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Have We Reversed Radio's Role?


Listeners used to set their day around the schedule on the radio. Now radio bases its day on the schedule of the listener. But are we doing things backward?

Yes, we need to give listeners what they want. Weve learned a lot about the habits of the listeners and have made smart adjustments to be more effective and efficient. But we need to do that in ways that lead them to come back to radio done right. Are we bending over backward when we shouldnt be, and letting the listeners lead our business away from doing things the right way?

Radio was always an appointment product, whether its News on the Fives, Top 3 at 10, Twofer Tuesday, or contests that had listeners sitting by the phone and dialing until their fingers were sore. Can that approach still work? I think it can and now more than ever, because now we know what, when, and how to do it with the greatest impact.

Weve spent hours laboring over the PPM clock, weve analyzed the listenership minute by minute, we can tear apart the research and know more about our listeners habits than wed ever imagined possible. And what have we learned? Listeners leave when we play commercials.

Wow, what a revelation! Is there anyone out there who didnt know that back in 73, 83, or 93? We didnt need PPM to tell us what we already knew.

So, after all that research, whats happened to the basics? The audience still wants the music, the talent, the promotions, and the contests, but were not giving them all those things anymore. And thats because we have talk confusion. Talent, promotions, and contests are all talk but they shouldnt be confused with commercials. If they are, we risk walking away from what the listeners want and expect from us. We do have to be creative, and make the content entertaining and interesting, but not lets eliminate three of the four reasons people listen to radio.

Unlike the music, the talent, promotions, and contests not only identify the station creatively, they can be the tools that drive the audience to the station, and with a real payoff for the listeners. That said, the talent has to deliver information that is respectful and warrants the listeners time. The promotions need to engage the listener and provide opportunities not available anywhere else. And the contests should be clever and provide product that the listener yearns for and gets a kick out of winning. Theres nothing better than winning a contest on a radio station; it hooks you and connects you to the station like nothing else.

Let the talent get creative with the live reads, endorsements, and servicing the advertiser. We know that stations with strong talent will yield stronger revenues. Talent persuade listeners to buy the advertisers product, and thats what advertisers really want. Why would we eliminate it?

We cant rely on the music alone not when three to five stations in each market are playing the same songs. And with so many outlets beyond radio to choose from, the music formats are saturated. Why not offer something that isnt offered anywhere else? If there are 10 bakeries on the same street and only one offers coffee, Im going to guess that the one offering coffee will have the most customers.

So lets reverse the flow and give the listeners what they really want. And thats music, talent, promotions, and contests a station they can build their day around.

Lisa Miller is the President of Miller Broadcast Management in Chicago. She's also one of Radio Ink's Most Influential Women in Radio. Miller can be reached at or 312-454-1111.

(9/5/2013 9:26:14 PM)
YiMeLc wow, awesome blog post. Really Great.

- NY
(3/8/2013 10:16:41 AM)
Oddly enough, station managers generally don't want on-air people to be on the air. They want them to be bloggers instead. Listeners are being driven away from stations' signals and toward stations' websites for even the most basic of information, such as community events announcements and school closings. If radio is dying, it's from self-inflicted wounds.

- Terry Etter
(3/4/2013 10:57:31 AM)
You're out of line, Kevin. (Just so's you know.) :)
Lisa is up against it, too. She, like other teachers and trainers, is given Spam and told to make Chateaubriand - for two.

- Ronald T. Robinson
(3/4/2013 8:01:07 AM)
I agree with one thing on commercials...they are, in many cases, truly becoming not listenable. Copy that is given me is anywhere from :05 to :10 seconds too long routinely...which forces me to read every spot rapid fire, take out breaths, time squeeze...and it's all the same trite, overused crap. Can't we go back to having real copy specialists for spots...if we can't have more air talent?

- Kevin Fodor
(3/4/2013 12:47:22 AM)
While I have no argument with Lisa's admonition to let the talent be creative etc., I have to wonder: What talent? Where? When? How?

Would this be the talent that is V/T'ed across numerous stations? Would this be the talent that was hired for a buck and a quarter an hour to replace the seasoned pro? Will this be happening at both ends of a 40-minute sweep?

The practice of generating huge piles of commercial garbage and dumping it in the same location might require some attention.

Making the commercials actually listenable would be a first step. That is, presuming people can be found who could do that sort of thing.

Unfortunately, Lisa is stuck in the same bind as everybody else - she is obliged to work with the traditions, material and people provided.

- Ronald T. Robinson

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