I read the transcript of the interview Mark Ramsey did with Gordon Borrell about how radio advertisers are less interested in audience and more interested in a buyer. It got me to thinking about my own radio sales experiences over my career.
Live by the Numbers, Die by the Numbers
Anyone who sells in a rated market has probably heard that phrase about what happens when all you sell are your ratings numbers. But what happens in unrated radio markets? How do these folks sell?
Cash Register Rings
Early in my radio career I landed my first general manager position at the age of thirty. It was as GM of an Al Ham formatted “Music of YOUR Life” thousand watt AM daytimer with no pre-sunrise or post-sunset authorizations.
In a market with no audience ratings measurement what we did was create a fan club for our listeners. We then created a fan club book of the names and locations our listeners lived. This book included state representatives, mayors, major business owners and even television & movie stars. It was a pretty impressive foot-in-the-door and helped us to close many sales.
But the way we measured the impact of our advertisers’ radio commercials were in cash register rings. That’s the real measure of R.O.I. (Return On Investment) for local owner/operators.
Does Anybody Really Listen to THAT Music?
I remember calling on the manager of our local Agway store as if it were yesterday. Rick Hurd was his name and he was about as old as I was at that time. He loved contemporary music and the big band selections my station played were definitely NOT his “cup of tea.”
“Does anybody really listen to THAT music?” he always asked. I said “YES, lots of people do and they are the very people who own the big country estates that you should be doing business with.”
After lots of weekly calls, Rick Hurd gave me my opportunity to show what my radio station could do.
Tell Our Advertisers You Heard About Them on “The Music of YOUR Life”
A key component of my marketing strategy was to air on a continuous basis how important it was for listeners of my radio station to tell our advertisers they were listening. We did this in a variety of ways and made sure to keep this type of messaging fresh.
Shortly after Rick began his Agway store advertising on my radio station, I stopped in to see how it was going. He said, “Dick, I still find it hard to believe that anyone enjoys the music you play over the radio, but WOW are those folks ever vocal and passionate about your radio station.” “I hear about your radio station at least once an hour from customers, some of whom I’ve never seen in the store before,” he told me.
How Many Listeners Do You Need to Be Effective?
I won’t ever know how many listeners we had to that radio station, but I do know how many were in our fan club.
The “secret sauce” of our marketing was making sure our audience understood how important it was for them to tell our advertisers they were listening and that they loved our programming and that in order to keep it on-the-air, they needed to patronize our advertisers and tell them what brought them into their place of business.
Bonneville Beautiful Music
Based on the sales success I had with an AM daytimer, my company’s President/CEO promoted me to general manager of his newly acquired Atlantic City radio stations. The AM station was a thousand-watt full-time news & information station and the FM was a 50,000-watt Bonneville Beautiful Music formatted radio station. Both stations appealed to a senior audience.
Atlantic City was a rated market and so Arbitron Ratings were important, especially for the advertising agencies out of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore etc.
But what we really sold was the quality of our audiences and we worked very hard to build personal relationships with all of the buyers.
As general manager, I often went on out-of-town trips with my director of sales to call on the people who bought the advertising. We constantly heard “we’ve never met anyone from any of the radio stations in Atlantic City before.”
Relationships are VERY important in the radio business.
And as Simon Sinek likes to say “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Another factor I employed in talking about the quality of our audience and the tremendous buying power they wielded came from the research of Dr. Ken Dychtwald that he conducted during the period of 1973 to 1979.
In 1986 Dr. Dychtwald coined the term “Age Wave” and formed a company to consult companies on how to market to a mature market.
I devoured Ken’s book and used it to market my Atlantic City radio stations to advertisers.
Key Factors to Consider
The Age Wave http://agewave.com/ website lists four key factors that will reshape supply and demand as the boomers move into maturity. The two that radio should be considering how to leverage are:
- Boomers will have increasing amounts of discretionary dollars (for many) over the long-term as a result of escalating earning power, inheritances, and investment returns
- Boomers will undergo a psychological shift from acquiring more material possession and towards a desire to purchase enjoyable, satisfying, and memorable experiences
The future is filled with challenges and opportunities, but then that’s always been the case for those who could see them and were willing to roll up their sleeves.
16 responses to “NOT the Music of MY Life”
great material Dick! I lived through those days, but with Country Music (Laurel-Hattiesburg, MS) – in-rated market. “Audience Engagement” was my focus (calling in ‘community/charitable events’, local sports, sharing jokes, birthdays, etc) Anything to build ‘community engagements with the station.
As listeners (businesses, families) shared information, our AM 1240 station created ‘sales & promotion packages to ‘create business support (sponsors) for those events/activities)’. As local businesses revenue grew, so did our billing. WLAU was ‘Involved in Communities is our area’ & businesses benefitted from our Relationships. I always learn from your posts. Thank You!
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What a great story about your radio station and being totally engaged in your community. Thank you for sharing. -DT
Excellent article. And right on point. The problem is there are many people in radio who don’t want to roll up their sleeves. I’ve known some people who don’t even know how to roll up their sleeves. And if they did they wouldn’t do anything anyway. What some people like to do is go find a place at the radio station to hide. It could be their office, if they have one or the staff lounge or the production studio. Just somewhere where no one can readily find them and ask them to do some work. Here’s the kicker. Sometimes the person who hides the most is the station manager. Yes, that’s right. The station manager. And so it goes….
I hear you Curt. Thanks for stopping by the blog and adding your thoughts. -DT
I learned a new term today, thanks! I looked up “Al Ham” and discovered where WAMB in Nashville got its theme, before they went to “Big Bands and Beautiful Ballads” as a slogan.
What you say about pumping your listeners to mention the station is true. Our local historic country music format seems to be on deathwatch, with the classic disc jockey intoning how blessed he feels to have a job-and health insurance at his age-and he’s knows the other crew feels the same way–the last place to have an evening live D.J. call in show; it’s like watching a Ford Trimotor land at the airport for wonder, warmth, nostalgia and novelty. The station is going to a “sports talk’ format on Sundays starting this weekend. They have long sold blocks of time to folks with shows unrelated to the station’s theme. It can only last so long if the money runs out of The System
You said a lot about the way radio gets in its own way. Thanks for sharing. -DT
Dick…the first time I heard this concept was when I was a young guy in this business, and was lucky enough to work with the legendary Ruth Meyer and several of her original Good Guys at WHN Radio in the early 70s. At the time, we were a struggling country station in NYC, and Ruth pulled out all the stops, using many of the “tricks” that she’d used to make WMCA so successful in the Good Guys days. One day she told us of a stunt she pulled, where she had all the DJs ask their listeners to send in a post card telling them why they loved WMCA. Turned out they got thousands of them! They piled them all on the table in the conference room, took a picture, and their salesmen took it on sales calls with them to show the kind of relationship they had with their listeners! Much like the thousands of entries WABC got each year in their Principal of the Year contest, these kinds of events go beyond numbers to show the kind of relationship a radio station has with its listeners! Too many people today forget how important the word RELATIONSHIP is, both between a salesperson and client, and a radio station and it’s listeners. Nothing wrong with the old lessons. They worked then, and they’ll work now.
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What radio consolidation has really done is break up those all important relationships — both with DJ’s & Listeners, as well as with Sales People & Advertisers. Both are VERY important for having a successful radio operation. I’m on the same page as you Frank. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. -DT
Connections, Strategic Partnerships, Modern Presentation and Boomers to The Rescue! Thanks, Professor DT!
Our local “Music Of Your Life” station is at a great spot on the dial (96.9 FM) and yet just seems to throw away the opportunity to utilize the signal for anything but random reels and drops, huge switches from one genre to another with no transition….just a hodge pudge of obviously unplanned programming. It’s totally automated and the news or weather will happen spontaneously in the middle of a vocal….same for commercial. I have been out of the business for almost 20 years, but I could walkin the door and turn that bastard child into a moneymaker in less than a week. So sad.
Rusty, it’s not one thing that makes a great radio station, it’s everything! Radio only looks easy when it’s done right, but that’s the case with perfection in any endeavor. Thank you for reading the blog and contributing your thoughts. -DT
I managed 1340 AM Philadelphia for years
And juat like your story Dick
We had to look up to see bottom
When it came to audience measurement as defiened by Nielsen
But advertisers told us different
Hundreds of retailers bou ght us time and again because we deluvered and our events were a smash as well
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Small merchants based ROI on “cash register rings” and your story proves it David. Thank You for sharing your experience. -DT
Reblogged this on artversnick.
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Thanks for sharing the thoughts Art. -DT
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