The Radio Fire Sale

It’s getting desperate out there.

KWLI in Denver reportedly heard its local Sales Manager go on the air and beg for new advertisers. Listen here.

It’s not the first time that radio stations have done ads to attract local retailers as advertisers – just an inappropriate way, in my opinion. The intentions were no doubt good. You can't blame the station for trying.

Even Sirius Satellite Radio is running ads (on it’s so-called “non-commercial” music stations) aimed at shareholders trying to convince them of the importance of returning their proxies to approve the merger with XM. Maybe you should call it a promo. Radio people see a distinction between promos and commercials. Listeners don't.

I can remember doing the Drake Top 40 format under legendary PD Paul Drew in Philly. Two curious elements of the format deserve some discussion.

One, that the word radio never be uttered on-the-air.

Second, that pitching for advertising on-air was not allowed.

First, the word radio.

Drew reminded the jocks that we were “The Big 99” not a radio station. Anyone could be a radio station, but only we could be “The Big 99”. The same was true of other very successful Drake-formatted stations – the solution for clutter 40 years ago.

I would never mess with the “chief”. If Paul Drew said don’t say radio, I’m there. And I had no problem with not pitching retailers on-air for business. In fact, I was proud not to be a salesman while I am trying to entertain and inform. Nothing personal but sales people sell and talent entertains. If someone on the air is going to sell, the sponsor should pay them to do it.

Years later as a PD I followed the same rules often getting into verbal fist fights with sleazy sales managers (we had them then in those days -- one I worked with earned the nickname "The Snake" -- guess why?). Sales people are pros today -- and they should be. But pitching spots as entertainment is an act of desperation.

Radio is an industry that is dying from self-inflicted wounds. It's true a new generation has left for the digital frontier but radio stations obsessed with consolidation made it awfully easy for them to leave.

As I reported recently when my students reminded me that NPR was not “radio” (meaning it was far and away better), it reminded me that the radio spectrum is a delivery system. We seem to confuse the delivery system for content today.

In TV, the networks want to be YouTube so badly. They want to deliver content and collect fees. They’d be better off being HBO and concentrate on content.

Radio is holding a fire sale.

Buy ads. We’ll prostitute our prices. Just buy.

Make the programming better (i.e., invest in it -- don't just cut back) and cut the spot load to a lower number -- whatever number makes you money and gets you a reasonable rate.

As in real life, the consumer wants to make the choice to buy. They don't like to be sold.

Radio would be wiser to give listeners and advertisers something they choose to buy rather than something that is constantly being sold to them.

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