Oprah Winfrey, Radio Consultant

I love Oprah Winfrey and I’m not even a woman – at least that’s what my wife keeps telling me.

What I like about Oprah is not so much the topics that are frequently but not always aimed at her largely female TV audience, but her showmanship – her show’s production values, the quality, the creativity.

So it got me to thinking.

What if Oprah Winfrey consulted radio stations?

Well, first she’ll get paid little to nothing by these Ebenezers running today’s radio groups and worse yet if she helped them improve their stations, she probably wouldn’t get her contract renewed. Hey, this is radio – home of the cost-cutting hits.

Let’s give Oprah a chance anyway. And let’s let her dispense with having to have dinner with the general manager and hold his or her hand as part of her consultancy.

And let’s turn her loose on the Christmas radio format that more and more stations are adopting each year in advance of the holidays because they a) get ratings and b) serve as a decoy for a major format change for some stations after the holidays.

I can see Oprah arriving at WXXX in Anytown, USA perhaps with her longtime friend Gayle King. They’re driving from Chicago in a Lexus. Oprah is rich enough to buy the automaker but she owns only one Lexus for the purpose of this discussion.

Now to deal with Christmas radio which I call Ho Ho Hum radio.

Broadcasters typically vet their Christmas playlists. They cut their sweepers and make up all the positioners that their listeners are likely to ignore. They get their holiday commercials ready to roll with all those jingle bells in them and you’ve got a format that could easily run without people.

Heavens to Mergatroid – what have I said! Don't get any ideas.

Oprah comes in and says, “folks, let’s make this time of year a compelling time to listen to WXXX. Let’s entertain the audience. Add surprises and richness”.

Surprises to corporate probably means pink slips in their employees mailboxes while the pretty Christmas music is playing.

Now, Oprah’s game plan:

1. Put people on every shift. Hey, Oprah is used to spending money to make money. Cut her some slack. Three to four hour shifts and real live breathing people who actually live in Anytown, USA.

2. Check the playlist once or twice and try to find out which songs are naughty or nice. That is, if you’re going to play White Christmas constantly play it by different artists.

3. Give stuff away. When I worked for Paul Drew, he used a Drake-inspired chestnut known as “Christmas Wish” where listeners would write in to make their Christmas wish and the station would grant them – on the phone, on tape with a nice stinger jingle at the end. Oprah is the queen of giveaways. Her "My Favorite Things" Christmas show is renown. She gives away her favorite things to everybody in the audience. So while even Clear Channel can’t afford to give away prizes to everyone – how about the first 99 callers. Or, a trip overseas to meet a military loved one on special leave (pick up the phone and call the Department of Defense). Hear the story of the mother who can’t find that Christmas toy that WXXX can find and give it away. You know, Christmas – a time of giving. Give stuff away. Do the work – don’t just play music. Satellite radio does that.

4. Tie those giveaways in with sponsors – now you like this idea better, don’t you? Get the car dealer to give away a six-pack of cars in return for promotional consideration. Why do you think a refrigerator manufacturer gave Oprah a fridge for everyone in her audience last week. Manufacturers would do anything for the publicity Oprah brings.

5. Even small, inexpensive but interesting gifts should be included – a book. The new Amazon Kindle (portable reader priced at $399) to go along with it. A gift every hour. Sponsors will line up unless you let your sales manager whore the season out to sponsors. You wouldn’t do that, would you?

6. A Christmas day that’s special – turn on the radio, leave it on and give the listeners a word an hour to use on January 1st to redeem it for something neat and something of value.

7. Make the first week of the new year special to carry along the feeling that your listeners will want to stay close to your station because it is alive, unpredictable and damn enjoyable.

Okay, so I don’t know if Oprah would do these things. I’m just Oprah in drag for my loyal readers today. But I have a feeling you get the idea.

No one has asked me to breathe life into their stations, but if they did, I would tell them to get their key people in a room and bombard them with stimulation that would unleash their creativity. In other words, inspire the people you have to do something special.

If you want radio that available listeners will be addicted to, you’ve got to be addicted to making it in-the-moment, unpredictable, intriguing and worthwhile no matter what your target demographics are.

If you do, you will also be giving a very valuable Christmas present to yourself – a happy new year with lots of listeners and local revenue.

If not, enjoy your low-cost Christmas music format. For many stations listeners will be gone shortly after the music is and a great opportunity will be missed to do something more lasting.

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