Viral Radio

CBS Radio was at it again in Phoenix over the hot Labor Day weekend in the Valley of the Sun.

Oldies KOOL-FM (or more politically correct, Classic Hits) dusted off the 30 year History of Rock and Roll narrated by Bill Drake and made a marathon out of the three-day holiday.

KOOL-FM has a history of utilizing the History at least once per summer, it seems. This year, they've run it on two long holiday weekends.

Many of you have heard me wax eloquent about how outstanding this type of thing is, but now I'd like to expand upon it. Provide a little more meaning, if I can.

The History of Rock rolls on (as the old promo used to say) because it is quality programming that listeners (in this case oldies fans) crave. They can't get enough of it.

I am still floored by the viral nature of The History of Rock and Roll.

I don't remember seeing CBS up its ad budget to promote it here in Phoenix. Yet, it was on everywhere -- everywhere. That's how I heard about it. You couldn't avoid The History of Rock and Roll over Labor Day. The Hi-Health store on Scottsdale Road even switched from satellite radio for the first time in my memory.

Retail establishments that don't play music were turning up the History. And when I questioned the workers they happily knew what it was and what station was playing it.

Word spreads quickly.

For the next generation, when word spreads quickly it does so on the Internet and it is known as viral marketing.

But radio was the original viral marketer before the Internet except it used to be called word of mouth.

There has been precious few things about radio for listeners to spread by word of mouth besides how radio sucks, all the commercials that are on, djs that sound like morons and even how radio was ravaged by consolidation. Clear Channel is not just an inbred radio industry dirty secret. There's lots of press out in the public about radio consolidators.

Certainly, The History of Rock and Roll alone is not the answer to radio's ills.

As with record labels (pushing CDs instead of downloads), radio is programming in a place (the terrestrial signal) where listeners no longer reside (they're online and mobile).

But here's what is significant:

1. Radio stations should recognize that they must play to their base -- the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who are still frequenting the radio dial. They are often passionate about radio.

2. Quality programming such as the History of Rock and Roll honed and polished over the years is not what cost-conscious syndicators and radio groups tend to invest in. But they need to spend more on demographic-specific special programming. In radio, special programming is a Motown Monday or a double shot Thursday -- cheap and uneventful. That's nice, but it won't get viral marketing (I mean word of mouth) to kick in.

3. Rerun quality programming again and again. No one can hear it all and even if they do, it's still great the second and third time or in the case of The History of Rock and Roll -- the 30 plus years later. I programmed the History back in Philadelphia and it worked then as now.

4. Watch Dan Mason (CBS Radio President). He makes no apologies in programming to the available audience. Let that inspire you because I'm telling you right now CBS' Les Moonves is going to look like a genius over the next year when it comes to his radio division.

5. At the same time radio reengages its base, it needs to start new online and mobile businesses (I try to emphasize the importance of this in my daily writing). It's not just streaming, it's podcasting and mobile content. Without this, radio will be a nice little free cash flow business while terrestrial listeners stay tuned, but nonetheless a business without the next generation and therefore without a future.

6. Pray for the People Meter. If Phoenix was live with PPM this past Labor Day weekend, KOOL-FM, already a top tier station, would really blow the top off the market. The People Meter is your friend. Even if you can't get over whatever agenda (rightfully or wrongly) you have with Arbitron, get over it. PPM is eventually going to give terrestrial radio full credit every time it super serves its audience.

Keeping all this in mind, it's time for radio operators to turn their creative people loose.

Take off the shackles.

Let them take six months or a year to produce special programming not available elsewhere (i.e., on satellite, online, on TV, etc).

Actually give them a real budget.

Dan Mason is doing it. Follow his lead.

Be realistic. Terrestrial radio can only go so far without the next generation, but the strategy outlined above is a good way to keep the older listeners radio has so dearly earned while it has time to learn about the wants and needs of a new generation that will not likely listen to a radio.

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