Relaxed FCC regulations, consolidation, and creative financing have placed traditional radio at peril. This final installment of a three part series will attempt to provide some solutions for revitalization.
Road to Recovery
The first place to start is with the sound of the stations. Enough with syndication, put local faces on the brand. Syndication has been successful because listeners have not had many options. Other answers to the problems include experienced programmers, training talent, guiding existing personalities, a balance between sales and programming needs, sharpening station presentation, resurrecting the creative production position, refocusing on the importance of music, and a return to individualized station thought; competition breeds creative adrenaline. One more thing, discontinue the trend of one individual programming multiple formats; it kills competitive juices and self-accomplishment.
Jock Presentation and Music Flow
Regardless of rating services, market size, or Portable People Meter methodology, the backbone of contemporary music radio has always been music flow and presentation. Personalities need to sharpen their skills, return to entertaining in a concise manner without getting in the way of a song. What can be said in a paragraph can be said in one or two sentences. Morning listeners require more moments of talk time, however, the presentation should still be word efficient.
All jocks have the ability; it takes show prep, practice, and discipline. The forefathers of the modern day music format demanded concise entertainment from its announcers. It is about the personality becoming a companion to the listener and the music, making everything sound exciting and raising expectations.
Formats need to adjust to the musical needs of the majority of Generation X. People get older and bring their music tastes with them. President elect Barack Obama is typical of his generation; he likes Rock, R&B, and Hip-Hop.
Prior to consolidation, visionary programmers would have probably already updated formats instead of dealing with ownership financial worries. Stations better do something to hold the 25-54 year old listeners; free radio is still part of their audio choices. The Y Generation has a different set of issues that could be addressed through a merge of technologies.
Traditional radio web sites are the next place to start; the majority are cookie cutter sites negotiated through third parties in exchange for commercial airtime. Companies that contracted for such deals usually use dated templates to build the site, serve as web host administrator, and utilize independent contractors to maintain the site. Other than someone in promotions or a designate affiliated with programming, stations do not have control of their web properties.
Another problem, similar to many on-air presentations, is that most sites currently have too much clutter. It is good to see radio operators grasp Internet radio streaming and podcasting, but most do not fully comprehend actual consumer desires in these areas. Stations use the new portals to mirror their transmitted on-air content, music, contesting, music videos (some local artists), concert announcements, community service, station events, requests, and podcasts.
Stations are correct in theory, but wrong in application. Consumers want to be involved in the new media world. Radio needs to look at itself as a social network community, consisting of the traditional station and the web with various social platform applications.
It is time for a new way of thinking, using the new media with fresh content to brand traditional radio. For the younger X and the entire Y Generation, instead of regurgitating the radio station, program the on-line station to reflect the actual tastes of the consumers. Forget the formulas. Monitor the web downloads, scour My Space and You Tube, and hire the Y Generation to be the personalities.
To handle programming, rehire experienced PD’s; knowing the rules makes it easier to break them. However, while the new revolution is going on, put a tab on the site for the traditional radio signal; there will sampling.
Treat the on-line station as an underground cool thing, like the early days of FM back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Expand the musical format boundaries and realize music is the driving force. It is job of the air personality to highlight, energize, and add something special to each moment. This approach would fit right in with I-Pods and MP3 cell phones used by the Y Generation. Such a move could increase station value, brand name recognition, and open new doors for advertising. Something else of importance: on-line stations should not mirror the long commercial breaks of traditional radio.
Solution: Social Networking
In addition to overhauling the traditional and on-line stations, radio web sites should also become hosts for blogs, Vblogs, podcasts, streaming video, custom personal music selection, and chat rooms. Set up a You Tube-like situation and allow users to post videos. The Y audience and younger X’s want to participant and are interactive with new media. The emphasis will be branding the traditional station name and becoming a media hub for consumers.
It is going to cost money to make the changes, but it will demonstrate growth potential. These adjustments need to be made within the next three years. In 2007, The Clear Channel radio group began a social networking experiment in twelve of its markets, but as of yet, not much has been said about the progress of the plan.
CBS Radio and New Media
Through an alliance, CBS, Yahoo, and AOL have combined forces to take the lead in old and new media social networking. CBS will place Yahoo’s LAUNCHcast on its existing AOL platform, Last FM. This will combine Internet and music-focused social network sites. In addition to LAUNCHcast’s 150 channels, CBS will also add many of its traditional properties into the mix. That’s not all; CBS will takeover ad sales for all Launchcast stations, combining with its current roster of around 400, which includes AOL-owned stations. Advertisers will be able to buy across all three owners or separately. Hopefully, news like this will encourage others towards a new direction.
MP3 downloadable players for cell phones could turn out to be an asset, not a threat to radio. In fact, Mysimbook.com has developed a software program for Apple iPhone users, “Radiolicious”. The cell user can stream audio and web content from any station signed to the service at no cost to the iPhone user. This unites the Internet, traditional radio, and social networking with the cell phone. Stations are categorized by genre and location, making it easy for users to find the stations and add them to their “Favorites” list. Subscribers can also access Internet-only audio streams, share music with friends, and buy songs directly from iTunes while using the player.
There are several mobile companies with similar technologies preparing to make cell phones a one-stop shop for new media. Radio is being offered another opportunity to inject original programming with the Y Generation lifestyle. Traditional broadcasters can ill afford to utilize the technology by merely making existing radio available via a new delivery system.
In Portable People Meter Markets, stations are provided encoders for the Internet; the embedded code IDs the owner of the site and not the content. Therefore, combining the old and new media could potentially help ratings; for Arbitron or Nielsen measured markets, it would be smart marketing and great for business. For sales purposes, advertising agencies will always need a way to measure the product, regardless of who conducts the measurement; this proactive approach will be more in line with a growing new media.
The First Resurrection
In the early 50’s, television was the new media king and radio faced extinction. Two owners, Gordon McLendon and Todd Storz are credited with giving birth to Top 40 and music formatting. Then in the 60’s, Bill Drake and Gene Chenault took things one step further with “Boss Radio” – a format dedicated to making the music the star, highlighted by personalities taught to entertain in a concise up-tempo manner without clutter. Along the way came more innovators: Rick Sklar, Paul Drew, Mike Joseph, Buzz Bennett, Sonny Joe White, Ken Dowe, Lee Abrams, Jerry Clifton, Jim Randolph, Ron Jacobs, Jack McCoy, Jerry Boulding, Jim Maddox, and Bob Pittman.
Traditional radio is a part of old media, accustom to controlling the outflow of entertainment and information. There lies the problem; consumers are involved in new media. They contribute, participate, and set the tone for public opinion. Radio must revolutionize its playbook and use this approach to begin a rebirth. Think in terms of one unit and inter-linking the two related media worlds. Old media is proud of what it required to become a part of an elite club, the apprenticeship of hard knocks and years of field experience. Today, anyone with a computer can communicate and shape thoughts of others.
The answer for old media to flourish again is easy: let go of the control and retool the model. Many owners, vice presidents, and general managers are under the delusion that all radio people are created equal. Therefore, working down to a price and not up to a standard has become the norm. Only innovation and vision can re-invent the radio industry.