Radio Is Doing Just Fine, Despite Itself

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Radio has been a successfor over 100 years.  It's a proven medium, not a traditional medium.  Sixty five percent of Americans will listen to their radios today.  Ninety two percent this week.  More homes have radios than have TVs.  Radio is the No. 1 medium of music discovery.  Spotify and SiriusXM call themselves “radio” because that is what they would like to be.  It seems that nobody has a problem with the medium of radio except radio people.  The handwringing at conventions, conferences and in the trades is epic.  There is a profound gap between the reality of radio’s success as a medium and the actions of people in the radio business.  What is the inside-industry problem and how can it be solved?  What follows are a few no-nonsense, common-sense suggestions. 

1.  In capitalism, a value is determined by price.  Suzanne Grimes is damn smart to launch an ROI program at Westwood One.  Yes, radio works, that’s why it’s been thriving for a century.  Grimes, not a product of the radio industry, has not done something bold.  She has done the necessary, obvious thing by offering an ROI option for WWO advertisers.  Bravo!  Want to start feeling good, radio people?  Act like Grimes.  Raise the rates, guarantee the results.

2.  Change your clothes.  Dress like you’re meeting a client CEO because only the CEO is going to give you the big bucks.  Top magazine sellers laugh at their radio peers because “they dress lousy.”  Although it is not PC to say this, all radio employees need to dress better.  We are the visual in radio.  How do we look?  Our stations sound sharp and tight and modern.  When the public sees a 3-D representation of the medium -- you -- how does that synch with their audio experience?

3.  Celebrate all wins.  Walmart, Home Depot, Verizon are fairly pragmatic companies.  They have chosen to be the top radio advertising investors.  But what have we done for them?  Have we invited their CEOs to speak at our conferences or interviewed them on our top morning shows?  Have we made those CEOs stars on our medium?  Have we brought them into the emotional stream of our work?  Have we given them awards, shown them in our trades, toured them through our facilities?  Have we asked them to go on record as to why they choose radio?  Let’s get going on this!

4.  Fix the pay.  The reason Pandora, a company that loses money, is able to take our top sellers is that they pay them much more and train them to succeed!  Radio's pay overall is circa 1988 scale.  That check usually comes with the heartwarming message, “and you’re lucky to have a job.”  Our industry revenue is also circa 1988.  See the connection?

5.  Try stuff.  The formats to which you are clinging were, at one time, experimental and new.  Make it easy for people to bring you new format ideas and strategies.  Make the presenters of new ideas feel good about their thinking and desire to change.  Dear NAB, where is the Marconi for Best New Format?  “Best New” awards exist in industry organizations in most other countries.  It's time to celebrate and act on new ideas in programming.

6.  Talent is the medium.  No one writes fan letters or goes to events due to the hard work of the sales department.  They respond to radio celebrities. Celebrity has great value.  The top three paid people in show business are not TV or movie stars, they are radio stars.  Respect Bob Pittman for understanding that stars like Elvis Duran are the reason radio isn’t a digital song file.  Ask your talent what they need to perform.  Celebrate their work and reward it.  Book that lunch with your talent, right now!

7.  Free the food.  What do employees see when they come to work?  Do they see a morale-building tableau?  Paint the hall, shampoo the furniture, hire a real receptionist and make all kitchen food free.  Bloomberg, Spotify and most Wall Street firms have lush 24/7 food buffets for their workers. When asked how he can afford that, and isn’t that a waste of money, Michael Bloomberg said, “You don’t understand the model.”  I’ve been in radio stations that have wasted money on elaborate video security systems for the vending machines.  That’s right, a video security system to make sure that the employees who are working free overtime don’t steal soup.  Unlock the vending machines.  Provide free beverages.  Stop being stupid.  This matters more than those with an expense account could ever understand.  Free the food!

Long-time MediaVillage contributor Walter Sabo is now a Westwood One syndicated talk show host.  His program,Sterling on Sunday, is heard live Sundays at 10 p.m. ET and is aired on stations such as KMOX, KDKA, WMAL AMFM, WPHT and WLS.

Photo:  Juja Han, Unsplash

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