station website to look up "Thousand Dollar Thursdays" has long been replaced by work and/or home demands

What radio has de-emphasized is personality. Less is more, we've been told. DJ talk is a tune out. Well, so is playing a long burned-out song and a commercial featuring the local nutty car dealer. Yet radio management would never dream of changing that approach. People once listened to radio for music, but since music is more omnipresent than ever, something else has to hook them in. The radio stations that make the most money aren't the ones that play the most music, they're the ones that have the biggest personalities. It's really that simple.

Of course, if you have successful personalities they're going to want (gasp!) more money. And there's the rub. Radio is successfully killing off personality to save money and the result has been a near death knell for the entire industry. Listeners tune out the approach. Corporate tunes out the solution.

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