An iPod with Commercials - Walter Sabo

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Commercial radio stations endlessly promise "more music, less talk, more variety".

They do that because their research shows that listeners want more music, less talk and more variety.

The future viability of radio for the audience and as a branding weapon depends on smart, entertaining talk between the songs.

As I was listening to a hit music station in New York City while getting a root canal, in other words "forced listening", it became clear that minus an engaging disk jockey, fun contests, and news, most radio stations were iPods with commercials. Bad combination.

Today's radio stations, like cable, cluster spot. They run 3-6 commercials in one cluster. (Much less than cable.)

You may remember top 40 stations that had GIANT personality DJ's that made the music appealing and the radio station exciting.

They were on between every song. That's because originally Top-40 didn't cluster spot. The formula was song-spot-song-spot.

Therefore the talent that came on between the songs was VITAL to the station's success.

The music utility of radio diminishes every hour as iHeart Radio, Spotify, Pandora and iTunes are embraced and put online by millions of users. Now you never have to wait to hear your favorite song anywhere. (This was always true but record players were not beach friendly and Walkman were anti-social.)

My 19 year old business partner Caitlin Hill was asked by CBS Radio president Dan Mason which radio station she listened to in New York for music. She earnestly answered,

"I get my music from iTunes like everybody else." And there it is.

The good news:

'Tween research of one: "I wonder when he is coming back, if he is ok? He's so funny."

"Who?" I ask.

"JJ who went to the doctor this week." Says the 'Tween. She was asking about the health of the PM Drive host on Z-100, New York.

This was a revelation. I didn't know JJ was sick and that she was attached to his show. JJ is a great talent and it is noticed and it pays off in loyalty.

To sell a product, nothing is as powerful as a live read by a credible radio host. The highest priced spots are on Howard Stern. Other radio stars, stars, command high rates, far beyond traditional CPP's: Elvis Duran, Ryan Seacrest, Carson Daly, Howie Carr, JJ on Z-100, or Alex Bennett.

Radio survives just fine. For radio to thrive, it will be dependent on dedicated, skilled radio stars who engage audiences on an emotional level and can move product off the shelf like no other medium.

Managing proven talent is a vital skill possessed by few managers. In the next blog I'll share the techniques I've witnessed for motivating great creative talent, in radio and in other media.

Walter Sabo is the Chairman of Sabo Media, a company that offers executive-on-demand services. He has worked on-site to build out new digital content platforms such as Sirius/XM. His team was the first to discover the marketing clout of web stars, Internet organic video producers. They founded OMMA award winning HITVIEWS. The company placed brands such as CBS, TiVo and Mountain Dew inside UGC. In FM broadcasting he is a leader in the profitable sector of FM Talk and held executive positions at NBC and ABC Radio. He can be reached at

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