Full disclosure, I’m not a sports person. But sports is ubiquitous in our world and in America, the NFL is the top sport. The NFL’s Super Bowls are TV’s most watched programs with the season finale of M*A*S*H being the first non-Super Bowl show to appear in the Top Ten most watched television programs.
The NFL is made up of people. Head coaches, assistant coaches, sales people, support people and of course, the players on the field. Radio is also made up of people. General managers, program directors, sales managers, sales people, support people and of course the personalities on the air.
Team brands are strongly associated with each particular team. If I say “Eagles” you immediately know that I’m talking about the NFL’s Philadelphia franchise. If I say “Cowboys” you again know that I’m talking about the NFL’s Dallas franchise. But if I say “Kiss FM” you really don’t know which radio station in which city I’m referring to. If I say “Jack” you again have no idea of which radio station in which city I’m referring to. While this may not have been a problem back in the day, today the Internet brings all radio together on one platform.
When I was growing up, each major city had at least two Top40 radio stations that would be engaged in a battle for the best. What made radio exciting at that point in time was that each of those radio stations were unique and very much in tune with their city of license.
While many radio folks would dis “Drake Radio” I fondly remember enjoying WRKO in Boston, CKLW in Windsor-Ontario, WOR-FM in New York City and KHJ in Los Angeles (via air checks). Yes they all had those incredible Johnny Mann jingles, but they all had very unique air talent and were tweaked to the city they served. They were the same, but different.
Each radio station was a special and unique culture of people. Culture trumps best practices.
Radio is starved for new ideas. They won’t come from inside radio. The next big thing is happening right now in another field. What it will take is for someone to see it and adapt it for radio.
Henry Ford is said to have seen the meat packers of Chicago disassemble a cow in a line where each worker cut out one section of the cow and adapted the model to create his assembly line for building cars.
The great coaches of the NFL are searching far and wide for new ideas. They are bringing in academics and scientists to learn how to make their players better; both on and off the field. When is the last time you heard of radio making that kind of investment in their players? By that I mean the air personalities and the people who coach them; the program directors. When was the last new programming idea created for radio?
Remember when a new radio station format premiered back in the day? The launch was exciting and the day it was turned on, everything was in place. The air personalities often had been practicing the format off-the-air before the day it premiered. Today, new formats premiere in pieces. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Why do radio companies repeatedly do this?
This manner of premiering formats would be like the NFL getting a new stadium, a new logo, and new uniforms and on game day having everything laying on the grid iron and telling the fans we will be hiring the players in the next 60-90 days. But radio does this all the time.
Just like the NFL players on the field, the radio air talents are a vital part of the product.
If radio ran the NFL, they wouldn’t have the coach standing on the sidelines, he’d be in the huddle playing the quarterback position, just like radio’s program directors are on-the-air; often anchoring morning drive.
The reason that the NFL hasn’t adopted radio’s model for operating their game is simple. Their model has made them the most watched and listened to sport in America. Maybe radio should be adapting the NFL model for running its industry.