Tag Archives: listener experience

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.

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Does Radio Sound Choppy to You?

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. It’s like a train wreck.

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.

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A New Direction for Broadcast

rogers-pastoreLast week I told you about how our world is exploding with media to the point of over-saturation. Not only are we drowning in a plethora of media, the rate of new ways to communicate keeps accelerating at an unfathomable pace.

For one form of broadcast, RADIO, I believe it has a super power that it can wield to cut through the clutter.

Radio’s Advantage

Radio’s biggest strength is its ability to make people aware of things. More than 300 radio stations across America annually participate in “Radio Cares” to support St. Jude Children’s hospital, raising tens of millions of dollars every year.

Radio has the power to make people aware of the need, and listeners respond with their dollars.

Artificial Intelligence

Radio grew up with the strength of connecting with the radio listener by power of the human voice and a talented personality behind a microphone.

Radio is an art form. When you remove the artists, there’s not much left.

The development in the field of AI (artificial intelligence) is incredible. Amazon’s Alexa now has a “news voice” to deliver the latest goings-on in our world with the authority of a network newscaster.

But, the curious thing is, as artificial intelligence grows, we find human interaction takes on even more importance.

Radio needs to automate the backroom and other areas unseen or unheard by the listening consumer, and return to live personalities 24/7 that connect and engage the listener on an emotional level. Personalities that can not only sell the music, but the advertiser’s goods that support the radio broadcasting station.

The Radio Listening Experience

The 21st Century world is filled with people seeking out the best customer experience. And what comes through the listener’s speaker, is critical.

Radio programmers sweat bullets over their OTA signal while completely ignoring the programming that streams over the internet. The radio listener’s experience in those long commercial stop-sets is painful. Often with the same advertisement running multiple times in one of those gargantuan breaks.

This IS NOT a great listening experience.

Radio Needs to Be Personalized

Radio needs to stop worrying about reaching the most people and instead personalize its programming to a specific target audience. A specific group of people with like interests, needs and desires.

Radio that personalizes itself to an audience that shares common beliefs and/or lifestyles will deliver an advertising platform for products and services that wish to reach these same people.

Social Intelligence

Radio needs to learn how to turn its social media data into social media intelligence that can be leveraged to personalize their programming and keep it fully aligned with the target audience.

80% of people’s decisions are based on emotion.

Emotion is data too.

Fred Rogers

Back in 1968, public television in America was worried that Senator John Pastore’s Subcommittee on Communications was going to gut its congressional monies. Public television’s head selected Fred Rogers to champion its cause before Senator Pastore’s committee. Mr. Rogers testimony is still considered one of the most powerful pieces of emotional persuasion ever filmed.

Fred Rogers appeared before Senator Pastore on May 1, 1969 and it will definitely be worth your time to view and analyze it HERE

Rogers secured public television’s full funding without a single penny being cut.

During Mr. Rogers presentation, Senator Pastore remarked: “Well, I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy, and this is the first time I’ve had goose bumps for the last two days.”

When Fred Rogers concluded his testimony, Senator Pastore’s closing statement was “Looks like you just earned the twenty million dollars.”

Radio’s Mission for the Future

Radio can’t win by being artificial.

Radio needs to be earnest, authentic and live in the moment.

Radio needs personalities that are personal, informal, and that speak to human feelings and emotions using the words that the listener uses and understands.

The radio personality who becomes an extended member of the listener’s family can be powerful in making the listener aware of everything they need to know, even advertised merchandise and service.

Radio’s best investment to secure its future is creating the best listener experience both over-the-air and online.

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