(By Mike McVay) The pandemic created multiple changes in the lives of many. Being in lockdown introduced us to previously undiscovered shows on streaming, on-demand, and podcasts. It reintroduced us to family game nights, reading books, taking walks, and most importantly learning to work from home.
WFH existed before March 2020, but it wasn’t widely employed. The commute was greatly impacted by the pandemic and that disrupted how radio was used and where it found an audience.
Fast forward to today: early 2024. Audience impressions have returned to pre-pandemic levels, but the time spent listening has not rebounded. The audience is there. Radio isn’t holding them.
The increased level of competition for all media is well documented, but this new post-pandemic world of eroding AQH is a problem that needs to be addressed. It’s about more than competition. Better programming is a part of the solution, but it isn’t the complete solution.
We need to start over.
There’s a lot of work to be done. We’re not espousing “saving radio.” I’m saying, “Save yourself.” You only need to be highly rated, but you need to be highly rated. There’s only room for the best stations to show up on an ad buy. You need a driven, savvy, scrappy sales team and strong sales management. Most of us are in the “for profit” sector of radio. The need for Programming and Sales to work together is more important now than possibly ever.
Few people listen on actual radios. Many are listening online – be that via smart speaker, mobile, computer, bite-sized social media content, podcasts that repurpose radio shows, and radio shows connected to video. You need an app and to promote it heavily.
Every radio station in North America should consider Total Line Reporting (TLR) because the audience listens on multiple platforms. I believe, unless you’re generating big money from your stream, you should be in a full simulcast with what’s over the air onto all platforms. It’s where the audience lives.
By the way, that doesn’t mean increasing commercial loads. We, as an industry, play too many minutes of commercials and we air too many units. We should give higher value to the live commercials we air, and we should continue to sell and execute live appearances at a premium. Commercial production needs to improve. Promotional messages need to be viewed as if they’re commercials. Same as a promo for a podcast. The audience hears them as commercials.
On-Air talent should be personalities. No one needs a nice voice that lacks an engaging personality or is lacking in strong content. Talents need to do better show prep, need to be aware of audience research, and understand the art of performance as a personality versus being an announcer. Be efficient in your content delivery. Local versus national, as a debate, will continue to be argued. I can point to talent that voice-track into a market from elsewhere and they’re more entertaining and prepared than the locally live talent. It is a privilege to speak on the air today. Don’t take it for granted.
Be available when your audience is most available. Stations should look at their surge hours. When are the most listeners listening to your station? That’s when you want the best talent on-the-air. That’s when you give away the biggest prizes. That’s when you air fewer commercials. That’s when you have the most critically important stories on spoken word stations and the biggest hits on music stations.
Unleash your creative animal. Create dynamic imaging. Produce commercials that are worthy of the investment your advertisers are making in your station. If a fourth of an hour is going to be commercial messages, they better be engaging. Develop unique ways to share such messaging with your audience.