The New Radio Morning Show

The radio morning show at one point in time used to account for between 40-60% of an entire radio station’s annual revenue.

Before consolidation, if a successful radio station did not have a great revenue producing morning show, its owners were leaving money on the table.

Consolidators can be blamed for a lot of things, but they did not ruin this lucrative franchise all by themselves. Make no mistake about it, they’re working overtime to kill it off now.

Think about it.

Services used to be a main component of morning radio – traffic, weather, news, school closings, etc. Most morning talent will tell you that there was a reason they saved their “a” material for the 7 o’clock hour. There was so much else to do while the largest audience was waking up.

Today, a Blackberry or iPhone can get you a forecast from your pocket whenever you wake up.

Traffic services abound. Satellite radio has traffic channels. Auto manufacturers got into the service business with OnStar and similar products.


Well, see – I told you consolidators helped do this lucrative morning franchise in. It’s hard to find a station with a full news team and because most do not cover news the rest of the day, morning news has come down to reading what someone else has reported.

Local news is non-existent on the so-called “local” terrestrial radio station. It costs money to do news. Clear Channel is building news pods to feed local news from an out-of-market location to their “local” stations with mispronounced names, communities and all.

But it is worse.

Radio personalities are being exterminated methodically market by market in spite of whether they get top ratings.

So what owners are doing is cutting salaries of the morning talent and their production team to pipe in a “local” show from some non-local place. Brilliant.

Well, well, well …

I hope the consolidators are having a good time saving money. It doesn’t seem to be doing any good. They are hopelessly in debt and plum out of innovative ideas – except installing spy-cams and the like.

You’ve heard me talk about the new radio – podcasting.

Some are dubious perhaps because they don’t understand the generational and production aspects of doing non-radio.

I’ve referred to a client of mine who is plowing ahead into the digital beyond – broke, but not beaten. Frustrated but not discouraged.

Today, they are building a podcast franchise – note the word franchise – before they even launch. They go live within weeks.

And Friday, they closed a large bank in their market for a significant sum of money that is coming out of – well – radio’s budget. We’re talking $15-25,000 range.

This is euphoria.

Fagreed Suleman gets none of the money. The franchise holder keeps 100%. Overhead is low and there is no debt (that was a low blow, I’m sorry).

Lew Dickey can’t even see them perform because they don't have to work in front of his Spy-in-the-sky station cams.

John Hogan’s slogans are not even welcome unless it is “Less is What We’re Going to Get Without Podcast Franchises".

This morning team was an icon for almost 20 years in their market until a consolidator decided to fire them and pocket the change.

Ironic isn’t it?

Because these folks are now in their former owner’s pockets.

They committed to a one-year program – I wanted to change the way they think about podcasting. We worked for five months before the first podcast was even developed. There was lots to do.

Eventually, these very talented radio people began to arrive at a new approach to their digital reincarnation.

It’s a 35-minute podcast.

Local in focus because they know that the Internet is just a delivery system not the content and it can deliver content locally as well as around the world.

No music.

That alone will expand their audience because these folks are proven personalities. No music royalties – nah-nah-nah-NAH-nah to the record labels who are part of the problem, too.

No radio formatics.

And that was hard to do. You should have heard the first time they did a Twitter or Facebook plug. Now, they’ve developed a new way to talk to people – from their mouths to their listeners ears.

No commercials.

Well, at least no recorded commercials.

And only two live reads – and they are not cheap.

By the way, these live reads are not “fact sheet” commercials that get ad libbed. They are very creative works of art that sometimes get interrupted and started again just as people do in the real world.

So, if there are only two live reads max – and 35 minutes of entertainment – how can this franchise make money, you may ask?

That’s where terrestrial radio is in trouble.

Please sit and don’t hurt yourself when I say this, but this talented team is doing local solutions-based marketing for its first advertiser.

Unlike consolidated radio, these novices offered real solutions to the bank’s marketing problems (i.e., how to appeal to younger consumers).

No sales bullshit.

They did the research. Made calls. Did a proposal and got an appointment with the decision maker. Never at any point did they have to clear this with corporate a week in advance as Cumulus salespeople do.

They asked for a half hour.

Played seven minutes of content right from an iPhone.

The prospect said, “My, how I have missed hearing you”.

That was it.

Anyone can do a podcast and a lot of radio people do, but to build a moneymaking franchise takes a new approach to generational media and selling.

Social networking is being employed to regather their loyal audience.

And ancillary forms of sponsorship are being used to break out of the commercial/content conundrum.

One of the most fascinating things I encounter is the comment, “tell us something positive about the future”. I usually say, just about every day I point to the digital future. Reassure everyone in radio that they are best suited to develop the new frontier.

Yet, some radio people hear it but do not listen.

The consolidators don’t want to hear it.

Maybe they’ll begin to listen now.

Podcasting is the new radio.

This former radio team is proving that advertisers in the middle of a bad economy are happy to support a startup podcast at healthy rates because they are not only bringing quality content to where the audience has migrated, but because they are bringing real solutions to the client.

So, next time you read somewhere that one of the consolidators has discovered the Internet or Twitter or Facebook, I know you’ll smile. You may even laugh when they try to scope down the morning show and offer it as a podcast. That’s a no-no because that’s just repurposed radio not innovative podcasting.

The power of radio used to be services and personality.

Until the three-blind-mice of consolidation decided they knew better.

So as you start your Monday, you may hear more bad news about Clear Channel’s failed attempt to get lenders to renegotiate their debt.

You may hear how bankruptcy looms for them, Citadel and Cumulus – just to mention the big ones.

But the little podcast that could will be starting this week preparing for a sales proposal they (the talent) are making to a supermarket chain in their local market.

A radio advertiser tired of being lost in six minute stop sets.

Anyone can podcast, but to build a franchise takes a new approach to generational media and selling.

Overcoming the hurdles put in front of proven radio talent reminds me of the children’s story, “The Little Engine That Could” which is often used to teach children the value of optimism and hard work – in essence, the American dream.

The story details a long train (radio industry) that must be pulled over a high mountain. Various larger enginers (Clear Channel, et al) are called upon to pull the train but for differing reasons they refuse.

Then a call for help is sent to a small engine (two fired morning personalities) that agrees to try. The engine succeeds in pulling the train over the mountain while repeating its motto: "I-think-I-can".

It is apparent that the future of the communications industry whatever it eventually becomes will be in the hands of the “little engines” not the powerful diesels (consolidators).

The imagery is striking if you read the last lines of the story and see how it parallels the journey to the digital beyond:

Very soon they were over the hill and going down the other side. Now they were on the plain again; and the little steam engine could pull her train herself. So she thanked the little engine who had come to help her, and said goodbye. And she went merrily on her way, singing: "I-thought-I-could! I-thought-I-could! I-thought-I-could!"

My friends, radio consolidators are on the wrong track.

You are “the little engine that could” in the new world of digital media.

And today, I am proud of the success of two of our brethren and hopeful that soon more radio people will overcome the bad breaks of radio consolidation.

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