Fall in Love With the Future

Radio is still the biggest entertainment value around.

Even though, a few weeks ago, I posted this piece about what TV understands better than radio … the truth is that people still keep using radio in huge numbers.  It’s incredibly easy to access, and offers near-instant gratification when you turn it on.  When it’s done right, that is!

Over time, radio has stayed strong and vital by being flexible.  Over the last several years, I’ve heard a number of people mourn and regret this change or that change that radio has gone through.  Yet, we … as an industry … are still attracting lots of listeners, and getting them to come back for repeat listening occasions … meaning we’re doing something right.

When TV first came on the scene, radio had to change in huge ways.  There were plenty of actors, actresses, singers, comedians and studio orchestra musicians whose jobs went away and never came back.  I wasn’t around at the time, but I’ll bet there was plenty of talk  from those displaced workers.  Lots of them probably felt that radio was dying, and would not be successful until it found its way back to being what it used to be.

Meanwhile, a new way of doing radio cropped up that fit perfectly for the new baby boom generation.

When the cable revolution hit TV, it affected radio, too.  Lots of music that radio stations wouldn’t touch suddenly found itself on MTV, and then on CHR stations.  I was new in radio at the time, and remember how this change gave fresh life to struggling CHRs … and also caused huge problems for rock stations, many of whom went on playing songs that they thought “fit” … but that most people didn’t want to hear.

At the same time, the new spate of narrow-niche cable channels helped pave the way for more narrow, focused radio formats, too.

Now, we’re in a position where digital options are all around us, and radio has acted with less flexibility towards these options than before.  Many of us see Pandora, and get angry ’cause “that’s NOT radio,” and they’ll never be live and local.  Or, we feel stymied because our HD stations spend years attracting zero attention, when other new ways to enjoy music get all the love.  We only have ourselves to blame, because we’ve looked to the past to determine how we should act in the future.

Because it’s important to me to not become one of those coulda-woulda-shoulda blogs, let me offer a couple of thoughts.  Like it or not, we are in a mode where large corporations own and operate most of the radio stations.  We are surrounded by digital competitors, and it’s not getting any easier.   Our staffs have gotten smaller and we are working hard to do lots and lots and lots of things that we feel we need to.

The truth?  People love meaningful new choices.  And radio always works best when it fits with how people live.

Here are the most helpful tips I know for folks who are working in day-to-day radio:

1.  Stay focused on your target.  Who are they?  What are they like?  Throw off the old myths of what you think they’re doing, and look at what their lives are like … and how you fit into their lives.  Serve that need.  That’s a big call.  Find small ways to make your brand better every day in ways you can control.

2.  Also, stay focused on your brand.  What are you known for?  If you boil it down to just a few words, what are you famous for?  Once you know that … why the hell are you doing all the other stuff that’s distracting you from being an awesome, pure, focused, clear, lovable brand?  Go talk about that stuff and start to solve it, little piece by little piece by little piece.

3.  Stay strong and vital by being flexible.  Generations of radio people before us didn’t re-invent themselves by focusing on what they had always done.  You’ve got new options to serve your target by staying true to your brand instead of staying true to the past.  Because I consult on ways to make your digital “stuff” more tied to your basic brand, of course I look at those options.

You don’t have thousands of listeners coming back again and again because you have a transmitter.  They don’t come back because you have DJs, promotions, traffic on the 8’s, or long sets of continuous music.  They come back again because you make them feel a certain way.  Reliably.  There are probably things you could do with your website, your emails, and your social media that would make people come back and listen some more.

They also don’t come back because you have a transmitter.  However, having a transmitter and digital tools is a powerful combination.  It’s a 1+1=5 combination that pure web-based businesses don’t have.  Knock, knock, knock … are you listening, radio?

4.  Make big changes by taking small steps towards them day after day after day.  That’s also a way to make yourself feel good at work.  Resolve to do one small-to-medium sized thing every day to make your brand a better 21st century brand.

Don’t fall in love with the old tools you have lying around.  Fall in love with your future.

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