Going Up Against The Big Dog


(By John Shomby) You’re going up against one of those stations in a market that has been the #1 station for a very long time – The Big Dog!! How, in heaven’s name, can you get any traction against one of these behemoths?? For a task that may seem insurmountable, there are 6 steps to take that could help you become more than just a consistent second-tier radio station in your market.

1. Do what they don’t and, most of all, do what they can’t!

If they are a strong personality-driven radio station, unless you steal one of their personalities, you should stay out of that lane and concentrate on creating a STATION personality from the start. This starts with your music. I’m not talking about “commercial-free hours” or “10-in-a-row” sweeps. Find the most creative and unusual way to present your music.

Create a hook of some sort. Regardless, find one or two main music programming features that make you stand out and cause market talk…….and make sure you are all over your socials with this direction. The best example I know comes from KBAY in San Jose with their daily “She’s Country” highlighting a full hour of only female country artists.

2. Make every on-air promotion/giveaway sound big!

You may only have 5 pairs of tickets to a big show but make it sound as if you have 500 pairs. Be ultra-creative about how you give them away. In my Boston PD days, we did just that to counter the big dog rock station. We turned 5 pairs of U2 tickets into a massive crowd of 5,000+ in front of the old Boston Garden watching out for our “Ticket Phantom”.

Oh – and to be eligible they had to wear our call letters somewhere on their person. This was at a show sponsored by our “big dog” competitor. TV news crews showed up and newspapers ran stories about it for two days. Everybody knew who we were after that! As a postscript, we beat the “Big Dog” in the next two ratings periods (quarterly in those days). Definitely NOT a coincidence.

3. Find a local cause and own it.

One of the reasons your big competitor got to where they are was because of a strong community presence. That’s hard to top but you should look for that one cause that resonates with your target audience. Gen-Z’s and Millennials are all about being involved and they want to see the products they use do the same. Engage with your staff and find that one local cause and get behind it 100% as often as possible!

4. Make every appearance a marketing event.

This, not only, creates talk with listeners but also with clients. Be ready to do that “little bit extra” for client appearances. Instead of the usual “spin the wheel” for prizes or simple registrations, create an event. Redneck Olympics and cornhole tournaments come to mind right off the bat. No matter what, just make sure it’s something fun to play AND watch.

5. Be the station that creates FOMO.

Stay on top of what’s hot in your market and pop culture and create events/promotions/charity events, etc. that always have the market buzzing with anticipation. Find those creative geniuses on your staff to help you and the rest of the group come up with the fun.

6. RESPECT the Big Dog!

As much as you may be tempted, stay away from taking shots at your competitor. In the past, that has been highly recommended but, now, with the larger audience being Gen-Z and Millennials, I’d avoid any of that. These generations don’t take kindly to “trash talk” and will not support anyone who does. That, plus, you must understand that the “Big Dog” got to where they are because of their listeners and the market. You may be alienating more than you’re attracting with this tactic.

Finally, understand that market leaders do not last forever. Stay focused on your strategy. Involve your entire staff in the process. Stay strong in your effort. You may one day be the NEXT “Big Dog.”

Based in Nashville, TN, John Shomby is the owner and CEO of Country’s Radio Coach. He is focused on coaching and mentoring artists, radio programmers, and on-air talent to help them grow and develop inside the radio station and the industry. Reach John at [email protected] and 757-323-1460. Read John’s Radio Ink archives here.


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