Refresher Radio

I taught the Dale Carnegie Course for 11 years and one of the requirements for instructors was that they go through a refresher – one or two-day seminar – once a year to stay sharp and stay up.

This concept is not exclusive to teaching. Many physicians work to reeducate themselves to stay fresh on new procedures, research and information.

Within the past few weeks Apple refreshed its iPhone software introducing system 3.0 that included many improvements such as search and the ability of some 3G phones to give turn by turn directions using GPS. Of course, Apple’s independent developers can then be energized to use the changes to further improve the iPhone experience.

For example, on some 3G phones, consumers will be able to listen to radio (terrestrial, Internet, iPods, podcasting, etc) while they simultaneously do other things – surf the web, answer email, text. This is not likely to be a feature that will endear terrestrial radio to iPhone users.


Because iPhones are not radios – they are many things – a fun center, email provider, text messenger, access to the Internet, video source, iPod and on and on. No Walkman ever had that capability.

Still, I’ll take the radio presence on the new 3G phones, but I would not confuse it with direct access to young consumers. That is very unlikely.

The idea of refreshing our products, our skills and our services is an important thing to consider.

Often, it costs little or nothing and brings many benefits.

We live in a world where the British airline RyanAir is trying to force passengers to use a credit card to use the lavatory in flight.

Where the Arizona Biltmore (a high-end resort) is slapping guests with a blanket $50 fee that includes Internet (which is a ripoff in and of itself if you stay at the less expensive Marriott and get it for free) and now adds in a new charge for pool services whether you take a dip or not.

They are taking a dip alright – into your pocket.

Airlines charging for blankets.

Eliminating food for hungry passengers herded onto their planes like animals and yes, don’t forget shrinking leg room so they can add more seats and offer fewer flights – a real money saver.

How do we come up with these screwy ideas?

And if you think the media business doesn’t make big consumer mistakes, just look at SiriusXM – passing along RIAA licensing increases with the blessing of federal regulators so they can help those poor starving musicians – right!

The reason we have poor starving musicians is because of the record labels not radio stations.

Sirius XM with one of the biggest attractions it has to get new subscriptions, refuses to make Howard Stern available on its new Apple app. Eight million new subscribers since Stern came to Sirius and some genius decides to offer an app without their star franchise.

Oh, and what makes them think anyone will pay several dollars a month to turn their nice, cool, useful Apple phone into a satellite radio receiver?

Then there is the concept of burying commercials in six or eight-minute clusters as if anyone really listens to them. Yet we call that a business model that endears us to advertisers.

If ad agencies weren’t so selfish, they’d would have held buys back and convinced radio stations to stop running commercials as if they were garbage.

But, buyers don’t care about advertisers any more than radio stations do because if they take a stand, they lose commissions.

Enough already!

It’s time to think different.

I’d like to believe – in fact, I know – that radio people are up to the task of solving some of the thorny issues that stand in their way. That is, if their employers care to see a solution.

So, instead of migrating toward Repeater Radio where voice tracking, syndication and networking are employed to save local costs and salaries, turn it over to your programmers and managers.

Let’s have Refresher Radio.

Radio formats – even when they were wildly successful – tended to imitate their best rating periods.

Have you ever noticed that almost all radio innovation happens in the first six months of developing a new format and even at that it’s all cookie cutter?

Get new sweepers, liners, imaging production.

Change the playlist. Put it into the computer. Make sure it's tight -- short playlists get ratings.

Presto! You have a new radio station.

No you don’t.

No wonder radio is losing listeners and has lost the next generation. Radio hasn’t really been refreshed since the 80’s. Even without consolidation and poor financial management by consolidation CEOs, radio was headed for a meltdown. Except few could see that everything would fall apart at the same time.

Back to Apple.

You own an iPhone and every year you get a new operating system – with cool new things to make your life easier and more fun. This time, the search feature itself was worth waiting for. The long overdue cut and paste makes a user get excited about the mobile phone they bought – keeps them from falling out of love with it. Maybe even helps make up for having to sign a contract with AT&T.

Radio doesn’t come with refreshing.

In fact, we do the opposite – we take things away.

Imagine if you owned an iPhone and Apple decided to take away the apps or remove the ability to get email. You wouldn’t like it.

But radio does this kind of thing all the time – taking away morning shows (or diminishing them through cost cutting), removing live jocks, adding voice tracking, employing nationally syndicated shows to save money, eliminating news (and even weather alerts in tornado country). You get the picture.

But let’s turn this around.

What if stations actually planned “new operating systems” or as we would call them, tested format enhancements on an annual basis.

What if radio stations actually fixed a few things that were wrong – that listeners don’t like before that annual format enhancement.

At Apple their engineers and programmers meet constantly with innovators to develop new things that will make their computers, phones, iPods and operating systems better.

If CEOs could get out of the way (I know I am dreaming), institutionalize the annual format enhancement strategy with real benefits.

To do this you’ll want to bring in engineering (those poor guys were kicked away a long time ago, bring them back), marketers, IT (if any), sales people (if any), your jocks (if any) and news people (if you have them) and your PD, GM and GSM (if they are not one person).

Require all of them to innovate.

Come up with a list of ten improvements that each could provide and then work together as a team to develop one or two in each area.

So, say your PD wants to offer a mix of music every hour that is not customarily done in his or her music genre, they would develop, test and rework the concept before the stations 2.0 operating system ever goes on the air.

In that way if you can be certain that the things you are developing are in fact audience enhancements, then it makes sense to advertise it.

Same goes for sales.

If the sales department is going to offer free testing of commercials or a better, stronger guarantee (both of which would go over big with advertisers) then the year before implementing the new procedures, the station would develop, test and rework it until it was time to roll out the new features.

You get the idea.

Radio people are not stale.

They just need inspiration and support from their owners. Radio has it all backwards. The CEO and a few of his biggest suck-ups do all of the thinking and well -- you see what they come up with.

I’m half tempted to do a brainstorming session for a terrestrial radio station or group on Refresher Radio. Then roll out the improvements just as a new updated operating system is deployed in the digital world.

That is, if there are any owners who will allow their talented people one year to innovate and test the next generation of their brand.

Apple pleases a lot of people like this.

Just sayin’.

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