Terrestrial Radio Game Changers

By Jerry Del Colliano

Yesterday I wrote about the coming of flash drives and factory installed hard drives in automobiles as yet another threat to the radio and record industries.

I asked at the end of my piece (scroll down to read it, if you like) -- game over? To which I answered - game changer.

So, let's build upon this latest "opportunity" disguised as more bad news to see if we can come up with a list of action steps that might be helpful.

1. Try not to confuse terrestrial radio with new media. Terrestrial radio was damn good for many years and, although it has suffered from corporate budget cutting and lack of leadership, could be a very good free cash flow business for another five to ten years. But terrestrial radio is not a growth industry. It can't be because there is no next generation to keep it growing. Radio took its eyes off of Gen Y while it consolidated and many technological and sociological factors changed everything. So rule one, in my opinion, is to separate terrestrial radio for existing and available audiences from new media that broadcasters will have to get into to remain in business.

2. Invest in morning shows, don't cut them. You don't necessarily need a duo on in the morning but you do need a local, compelling and very likeable entertainer. Sign him or her to a long-term contract. Then, find another personality for afternoons. Terrestrial radio must become a destination medium -- a reason for listeners to go to radio every day -- and I'm not talking about young people now. Radio should regain some of the excellence it once had. Some of you may be challenging the term excellence, but that was a standard that was used in the past when radio developed into this awesome medium. Cut the morning show -- and fail to put a personality on in the afternoon -- at your own peril. You become easy to not listen to.

3. No voice tracking. No dimwit djs who say nothing when they jabber. No syndicated or network programming. Repeat after me -- radio works best when it is local. It may be cheaper when you run it national, but this is not the time to turn transmitters and towers into repeaters of content from elsewhere.

4. Cut commercial loads to 12 units (If I competed against you, I'd make it eight and charge more and then I'd get fired when the owner told me I'm either going to add a ninth unit or I'm -- you know. It's probably happened to you). A unit could be a ten, 30, 60, whatever.

5. Live-reads -- do them. Young people prefer them. Betcha older folks do as well. All those nice production libraries to bury lousy copy in a commercial are worthless. Oops, I'm not going to make friends with statements like that. But it's true. Uptempo, sincere, live-reads by smart djs. Hire good personalities -- they know how to do it.

6. Test your commercials -- make them better. Jerry Lee is on the right track at WBEB in Philly. Make them good and get existing advertisers to reapportion their budgets by taking revenue away from TV. TV gets three times the commitment of radio -- lots of room for growth -- the kind of growth that will make commercial radio be a great business for another decade. Lee will share his information with anyone -- have you asked?

7. Work together as an industry to pitch a big tent called "Radio". That's what the NAB and RAB fail to understand. Radio is big enough to fight for Internet streamers because we're going to have to get into that business to have a future. The next generation will not be denied. And work with competitors -- the stations across the street -- to present a better face to advertisers. Don't get greedy -- work together -- and help advertisers succeed instead of bleed.

8. It's bad business to trash the People Meter. Your mother was right. If you don't have anything good to say don't say anything at all -- at least in public. This applies to PPM. Go behind close doors and take off the gloves, if you must. Threaten not to renew. These are strategic tactics that are better than airing radio's dirty laundry in front of radio's freakin' advertisers, for God's sake. And the next time Bob Neil opens his mouth on this issue, threaten to force him to listen to his consultant Randy Kabrich's radio stations for an entire day! (Just kidding. But you get the point. Muzzle that man on this issue in public).

9. Don't laugh at Randy & the Rainbows because they are -- at least temporarily -- in the newspaper business. I don't think there is much they can do to rebuild print newspapers for a generation that gets all they need online. I don't even think they can retrofit newspapers to work online. Newspapers are not likely to get their much needed classified advertising back from Craig's List -- ever. But, hear me out. There are a few newspapers that are becoming radio stations online -- with music and entertainment. Newspapers have valuable content (at least until they fire hundreds more reporters -- as they will most certainly do). The online newspaper as a radio and TV station has a better prognosis than a radio station as a -- well, radio station. Be like detective Poirot from the Agatha Christie detective series -- a good observer. This idea has merit.

So, there you have my latest thoughts on doing something positive to change terrestrial radio.

After we've done them, there are more specific things to change to entertain the available audience (baby boomers, older Xers). Build better ad campaigns to steal more advertising dollars away from television. Develop an Internet and mobile plan -- not 1% of your budget, 20% -- if you're serious about being around when the last baby boomer attends a Hy Lit record hop just beyond the Pearly Gates.

Radio can't get young listeners to abandon their new media by making these changes, but stations can make listeners and advertisers happier now. A sound investment for a medium that could still have some life left in it yet.

To reach the next generation, radio content providers will have to develop new content -- not presently on the air -- and distribute it where they live.

For those of you who would prefer to get Jerry's daily posts by email for free, please click here. IMPORTANT: First you must check your mail or spam filter to verify your subscription immediately after signing up before daily service can begin.

Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.