Radio's New 80/20 Rule

While I was back in New Jersey I almost forgot how great it was to pull into a gas station and have an attendant pump the gas.

In fact, while I was at the Jersey shore, I saw t-shirts that said, "Jersey Girls Don't Pump Gas".

It got me to thinking how radio stations are becoming like gas stations in many ways.

The petroleum industry made a big deal out of how much money consumers could save by pumping their own gas and yet in the state of New Jersey, where law prohibits individuals from pumping their own -- prices have been among the lowest in the entire United States (see chart here).

What happened to that promise?

Sounds like another case of promises not living up to expectation.

The radio industry said to our legislators and regulators that if they could own more than a few stations in each market, that it would be better for competition and better for the listener. Big being better presumed that major corporations could really do a professional job using their impressive assets running more stations if they could just be allowed to own them?

What happened to the promise of competition in the radio industry after the industry was deregulated?

When you pull into a gas station today, it is corporate America that greets you.

Swipe your card, pump your gas and get on your way -- that is, unless you need snacks and then you can walk into the Gas and Go, Choke & Puke or whatever the convenience store is and buy marked up snacks and smokes that are bad for you. No need to talk to anyone. In some high crime areas, the cashier is behind protective glass to avert robberies.

What happened to the local gas station where you could always find someone who could give you directions if you're lost?

Radio has become a high visibility convenience store of sorts. Too many stations give you a nationalized product that has absolutely no relevance to your community life therefore you are less loyal to it. You just use it because you need news or entertainment and you happen to be in your car. Like a gas station, it is increasingly impersonal and good for one thing -- fill up the entertainment tank to just keep going.

A gas station used to be called a service station because -- as incredible as it may seem -- your car was serviced there in an emergency. Fan belts, oil changes, flat tires -- even some engine repair.

You likely knew the owner and if you were passing through and needed help, the proprietor resembled the person who had a similar station down the street from you.

Today's gas stations are called "Super Pumpers" not "Super Service Stations" because service has gone by the wayside unless you call "roadside assistance" service (towing yes, service -- no).

Radio has suffered from the same thing.

Used to be that local radio had a few full service stations -- news, weather, sports, community, personalities. A few more would be specialists in a musical genre and their djs were music authorities. You could always see them at concerts and local venues. Even the one or two classical music stations that radio used to claim served their very special musical tastes of that audience segment.

Now, radio pumps music through the speakers the way consumers pump fuel into their gas tanks.


Swipe the card.

Move along.

That's why the industry has fallen into heavy like with CHR stations that pander to the People Meter.

CBS has done it again in Detroit and they are even using some Randy Michaels-type dirty trick tactics to get attention. The thinking here -- to borrow some service station lingo -- is to pump as much music as it can into an hour so that they can record the highest possible drive by listening ratings.

Stations like these are not about service, personality or local community.

They are "Super Pumpers" -- pumping out the same old hits.

Not necessarily reflecting local tastes other than the big recording artists who just so happen to have roots in their market. Certainly not about music discovery even though the market now demands it.

So we see how similar radio stations are to gas stations.




Hell, you could lift one from one market and drop it into another (and believe me, operators do) and get the same result.

You argue that, Jerry, autos need fuel and listeners need programming.

And I certainly couldn't dispute that.

But just as electric hybrids now coming of age will someday make even the "Super Pumper" antiquated, radio stations that fail to adapt to changing technology and sociology will run out of gas.

1. Personalities are fuel -- they are hybrids -- high octane talents unique to terrestrial radio. Nurture and grow them and radio will become all the better for it. Keep firing them and the radio industry loses its major product.

2. Station brands can transcend the decline in interest in terrestrial radio. But this can't happen buy cutting resources and it will not happen unless radio companies stake out the digital future for new content it can provide.

3. America is voting on repeater radio and they don't like it. It's one thing for stations to have carried specialty shows like Casey Kasem's "American Top 40" in the day but when everything is non-local, there is nothing special about that. Change number one that operators could make to bring positive results to radio is to remember the 80/20 rule -- 80% live and local, 20% national or voice tracked (if at all). The number one way to start turning radio around right now is to abide by the 80/20 rule. It's not really that costly to do. Brings immediate live and local results. Will not push owners deeper into debt.

Radio can improve within a year -- on-air, in the ratings and in the revenue column -- if owners will fix the easiest mistake to correct.

Someday there may be charging stations for green electric vehicles, not gas stations to line America's roads.

What will radio stations become if they don't adapt from a Wall Street numbers model to an innovative hybrid for the future?

Today the best approach to radio in the digital age is a hybrid of live and local broadcasting and separate branded content for online and mobile devices.

Returning to live and local rights a lot of wrongs.

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