What I mean by that “choppy” observation is that radio has lost its flow. Today’s radio for the most part is herky-jerky. On-air production is constantly starting and stopping with every programming element and to a life-long radio guy, poor on-air production grates on my ears.
Where’s the Flow?
What I loved about listening to radio growing up was each station’s on-air production. The flow of programming elements was exciting. A radio station’s jingles flowing into the next record with the air personality working their magic in the mix.
But today, we hear a commercial end – a jingle plays and ends – a record begins – and then maybe an announcer (I dare not call them a “personality”) read a liner card. It’s all so disjointed and it’s anything but smooth.
Moreover, every programming element is generic. The station has no local feel about it.
Great On-Air Radio Production is Hard to Find
One of the stations I enjoy listening to for great on-air production is WETA-FM out of Washington, DC. WETA-FM is a classical music station, but its flow is seamless. Its personalities are personable and, for me, they are the #1 reason I so enjoy the station, along with the fact that WETA-FM brings this same detailed attention to every programming element.
Another Washington, DC radio station that delivers flow, personality and is a pleasure to listening to is News Radio WTOP. This radio station is usually the nation’s top billing radio station and has won every radio award; more than once.
You can’t transplant either of the stations, as they are fully programmed to serve their marketplace and no place else.
Syndication & Voice Tracking
The reason most radio stations don’t have great on-air production and flow can be attributed primarily to syndication and voice tracking.
With syndication, stations on the network need to all wait for network cue tones to fire their programming elements. Also, if their local production isn’t perfectly timed out, there will be gaps between the programming elements or a programming element will be cut-off.
The other problem with syndication is that it’s not unusual to hear a radio commercial repeated more than once in the same break. I’ve heard the same commercial play three times in a single break, sometimes this occurs with the same spot playing back-to-back.
With voice tracking, an announcer is tracking for multiple stations and never is really able to focus on a single station or radio market. It sounds like they’re talking at me and not to me. Often, they seek out generic content that can be tracked in multiple markets. I don’t need Facebook content read to me, I’m on Facebook.
The Listener Experience
Great radio is all about creating a fabulous listener experience, unfortunately that is rare on today’s radio dial.
Sadly, I understand how under-staffing means that today’s radio talent is wearing multiple hats (often more than four, according to the latest research from Fred Jacobs) and has little opportunity to give any one of their responsibilities more than a moment’s focus.
I often think what your favorite NFL team would look like if the quarterback also was the team’s coach, punter and played defense.
Or how would football fans feels if their team was under the same ownership as three other NFL teams and their quarterback also played for one or more of those other teams.? My thinking is that this would spell the beginning of the end of raving football fans.
Well, as I travel around America, I hear the same announcers on multiple radio stations.
How can any radio station expect to have listener loyalty when their on-air announcers don’t even have station loyalty? Listeners know great radio when they hear it. They will continue to listen to your station only until something better comes along, and we all know it’s easier to retain a listener than to acquire a new one.
Until the listener experience is Job One, today’s radio will be contributing to its own undoing.
(This article was originally published on October 3, 2021)