Today in America there are more radio stations on the air than at any time in its almost 100 year history. More radio stations are taking to the air every day. That’s a good thing, right? I would argue it’s not.
When I was working for Clear Channel Radio (yes, it was once called that – now it’s iHeartMedia), the President was a man named John Hogan. Hogan came up with a plan to reduce clutter. He called it “Less is More.” On the surface it sounded like a grand plan. However, the devil is always in the details and the devil was Clear Channel was now going to move away from a unit based inventory management system to a one that included half-minute long commercials, ten-second commercials, five-second long commercials it branded as “adlets” and one-second long commercials it branded as “blinks.” In the “blink” of an eye, the amount of units grew and we would learn that people don’t notice the length of commercials as much as they do the number of interruptions they are confronted with. “Less is More” would inadvertently introduce more clutter in the name of reducing clutter.
Well some clown named Ronald McDonald must have been watching us because at the end of last year, McDonalds announced that its menu had become so unwieldy that even the chain’s president had no clue as to how many items it contained.
In his book, “The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less” psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for consumers. That while autonomy and the freedom of choice can be healthy and good for our well being, modern Americans are faced with more choices than any group of people in the history of the planet and all this choice is having the reverse effect.
I remember the headline in Forbes “You Can Now Play 100,000 Radio Stations On Your TV with Google’s Chromecast.” A hundred grand? I have trouble finding enough radio stations I want to listen to, to fill the pre-sets on my car radio and they only give me pre-sets for 6 AM stations and 12 FM stations. I have a 10-minute commute on a bad day, so I don’t do a lot of button pushing.
Edison Research now calls their radio study the “Infinite Dial” because with the advent of streaming audio, we have the ability to listen to radio stations all over the world. I have ten Apps for listening to streaming radio on my iPhone and iPad. Of those, I primarily use three of them the bulk of the time. Of the three, one dominates. That single App now curates over 90 different genres of music. The good news is that I can create a “Favorites” section so I only need to choose from a limited number of genres to match my mood.
When radio began consolidating into clusters, adding HD signals & sub-channels and then streaming, the complexity proved to be a challenge to an ever shrinking workforce challenged with programming and selling all of those product offerings.
Schwartz tells us that modern psychology shows that happiness is affected by success or failure of goal achievement. Radio workers and McDonald’s folks probably aren’t all that happy; not like they once were.
McDonalds last year recorded its worst domestic comparable sales figures in more than a decade. In radio, being even with last year’s numbers was being called the new “up.”
McDonalds plan is to reduce the number of choices, focus on those items they will serve to improve their quality to delight the customer.
Most people’s cable or satellite TV package delivers hundreds of channels and yet, the most common thing people are heard to say “there’s nothing GOOD on to watch.” “Good” being the operative word. What a change from when I was growing up and my biggest problem was a GREAT show was playing on all three television networks; at the same time (days before VCRs and DVRs).
Radio in that same era was exciting, innovative and totally focused on delivering great content. These were the days when a Top40 radio station like CKLW had a 20-person news department on a radio station that was all about music not news. Had an air staff that was refreshed every three hours with a new disc jockey, had an off-air program director, a music director & assistant that did music research, a promotions department & promotions budget, plus consultants all for a single radio station.
Less is more works if more people can focus their attention on less.
Take it from a famous restaurant clown, “Less IS More” in more ways than one.