My Students Program Your Radio Stations

I know. I know.

You have a hard time believing that college students -- in this case my students at USC -- can tell you anything you don't already know about programming your stations for them.

In that case, you should stop reading. Scroll down to some other stories you may have missed or page over to a traditional radio trade publication and read how good radio really is and how important HD radio is to attracting the next generation and how everything will be just fine.

On the other hand, if you're one of my thoughtful readers in a position to influence a troubled radio station, I'd like to offer the advice the next generation asked me to pass along to you. You may not like it, but remember, this is a generation that doesn't have the close affinity to radio that we have. They live in a digital, on-demand world so they are very different.

I'm generalizing, but on target, when I say this generation hates radio. Believe it or not, they don't hate it because it's analog. They hate it because its stupid to them. They have so many better choices. And swallow your bitter medicine -- the radio industry let them get away easily while we were consolidating.

Having said all that, I received no shortage of suggestions from these young people. They seem to think you'll never listen to what they're saying. And I agree. I know you won't. After all, what do they know about programming your radio station.

Well, if you have an open mind and because you're still with me so far, read on.

To the next generation, content is everything. They feel you are loose with your content. That it is nothing special and it's repetitive. They are used to choices. You are used to pairing down playlists. That's not going to cut it.

So, let's look at what my students would do if they could program your stations:
  1. Add production values. You're too bland. You've run one sweeper too many. One sound effect more than they can stand that is supposed to pass for production. Please sit so you don't hurt yourself. Many of them love Radio Disney -- the same station radio people make fun of. They love the production values and to get a college student to point to a kids radio station as something good gets my attention. Did it get yours?
  2. Better talent. We are the industry that slobbered all over virtual voice tracking when Clear Channel tried it. What were we thinking? Local jocks are bad not just in the small markets where you might expect less polish, but in the major markets. Satellite radio, are you listening, too? The jocks who play the music are not really jocks, they are what we used to call board ops before computers.
  3. Intelligent jokes. This is not a bunch of college students looking for egghead humor. They just want something less moronic than what your putting over the airwaves. They would put jocks on the air with a better sense of humor. Find out what they mean by "better sense of humor".
  4. Jocks that speak locally to them. Local is a big deal. They have social networks online and are big into communities. Radio may want to sound national, but my evidence is that Gen Y wants to feel like the station is local. Consultant Mike Joseph, as all of you old timers remember, was an early adopter of throwing in the names of towns in the listening area to make his stations seem more local. This generation demands more.
  5. DJs who are fans. Isn't that an interesting way to put it? I've typed it exactly as it was said to me. This generation craves on air personalities who love the music, the bands, the venues, the sports. They like to hear djs who have knowledge about the music. They're not into put down artists. And while we're at it, read the next one.
  6. Less arrogant djs. You fail in this category. As one student told me, I wouldn't pick a radio dj to be my friend. Why? They sound arrogant. Gen Y doesn't understand what radio djs are so arrogant about because these listeners are laughing at them and then turning them off.
  7. Unique content you can't get elsewhere. If its something that can be done online, then why listen to radio? So they're telling you that a good rule of thumb is to create content that can't be created by anyone other than your station and then it has great appeal. If Big Boy at Power 106 in Los Angeles can bring Jay-Z in for an in depth on-air visit, then podcast it, then it is something that begins to take on some uniqueness. If you got your PDs together to brainstorm about unique content, you'd make progress with this group. Maybe this will drive it home exactly as it was told to me: Gen Y expects from you "something you can't get on an iPod".
  8. 8 commercials an hour. See, you're starting to say, "these kids don't understand". Yes, they do! In the end they will continue to leave you if you continue to run as many spots as you do. They're telling you something you should know. Pressure your inventory. USAirways pulled a larger A-319 Airbus off the LA to Phoenix run that I make weekly and substituted a small, cramped regional jet. Now they sell out both planes that leave within ten minutes of each other and if it weren't for low priced competition from Southwest, they'd be able to raise the prices. But they fly full. And you can run full and not lose the audience if you run 8 spots an hour. Oh, and don't cluster them.
  9. Run one commercial then get back to the music. Bill Drake was right. All the geniuses that said cluster the spots and run longer music sweeps -- they don't like it.
  10. Experiment with one sponsor per hour. Hell, the nightly network news shows are trying this. Sell the hour for what you'd make from 8 spots and don't run 8 spots. You can run some. You can run a mention or two. How is this "Less Is More" not the other one?
  11. Live reads. They didn't know the term but they know the concept. Save your production for other things. They like it when djs talk to them directly (not recorded). Live. You know what they're saying.
  12. Special request hours. My students want you to do what WCBS-FM Program Joe McCoy did for 20 years in New York -- tie a new ribbon on the same music everyone else has. This is one way.
Okay, so you're still with me. Not arguing that this generation doesn't know what they're talking about. Or these kids are crazy, we can't make money like this. Or, they're naive.

In other words, you're intrigued. You're challenged.

What's a radio person to do now?

Get to work.

The next generation spreads the word virally in their online world. Because word travels fast with this crowd, start winning these listeners back one by one and who knows?

Maybe your audience growth in this neglected but important demographic will become exponential.