(By Mike McVay) While it shouldn’t amaze me that there’s little appreciation for the theory of “cause and effect” … it does. Moreso, it disappoints me. The intense focus on satisfying the advertiser’s desired target of adults 25-54 Monday-Friday 6:00am-7:00pm has been harming content creation for years. Not only ignoring the need to build new audiences that will grow into 25-54, but also ignoring the monied demo beyond 25-54. This adds to radios erosion. Living in the today and not focusing on the tomorrow, as radio’s competitors are, is why I consider this act as a surrender.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t focus on A25-54 M-F 6a-7p. That’s the metric advertisers use. One that my success was measured by when I was a corporate programmer. Many content creators are judged by how well they perform in that daypart and with that demo. Consulting content creators in Radio, Syndication, Networks, Podcasting, Digital, and Coaching Talent has given me an overwhelming amount of information about how listeners use audio products.
Listeners use the radio whenever they want to listen. When they have time or a need to listen. They listen in prime and outside of Monday-Friday 6a-7p. The same goes for where they listen. A sales consultant once told me that “no one cares about anything out of prime.” The syndicated show that aired on that station was eliminated so that the station could air more inventory at night to enable the station to hit a cost per/point for what aired in prime. It’s hard for me to argue with the need to bring in a CPP to secure a buy. We are a for-profit business. I know that and embrace it. However, it is easy to point to the lack of programming outside of prime as radio surrendering. It is cause and effect.
It’s long been recognized as a fact that great content at night can drive morning ratings as listeners leave the radio, or whatever audio receiver they’re using, on and the station is there when they awake. This can translate to the new ways in how and where people listen to the radio and where they receive content originated on the radio. What hasn’t changed is that programming outside of prime contributes to the growth of prime-time audiences. It furthers a station’s brand. It introduces your radio content to the casual listener. It lessens the opportunity for a formed bad first impression by a new listener.
Spotify, Amazon, Pandora, Apple Music, SiriusXM, and more … play music without commercials or limited commercials … dependent on the subscription level you choose. For the most part, they lack on-air personalities or have few channels that use personalities. Why would any broadcaster believe that playing music with sweepers and jingles and no on-air talent, between long commercial stop-sets, will encourage repeat tune-in during primetime? Personalities are important to radio’s success. Without them, you’re surrendering. Entertaining and/or informative content is important to the audience.
There are many options to stop the surrender. Don’t wave the white flag and program sweepers & promotional messages that air without a personality providing entertainment and information. Some amazing syndicated programs have shown rating and revenue success airing in various dayparts. Syndicated programs can be localized using the national talents’ voices. You can make those talent appear as a part of your staff.
Syndication or network programming can be quite successful, provided you never ever “flip the switch” and walk away, there is evidence that syndicated content can beat local content. Invest time and energy in creating a connection between syndication and your station. Network shows can become desirable destinations. You get out of these shows what you put into them.
Don’t ignore the opportunity to use local or national talent to voice-track a daypart. Despite some pointing at voice-tracking as a negative, I can point to VT personalities who sound more live & local than talent who walk the hallways of stations. It’s inexpensive to have a personality voice track a show on any station. If you use a VT personality, treat them as a part of your staff. Include them on your internal memo distribution list. Keep them informed as you do your in-house talent.
It’s hard to read the news without seeing something about ChatGPT. Futuri recently launched RadioGPT which uses AI connected to their content aggregation system Topic Pulse. The use of AI is another cost-effective option for dayparts that are unattended. Talent should be concerned about where technology is taking us, but you cannot ignore it. Figure out how to harness these advancements.
Before you say that AI is incapable of connecting to a community, listen to it. It’s quite capable. The arrival of AI talent will require live & local talent to be better prepared. Use listeners as a part of the show. Be more observant and aware of what’s occurring in the listener’s world so you can relate to it on air. It makes “putting on a show” even more important.
Separate and away from this conversation is The Jack Format. That format, and those like it, are specifically designed to air without personalities. The investment in writing, production, and content creation positions the entire radio station as a personality. There is no surrender there.
Those of us who opine on the challenges of the medium must acknowledge that ignoring everything outside of Monday-Friday 6a-7p is limiting the success of a station. Ignoring demos outside of 25–54-year-olds limits future growth and encourages erosion. The advantage of providing great entertaining and informative content 24/7 is that it helps build M-F 6a-7pm.
The real question that we’re faced with is how badly does radio have to lose before we stop surrendering audience to our non-radio competitors?
Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]. Read Mike’s Radio Ink archives here.