Competing Against "Simon Says" Radio

My friend, the great radio programmer, George Johns once wrote to remind me that now is an excellent time to be competing against operators who are cutting back and taking their focus off their listeners.

Indeed, George is right.

Unfortunately, it seems a day doesn't go by that a radio CEO makes another stupid move that hurts their shareholders, staff and listeners.

So imagine -- while Clear Channel is moving toward nationally-produced local programming (or as I call it Repeater Radio on phantom stations), their non-consolidated competitors could be kicking their asses.

Could be.

Because many of them have fallen into a malaise that promotes "Simon Says" radio. You know the kind.

"Simon" (Clear Channel) says use voice tracking to save money. Everyone does it to stay in the game.

Cut sales commissions (after all, we have a recession) -- competitors mindlessly follow.

Clear Channel says less is more -- then, damn it -- less must be more. Even Clear Channel doesn't believe this tripe any more.

But in the kids game of "Simon Says" which requires players to act on a command, say -- touch your toes -- children can remain in the game only as long as they use the command "Simon Says".

In radio, success is being out -- away from this terrible chain of mismanagement and desperate accounting that is making a mockery of a once proud and profitable business.

As Wikipedia points out, "It is Simon's task to try to get everyone out as quickly as possible, and it is every one else's job to stay "in" for as long as possible. The last of Simon's followers to stay in wins (although the game is not always played all the way through)".

Clear Channel, et al. would like to get everyone out of their way so that they can unilaterally run the radio industry as their banker/owners choose. And as we're finding out, it is no reward to be the last one in. It may be an advantage in child's play but not in the real world.

Ironically, in radio -- doing the opposite of "Simon Says" is more beneficial.

No doubt by Monday, one of the CEOs running a radio group will come up with another assault on good radio. But for now -- and in this space -- let's take a look at how Clear Channel, Citadel, Cumulus and the rest of the clueless consolidators have actually made it easier for their competitors to clean their clocks.

Now, you or your owners may not like everything I'm going to suggest, but I promise you your listeners and advertisers will eat it up.

Let's start with sales --

So, if it were my station(s) to run:

1. Increase the sales commission to 30%. (See, I knew you wouldn't like it -- here comes all the recession excuses). From now on, 30% on all new business. No gimmicks. No fine print. And, 30% of old business that exceeds its previous contract levels. No stealing accounts. No give backs if clients pay late. No needless paperwork. Treat them like adults -- turn them loose -- and we get to keep 70% of their hard work. No lectures. No pep talks. 30% - now.

2. Hire as many Clear Channel, Citadel, Cumulus, Entercom and other consolidators' salespeople -- you know, the ones they fired (excuse me for not being politically correct -- I mean "laid off"). Hell, go ahead -- hire the ones they are still employing. They're probably coming up with a scheme to fire them, too. Same deal. 30%.

3. Cut the spot load to 10 in morning drive and eight max in other dayparts. This guarantees that your salespeople will get rich with you. Instead of following "Simon" and doing ad blowouts on the cheap, offer fair rates based on ratings, unusual programming and/or other demand factors.

4. Schedule the spots to run alone -- and then beat your consolidator competitor to death at the ad agencies and client offices. On our station, your spots run alone -- better chance to get them heard and your message won't get lost. Make it policy. Practice. Shout it from the roof tops. (Listeners don't hate more frequent commercial breaks as much as you think. We live in an attention deficit world and this approach cooperates with it).

5. Sell results not spots. On our station, we guarantee (you heard me) -- guarantee results based on agreed upon goals or we'll make it right. Go ahead, Fagreed -- top that one. We'll test the spot on the Internet (included in the price), get the best talent -- maybe we won't even put a spot on the radio. Could be Internet -- cell phone, podcast, off-air event. But, we'll guarantee results.

Now, let's move on to programming --

1. Local in every daypart every day. Stick the foolish consolidators with the label "Repeater Radio" and "Phantom stations" -- I'd plaster it around town but not on-air. After all, Lee & Bain are quite proud of their new idea, but they won't be when we turn it into what it is which is a fraud perpetrated on the city of license and the station's advertisers.

2. No promos. Hey, you can't fire me -- I don't even work for you. I'm just sayin'. No promos. Young people can teach us a lot about how radio has gone wrong. In olden days, radio could promo things and listeners actually believed they would come to pass. Today, people in general don't believe what they hear. On our station, we do it first and then shut up about it. They're not dummies. They know when something just got better. You don't have to say, "The New 102" -- My God, even you don't believe that!

3. No one gets on the air unless they are having fun. Another advantage for non-consolidated operators. You can't have fun when you fear for your job. But at our station, we're going to make a commitment to keep our people employed. And they are going to promise to make listening to our station fun again. Young people do not think radio is fun and in fact, I don't think older listeners do either.

4. Bring local news back. News doesn't have to be newscasts. It could be updates so that if you don't listen to our station you feel disconnected -- like you'll miss something. Now in radio, you know that listeners rarely worry about missing anything these days.

5. We're going to make Clear Channel miserable in our market because we're going to do giant promotions and contests. But learn from the emerging next generation. Make it relevant to their lives, the station's format and our society. Make it civic. I know I lost some of you, but the ones I want working with me on this understand what I just said. Clean up the park. Help Habitat for Humanity. Help make your schools green. Environmental projects. And fun ideas -- pay a listener's mortgage payments for a year. Or pay for something that helps during tough times. Don't promo it to death. Do it. They get it.

6. Every one of our live morning shows will help our listeners fix something or get help in their lives. We're going to have a team of off-air part-time (at home) workers help listeners who got screwed by a bank, stuck with a car, forced to overpay for something. We're going to put them on the air -- help make it right -- and we're not going to act like asses running stupid promos all day saying how great we are.

7. All weekends will be no repeat days. Young people, the changemakers who have led the rest of us into the digital future, hate radio music repetition. So I'm going to promise no repeats (even of currents) which will force us to have to go out and find music worthy of airplay. How exciting. And none of those non-believable promos that say "N0 repetition all weekend long on WLIE".

8. Sunday night at 9 or 10 (can't decide yet) -- a local show with a local host knowledgeable in our station's music genre doing all new and all local artists. I can't wait to meet with my salespeople to show them how they can sell the hell out of this one.

9. Create a "Truth Squad" of station people to help prevent us from sounding like a radio station. No pukers. No sweepers. No promises. Just good programming. And this "Truth Squad" will help keep it real.

10. I'm locking my morning talent into a three-year contract. I don't believe in messing around with the moneymakers.

11. I'm creating 30 podcasts in the first six months -- not by on-air talent, but others. We own the podcasts. Will spread the word about them virally. We'll monetize it with ancillary forms of sponsorships. Wait until you see the free money this generates. First, a two-day brainstorming session with my staff and you know who.

12. We'll stop saying go to our website. How uncool is that? They'll go when there is a reason to go.

13. Give our listeners a reason to go to our website. Hint: something they can't get elsewhere. Not a stream of our terrestrial station which usually accounts for under 3% of all listening anyway.

14. Launch the biggest unique online social network in our local market that is so desirable that it could be a business all by itself.

15. Don't take calls from management -- gotcha! Kidding.

There's more ideas where these came from, but for those of you who are not able to have me work with your people directly to further develop these ideas and theirs, I hope this has been helpful. At least something to think about.

We could always just sit around and wait for these dummies killing radio stations to come up with another accretive idea Monday morning.

Or, we can do as George Johns suggests and compete against their own mistakes.

"Simon Says" get lost.

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