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.
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.
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.