(By Radio Ink Chairman Eric Rhoads) As a kid, radio was the soundtrack of my life. I’d sit in my bedroom and listen to the night jocks in my hometown of Fort Wayne. Bob Dell on WOWO kept me laughing, Chris O’Brien on WLYV was the coolest name I knew, playing all my favorite songs, and of course John Records Landecker at WLS came in clear as a bell at night, as did Don O’Brien on CKLW.
Radio today is having a hard time recruiting talent, primarily because too many teens and young adults don’t have radio on their radar. (Sorry, don’t shoot the messenger.) My own kids, whose dad grew up in radio and owns a couple of radio trade magazines, can’t get excited about radio, and they tell me none of their friends listen. Instead their mediums of choice are Spotify and YouTube.
Last month I received a call from a top, well-established teen and young adult station in a major market who told me that teen listeners were disappearing at rapid rates. When I told them what to do about it, their answer was, “Oh, we could never do that.” My response to that was that they probably should sell before they lost all their listeners.
The problem of recruiting young people to radio is rooted in the problem that these same kids are not listening. We, as an industry, are not engaging them. Of course there are exceptions, but long gone are the days of the star night jocks with silly banter and interactive phones.
I’m not suggesting that what we did in the 1970s is what we should be doing today, but we should consider that the success of those stations and jocks was based in their relatability to the audience. Most of the great night jocks I worked with were most successful when they were only a few years older than their audience. They were entertaining, silly, and sounded to listeners like one of their own.
As forewarned in this column a decade or two ago, when you’re only music, you could die a rapid death when you’re not doing it as well as others. Why listen to long spot sets and jocks who sound like your dad when you can eliminate it all with a music service? They don’t run many ads, and with a small monthly fee, you don’t hear any ads at all.
Meanwhile, we’ve become so cemented in our way of doing things and the money that comes with it that we have a hard time competing. Though I’m not anti-business, a basic principle of marketing or programming is that you need to actually be better than your competitor. Maybe you are. Most are not.
What young people want is someone who entertains them. You can find your future stars on YouTube, getting audiences that are 10 times what you can do. Hire them. Make them your stars. Pay them well because many are already making millions to do a daily video.
I love radio and don’t want to be negative toward my sisters and brothers. But when do you plan to fix this problem? Once young listeners are gone, getting them back isn’t easy. I know running fewer ads is unheard of and will impact revenues, but fastforward to 10 years from now, and you’ll wish you’d done it.
Radio is thriving as a boomer medium. One day the boomers will be gone. If you want to hire new talent, they are out there, but they won’t fit your mold. You’ll have to shake it up, try something new, and allow these air talent to relate. You may have to do simulcasts on YouTube, and you need to consider that entertainment is the big differentiator. The “most music” game can’t be won.
Eric Rhoads is Chairman of Radio Ink Magazine and can be reached at email@example.com