Judging by the amount of feedback we received from his Thursday column, Walter Sabo struck a nerve yesterday. In his piece entitled “The Sad State of Radio…People,” Sabo stated that nobody has a problem with radio, except radio people. In case you missed it, here’s Sabo’s column again…and your comments about it from Thursday.
(By Walter Sabo) Radio is doing just fine thank you. Every hour Nielsen puts out a surprise announcement that radio is thriving. Nielsen always seems surprised. Radio is the number one medium for music discovery. Sixty-five percent of Americans will listen today. Ninety-two percent this week. More homes have radios than have TVs. Newbies like Spotify and SiriusXM call themselves “radio” because that is what they’d like to be. Radio has been a success for over 100 years because it solves urgent needs today. A proven medium. Not a traditional medium, a proven medium.
It seems that nobody has a problem with the medium of radio except radio people. The handwringing at conventions, conferences, and in the trades is epic. The gap between the reality of radio’s success as a medium and the profound doubts of people in the industry starts and stops in your hallways.
What is the inside-industry problem and how to solve it?
1 – In capitalism, value is determined by price. Suzanne Grimes is damn smart to launch an ROI program at Westwood One. Yes radio works, that’s why it’s been thriving for a century. Suzanne, not a product of the radio industry, has not done something bold. She has done the necessary, obvious thing. Bravo. Want to start feeling good? Act like Suzanne. Raise the rates, guarantee the results.
2 – Change your clothes. Dress like you’re meeting a client CEO because only the CEO is going to give you the big bucks. Top magazine sellers laugh at their radio peers because “they dress lousy.” Although it is not PC to say this, all radio employees need to dress better. WE are the visual in radio. How do we look? Our stations sound sharp and tight and modern. When the public sees a 3-D representation of the medium—you—how does that synch with their audio experience?
3 – Celebrate all wins. Walmart, Home Depot, Verizon are fairly pragmatic companies. They have chosen to be the top radio advertising investors. What have we done for them? Have we invited their CEOs to speak at our conferences or interviewed them on our top morning shows (Radio Ink Note: Home Depot executives were interviewed by RAB CEO Erica Farber at a recent RAB Convention). Have we made them STARS on our medium? Have we brought them into the emotional stream of our work? Have we given them awards, shown them in our trades, toured them through our facilities? Have we asked them to go on record as to WHY they choose radio? Let’s get going on this!
4- Fix the pay. The reason Pandora, a company that loses money, is able to take our top sellers is that they PAY THEM MUCH MORE AND TRAIN THEM TO SUCCEED. Radio’s pay overall is on 1988 scale. That check usually comes with the heartwarming message, “….and you’re lucky to have a job.” Our industry revenue is also 1988. See the connection?
5 – Try Stuff. The formats to which you are clinging were, at one time, experimental and NEW. Make it easy for people to bring you new format ideas and strategies. Make the presenters of new ideas feel good about their thinking and desire to change. Dear NAB: Where is the Marconi for BEST NEW FORMAT? “Best New” awards exist in industry organizations in most other countries.
6 – Uh, Advertise. There was a time when RADIO was the largest advertising category on TV in the month of May. That’s correct. The fastest way to build confidence in advertising investments is to invest in advertising. It is hypocritical to sell advertising without purchasing advertising.
7 – Talent is the medium. No one writes fan letters or goes to events due to the hard work of the sales department. They respond to radio celebrities. Celebrity has great value. The top three paid people in show business are not TV or movie stars, the top three are radio stars. Respect Bob Pittman for understanding that stars like Elvis Duran are the reason radio isn’t a digital song file. ASK your talent what they need to perform. Celebrate their work and reward it, right now. Book that lunch with your talent, right now.
8 – FREE THE FOOD. What do employees see when they come to work? Do they see a morale building tableau? Paint the hall, shampoo the furniture, hire a real receptionist and make all kitchen food free. Bloomberg and Spotify have lush 24/7 food buffets for their workers. When asked how he can afford that, isn’t that a waste of money, Mr. Bloomberg said, “you don’t understand the model.” I’ve been in radio stations that have wasted money on elaborate video security systems for the vending machines. That’s right a video security system to make sure that the employees who are working free overtime don’t steal soup. Unlock the vending machines, provide free beverages, stop being stupid. This matters more than those with an expense account could ever understand. Free the food.
When you walk into a radio station and see warm food, a knowledgeable receptionist and clean furniture, one becomes happier to come to work.
The gap between the reality of radio’s success as a medium and the profound doubts of people in the industry starts and stops in your hallways.
Walter Sabo is a Westwood One syndicated talk show host. His show, STERLING ON SUNDAY is heard live Sundays at 10 PM Eastern and aired on stations such as KMOX, KDKA, WMAL AMFM, WPHT, and WLS. He can be reached at Waltermsterling@gmail.com