RADIO: Lessons From "The History of Rock 'n Roll"

Over the Memorial Day weekend my wife listens to terrestrial radio for the only time of the year.

CBS-owned KOOL-FM in Phoenix cues up the Bill Drake-narrated rockumentary that many of us have heard in various forms from the very first edition over 30 years ago. And many of us as program directors have aired "The History" just as CBS was doing -- to make money over the three-day weekend and to keep listeners listening longer.

Tuesday morning, my wife returned to listening to Sirius satellite stations. I don't detect any great love for their programming on her part. The main advantage: it's installed in the car and there are no commercials.

But that's it.

She's not wild about the satellite jocks. Says it sounds too much like "radio". Heck, she turned to "The History of Rock 'n Roll" again this year commercials and all.
What's going on?

It's good content at work.

Shows like "The History of Rock 'n Roll" are few and far between. But they are riveting when well done and this one is, of course, polished after all those years. It points out one of the key issues that program directors are not able to address when they work for clueless owners -- that their stations must create compelling content that will keep listeners listening.

This, by the way, is a specialty of terrestrial radio which is why it hurts so many programmers and content-wise managers who are being forced to cut costs instead of invest in great programming.

I, along with many of you, programmed weekends differently from weekdays. The weekends were special. Listeners used radio differently then. Sunday nights were different than any other night of the week and many PDs invented niche programming from doo-wop to Dr. Demento to satisfy that need.

That's only one of my problems with radio programming. I'm still not wild about what happens during the weekdays.

And how many djs sound like clones of "Cousin Brucie" even if they don't know who he is and probably never heard him?

And stupidity out of the mouth of "pukers" who for some reason fail to understand that at least the next generation can't relate to them. If the disc jockeys reflect the audience, I don't know who terrestrial radio jocks think they are relating to.

Radio thinks its problem is too many commercials or too many iPods or too much Internet and too many cellphones. Yes, that too!

But "The History of Rock 'n Roll" proves to me again that if you record and revise it, they will listen. It -- along with other special shows -- gives your listeners some substance, some creativity.

As they say, the fish stinks from the head. So until the owners empower their managers to invest in programming that is compelling, you can even implant a chip in your listeners heads and they won't listen.

When I programmed WIBG in Philadelphia, one of our listeners came in to see me. He lived close to the towers where we also had our studios (Lafayette Hill, PA, outside of Philadelphia). He was complaining to me that he had a head injury in World War II and had a metal plate in his head. He said he couldn't turn our station off and was convinced that the plate and his close proximity to WIBG's towers was why he really did get our "All Hits All The Time" format all the time!

How do I say this delicately? I must admit the thought went through my mind that I wished all my listeners had metal plates in their heads. You're right, I'm a bad person for having that thought.

I never forgot this listener with the metal plate in his head.

When I program, I always think what if your listeners couldn't help but listen 24/7 -- would they love it or hate it?

There are only a handful of stations today that I personally wouldn't mind hearing all the time. I'm afraid if everyone was like the gentleman from Philly, with today's radio stations, surgeons would be busy doing a lot of brain surgery to remove metal plates from their heads.

Lesson: content is compelling on any medium -- Internet, podcasts, DVDs -- anywhere.

Get back into the content business and do yourself a favor.

As incredible as it may seem, we're not far from being "wired" for audio directly to our brain.

Will radio still be doing Cousin Brucie imitations then or compelling content that listeners will crave all the time?