(By Eric Rhoads) Imagine for a moment that your transmitter went down for five days. How would you still make significant contact with your listeners to keep them engaged, to communicate with them, and to get them back once you got back on the air?
You say it could never happen?
Perhaps not, but sometimes the best plans do go wrong. Back in the 1970s, I was the PD of a station where this nightmare came true. Five full days off the air due to some tech issue that couldn’t be solved. Our transmitter was destroyed, and our backup was somehow destroyed as well.
I felt totally helpless. Our team of air personalities went to work quickly on a visibility plan that included five full-page ads in the local paper. I don’t recall the copy, but what we wrote turned the negative into a positive.
We also managed to get a very visible spot in a local mall to play music and interact with listeners. We got the word out by calling the biggest high schools and junior highs, and we held a couple of dances a day for five days. All this was orchestrated within a few short hours of finding out we couldn’t get back on the air until new equipment was shipped and installed.
No, this specific event isn’t likely to happen to you. But we learned some valuable lessons. We realized that our station’s success had been like having a single pillar hold up the Parthenon — and when that pillar failed, the result was catastrophic.
From that point forward, we found ways to keep our station alive and visible every day of the week — with things that had nothing to do with being on the air. All due to what should have been a disaster. With our newly aggressive stance, we managed to become the number one station in our market — even with five days off the air during an Arbitron survey period.
The usual response to remarks like this today is something like, “The company won’t give us any promotion money.” But at that time when I went to
the GM, who was faced with the loss of ad dollars and the sudden need to buy a new transmitter, we were not given a dime. As a team, we decided that if we did nothing, we would come back to a much worse situation. So we got creative. We put in our time and energy without being paid, we pooled our money and bought a “disco” system, we silkscreened our own T-shirts in my garage, and we managed to leverage our contacts to get free space in the mall and some print ads.
A mentor of mine once said that a great promotion isn’t about money — and sometimes money even gets in the way.
Today, of course, you have the benefit of contact via social media (though only 7 percent of your friends or followers list will actually see any given post), and you have the ability to use Facebook Live video or audio. You could potentially even literally replace your programming online (though you’d have to look into song rights issues if you were using something like Facebook Live).
Is there a point to all this?
It is simply that a lot of people pine for the days when radio used to do promotions — but a lot of those promotions could be done now by a passionate team who were willing to work hard to win. It’s not always about the money.
Though it’s a slim chance you’ll ever be off the air for any length of time, there is good reason to think through what you would do to get the word out without your signal. Start doing those things now. Not because you’ll be off the air, but because you’ll grow your audience; you’ll reach people who don’t even know you exist.
Not many stations today have budgets for billboards or TV spots, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have both generated by your listeners through creative outreach using the power of social media.
I’m guessing that all of us would do creative things to stay in contact with listeners if we were forced to. But if you start doing those things when you don’t have to, you’ll gain a huge edge in your market — without having to spend a dime. Why not do it now?
Eric Rhoads is Chairman of Radio Ink magazine and can be reached at [email protected]