Tina Fey Teaches Radio

What gets around faster than a Tina Fey Saturday Night Live take-off of Sarah Palin?

Perhaps you are like me in receiving not one but many emails with thoughtful people linking to SNL on YouTube.

Radio's most dynamic daypart is morning drive. Morning drive commands the highest rates and often delivers half the total revenue of a radio station.

Radio companies panicked by the financial meltdown -- no, not the bank crisis but the radio meltdown are wielding the knife deep into their morning shows. It's not as if radio morning shows were as awesome as they once were. They're plainly not. How could they be? The cast of supporting characters on and off the air has been whittled away for years.

To understand one of the many ways radio has to change, look no further than Tina Fey.

When content is created that is funny -- really funny -- people crave it. That's not the case in radio. Most of today's content is forgettable.

And on the sixth day, the radio gods created 7:20 in the morning.

Most morning shows save their dry powder to surround this time period -- the best bits, the most fun -- the essence of the morning show. Then, of course, the bits are repeated later in morning drive. Radio CEOs don't understand the importance of the morning show. I dare say if you took ten of the top program directors of all time and submitted four hours of morning show material to them for the purpose of creating a 30 second promo, they couldn't or wouldn't use anything.

Tina Fey teaches -- do one thing well. You don't need to do everything. In fact -- and this is my opinion that you may or may not share -- after SNL news, the show declines in quality until the unbearable end. Translated: it's less funny after SNL's weekend update.

Terrestrial radio strategy:

One way radio people could get back on track with their available listeners is to aim for three quality bits that can, of course, be repeated later. Isn't it remarkable that in the entire history of radio, few PDs have ever seen the value of replaying a funny morning show bit in its entirety in other day parts? They'll do promos, but not encores. They'll rerun the entire show but not the best bits. What better way to hook someone on the morning show than to take your equivalent of a SNL bit and play it again in another day part.

Internet and mobile strategy:

Radio CEOs think pointing a camera at djs in a radio studio during morning drive is a viable option. Even for Howard Stern and Don Imus, pioneers in this area, it is just supplemental. Radio morning shows should be the beacon that attracts listeners to the rest of the station. YouTube is a must and many radio operators know that.

But a lot of radio content is on YouTube and that isn't saying much for the station or the personalities. YouTube isn't a garbage dump, it's a conduit to a larger audience -- an audience that wants their entertainment in smaller doses.

Aah! Now we're getting warm. But repurposing your morning show bits alone will not get you an invitation to the digital age. But ...

When your terrestrial morning show creates a quality bit for, say, YouTube that is not available on the air -- now you're playing the game.

I always hate to see personalities fired from their radio jobs but deep down inside I know that they will eventually find a home in producing short content for Internet and mobile distribution. And not just audio content -- video as well.

And no one will be able to fire them except the listener -- if for some reason they fail to live up to audience expectations.

To put it bluntly, the more terrestrial radio does things that make it uncomfortable and crazy, they are probably going to succeed. Just repackaging radio for an audience that doesn't want radio will never get them in the door with the next generation.

I don't want you to think that I'm just talking about Tina Fey or comedic bits. And it's not a Republican or Democratic thing. I'm just using a currently popular viral video as an example.

If I'm programming your station, I'm meeting with my morning talent (if corporate hasn't fired or neutered them already) and I'm saying -- watch the vice presidential debate with me Thursday night. Then let's brainstorm on a five minute take-off of what Joe Biden really wanted to say and do in the debate that his handlers wouldn't let him. I'll even take the PG warning off of this assignment.

But ...

I would not play it on the radio. I would have the morning personalities talk about it and direct their audience away from radio (remember I said do things that make you uncomfortable). YouTube and/or the station site will be the only place they can hear Joe Biden as you imagined he'd like to be in his Palin debate.

Then, welcome to the world of viral content and get the juices flowing.

Terrestrial radio's advantage is brand identity not brand delivery. WINS is news. WCBS-FM is oldies (sorry, that's not politically correct -- classic hits). B-101 is female music.

These brands will die on terrestrial radio because terrestrial radio is outdated and unnecessary -- as a delivery system -- not as a content provider.

Let's have some fun creating short-form content and run it in the digital world -- you'll be taking a meaningful first step in extending your brand to their world -- the media universe of the next generation.

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