What Radio Can Teach Other Media


(By Walter Sabo) It is wearisome to hear and read experts sharing their deep thoughts about the seemingly endless need to improve:

“What radio can learn from podcasting…” “What digital can show radio…”  “Spotify teaches radio….”

Radio has thrived for 100 years. Every new technology was going to destroy radio, instantly. Since that hasn’t happened, let’s allow other media to learn secrets from radio. Here’s what other media can learn from radio’s century of success.

1. PLAY THE HITS. If a radio station is All-News it wins by playing the hits. If it is classical music, it grows by playing the hits.

Music discovery is exciting if you’re in a pass/fail music appreciation class at a small, elite college. If trying to gain share of audience, hits are the way to go. Play the hits.

2. NO PICASSO PRINTS. There are three keys to a successful contest: The prize, the prize, and the prize. The simpler, smaller the prize, the more entries will arrive. Radio does not appeal to the Miramax crowd. It’s not a crowd.

3. LIVE ENTERTAINERS SELL STUFF. Congratulations to Entercom. Mix 106.5 in Baltimore raised over $1.3 Million for John Hopkins Center. What? How did they do that? They did it because their local radio stars, who are stars, persuaded their fans to open their wallets. Easily $1 Billion was raised by local radio stars in 2018. The local TV weatherman can’t do that. Spotify can’t do that. Without local stars, it’s just media without engagement. Empty eyeballs.

4. EASE OF USE. Ya turn on the radio and hear stuff. Good luck downloading a podcast from iTunes. Did it download? Can I hear it? How?

What’s “buffering now”? Have you tried to navigate the Hulu episode guide on your Fire Stick? Ahhaahahahahahahahaah.

Have a nice day. If the tech is a barrier to content, at some point the consumer will get frustrated and do something else.

Part of radio’s endless success is that it just works.

5. LEARN TO WORK. It is shocking to visit online, audio, podcast, digital start-ups and see their crowded hallways and conference rooms.

They won’t make a dime with those bloated staffs, cutesy titles, and undefined workflows. Number one radio stations achieve giant audience and profit shares with, like, eight people. Do some work. Stay hungry.

5. GET YOUR OWN NAME. Spotify Radio? Pandora Radio? Many new audio services call themselves “radio” then their execs pompously sit on convention panels and say how terrible AM/FM radio is! Get your own name. Make something great that works for 100 years.

Walter Sabo hosts Sterling On Sunday on Westwood One, using his stage name Walter M. Sterling. It is what your station needs, a live, Sunday night talk show. Contact him at [email protected]


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