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(PROGRAMMING)How to Keep Radio Competitive


As EVP Programming at Sirius Satellite Radio, part of my job was to figure out how to beat local radio. Since leaving, I find myself thinking about ways local radio can compete, not just with my old employer but with the likes of Pandora and other new media. Much has been said about the direction radio is taking to combat the above, lower revenues, and succeed with PPM measurement. My observation is that in markets below the top few, (let's use 1 to 19 as an example) we will soon find two very distinct philosophies. Network or hyper-local.

Let me start by saying that networking works. I've employed Howard Stern in Orlando and Los Angeles and he won morning drive in each. At Sirius, I again saw the enormous draw this fantastically talented radio personality and his staff had on transforming our business. On the talk side, we’ve seen tremendous success from many syndicated stars. Before Top 40, most radio stations carried network programs from  ABC, CBS, NBC, and in my home town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, The Yankee Network (not the baseball team, although they were there too). I see no reason why Ryan Seacrest or Spider Harrison  would not work in most markets, and in fact they are already successful in many.

This is, however, not the only way to skin the cat. There is a second way. It's called local radio!  The over-the-air execution is not new. Find on-air personalities who are entertaining and willing to learn and work in and for the community. Put someone in charge who can hone their talents and pay attention to detail. For music stations, personalities must know everything about the music and artists they play, and truly be passionate about their job. They also need to know the music and artists that are being played at successful clubs in the market and what groups locals watch on YouTube. If programming management is really connected, they will also sparingly add appropriate local music to the format.

Personalities need to be in constant contact with their local audience through tweets, Facebook,  and the station website, as well as in clubs and at social events. These are exciting  tools that we have and should be using daily. It's easy to find out if you are tweeting and using your website correctly.  Station production also needs to always reflect the local community and the station's image in same. The station should invest in a good production director and writer who can reflect the local market and image of the station. These people not only help the on-air sound, but are also vital  to the sales effort.  

Station operators' eyes are now rolling as they read this, thinking, "What about the cost, what about my bottom line, is this guy nuts??" Well, if the debt service is too high and your company is just surviving, maybe. But, as my old boss Mel Karmazin said recently, "Terrestrial radio is becoming more of an easy target because it lacks investment in programming and technology." No kick in the teeth here, for many companies this is just the truth.

Repeating the recipe for great local success: 
-- Good signal
-- Update equipment including traffic systems, Web, phone apps
-- Local personalities who are entertaining, care, and are willing to work hard
-- Good coaching
-- Production person
-- Writer
-- Internet and social media training and personnel
-- Constant review of the above
Despite the downturn in advertising and an abundance of wringing hands that goes with insecurity, I think this is one of the most exciting times to be in the audio business. Radio signals are still very worthwhile investments. Executed correctly, using the basics that made radio work in the first place, combined with the acceptance and utilization of our new tools, radio's future remains robust.

Reach out to Jay about his thoughts via e-mail at

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