Production 212: The Demise of Broadcast Radio (NOT!)

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

I’ve been having one of those really frustrating days today. I had an article for this column all written and ready to go, but something has come up that is bugging the heck outta me, and feel compelled to start over again. I don’t really have any audio that ties in with this column, so I just submitted a promo for the heck of it. I hope you like it.

So, what has my brain all tied up in knots? Yesterday, I got the results of a new study. I can’t share the results with you, as they are proprietary, but one of the assumptions made at the very beginning is that listeners tune out because of commercials. This has become an almost religious mantra in radio that I keep hearing everywhere I go.

The last few conventions I’ve seen have been filled with panelists wringing their hands over the imminent demise of broadcast radio because of iPods and satellite radio. They’re all concerned because it’s now so easy to have non-stop music at the listener’s fingertips, 24 hours a day. What a load of horse apples!

I just don’t buy the theory that people tune out because of commercials. I believe they tune out because of “BAD” commercials. Too much hype, too many clichés, too many phone numbers are all ingredients for “bad” commercials. If we can touch an emotional nerve, say something that’s interesting, funny or compelling, they will continue to listen – every time.

If we look to our broadcast cousin, television, think about the Super Bowl. Every year, millions of people tune in. It is constantly one of the highest rated TV events of the year. Why? Well, there is that little thing about the football championship going on, but there is definitely more than that. If the Yankees don’t make the World Series, I don’t watch the World Series. My team isn’t in it. What do I care? I’d rather watch reruns of Desperate Housewives. The Super Bowl has something the World Series doesn’t… brand new commercials. We ALL watch the commercials during the Super Bowl, every year. Tell me that commercials make people tune elsewhere.

The assumption that people tune out because the music isn’t playing just doesn’t sit right. If people wanted juke boxes in their cars, we’d have been out of business decades ago, first with 8-tracks, then cassettes and more recently, CDs, and now iPods and satellite radio. Broadcasters have been guilty of feeding that assumption too. How many times have we said, “More music, fewer commercials?” It’s almost like we’re saying Music = GOOD; Commercials = BAD. I’m sorry, but that’s really stupid. Perhaps short sighted is more like it. Even worse is “More music, less talk.” If people really wanted less talk, they would have already jumped to satellite. Instead, this nationwide service has as many subscribers as people living in one major city like Washington, DC.

I really believe that the emphasis should not be put on fewer commercials or less talk. Put the emphasis on the real listener benefit, entertainment. Not just music, not just vital information, but entertainment is the key. THAT is why people listen to the radio. We’re their carpool companion, their office-mate or shower karaoke machine. Without the mortar we put between all the music, we become a pile of bricks with no personality and no compelling reason to listen.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t have fewer commercials or less talk. Believe me, the audience is hip to the idea of more music, and will undoubtedly migrate to the station that really provides this kind of presentation. But we really have to stop saying that commercials are bad. All we accomplish by doing this is plant the idea in the listener’s mind that when a promo or commercial comes on, they should jump to another frequency. It’s almost like we’re giving them permission to change stations. Stop that!

Instead, make sure that every promo, sweeper and commercial is entertaining! We want them to listen to at least some of the commercials or our revenue will dry up. Commercials are GOOD. Commercials pay our salaries and pay for all the cool toys we play with every day. Make the commercials and promos special. Make sure they reach out and touch the listener in some way. Make sure they have emotional content. Make your promos, sweepers and commercials as good as the music.

Of course, that’s why you’re reading this magazine, right?

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