What Great Radio & a Great College Experience Have in Common

For over four decades, I was a professional radio broadcaster, before beginning a second career as a college professor. Both of these professions hold a special place in my heart.

The “R” Word

The one student element that is critical for an impactful higher education experience is building relationships. Unfortunately, this global pandemic has disrupted both radio and higher education; in a similar way.

Think back on your own education, what do you remember most about Intro English or Chemistry 101? If you’re like me, not a darn thing. But what you probably do remember are those professors, classmates, or advisors that made a real impression on your life and the decisions you made during your years at college.

“Personal relationships are really fundamental to college success, “ says Dan Chambliss, co-author of “How College Works.” “It’s the people, not the programs, that make the difference.”

It’s those relationships which engage the student that are so critical for colleges trying to attract and retain students.

Radio Personalities

In the radio business, it’s the radio personality who builds a relationship for the station with the listener.

“Not everything that can be counted counts,

and not everything that counts can be counted.”

-William Bruce Cameron

 Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking

Mike McVay recently wrote this about the importance of the radio personality:

“Every radio station needs a Star. Who is that one personality that your audience will think of when they hear your station’s name? You can’t win without a radio star. Smart companies know this and they invest in personalities.

Developing an emotional connection between your on-air personalities and listeners is an effective way of ingraining the station’s brand into the listener’s memory.”

What Mike is saying is how important building relationships between the radio listener and the radio station is to a station’s success; and how it’s accomplished through the radio personality.

Business 101

Whether you’re running a college or a radio station, one thing is true for both businesses, it’s easier – and less costly – to retain an existing student or listener than it is to acquire a new one. People in sales and advertising have long known this maxim when it comes to building a client base.

In a college, it’s the faculty that are critical to establishing strong relationships with the students; and in the radio business, it’s the radio personality that is critical to establishing a large and loyal listening audience for the radio station.

Radio & Emergencies

When the first winter storm of the 2022 season struck the Washington, DC area, traffic came to a standstill on all the major highways and byways along the Mid-Atlantic coast. One person who found themselves stranded on I-95 for over 20 hours shared their thoughts and observations about the emergency situation on Facebook. Let me share with you the part that caught my attention:

“Local radio is actually corporate radio, and except for the repeated promos (“you’re listening to the rock of Fredericksburg” type BS) so there was no news or information on the radio.”

Radio broadcasters are usually quick to point out that in times when cell service goes down, that they are the citizen’s only link with the critical information they need.

Well, guess what, this person also wrote:

“I had no (cellphone) signal, GPS stopped working and I couldn’t contact anyone or look up what was going on, I imagine this was because too many phones were pinging off of too few towers in the affected areas.”

What could have been a moment of radio magic, turned into a moment of listener misery.

The Customer Experience

I used the wisdom of Shep Hyken in my university broadcast sales training classes. Hyken is a customer service expert. He writes:

The one statistic that matters most is if the customer(listener) comes back. You see, customer(listener) loyalty is not about a lifetime. It’s about the next time… Every time! So, what are you doing, at every point of interaction you have with your customers(listeners), to ensure that they come back the next time they need what you do or sell?

How do you think all those stranded motorists felt about their relationship with radio if all they could find up and down their car’s radio dial was automated music and syndicated talk programming?

There’s no doubt in my mind that those motorists who could receive WTOP’s radio signal were kept informed about their situation, but I still remember the words of a local AAMCO Transmission shop owner, who was one of my first radio advertising clients, that said to me how concerned he was to ensure that every local transmission repair owner treated his customers right. He said that all it took was one miscreant to have the consumer label all transmission repair places as “crooks.”

With the plethora of radio signals crowding today’s airwaves, the chances for a bad listener experience has never been greater.

And that should be an industrywide concern.


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

13 responses to “What Great Radio & a Great College Experience Have in Common

  1. Radio is only as good as what you did today. Were you there when you were needed. We have a snowstorm coming in tonight here. Our part timers are no longer just button pushers. They MUST go on the air and be able to communicate. So, one of them will be manning the console tonight and will broadcast weather information and join TV as needed.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Bob Hoenig

    You nailed it there a the end. The radio of not-all-that-long-ago, with air personalities and local news, was a public service. Too much of what’s on the airwaves today is noise.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hal Widsten

    Corporate Radio and many copy cats have abandoned responsibilities to provide service in emergency situations. Fortunately there are many local broadcasters who realize the importance of developing plans to be responsive, and being there when the need is great. What a difference that would have made in this situation.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ds52

    well said – if I wasn’t interested in local sports here in Tucson, I probably would not know which stations to tune in …

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Walter Luffman

    Two semi-related thoughts:

    1. Locally-programmed live radio stations, with good people on staff, do more than just keep listeners informed, The air personalities and news/weather people also help to raise morale by keeping listeners cheered up and “in the loop”. The known is always easier to deal with than the unknown; and getting your information from a familiar, cheerful voice makes dealing with disaster much easier.

    2. We spend a lot of taxpayer money on public broadcasting, most of which is nationally programmed and includes little or no local news or weather information. While I don’t necessarily call for eliminating taxpayer funding for public radio, I do think it would be a good thing for the nation (and the industry, of course) to offer substantial tax incenives to commercial broadcasters based on their live-and-local content. How about a tax break for every hour that a station has at least one actual air personality behind the mic, another for each minute of locally gathered-and-delivered news? And while I’m at it, let’s consider federal and/or state assistance (tax breaks and/or matching grants) to build, install and maintain emergency equipment and facilities for interested stations, including in small towns with only one or two stations?


    • Walter, I totally agree with your first point. However, my experience with public radio stations has been, they often offer the best local radio news service in their coverage area. The bigger problem is that many areas are not served by a local public radio station.

      Both in Kentucky and here in NW Virginia, the local public radio stations are excellent in their local news coverage, in addition to informative, entertaining and enlightening national programming.

      What I think you have hit on is, since deregulation of radio broadcasting, the quality of commercial radio service has gone south.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pete Salant, LCSW

    For those who were aware it exists, WTOP (FM) News Radio 103.5 and its twin full power booster WWWT 107.7 saved lives on the day of the I-95 snowstorm. They won new listeners for life. As did WAMU 88.5, the area’s NPR talk outlet, and a small number of other responsible broadcasters. The rest have no value and need to be regulated off the air. Excellent thinking points, Dick, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dennis Spisak
    Posted on Facebook January 17, 2022
    The saddest part of this snowstorm is the loss of local radio news. Since stations in Youngstown Ohio have become IHEART and Cumulus clones there is no local news or programming during this storm. No local voices til 9am. A morning newscast this morning talked about a fire and shooting across the state that came from out of town yet passed off as local. There was a time years ago when you could count on local radio to keep you informed….not anymore…. a shame.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s