(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.