Great Expectations

OR FMI read with great interest the five part series by Matt Bailey on “The Alexa Effect.” In the 5th and final installment Matt shared what he called the “radio weapon Spotify will never have.” What is it? The radio personality. He wrote:

 

  • “A radio personality can tell you the backstory of a breakthrough artist that makes you want to hear her work.”

  • “A radio personality can point out that crazy line in the second verse to stay tuned to hear.”

  • “A radio personality can engage you to smash or trash a song on the station’s social media.”

  • “A radio personality can give you the chance to be among the very first to hear a new song by a star artist.”

“A radio personality can add context that will make listeners excited to hear a song that otherwise would simply be weird and unfamiliar. It’s a deeply personal and emotionally engaging weapon no algorithm can match. When we stifle their voices and their role in introducing new music simply to avoid potential tune-out, we might win a few tenths of a point in the PPM battle, but we will lose the new music war to Spotify.”

Consolidation & Voice Tracking

I don’t disagree with Matt, but I lived through the ramifications of the Telcom Act of 1996 and the consolidation of radio stations, along with the rollout of voice tracking.

Clear Channel called it “Premium Choice,” and we were told it would replace our local personalities with big market talent.

I watched in market after market as radio personalities, who were like members of the radio listener’s family, were sent to the unemployment lines. Relationships that took years, even decades to establish, wiped out in an instant.

Early Media Expectations

I grew up at a time when the family television set received a signal from a couple of antennas on the roof. We had two channels, which meant we received two television networks, CBS and NBC. If you wanted to change the channel, you had to get off the couch and change it. There was no remote control.

Our radios had both the AM and FM bands, but I remember wondering why. I often scanned the entire FM band to hear nothing at all with only the AM band picking up radio signals.

My early media expectations were two TV channels and AM radio stations. The radio provided a lot more variety, plus I had a radio in my room and our family had a single TV located in the living room. I controlled my radio, my parents controlled the family TV.

Media Expectations Change

In time, I would come to expect television to be in color, to be connected to a cable and have a remote control to easily change the multitude of channels I could now receive, from the comfort of my couch.

Radio would expand to the FM band and a whole new type and style of radio was born. The one thing that connected AM and FM radio was the radio personality. Every station had them and the decision to listen to one station over another was because of the radio personality.

In fact, I wrote an article on the power of the radio personality back in 2015 entitled “We Never Called It Content.”

I wrote this article after reading about the latest round of “forced retirements” in the radio industry.

And if you thought this type of downsizing was only occurring in large radio metros, the movie “Corporate FM” told the story of how in the 80s, ninety percent of mass media in America was owned and controlled by about fifty different companies, but after the Telcom Act of 1996 it was down to just six corporations.

New Media Brings New Expectations

Let’s fast-forward to today. I cut the cord on cable TV two years ago and all of my television viewing is streamed. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sling TV and YouTube provide me with more hours of television entertainment and information than I could ever have time to watch, and I’m retired.

Amazon Echo provides me with all of my audio entertainment and I do mix it up between stations via TuneIn and the pureplays like Pandora and Amazon Music.

I also read a lot and subscribe to several online newsletters that all link to the original source of the material.

Which leads me to this conclusion, my calendar age did not cement my media habits. They’ve been fluid all of my life.

My 21st Century Great Expectations

  • I expect NPR to open up my world to things I should be aware of, that I might not have been. I expect them to also provide me with more depth to the stories in the news. I expect them to have all of this posted online for almost immediate access. They don’t disappoint.
  • I expect my television viewing to be On Demand and commercial free.
  • I expect my music listening to match my mood and be there by simply asking Alexa to play my favorite channels when I want to hear them.
  • Finally, I expect I’m not alone in these “21st Century Great Expectations.”

Rewound Radio DJ Hall of Fame

On Saturdays, I enjoy asking Alexa to play Rewound Radio so I can hear another fabulous radio personality featured in the weekly “DJ Hall of Fame.” The other weekend they featured WOR-FM out of New York City and the air personality was Johnny Donovan. OR-FM air checks are all in stereo and the music mix has plenty of variety. It was a time when Music Radio 77 – WABC dominated the world’s airwaves on the AM band. But the one thing I notice in these weekly trips down memory lane is how integral the radio personality was in the total program. They were a constant companion. They really were radio’s “secret weapon” to attracting faithful listeners.

The question I ponder often is, was this period of radio history akin to the vaudeville period of theater. It filled the right hole at the right time but won’t ever be coming back again.

I welcome your thoughts.

14 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

14 responses to “Great Expectations

  1. Jon

    It’s true that Spotify (and all automated juke box services) don’t have the value that the radio personality brings. The bigger question is, how important is that really. In a Google search of “How important is the radio personality to consumers today?” The available quantified data is woeful. The best I could find was a research piece conducted in Italy in 2002 and cited by the Research Director 7 years ago. Not very comprehensive or up to date.
    There is a lot of anecdotal evidence on the subject including our own experiences but in the end the relevance of a radio personality is relegated to the vastness of choice today by consumers. It would be interesting to find a study that addresses where the radio personality fits in importance today in consumers media habits. If a study like that exists it would be interesting to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for contributing to the discussion Jon. You have to wonder if the fact that the radio personality isn’t more important to listeners is due to the fact that this function has been automated away and listeners don’t even know what they are missing.

      When I played air checks of the radio that excited me growing up, my students would always enthusiastically say, I’d love to listen to radio like that.
      -DT

      Like

  2. John J Demeter

    Dick, you are right on. Back when Clear Channel Bergson I had an opportunity to work with them but when I got their picture of what they were trying to build, I recognized how antiseptic the business would become. In other words they were taking the “fun” out of the radio business . The only stations remaining a success are the one’s which kept local talent. On paper turning the radio station into a giant sales staff and controlling the marketplace was too good to pass up, so they thought at the time. I believe radio still has a future but local personalities must be inserted into the local station.

    Liked by 1 person

    • But it was so short-sighted, as today it’s clear to see. The competition is not other radio operators but everything else that competes for a person’s time.

      You can’t take the people out of a people business and not think it won’t have a negative impact.

      Thanks for stopping by the blog and adding to the discussion John.
      -DT

      Like

  3. IMHO, Great personalities ALWAYS make listening better, but everybody can’t do personality! There are still great personalities today like Pat St John or Phlash Phelps (sorry…my listening tends to Satellite Radio today) that enhance what you are hearing, be it because of the background they provide you on the music you’re listening to or by connecting personally with the audience. But then there are the guys doing what I call DJ 101. Their personality is more like a joke service or clippings from the paper. You’ve got to have a personality to be one! As I said, just my humble opinion!

    Frank

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bob Hoenig

    Dick, you nailed it there. Fortunately, here at the Jersey shore, we still have stations with live personalities, and they do a halfway decent job (a couple of them are quite good). But overall radio has become antiseptic and not really a fun listen.The streaming services, for me, are like being in a “clean room:” Lots of good music but nothing fun between the songs. I’ve begun using my Amazon Alexa Dot more as a radio so I can “dial hop” to find what I like. Your blog is great, Dick. Love reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank You Bob.

      I am a life member of the New Jersey Broadcasters Association and will be back in Atlantic City in a couple of weeks for the 71st Annual Conference & Gala.

      Looking forward to hearing some of that great radio on the Jersey Shore.
      -DT

      Like

  5. Don Beno

    I agree with Dick Taylor in his response above. Today’s listener has no idea of what they are missing when it comes to superior air talent. Today’s listener is now conditioned to listen to homogenized automated music or perhaps a vanilla sounding liner reader who is not even in the same league as the air talent of the past.
    And it’s not always what those DJ’s said that breathe excitement between the repetition of the music….but how they say it, how they present it and what they tend to add to a familiar, favorite or new song.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don, the music was not a surprise. Repetition was high, but what surprised Broca’s part of our brains, were the air personalities. Just a Roy Williams says great radio ad copy surprises Broca, so do talented air personalities.

      The mixture of dependability and unpredictable provided us with hours of enjoyment, on the RADIO.
      -DT

      Like

  6. Hal Widsten

    You said it in your last sentence, Dick. Dependability and unpredictability was indeed what entertained us. Seems like I remember that there are many research projects in which the respondents said they want personality on the Radio. Perhaps now that the level of debt has been reduced we might hear more of that if the people in charge are paying attention.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I enjoyed your article. I would point out that while “rewind radio” offers a way to hear personalities from radio’s “yesteryear”, there is a whole new breed of shows currently being syndicated, mostly as a “labor of love” that provide the personality that makes listening to music fun again. The Ice Man, THAT THING with Rich Appeal, Larry Kratkow’s Nothin’ but old 45s and Dan Sweeney’s One Hit Wonders serve as just a few examples. These show, along with other are finding distribution among AM, FM, LPFM and online stations. Although they don’t have the same reach as the “Top 6” radio corps, they prove that personality radio is not completely dead. They are just harder to find. The www helps access though! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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