Asked what one step they would take to improve radio right now, a lot of Ross on Radio readers would indeed turn their attention to spotload. Recently, I decided that if broadcasters only had the focus and resources for one thing, commercial load was “The First Thing That Radio Must Fix,” because it undermines all our other efforts.
But some broadcasters would focus on recruiting the next generation of both listeners and employees. Others would try to make “live and local” more of a reality, particularly when it comes to air talent. They would also pay those personalities more. Some would emphasize that broadcast radio is a free service. Some wanted a repeal of deregulation or a breakup of the large groups, and while I don’t feel like that’s something radio can do to help itself tomorrow, it’s not like fixing spotload is easy in a leveraged world.
Before the publication of my call to reduce spotload, I opened the topic to Facebook friends and got more than 200 comments. Here are just a few:
Addressing Younger Listeners and Broadcasters:
“Research and build content that appeals to younger audiences. They love audio. They just don’t know enough about radio”—Tony Lorino, Throwback Nation;
“My daughter is 19 now and reports that she and her friends have been listening to radio [again]. Most likely the VBros on [Boston’s] Kiss 108, who do an amazing job targeting young people” – Jeff Berlin, Jeff Berlin Creative;
Radio should have “listened to Jeff Pollack in 1999 when he pleaded with cluster managers to take the lowest-performing, worst signals in markets and target teens” – Paul Kriegler, Omnia;
“I’d love to get a hold of an underperforming FM somewhere, get a bunch of young people who love radio, and listen to what they have to say” – Rob Creighton, Townsquare Sedalia, Mo.;
“Young people can be into everything under the sun, but they will gravitate to personality … if they feel [understood]”—K.J. Carson, WEEI Boston;
“I have spoken to so many Top 40 PDs that have no idea who the No. 1 influencer is at each of their three biggest local high schools. Why not?” – record-industry veteran Dave Dyer.
Live & Local, For Real: We need fewer “syndicated shows [and more personalities who are] all live and local, and [who are] allowed to speak longer between songs” — WHPC Long Island, N.Y.’s Shawn Novatt;
“The jocks need to be local ambassadors of the brand and not a voice from another station 800 miles away” – Rob Moorhead of in-store Village Radio, formerly of New Jersey’s WDHA;
“Listener promos with real passionate reactions from real listeners, not generic ‘best music while I work’ stuff voiced by sales assistants or borrowed from some other market” — Bill Schultz, Cadence13;
“Bring the community together. Get them off their screens and back to communing for fun and good. That’s what made listeners bond to stations and personalities” — promotions veteran Beverly Tilden;
“If nothing else, get back to complementing the life of the listener … pick a topic that hits their heartstrings and let them rip on air … find the next big community event. Radio has many assets to offer community partners, but the investment and commitment have to be there” – Chris Malone, KJLH Los Angeles;
“Stop trying to have one national playlist. America is much too diverse for that. Radio worked much better when it played the songs relevant in their individual markets” — John Parker.
Pay More: “Stations need to care about their on-air personalities with higher wages. It says ‘you’re not that important and can be replaced by voicetracking.’ I think we have lost many wonderful personalities because they couldn’t pay their mortgages” — former Pennsylvania broadcaster Dawn Ziegerer;
“If you can’t pay your talent a livable wage for your market, how do you expect them to have the work/life balance to create all this content you want on air and on your digital platforms? Forget about recruiting new talent when you can’t pay the ones you have” — Bonneville Seattle’s Matthew Butler;
“Air talent needs to be treated as a skilled profession and not just ‘well, they will do it for $30k.’ I love the new transparency law in New York where all job listings must have an ‘expected salary range’ — Jarrett “Skywalker” Galeno, WSPK (K104) Poughkeepsie, N.Y.;
“Local personalities who live for their community and are paid a living wage. Pssst … that’s not 12 dollars an hour” — Dianna Kelly Monk, GM WVCP Gallatin, Tenn.;
“We can get into the spotload debate or salary; however, without local, local, local talent serving the community every day, seven days a week, in real time, and looking for their reaction as a foundation, it’s hard to look beyond that. We need live talent who know their brand, their audience, and how to connect” – WDHA PD Terrie Carr.
Be Free: “[We need] an industry-wide marketing campaign solely focused on the ‘free’ angle. No subscriptions, no logins and passwords to forget, no bills. Always there, always on. Free content 24/7”—Connoisseur’s Kevin Begley;
“Shorten the stopsets, put more value in the commercials, and remind listeners it’s the best radio money never buys” – Chicago-based voice talent Chris Duffy.
Spotload: “No sane human is going to sit through 12-15 commercials twice per hour” — Eddie Haskell, Max Media, Norfolk, Va.;
“100% spotload” – Nick Petropoulos, Arista;
“We put up two monster walls an hour that beg listeners to tune away. We need our advertisers to see the benefit of spending their precious dollars with us. But when their spot is buried with a dozen or more messages, there’s no way to get results” – consultant Dennis Constantine;
“WIBC Indianapolis was running 19 spots an hour. [Jim] Hilliard only let me cut it to 18 … instead of whining, I made the commercials better. We got a 19.3 share”—AC radio pioneer George Johns;
“People would listen through a reasonable amount of commercial material if there was relevant, desirable content in the first place” — Tom Langmyer, Great Lakes Media.
Also: “Rescind deregulation for a start. Back to smaller local broadcasters”—Willobee Carlan, Colorado Public Radio;
“Put radio people back in charge of radio stations and kick the … bean counters back up to corporate”—Scott Gilbert;
“Quit making it mandatory for personalities to be social-media people. Most stations produce social content that is worse than just not doing it”—Ric Austin;
“Most radio stations need to do a far better job of advertising themselves on platforms that [they don’t] already own” – Bob Welch;
“Put effort into special days/events to make listening an experience so radio is foreground, not background” — Troy McCallum, PD CHBM (Boom 97.3) Toronto, which shines on holidays. Be sure to hear it on Thanksgiving;
“Upgrade your stream-audio quality. Streaming FM sounds like AM audio. Unless I’m in my car, why listen?” — Thomas Lytle;
“One thing that a music station’s PD can actually fix tomorrow? Imaging. Listen to the cutting edge of today’s music and craft a station sound that manages” — Matt Bailey, Integr8 Research;
“A better, more-accurate ratings measurement system”—Mike Moore, WKHX Atlanta;
“Thin the herd. There are simply too many stations clogging the dial that make no money, don’t serve their communities, and have very little audience and virtually no live personalities. They are there as flankers … or as an expense carrier … radio’s version of a boarded-up shop just sitting empty” — Jeff Winfield, NRG;
“I wonder if the jocks at WLS, WABC, and KGB back in the day sat around and asked these questions. They just did [these things]. With all our collective experience we know what we need to do to make things better. Just do it” – Craig Russell, KHBT Humboldt, Ia.
You can’t fix just one. Joy 96/Boost Radio St. Louis PD Mike Couchman had a six-point plan:
- Unleash the dormant personalities in our DJs (and give them consistent coaching);
- Uncommodify the music and reconnect the DJs to it. 120x spins a week on so-so songs doesn’t build cume, no matter what Tik Tok says. Bring the spin counts back to Earth and celebrate the jocks whose excitement about the music rubs off on the listeners;
- Get out in the community and make friends. Rehab paid remotes to be actual destinations worthy of a listener’s time instead of a low-engagement money grab;
- Actually have enough talent to pull any of this off, and pay them fairly so they don’t have to hold down two other jobs just to read your generic/national/unengaging keyword-text contest;
- Fix spotloads and spot quality. Remember when actual copywriters were on staff?
- Ask yourself and your team regularly: How can we surprise and delight our listeners today?