Thursday, May 02, 2013

Terrestrial Radio

Another from my intermittent series of "Trachman treasures:"

As opposed to radio that's bounced off a satellite or grabbed from "the world wide web."  In other words, "us." Or, what's left of us.

Somebody expects us to need a descriptive word in the near future. It reminds me of "the private sector" - which, by implication, legitimizes every business the government cares to get into.

It used to just be "business." It used to just be "radio."

Well, fellow terrestrials, what can we do to ensure our survival in an era when we're just one segment - perhaps some day, even a minor segment -- of all the radio that's out there?

Come close and listen carefully; I have a plan.

Here are six ways we can survive this new competition, or any competition:

1.  Listener and community involvement.
This is radio's most natural turf. Talking about, and participating in community events on the air.
Instructing DJs to use packaged material only as a back-up. The main source of raps should be about the DJ's life in the community, and how he or she responds to it. Encourage him to talk about his children's school; the local athletic teams, the traffic on Main Street, the colorful late-night movie host on TV, the latest campaign to clean up the downtown area.  Encourage some expressions of opinions; it doesn't matter whether everyone agrees or no one does. What you need now, above all else, is live humans behind the mike. Start a station campaign that reflects a community wish or un-met need. Any time some big event is going on in town, don't just send a news team to report it; send staffers to participate. The goal is to make your station central to everyone's perception of the community.  Be there and be visible!

2.  Timeliness.
Another of radio's inherent strengths that we've ignored.  Jocks should be informed, not just about what's going on in the community in general, but also about what's happening at this minute. On an elementary level, every DJ on the air should pop his/her head out the window once an hour, to see if (regardless of what the forecast says) it's raining. Or fogging or snowing. Or windy or partly cloudy; if the sky looks "ominous" or "glorious" or whatever else. But timeliness is not limited to weather. Are there local streets blocked off today because of construction or a parade?  Is some recording act appearing in town today (even if the competition is sponsoring them, it's still your town)? Music is generic.  Real personality is specific to this place, at this moment.

3.  Real personalities.
"Where can I find some?" asks the GM. Well, you grow them. You hire people who are passionate about life, and teach them how to do it within the confines of a radio format. (It's what Jay Trachman  wrote about every week of his life as long as I knew him.) Helping to develop and guide them is part of what he did, and now I do. If your management needs help, have them email me. I have a dog-eared old copy of "The Art Of Personality Radio," I'll share with you.  (Really.)

4.  Identity.
Your station should be perceived as a "thing," an identifiable entity that stands out from everything else in the market. And the fact that you play twenty Classic Hits in a row isn't going to do it for you, any more than saying the right liner cards will. Not for much longer.  What is your station "about"? What sets it apart -- that the listener can perceive -- from everything else available?  If the music you play is the only answer you can give, you're headed for trouble.

5.  Promotions that cause chatter.
Ask programmers to tell you their favorite contests, and many respond by telling you about their biggest or most unusual prize. The contest itself should be fun to listen to, and make your listener want to share the experience with others. When it all comes down to the competition saying, "The fifth caller wins $1 million!", your station ought to be someplace else.

6.  Being fun to listen to. 
I believe a station becomes fun to listen to when it is perfectly obvious that the DJs are having fun themselves. You can't mandate it; "Have fun, or you're fired." But each of the items above helps build an atmosphere of fun for the performers. When they're involved with this community on this day, participating in the life of the listener, expected to be creative, invited to respond to events, I think you'll find most of your staffers are having fun on the air, and that's contagious. As Jay mentioned over and over again for as long as he lived and wrote, "Having Fun Is Good For You."

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