What the hell, radio? Why do you keep trying to destroy yourself?
Let me back up.
Some friends on Facebook recently got into it over why, philosophically and morally, one shouldn’t listen to Pandora (I’m throwing Spotify into this conversation, along with all the ‘radio’ style online streaming playlist generators available everywhere now) and further, why one should embrace the good ol’ fashioned LOCAL RADIO.
Except that there’s no such thing anymore. Not really.
And I’m not just implying that all the little mom and pop radio stations have gone away, because as you surely know by now, they mostly have. The ones that cling tenaciously to life in this day and age do so with automated satellite programming in every daypart outside of maybe morning drive, which begs the question “how are you considered a local radio station if you don’t have local jocks or local news or sports or weather after ten AM?” It’s like a local businessman owning an Applebee’s. It’s in your town, but it sure ain’t a “local” joint.
Ah, good point, Turner!
Thanks. But let me finish.
Local radio. Okay. I’ve got a plan to fix local radio, to save it, to grow it back into the behemoth it once was. The great thing about it is that my plan provides for those radio operations owned by great big monster corporations, too. Sorry, whiney buy-local types, but at this point there’s no distinction. Radio, to survive must embrace what it has become, which is a business, a factory, a product. And like it or not, those megalithic companies like iHeartMedia? Despite laying off or firing thousands over the past decade, that company in particular still accounts for over 20,000 employees. Those are real, live humans with mouths to feed and mortgages.
So, what’s my plan?
It’s so simple. So brilliant. And it’s not an original thought; consultants have been screaming this at air talent for decades.
How in Christ’s name are you going to claim to be a “Live and local” radio station if the only topics of conversation are Metallica and Donald Trump? Or Taylor Swift and the next Avengers movie? Or whether Big Bang Theory got renewed? Or Connor McDavid retaking the NHL scoring lead? Because here’s the tough medicine, kids: if I want to hear about those topics, I’ll go to a national news or entertainment outlet. I’ll do this because I know those outlets have you totally outgunned. They have reporters on-site, backstage access, the agent’s phone number, etc. They’ll do a much better job of covering the big stuff than you ever will. It’s not your fault. It’s just the way it is.
That’s one reason why I have NEVER been able to listen to local home-grown sports shows in markets outside of the top fifty or so. Because once your local AA baseball team news has been covered in three minutes or so (“Looks like Jennings is getting called up to the AAA team! Okay, on the MLB scores…”) you literally have nothing else to talk about but the big leagues. And brother, if you think I give two shits what the guy in Champaign, Illinois thinks about this year’s Masters, then you, my friend, are sorely mistaken. Leave that stuff to ESPN. They know what they’re doing.
Can a local radio show talk about the big events, the hot new movie or mobile device or TV program? Absolutely. Can they express disbelief at our moronic President and encourage discussion? Certainly! Hell, I’d say you’d be falling behind if you didn’t touch on those things. But you have to make them local. BE. LOCAL. There’s talk of Trump being impeached or quitting. If you’re a radio show in Indiana, you must absolutely discuss how your former governor might soon be president. What does that mean for the state? After Pence’s record of gutting education in his home state, how does the DeVos appointment help or hurt? Did a listener used to work for Pence? Are there local teachers that have horror stories? Or a business that maybe was saved by Pence’s tax credits or some shit? These are discussions that the guys in Washington D.C. will never tell as well as you can. James Hetfield had a mic malfunction at the Grammys. What happened the last time Metallica played your town? Good? Bad? Who was there? Are they coming back any time soon? DO YOU HAVE TICKETS?!? BE LOCAL.
Anyway. Maybe radio doesn’t stand a chance. Maybe people enjoy satellite radio because it’s safe and uniform and they can travel the world and hear the exact same thing no matter where they go. That seems impossible to me, though; but then again, the average Sirius XM listener has like 140 channels and only listens to about six of those (seriously, everyone really likes Lithium and like one 80’s station and some sports feeds until they go on spring break and check out the reggae channel only to discover that it isn’t 100% Bob Marley all the time.) Safety in boringness. Vanilla remains the top-selling flavor of ice cream. Big Bang Theory is “America’s #1 Comedy!” Fucking puke.
So, radio friends…fight the fight. Dare to improve. Stop getting your entire show from show prep services and Reddit. Tell the story about that weird guy who always hangs out on the corner of Fairfield and Washington. Even better, get that guy on the air. Bring him into the studio. New donut shop in town? Buy a dozen and bring them in, eat em on the air. Had an unusually mild winter (or even better, an unusually bitter one?) Host a beach party. Fake tan contests. Give away a trip to the Bahamas. WHATEVER. Do your own thing. Relate. Be local.
Save radio. I’m counting on you. I believe in you.