Radio Rehab: Fixing Spot Loads

Some of my readers have expressed an interest in learning information I have gleaned from my extensive contact with the next generation regarding their attitudes about terrestrial radio.

As many of you know I have been a professor at the University of Southern California for the past few years and intend to return to USC in the Fall for yet another year. I have said many times that my experience with the youth of the next generation has changed my outlook on all media including traditional but not excluding interactive.

Occasionally a reader of this blog will say to me "tell us something positive". Well, I can't promise positive but I can offer you what I have witnessed among the generation that radio let escape. And there's lots of positive news there.

From time to time, then, I am going to offer Radio Rehab on different topics. Again, don't look to this for concrete research, but you'll be able to gauge your strategies with what I'm witnessing and you be the judge. In other words, we report, you decide (oh, am I sorry I said it that way?).

This Radio Rehab is about fixing spot loads.

After three years of working with Gen Y, I can tell you that my impression is that they don't like radio. They don't like consolidation -- yes, I was surprised to find how much they knew about Clear Channel when I got to campus. I can't ever remember knowing anything about the owners of radio stations I liked at their age. They don't have a problem with radio being analog at all. It's the programming that they reject.

Yes, they listen. No, they don't like what they hear.

And now research shows they are listening less.

Remember, you are getting all of this through the filter of my own assessment which you can use or reject as you will.

One thing Gen Y thinks could have been fixed a long time ago is spot loads.

They don't think much of "Less Is More". Actually, they don't believe it sounds like fewer commercials. And they don't trust anything that comes from Clear Channel. (I hate to break your heart, but this is without my opinions pro or con of Clear Channel).

Here's the good news. I have yet to meet a student who wouldn't listen to some commercials on radio. So, Clear Channel's attempt at a commercial-free station that carries commercial drop-ins in Dallas would not be a winner as I understand them. They simply don't trust it, don't believe it and don't think they'd like a station whose jocks hawked things for sponsors dressed up as entertainment.

Radio commercials are stupid, according to many of Gen Y. If radio could make commercials less insulting and more useful, they wouldn't mind hearing some each hour -- we'll get into how many in a moment.

But you and I know how difficult it is to do local commercials that fit the format -- are you listening Google? National ads are not much better. They are understandably naive about how such horrible commercials wind up on the air, but I am quite adamant about my belief that if commercials spoke to the next generation, they would listen.

But how many?

Four to six spots an hour (they don't get into such trivia as to how long these commercials are because they still sound like commercials -- a ten, a 30, a 60 or whatever). When pushed, they would tolerate more in morning drive (only after I pleaded with them to consider that the station needs to pay their favorite morning personality). Some would accept eight spots an hour of varying lengths but they're reluctant.

However, there is a caveat -- an important caveat.

The Gen Y that I have come to know hates clustered commercials. Bill Drake, you were right. They want one commercial (any length) then music, then another commercial (any length) and then music. The music sweeps in between would work out just fine with them. Clustering to have longer sweeps is not only not necessary, but not desired. They hate clustering of commercials. You think they love it.

I should point out that some of you are going to point out that I must be talking about communications majors whose views are tainted and slanted. Fine, believe it if you like.

I am not.

These are students from every area of study from music industry, business, arts and engineering -- a cross section, if you will. True, they are college students so factor that in.

So how can you tell whether you're cooperating with the next generation?

If you lead, run or work for a radio station that is trying to get to eight minutes an hour, you're on the right track. And, of course you know that with less inventory you drive up prices -- a double win.

If you're working where long clusters are being broken up with the willingness to run one spot per stop set, then you are consistent with what the next generation as I have come to know them is requesting.

If you are doing what WBEB, Philadelphia owner Jerry Lee is doing -- testing spots on the Internet and helping to make them better, you are taking one small step for your audience and one giant leap for your advertisers.

With radio on the decline -- left alone in traditional broadcasting and having ignored the current generation -- there are things that can be done to make your programming more desirable. Remember, the good news is these young people don't hate radio because it is analog, but because it is irritating.

And the answer isn't "Less Is More".

When radio loses an attention deficit audience -- as radio has -- you've really gone too far. How can all that noise lose this generation? Well, I know you've done it.

So, to get on the love train again, consider addressing these issues. I'll have more for you in coming posts.

My program director friends know this generation is right. Had radio managers listened to some of these smart PDs, the spot load problem is one issue that would have been resolved a long time ago.

They get it.

Will consolidated management get it and have the courage to act -- that is, of course, if you share my belief that these observations are true.

If not, you'll discover too late that you missed the chance to make nice with a generation you've somehow managed to tick off.

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