Fixing Radio

While I was away last week one of my readers posited that if I was so smart, why don’t terrestrial radio companies ask me to help them turn it around.

My God, are you sure you are reading my pieces?

I mean, I’ve indicted just about every terrestrial owner out there who has failed to keep their radio business afloat. These are the same suspects who have fired their own talented people, refused to hire proven consultants and think they have all the answers.

Still, it’s a good question – not that I am the only person out there with answers. I can personally vouch for lots of them who I know well and know their track record. They are the ones sitting on the sidelines.

New media companies, on the other hand, are hungry. They are on the come and they know it. They have to invest in the future which is all theirs for the taking. New media companies don't have to be hammered constantly about great ideas for a transition into the digital age – and I’ve got a pretty good observation point having gone off to college to learn from and about the next generation’s media preferences.

Radio is the only growth business that grows by cutting back. I'm being sarcastic here. You heard Citadel CEO Farid Suleman declare his $20 million dollars in cuts last quarter on the way to a 9% revenue deficit. The next day, he started – you guessed it – cutting people loose again.

Back to my reader’s question.

Of course, I and a lot of other folks could do it.

In one year.

On budget
– after all, budgets are all about priorities – and radio has them all wrong.

But what can’t be done – at least the way radio companies want to do it – is make the Internet go away and make cell phones and iPods irrelevant. There’s no turning back the hands of time – in spite of what Tyrone Davis thinks.

But here's what I'd do:

1. Local morning shows. I’ve got plenty of personalities in mind right now. I'd sign them to a five-year contract. Promote it. While I'm at it, put a morning personality on in the afternoons. It worked so well stations stopped doing it.

I'm fired already...

2. Make the station an advocate for the listener – grant them wishes they want, help them with needs (like mortgage payments) and fight the big bad world out there. Hire a team of people to produce production quality pieces a la Oprah and put them on in the morning.

Fat chance -- hire people to produce audio bits every morning...

3. Put Cash Call back on. Never take that contest off. Ever. And it's okay not to call randomly from the phone book. Online registration is fine -- as long as they know what's in it to win it when you call. Everyone has a cell phone and if they sign up, they'll answer when you call. Your job: make them know what's in it to win it every hour.

4. Cut commercial loads to eight units per hour max – one unit per stop set. A unit is a unit – no fooling around here.

5. Raise rates – after all, you’ve cut your inventory.

The sales department will be with me on this, but it takes guts...

6. My longtime friend Jo Interante reminded me the other day that former RKO Radio President Dwight Case used to advise – hire as many salespeople as your frequency – and send them onto the streets. Done.

7. Then I’d pay – that’s right I said a dirty word PAY – for ongoing professional sales training.

I'm so fired...

8. I’d call my first employer, Jerry Lee, and take him to lunch at the Four Seasons (on my new station’s expense account) and get the down low on his plan to make better commercials and attract more ads from the troubled newspaper business. This alone will guarantee that I will deliver on my promise of increased revenues after one year.

Duh! Newspapers are handing radio money -- I'm going after it...

9. I’d have a Del Colliano playlist – 18 currents in high rotation like I used to use and then, well -- I’d lock my list in a drawer and never implement it. Now that that's out of my system I'd do what listeners keep saying they want. Each jock plays his or her own music within parameters I would describe in ongoing brainstorming sessions (but, these learning sessions are too expensive --- the owner is going to be all over me).

I'm cleaning out my desk at this point...

10. I’d add local news. Oh, I'd tell the salespeople to sell it at a premium and they'd get it.

11. This would really get me fired – I’d buy a large ad campaign on television several times a year and hire a great company to produce the spot. You know what my theme line would be – I know you do.

That’s just in the first week...

There’s more, but unfortunately I wouldn’t be around to implement the rest.

Yes, they could fire me, but greater talents have been shown the street when they’ve tried to do similar things.

I’d quit. That’s what I’d do. Quit.

Because it's not all that hard to improve the ratings and increase the billing but it's another thing yet to get the next generation to listen.

Not unless this was a far thinking new age radio company.

What did I just say.

Most radio companies have a bunker mentality. They are not about the future. Doubt me? Check out the percentage of their operating budgets that actually get spent on Internet, digital, mobile content and podcasting.

That’s where it really gets interesting because I know from my experience with the next generation what they want and it can’t be delivered on a commercial radio station – but, radio people (the ones who just turned around the station I described above) are the most qualified to provide it elsewhere.

Still, radio can be a good cash flow business and I guess this is my way of saying if CEOs really want to succeed they need to look no further than to the kind of people they are firing or not hiring.

Stations should be doing joint content planning (something no terrestrial radio station has ever done) and learn about the magic of merchandising (the ancillary form of income for the new age).

Terrestrial radio may be just for available, older listeners and Internet and mobile content may be for the next generation but radio content providers have the skills to do both well.

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