Is the retail industry dying?
Stores that I grew up with, like Toys R Us, Sears, K-Mart, and Radio Shack are either in bankruptcy or out-of-business. Other retailers are reducing the number of locations to become more profitable to their investors.
The local retailer finds themselves even more challenged to deal with the likes of Walmart and Amazon.
Radio Lives on Local
The prescription for the radio business is to focus their programming on their local community of license. In other words, be VERY local in everything they do.
If the radio station you listen to could be transplanted into another city without changing a single thing about their programming, other than their weather forecasts and traffic reports, then that radio station isn’t really local.
If, on the other hand, you drive into a community and you have no idea what the people on the air are talking about or who the people they’re talking about are, then you have come upon a LOCAL radio station that is serving the people of their listening area.
In the smaller markets I’ve managed radio stations in, we didn’t really do much business with those big box retailers. Sadly, in most cases, after the grand opening schedule and remote broadcast, they pretty much stayed away from local radio.
The local businesses that lined the main street, or were located in a strip mall or populated the surrounding small towns, were the life-blood of a local radio station.
As Walmart and Amazon strip away the ability for these small merchants to make a living, radio’s business base is likewise being decimated.
21st Century Retailing
Retailing is being disrupted. While some retailers are closing, we also see companies like Apple, Amazon and even Coca Cola investing in building new brick and mortar locations.
The change that’s occurring according to Greg Satell is that “the primary function of a physical store is not to drive transactions, but to service and support customers.”
In other words, retailing is being reimagined.
Radio is giving up its major strength by not having live, local personalities on the air 24/7. Successful small retailers are winning because they engaged in their community and are part of the community’s fabric. They are owned and staffed by dedicated people who believe in super-serving their customer base.
We are living in a time of too much automation and algorithms.
The moves being made by the Apples, Amazons and Cokes to get closer to their customer base by having local people serve their local community is an indication that the pendulum is starting to swing in the opposite direction.
Radio cannot ignore this change in the wind.
Radio needs to unlock the enormous potential of people serving people.
A couple of weeks ago, I got a lot of people talking when I asked “What’s Radio’s Why?” What it can’t be any longer is, “we’re #1” or “we have the most listeners.” Nobody cares.
There are more radio stations on-the-air in America, than at any time in the history of radio. Ironically, there’s less choice of formats to listen to and there are less people working per station today as well.
It’s time for radio stations to define an audience for each station and then super-serve that audience. The radio stations who’s audiences are the most dedicated and passionate will be the winners, not the ones with possibly a larger, but passive audience.
Just as each station’s audience is clearly defined and targeted, businesses that are seeking those same people will become just as defined, and a win-win business relationship can be built and sustained.
As I lived through the consolidation of radio and the automation of tasks, I felt that the radio industry applied technology to many of the wrong areas of the business. The air staffs were the first folks to be eliminated in favor of voice-tracking and automation. The main radio station phone line, the listener’s first point of contact, was automated instead of having a live person to greet the caller.
The radio industry eliminated, through technology, the very points where the “rubber meets the road.” The people serving people point.
The Human Connection
I own a lot of Apple gear. I didn’t buy any of it at an Apple store. I bought it online. My iPhones from Verizon. My other gear online from Apple.
What the Apple stores mean to me is a chance to go in and play with the equipment, to ask questions and, like when my MacBook Air crashed, to have a place I can go and have it repaired, almost overnight.
The Apple stores are my human connection to Apple.
The radio industry was built on the human connection. Radio’s air personalities were constantly promoted, in print, on billboard, on television and they were always out and about in the community being highly visible. During consolidation, radio lost its way due to non-radio investors who only saw the money-making benefits of cutting costs to widen margins. Once this “Best Practice” type of thinking wormed its way through the whole broadcast industry, those benefits were quickly marginalized.
Values Shift, Not Disappear
“The businesses that thrive over the long-term,
not only see where value is shifting from
but where value is shifting to and race to get there.”
This is radio’s wake-up call.
Is anybody listening?