A Call For Innovation


(By Eric Rhoads) Where would you rate your radio station or cluster in terms of your ability to innovate? Do you feel like you’re being innovative? Like you’re stuck in the same old place? Or somewhere in the middle?

In any business, innovation is critical to survival, because no business should be the same as it was a year ago — or five years ago, or 25 years ago. In radio, innovation should be occurring in at least three areas: how you sell and service your advertisers, how you create content and service your listeners, and how you operate the back end that no one sees.

One could argue that innovation isn’t necessary once you find a formula for success. McDonald’s and Burger King are still selling the same things they sold 40 years ago, and they don’t seem to be affected by the lack of innovation. Right?

Perhaps. But when innovation is missing and you are delivering the exact same thing that your customers are used to, and about the same thing your competitors offer, you stand a strong chance of watching your business (or industry) decline the moment a new competitor innovates and offers a distinguishable advantage.

One could argue that Pandora offered something new and different, and it allowed them to steal 10 percent or more of your audience. One could also argue that Spotify stepped in and offered something different and more interesting than iTunes. What if they or others keep innovating and find ways to steal more audience and advertising?

Our industry has become almost totally dependent on certain formulas for success. Those formulas worked well 20 years ago, and yes, they are working well now. We play the same tight playlists, the same bumpers and sounders, the same jingles. But what if you were to innovate in your programming, take risks, and gradually try some new things? Would that strengthen your ties with your audience? Don’t forget, your audience is continually adopting innovations in other areas of their lives.

If you do what everyone else does, even when you do it better, you get only incremental growth. What if you were to do what no one in your market is doing? How powerful would it be if people thought of your station or your company as a leader in a whole new category or approach?

What if all the major advertisers in the world were still using the same campaigns they used two decades ago? Though many keep the same focus or slug line, they are always refreshing campaigns because consumers get bored and don’t notice them any longer. Are your listeners experiencing the same thing about your “Greatest Hits” sounders? And chances are, if your own air talent are bored, it will come across to the listeners. What have you done lately to innovate the sound of your station?

Oh, I know everyone says you shouldn’t break what isn’t broken. But why not? What if the new thing brings new enthusiasm and interest to your stations?

I see your job as one of constantly creating raving fans. The way to do that is to know your audiences intimately, and to let people try new things to superserve that audience. Encourage your people to try new things — and let them fail.

Innovation needs to occur in everything that is stale — programming and selling and servicing customers. Dig deeply into how Facebook provides advertising services, and you’ll see what the new level of expectation is and why so many advertisers are shifting budgets to Facebook.

Of course, we also have to innovate behind the scenes. Innovation can even mean cost savings. A friend of mine who creates props and costumes in the film industry just crushed his competitors by switching everything to 3-D printing, lowering his cost per unit. Are you so opposed to spending that you’re missing innovative new tech you can use in your properties?

Comfort is a dangerous thing in a competitive world filled with others who want to steal your audiences and advertising dollars. What you did even a year ago may not be enough today. You may want to gather the troops — and be sure to include the young bucks who want to change the world, who are not stuck in the way things have always been done. Ask the question: How can we innovate in all areas of our stations? How can we change for the sake of change? How can we lead our market in innovation?

Doing this will not only bring enthusiasm and energy to your team, you just might come up with something that will flip a switch and give you a giant advantage.

Eric Rhoads is Chairman of Radio Ink magazine and can be reached at [email protected]


  1. Radio, firstly on the corporate side, wouldn’t know an “innovation” if it had a saddle on it and kicked the leadership square in the slats. Radio would take personal insult and have the nag put down – just to teach it a lesson.


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