The past few months have been filled 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 the 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:

  • Music
  • Information
  • Promotion & Contesting
  • Personality

It was possible to carve a position by winning any of the four categories. Today, one remains.

  • Music belongs to streaming solutions. The unlimited variety and personalized music with no commercials? Music stations are competing for an ever-shrinking listener base. Music is not unimportant on the radio, but brand equity won’t be won on music positions.
  • Information spreads instantly through notifications and alerts. Customized feeds deliver exactly what the user is interested in. Convenient apps offer traffic and weather in real-time. No matter how quickly it is on the air, listeners already know. That doesn’t mean information on the air is irrelevant. It’s just that you can’t build a brand around it.
  • Promotions still impact ratings respondents. But $1,000 cash giveaways can’t compete with the lottery and online gaming. And, many listeners think radio contests are rigged.  Live In It To Win It was a great promotion. But kids with smartphones and YouTube capture immediate attention with outrageous stunts every day.

Personality is the final frontier. And it is under attack.

Develop Personalities Now

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 its’ ratings. Children’s programming 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 credits television’s decline as a loss of viewing because of countless options, many without commercials. Is the radio industry different? Radio broadcasters continue to play The Ratings Game, fighting other stations to win a slice of a smaller pie.

Listening Declines

Stations fight for the share of radio listening. The bigger issue is the decline in overall listening. Ratings points drive ad rates, and ratings points are lower.

  • Time Spent Listening per occasion is nearly 30% lower in the last few years, from about 10 minutes per occasion to just over 7.
  • Persons Using Radio is much lower than the 90% figure touted by many in the radio industry. It’s closer to 70%, less with younger demos.

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.

Talent Is The Answer

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 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 for our business. An air personality sent this message:

At my current situation there’s an incredible lack of guidance since management believes the only thing that matters is music. It’s been frustrating.

Great talent must be nurtured and grown. Yet companies are reluctant to invest. Just like Blockbuster Video refusing to evolve from a model of renting DVD movies in video stores while Netflix drove them into bankruptcy.

It Works. Here’s Proof

Some wonder if the return on investment supports personality. 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:

  • Beasley’s WROR has rocketed to the top of Boston’s ratings with Bob Bronson, Lauren Falcone, and Brian Bell.
  • Sister station WKLB’s morning show featuring Jonathan Wier & Ayla Brown has exploded on the scene since their debut in Summer 2019.
  • At Z90/San Diego, Morton in the Morning has developed into a cornerstone for the station and is fast becoming a celebrity in the market.
  • In Dallas, K104 is driven by the amazing DeDe In the Morning, now syndicated on dozens of stations nationally.
  • The amazing 102.3 Now in Edmonton features high-profile shows around the clock. Each has a deep, unique connection with listeners.

Conclusion

This is not a wake-up call. Most broadcasters are awake. They know there’s a problem. This is a call to action. There is nothing wrong with reducing costs or becoming efficient. I get it. If revenue isn’t there, costs must be managed.

But invest in assets that can sustain radio’s future. I can help with that. For information on talent coaching and consulting services, click here.

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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