by Tracy Johnson
The new year has started with dramatic signs that point to a trend that’s been coming for many years. Nobody should be surprised. Technology continues to relentlessly encroach on radio. And it’s time for radio companies to take immediate action and develop personalities.
Historically, radio was able to build a brand based on four areas of attraction:
It was possible to carve a position by winning any of the four categories. Today, one remains. Consider:
Personality is the final frontier. It’s radio’s future. And it is also under attack.
Financial analyst Tom Rogers appeared on CNBC’s Fast Money to comment on legacy television networks. He pointed out dramatic losses in revenue at local TV stations, networks and cable outlets, including heritage brands like ESPN.
This is the comment that got my attention:
Prime Time Tv has lost 50% of it’s ratings. Children’s program has lost 70%. We’re going to see a massive awakening in the near future about legacy TV. There’s a day of reckoning coming. And it’s a warning sign for all traditional media.
He attributes television’s decline as loss of viewing because of countless options, many without commercials. Is radio any different? Radio broadcasters continue to play The Ratings Game, fighting other radio stations to win a slice of a smaller and smaller pie.
How can radio stop the bleeding? The answer is to develop personalities. But instead of investing in talent, companies are slashing staffs, keeping only what they perceive as the best or most cost efficient talent. Then they dilute their impact by spreading them across multiple stations.
In 1984, legendary broadcaster Dick Chapin (who was no stranger to a tight budget) taught me:
You can’t cut your way to success. At some point, you take out the very thing listeners come for. Then what’s left?.
Chapin was, and is, right. But radio’s solution has been to cut. And we’re slicing into the bone.
It’s time to wake up and embrace the one thing that can protect radio’s future.
Rush Limbaugh is credited with saving AM radio. 30 years ago, AM was in danger of becoming irrelevant. Then conservative talk radio happened. And Rush was the tip of the spear that revitalized these stations that had lost the music franchise to technology (FM Radio).
Decades later, talk stations are migrating to FM, leaving AM with a problem that may not be solvable.
Today, FM music stations are at risk. Just as listeners abandoned AM, audiences are exiting FM.
But there is hope. Pew research reports radio personalities are a primary driver of listener satisfaction. Their studies found that 67% (that’s two out of three) respondents say air talent is important to them. And 64% of all respondents say they would follow a favorite personality wherever they go!
Talent is the answer. Yet it is the most neglected and misunderstood asset in radio.
Following my Powerful Language For Strong Performance webinar, an air personality sent this message:
At my current situation there’s an incredible lack of guidance for the show since management believes the only thing that matters is music. It’s been frustrating. These simple steps were a big help!
Training, supporting and coaching talent is a step in the right direction. But radio doesn’t need more announcers. It needs personalities. A DJ talking up songs and reading liners and weather forecasts isn’t a personality.
Great talent must be nurtured and grown. Yet companies are reluctant to invest in developing true personalities. It reminds me of Blockbuster Video refusing to evolve from a model of renting DVD movies in video stores while Netflix drove them into bankruptcy.
Some wonder if the return on investment is there. Does it work to develop personalities? Yes, it does. Here are a few stations growing audience in a difficult environment by embracing the power of personality:
Don’t look at this as a wake up call. Most broadcasters are awake. Managers know there’s a problem. Think of it as a call to action. And we need a sense of urgency.
There is nothing wrong with reducing costs or becoming more efficient. I get it. If revenue isn’t there, costs must be managed.
But invest in the one asset that can sustain radio’s future. I can help with that. For information on talent coaching and consulting services, click here. At the very least, look into our online talent training course, Audience Magnet.
Develop personalities. Brighten those dark and empty studios with color that only inspired, energized talent can provide. Radio’s future depends on it.
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