Dear Radio: Radio stations forgetting their core product
by Paulo Dias (@therealptp) You’ve decided to buy some radio airtime. Great. You were sold on the responsive audience and the intimate, one-on-one relationship it has with its station. You were sold on radio’s ability to ‘converge’ digital and social media, and an ability to amplify. You were sold low production costs, quick turnaround times and that you get a big brand feel without having to pay TV prices.
That’s what you were sold but what did you buy? And do the radio stations really know what they sold you? Because does anyone really still know what a radio station’s core product is?
Radio stations position themselves on music — this or that no. 1 hit doowab, some or other playing the hits of your whatever, nothing but new blah blah blah. Except, radio doesn’t own music anymore. People get their music preference whenever they want them from multiple other sources, so radio can’t say its core product is music as no-one can own your music tastes anymore.
Ok, maybe radio’s product is interesting programming that encourages debate or provides information. Except that happens on social in a much more-organic, -dynamic and -conversational, or (in Twitter’s case) confrontational, way.
Radio has always excelled in talking to you rather than at you but, even in the liveliest debate, you never have more than two people on air at a time taking part. (And just as a quick aside while on this: I notice pretty much every station using voice notes to encourage listener interaction. I get it; we’re moving with the times, more people can interact and that’s fine but it massively reduces the opportunity for great on-air moments. Social media means we’re constantly fed polished, best-foot-forward content, edited to an inch of its life and losing some of the live to air, rawness that radio provides and has been famous for.)
All right, back to regular programming and trying to find what radio’s product is. It must be ad space — sponsorship opportunities, features, competitions, 30” spots. But everyone has those in some or other form, and some even have them cheaper.
So we sit here half way through this article and we’re nowhere nearer to finding radio’s real product. Yet radio stations are spending millions on music research, digital assets, digital staff, loyalty programs, online platforms, events etc, and chasing every new trend that comes along. Radio stations have gradually been turning themselves into tech companies, event companies, production houses, sales forces and commercial programming hubs — bringing in more and more staff with vastly different objectives and interests to what a radio station should have.
Does a social media manager in a radio station have a passion for great radio? Does a sales rep live the next amazing on-air moment as much as they do for the sale?
What happens is that, as different people with different agendas come into radio, radio stations and senior people in programming start concerning themselves with things such as the logistics of a concert or feeding the whims of an advertiser.
Senior programming people shouldn’t be worried about social media, video production teams or sales targets. Savvy radio groups should be outsourcing those responsibilities to agencies and teams specialising in those as a business so that radio people may do what radio people should be doing and focusing on their core product, the people who sit behind the mic.
Because your drive show hosts, traffic readers, the people who do the morning prank calls, the team behind the special news reports– that is a true radio product and, while any number of stations may be playlisting the same songs, the people on their breakfast shows is unique to them and their one unique selling point.
Who would notice?
So, dear radio, you won’t be the next tech success. You’re not suddenly going to be the go-to concert organisers and, while people enjoy your fun walks, colour runs and parties in the park — everyone else is doing them. And if you stopped… who would notice?
While you’re wrapping yourself up in doing all those things, your differentiator is being left to run itself with an open mic and not as much guidance and attention as they need.
But, if your talent disappeared, where would that leave you?
Paulo Dias (@therealptp) is the head of creative integration at Ultimate Media. He works closely with the programming teams at leading radio stations to help implement commercial messaging into their existing formats. He contributes the regular column, “Dear Radio”, looking at the changing radio landscape in South Africa, to MarkLives.com