(By Gary Begin) You may ask yourself, what’s in a name? If you run a radio station, the answer is, everything! Do listeners connect better to call-letter or “name brand” stations? The answer clearly is “name brand.” When you’re trying to create a brand, it becomes much easier to recall. Branding is a matter of building awareness in the listener’s mind. Top-of-mind awareness is the Holy Grail in building and maintaining a brand.
In the very competitive radio industry, radio stations want to carve out a unique identity among an alphabet soup of Ws and other letters with a name—such as Tide or Arm & Hammer—which listeners will recall.
In radio’s circumstance, branding is the art and science of associating what listeners like to hear on the radio, with a particular radio station. The most successful radio stations repeatedly broadcast their identifier. This aids the listener in “bonding” with the station they are enjoying. If the listener wishes to hear the station yet again, they’d know where to go on the dial.
Radio stations tend to be further ahead in the ratings if they utilize a single means of identification. The goal with a name like “The X” is akin to algebra, where “X” equal’s New Rock in listeners’ minds. It tends to send an immediate connection.
It’s rather sterile to just use call letters. A handful of radio stations still use their call letters: KDKA Pittsburgh (radio’s first station), KYW Philadelphia, WBZ Boston, as well as a handful of others. Names are an attempt to place a personality into the radio station. Research shows that listeners relate to names better than call letters.
About the only time you hear a radio station’s call letters is at the top of the hour, when by FCC rules the station is required to broadcast a station ID. The practice of branding catchy names dates back to the 1970s. Frequently, the practice consists of combining parts of the call letters and the station frequency, such as 103.3 Amp Radio Boston, Y108 Pittsburgh, Z100 New York’s Hit Music Station.
There are also names which are used to designate different stations with the same format that are owned by the same company: Nash FM which is used by Cumulus for a host of their Country-formatted stations around the country; Clear Channel, which owns contemporary hits WKST (96.1) in Pittsburgh known as KISS FM 96.1, also has KISS stations in other markets around the country.
There are some names used to describe specific formats, such as The River, which is tapped for Alternative Rock, Adult Contemporary, and CHR stations in many markets across the country. There are additional popular names such as Mix, Lite, Star, Hot, and Magic. There are also animal names used at stations describing different formats around the country, such as The Cat, Bear, Rooster, Hog, and a vegetable name, “The Pickle.”
Keymarket Communications. They brand “all” of their Country-formatted stations with the Froggy moniker. Keymarket has The Pickle and The Duck in several markets—all Oldies formats.
The practice of branding animals and using them for station mascots goes back three decades when San Diego Rock station KGB-FM hatched “The Chicken.” Animal names deliver the ability to create a strong visual identity for use in off-air marketing. If engaged properly, they provide a shortcut to listeners’ feelings and emotions, which is how you secure top-of-mind awareness of your station in your market.
Finding the right name is more important in the new millennium. Dial radios have been gone a long time. All radios use exact frequencies on the radio dial. That makes it more important to be precise in guiding listeners to the right spot on the digital dial. It’s critical in today’s competitive landscape to identify your station by the specific frequency.
Some stations have a heritage in their market and stick with their call letters. KDKA (1020) or WBZ (1030) are both examples of stations which are engraved in listener’s minds. Both stations have a unique place in their markets. WBZ is Boston’s first radio station. KDKA is America’s first radio station and one of only two stations whose call letters start with K east of the Mississippi. Renaming these stations would be counterproductive.