The Emperor Has No Clothes


(By Mike McVay) The expression “The Emperor has no clothes” comes from Hans Christian Andersen’s folktale titled “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  The tale tells the story of two swindlers pulling a fraud on an exhibitionistic emperor, who is obsessed with clothing and fashion by telling him and his court, that they will tailor an outfit that can only be seen by the wise.

This results in nobody acknowledging that the emperor is in fact naked. This continues until the very end of the tale when the emperor is displaying his new outfit publicly.  The emperor’s presumed inviolability is desecrated by a village boy when the youngster cries out, “The emperor has no clothes!” The facade is suddenly shattered.

The expression, be it as was written originally using “Emperor” or as is often said “King”, is one that pops up in conversation from time to time. Often when something that’s obvious is being ignored. Frequently as a way to magnify the item that’s being ignored. Mostly referencing whoever represents the “Emperor” that everyone else sees whatever it is that’s going unmentioned. Except for the leader of the kingdom.

Given where radio, or audio if you so choose, is today … there is an abundance of nudity in the kingdom. There are those things that are obvious, that aren’t being ignored, but aren’t being addressed. There are those things that would be too costly to address in a world where shorter term thinking is important. There are those things that are unseen because of an ostrich-like approach.  The transparent, and yet ignored, items are fairly obvious to everyone. Usually to the leader of the kingdom, too.

Unfortunately, the problems of radio are well known, and often talked about with no solutions being offered. “It is what it is” seems to be the response most often shared and heard in conference rooms, offices, around the coffee machine in the lunchroom, and frequently at the favorite watering hole after hours.

Those obvious problems are Too Many Commercials, Elimination of Talent, Lack of Research, The Nearly Total Absence of Marketing, Promotions & Contesting Greatly Diminished or Eliminated, Too Many Podcasts; mostly from hobbyists, Commercial Production is Lacking in Creativity, Imaging is Lacking in Creativity and there is no support staff. I might add a willingness to invoke The Prayer of Serenity and leave those things go that can be changed. Sidenote; if you’re unfamiliar with the prayer, it is worthy of a Google search.

There are solutions, or opportunities, to at least partially cover the nudity that exists from the ignoring of the lack of clothing. The challenge and the opportunity are listed here:

  • Too Many Commercials; This is the toughest one to address, because no one is willing to allow their competition to get an ad buy that they want or need in order to hit their monthly budget. Given that on-air personalities are important, I would lower the commercial load by four minutes per/hour, but add two live sixty-second endorsement reads per/hour. Charge a premium for them. If the worst that happens, is you eliminated two-minutes and broke even financially, that’s fewer minutes of messages at the present. It’s a start and likely fewer than your competition is airing in an hour.
  • Elimination of Talent; this response will likely ruffle some feathers, but there is evidence that syndicated/network shows can beat local programming. That is if the show is really good and the station works to vertically integrate it into the community. The same for the use of Voice Tracked talent. I’ve heard talent who are VT that sound better prepared and more a part of the community that some locally live talent. I am not advocating the elimination of local talent, but they should be better sounding than network or VT talent, otherwise why not use syndication? The audience compares all talent they hear on-air regardless of the platform. You have to compete.
  • Lack of Research; the adage is “ask the consumer what they want and give it to them.” However, they don’t always know what they want if they’ve never experienced it. Steve Jobs said “Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” It’s after you show it to them, familiarize them with what you’re offering, that you can determine if what you have is going to be a success or not. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do research. I’m saying that you need research to gauge success. Don’t go by the rating services alone.
  • The Nearly Total Absence of Marketing; spending on external marketing is an expensive challenge with little return on the investment. Direct marketing, targeted marketing, social media, digital, guerilla and street-level tactics are all more cost efficient and have impact that can be monitored. It can be proven. I’m not beyond asking advertisers who have portable signs in their parking lots, or marquis above their businesses from posting a message supporting my radio client. I’m good with things as small as handing out “Tune-In” cards that ask the audience to listen-in for a secret contest to win. Think of it this way … if you hand something with your call-letters/station name & frequency on it to everyone you meet everyday no matter where you are … you’ll expose a lot of people to your station over the course of a year. Big winning radio stations were not made in a day.
  • Promotions & Contesting Greatly Diminished; contests are either group contests that sound national in scope or small prizes. Few stations giveaway unique and individual prizes or experiences that are specific for their audience. There are companies that can solve for that who present experiences for stations to use to grow audience, satisfy advertisers while growing revenue, as incentives for advertisers and for employees. While research says that only 5% of the audience listens to a radio station because of prizes, we’ve all seen ratings jump on stations that sound good and have great experiences and prizes to giveaway.
  • Too Many Podcasts; mostly from hobbyists … the reality of podcasting is that when radio stations are involved in it, they should either use a program as an on-demand feature or record a unique show that’s available only wherever the audience gets their favorite podcast. Podcasting itself isn’t really a problem, because if no one hears it, it had no impact be it negative or positive. The promotion of podcasts on-air on stations that fail to match the radio stations audience is a problem. Sidenote; those of you that worry that a podcast is taking from your audience, it may be, but podcast listeners listen to their podcasts when they want and where they want. They’re no more of a competitor than a great series on Netflix. Everything in media is a competitor to radio. That alone is why we should be focused on making the product better.
  • Commercial Production is Lacking in Creativity; regardless of market size, your advertisers expect their commercials to sound every bit as good as the national commercials on your station. Inferior commercial production hurts the advertiser’s prospect of selling their service, product, assets or branding. The fact that most radio sales people also write the commercial for their client, is where the degradation of the commercial begins. They don’t help the audience or the advertiser. There are companies that can assist in writing, producing your commercials and spec spots.
  • Imaging is Lacking in Creativity; writing promotional messages, liners, sweepers and branding messages is one of my fun things to do. If you’ve ever seen my wardrobe, you know that I like “Flash” and that’s how much of what I write sounds. Which is not always the right fit for a station. The imaging on your station has to match the audience’s expectation of your station, the product that you’re airing, and should have a message that’s based in a benefit. There are many smaller, medium and large market personalities, production directors and programmers who produce great imaging. Although there is a preponderance of program directors and production directors in all size markets who copy stations in other markets without understanding the objective of that other station. Much like commercial production, imaging can be outsourced for production, writing and voicing. There are companies that do that, too. The best sounding commercial on your radio station should be the ones that market your station.

The reality of the industry’s situation is that it is a For Profit business. We are mercenaries. I clearly understand the need to generate revenue. My fear though, is that because we continue to diminish the value of what’s on-air, we’re becoming akin to the local newspaper. It’s no longer a primary source for news, sports, weather, entertainment or even coupons. The Sunday paper at my home is the size of the weekly “trash” newspaper you find for free on a rack in the foyer of your favorite bar or restaurant. We have to stop settling and do what we can do to improve the listening experience for our advertisers’ messages and for those who use radio … no mater where they listen to audio.



  1. Mike had provided a terrific summary of the symptoms which are part of the larger issue.

    The overall issue we face is one of vision. What is radio in business to accomplish?

    Is radio simply another playlist utility such as Spotify – but only with 20 minutes of advertising per hour?

    Is radio a source for a playlist and generic content (celebrity birthdays, prattle about generic studies on the percentage of men who leave the toilet seat up) like SiriusXM, but with fewer specialized music formats

    Is radio defined as technical platform to distribute national talk shows?

    Is “spoken-word” radio only defined as national politics, sports and now betting?

    Or is radio a place that embraces its strength based on what it can do strategically and best does?


    The most successful radio, regardless of the music or talk format, is based on a “local experience.”

    The most successful radio stations are created FOR a local market. They are timely, locally topical, they sound real-time and are emotionally connecting.

    They are not utilities.

    They may have fewer people, but the people they have are influencers, similar to “tribal leaders.”

    They are talking about the things the listener sees and thinks about, which are at “eye level” – and top-of-mind.” They do so by creating a “local experience.”

    Revenue, as is the case with content, is driven locally. It’s basically only supplemented as much is it can be by the declining national revenue revenue picture, which has been destroyed. Destroyed less by competing advertising platforms but more by less competition (a monopoly) and diving for share, versus growing the national revenue pie.

    At the market level, with a strategy in place, the issues can be addressed by new or “renewed” people who will now see radio as a place of opportunity, which is currently not the case.

    From there, the tactical issues that plague the business, as Mike points out, must be addressed.

    When is the last time you heard a group head say this any of what Mike has said, and what I am saying?

    We clearly serve several constituencies, to which effective messaging is is critical on our PURPOSE.

    Internal: People on our teams

    External: Listeners and advertisers

    Stakeholders: Lenders, Wall Street, etc.

    The Industry: Companies that actually wish to rise the tide for incoming ships, versus retreat and burn down the fort behind them.

    The Future: Those we want to work in our industry but might not not see it as a destination.

    Does YOUR company have an actual MISSION and is the VISION being played out?

    Do YOU have a PERSONAL MISSION and do YOU play it out?

    If you and/or you company can’t or don’t play it out, life is too short. If it’s merely a means to an end with excuses, there are far better things in life.

    Change life’s game!!!

    Live it!!!

    Tom Langmyer
    President & CEO
    Great Lakes Media
    Acquisition & Advisory Group

    (312) 320-4700

    [email protected]

  2. Very insightful article on radio’s “issues” that seem to have been around for years. I voice-track from a home studio with a satellite radio network and am on a little over 50 country stations nationwide. We do both “generic” reads and “customized” tracks for these affiliates. I do have freedom to be a “personality” and go out of my way to localize events with my affiliates by knowing a little about their city or town and work off information from many of my station’s websites. We have received positive feedback for the “extra” localization of my “voice-tracked” affiliates. It’s a goal I strive to hit daily.

  3. Mr. McVay,
    I commend you for being the voice for so many of us who were raised on and tried to perfect personality radio. In my last job, I was discouraged to be the “Personality” that I was originally hired for.
    It’s a shame that we are taking humanity out of broadcasting. I wish I could take you all back to the 60s,70s, and 80s radio. Listeners knew EXACTLY what station they were listening to, AS SOON as they tuned in. It had an Organic Feel. Not just a jukebox. Whatever happened to “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!?”

    I would like to repost your last paragraph, with your kind permission…
    EVERYONE IN BROADCASTING NEEDS TO READ THIS 3 times in a row. Then, Breathe!

    “It’s not a fix for everyone but it’s a start for those willing to search for creative people who CAN do more than read liner cards. This IS a business, but it may be worth taking a chance to find people who find it fun to go to work because they want to express themselves. It just takes a lot of patience, work, and the ability to inspire not command to help them channel their talent. The desire to listen to a human voice with engagement ability is what builds audiences one listener at a time.

    P.S. One additional thought. The phrase I live by…because it’s TRUE! “If you touch someone’s heart, just one time, you have a fan for life! When the airstaff has freedom and trust to use creativity in a myriad of ways, they will undoubtedly touch the hearts of their listeners”

  4. I can think of four of five people right now who could do a great radio show. I don’t have the budget to hire them.

    Instead, due to several circumstances, we’re doing live, local morning and afternoon drive, have a VTed midday, and the rest of the time it’s music and sweeps (with pre-recorded “event calendar” spots and weather.)

    When I started my current gig (small market), we had five people on the air, and all of us doing off-air duties like production, programming and sales.

    Now we have three.

    We’re trying our best, but as for me….I’m tired. I feel like I’m fighting uphill, and if I stumble, there’s no one to keep me from falling.

    • Persevere. It’s tougher than it used to be and will be tougher as the business continues to evolve, but it’s still a great business. Somewhere deep inside of you is the “fun” spirit that led to you wanting to be in radio. It’s there somewhere. Find it. This business at its worst beats any job that my family members had when I was growing up. I don’t know your background, but I came from a blue-collar family. Radio is much better. Not as good as it may have been for many, but it’s still easier than working for a living. (IMPO)

  5. I agree with what Mike has observed and suggested.

    Regarding talent, in my opinion, although there isn’t the training ground there used to be and most of the good talent has chosen other venues, local radio stations can still build an audience with meaningful local community engagement and relevance. It can take many forms and I wouldn’t give up on talent. There are talented people out there if you look hard enough and some are not even in the business, Its thinking out of the box a little but hard work, natural born talent properly steered by programmers are one source of building a successful radio station.

    Communities still exist. What’s going on in your market that’s not being served by network or national programing? This involves, but is not limited to, local news, public service and promotion but host awareness and show prep. It takes time, a lot of creativity and investment on all levels. If a station has moldable raw talent, if it presents relevant content, it can still be a viable asset, Also, remember some people with a “day jobs” might still want to VT from home on their own time, or do a talk show on their area of expertise on weekends,

    It’s not a fix for everyone but it’s a start for those willing to search for creative people who CAN do more than read liner cards. This IS a business, but it may be worth taking a chance to find people who find it fun to go to work because they want to express themselves. It just takes a lot of patience, work and the ability to inspire not command to help them channel their talent. The desire to listen to a human voice with engagement ability is what builds audiences one listener at a time.


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