I am a trombone player. Or maybe I should say “was” as it’s been quite a few years since I picked up the horn. Growing up, I knew that was the instrument I wanted to play. Out of all the instruments in the band, trombone was the one that caught my attention and was relevant to me.
Meredith Wilson’s Broadway smash “The Music Man” is one of my all time favorite musicals. Can you guess why?
In that production, Robert Preston knows to be successful in selling band instruments “you gotta know the territory.” In fact, all of the carpetbaggers knew this. In “The Music Man” the song “Rock Island Line” establishes the rules of selling on the road. In other words, you had to know how to make what you were selling relevant.
And then I heard someone say RADIO
Alan Mason is a programmer that I’ve known for years. I subscribe to his weekly “Mason Minutes” and was thrilled to see Alan promoted to President of K-Love and Air1 as this New Year began. Alan actually assumed his presidency before Trump did.
Alan’s minute recently told the story of celebrating his birthday in a crowded restaurant. You know the scene, you hear lots of conversations but you’re not really paying attention. When Alan said he heard someone say “RADIO” and he heard that clearly.
“It’s funny how our minds are attuned to filter out almost everything except what’s relevant to us. We can be in a crowded ballroom buzzing with people and still hear our own name. It gets our attention and pulls us in,” Alan wrote.
I also subscribe to John Frost’s weekly “Frost Advisory” and John must have been as taken by what Alan wrote as I because he made it the subject of his programming memo this past week. John wrote about his friend Eddie who needed to get a passport photo. He went online and found a place all the way across town. It wasn’t until he was on his way home he noticed a camera store near where he lived that took passport photos. He never noticed, because getting a passport photo had no relevance to Eddie, until it did.
And that’s the way it is with radio ads. The listener never hears them until something that’s relevant to them speaks to them.
Sadly, radio programmers no longer have a say in what commercials air on their radio stations.
I was a general manager before becoming a broadcast professor and even I had lost control of what ads would be placed on my radio stations by (at that time) Google.
Google did a deal with Clear Channel and would insert ads they had sold on all of the stations in my cluster between 2am and 3am in the morning. I wouldn’t even know what they had sold until I heard it on-the-air driving into the station.
I heard ads for restaurants advertising their lunch special for that day and the restaurant was over three hours away from my coverage area. I heard ads out-of-phase air on my AM station in the cluster that were 30-seconds of dead-air. (Out of phase ads means the left and right channels of audio cancel each other out on an AM mono signal.)
Bonneville Beautiful Music
When I moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1984, WFPG-FM was a Bonneville Beautiful Music station. Bonneville had strict guidelines about what content could be added to their music presentation and that included commercials.
Atlantic City’s biggest car dealer did the loudest screaming radio ads you’ve ever heard. We dearly wanted their business but not those screaming ads.
It took lots of meetings but we finally convinced the owner not to “wear a t-shirt to our black tie” radio station over-the-air presentation. We would be the only radio station in Atlantic City to have specially created ads that would perfectly fit the musical content of our format.
I don’t hear that happening on any radio station today.
Today, money talks and nobody walks.
Radio stations appear to take every ad that comes through the door.
When you consider the volume of ads airing on stations these days, one or two ads in that cluster than aren’t relevant might lose the listener’s ear or worse, cause the station to be changed.
WAVV in Naples, Florida is a station that marches to a different drummer. It plays music the owner enjoys and the sound is so unique it can’t be heard anywhere else. It’s why the station doesn’t stream. You have to listen to it over-the-air on your FM radio. But what makes WAVV golden in my book is that the commercial breaks are just as carefully watched over as the music. The ads are about things that listeners attracted by the music will also enjoy. Be it theater, dining, travel, clothing etc.; it’s all relevant.
John Frost ends his article by writing “We throw a bunch of stuff at the wall without using the precise filter of relevance. Start with the listener and work back. What does she care about RIGHT NOW?”
Unless the program director is given the authority to approve every element that goes on the air and insure that each goes through the relevancy test, your product is compromised.
Is what I wrote relevant to your radio station?