Being Big by Being Small

by Garner Andrews

The numbers are in and the competition, K-EGO, is at it again: "Thank you for making K-EGO the number one radio station in Pompousville," they boast at every quarter hour. Meanwhile, number two ranked K-BIG is about to try a different strategy that they hope will rocket them to the top. It's not a new strategy, but it is a strategy that seems to be under-used in the radio industry--the underdog strategy, the little guy strategy, or, Being Big By Being Small.

Let me explain Being Big By Being Small.

You manage to scrape enough change out of the sofa to go see a movie. The popcorn and soda you brought from home have, so far, gone undetected and the movie ain't half bad. Then, up on the big screen, those ragtag misfits you've come to love over the last eighty-eight minutes get thrashed, humiliated and spit upon by the baddies (from the right side of the tracks, of course) in the matching ball uniforms.

The End. Roll credits.

You can hardly believe your eyes. Your jaw hits the gooey theater floor. You didn't spend your last eight bucks to see arrogance prevail. You spent eight bucks to see justice served and the little guy win.

There is no doubt in my mind that if Hollywood produced movies in which the bad guys always won, there wouldn't be much of an audience lining up for tickets. I'll even go as far as saying people wouldn't even sneak into these films. Why? Because audiences love the underdog. They love the little guys. So why don't more radio stations assume the role of the underdog? Why not try Being Big By Being Small in order to make that final push to number one?

100.3 The Q, The Island's Rock in Victoria, B.C., Canada (CKKQ), has been small now for about five years. Although they continue to be a ratings success (#1 25-45), you'd never know it by listening to their IDs and sweepers.

They've never shared their ratings success with their audience. They don't claim to be "Victoria's Number One Radio Station," and there are no direct on-air shots at the competition. Instead, they brag about a fictitious seventeen-year-old by the name of Eugene Buckmaster and how he made The Q's broadcast tower one afternoon in his grade eleven shop class. And despite the fact that The Q is loaded up with state-of-the-art broadcast equipment and is housed in a fine facility, a slickly produced ID informs the audience that they're hearing Boston's More Than a Feeling on 8-track tape. The radio station has produced hundreds of these bizarre, and sometimes just downright strange, IDs and sweepers.

Ross McIntyre is Production Director at 100.3 The Q. "Like a B-movie with a good beat," is how he describes the radio station's offbeat sound. "Where other stations point out their polish, we point out our rust."

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada is located just off the coast of Vancouver and is only slightly north of Seattle. The city is a world famous tourist destination. It boasts beautiful gardens, spectacular natural scenery and a heavy helping of English charm. But while other stations are attaching themselves to some of the city's more "desirable" events and attractions, The Q remains content to claim ownership of some of Victoria's more notable eyesores. One eyesore in particular was a burned-out motor home parked in a yard alongside a major highway. Literally thousands of listeners had to pass this spot on their way into town each morning and then again on the way home. That's when The Q's morning man, Ed Bain, started claiming that it was his vehicle and he had just parked it there, at a friend's place, after it caught fire one afternoon. This is a perfect example of how to touch thousands of listeners in a very unusual way, and a perfect example of how to be big while being small. (A sad note: The house was recently sold and the motor home went with the previous owners to an undisclosed location. Time to find a new eyesore.)

On your way home today, take a good look around. Without too much effort you'll find an abandoned slaughterhouse that would be perfect as your new "remote studio." Maybe it's that huge pile of scrap metal that you pass on your way to the coliseum. That pile of metal can easily become yours. Tell your listeners that you're building a new broadcast tower with it. Anyone who drives by the slaughterhouse or that pile of scrap will immediately be in on the gag.

McIntyre sums up what The Q looks for in imaging and promotion. "Number one, no bombast unless it's pure cheese, and number two, no horn-blowing. If anything, we always try to make sure we sound like the underdog."

Of course, the argument will be made that listeners are people and people like to associate with winners. True. But winners don't have to be pompous or arrogant. There are winners and then there are gracious winners. A gracious winner enjoys a ratings success but then moves ahead, stopping only briefly to figure how they got to the top in the first place. A gracious winner does not publicly berate the competition. Most importantly, a gracious winner has flaws--flaws that when exposed to the world make him human, make him lovable, make him small.

Five BrainCamp Creative Liners To Make You Small Today

Here are five liners that can point you down the path to Smallville.

"On a warm spring day, 1995, a group of seven strangers graduated from McDonald's Hamburger College. On their way to their first drive-thru assignments they discovered that with those little headset microphones and their mediocre communications skills, they had what it takes to be the (Your Call Letters) on-air staff."

"(Your Call Letters) a radio station staffed by those people that should never wear Spandex--(pause)--but do."

"Broadcasting on a tower you could hang a hat on, but not a coat, this is (Your Call Letters)."

"On a cool fall day, 1995, a group of seven friends engaged in a game of I-Can-Hold-My-Breath-Longer-Than-You. Several weeks later, upon regaining consciousness, they realized they now had the mental capacity to be the (Your Call Letters) on-air staff."

"Broadcasting on a tower made of coat hangers, Lego and a DC-10 engine that landed in our General Manager's yard, this is (Your Call Letters)."

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet