RADIO'S DILEMMA WITH THE YOUNG AND RESTLESS
RADIO'S DILEMMA WITH THE YOUNG AND RESTLESS
This is not a jab at Top 40 radio, the stations or the people running them. It’s a question mark. A possibility that I think needs addressing:
I wonder if the model for Top 40 radio is dead. Pop, CHR, mainstream Top 40 (or whatever you want to call it)songs are certainly pretty dominant but I gotta wonder if the way it’s presented on radio which is really a 52 year old architecture is fading from relevancy faster than you’d think. Maybe teens blatantly prefer picking THEIR top songs, loading them into their device and listening to them that way instead of listening to a radio station…waiting to hear their faves in between songs they don’t like, complicated by a blabbering DJ, ‘promos’ for tickets to a concert they’ll never win and an artificiality as plastic as a starlets chest.. Worked many years ago, but this ain’t many years ago. Back then there was no You Tube, Internet, and scores of other cool music listening applications. Radio was IT. Maybe today a Top 40 station should be more about DISCOVERY where they hear songs first that they may want to eventually load into their device. Maybe it's about COMPLETELY rethinking or even eliminating the DJ component whose style, might be painfully out of date in today's You Tube era. The biggest issue is denial. Afraid to accept that a sound and style that was such a part of the Nation's soundscape is over--- Radio people thinking this CAN’T be happening. Well—Personally I think it is. Top 40 radio strikes me as being used as a utility more than something that is creating and nurturing FANS.
To complicate things, Teens sure hate radio…and it’s not too surprising. Maybe hate is a strong word, but I’m thinking the majority think it’s pretty irrelevant, if not plain dumb. Not too hard to figure though. Unlike an old guy like me that remembers when AM and FM stations were iconic and part of life’s fabric, younger people may have first tuned into radio when they were 10. That’s 1997. The peak of over commercialized, absurd playlists, (not about length as much as the blind leading the blind instead of looking the street in the eye) artificially manufactured DJ’s and goofy production. I can never remember a time when “young” radio was SO out of sync with the streets. I think there are a few urban and country stations that at least TRY…but mainstream pop stations, alt stations and the like are jokingly out of sync. That’s why I believe traditional radio research blows. The idea of it is of course important…but the ways it’s done is blatantly flawed or else these research driven stations would be pointed in the right direction. I was listening to some tapes of stations way back—and they connected…they were almost experimental in nature. Today’s tight ass corporate sounding utilities (aka Pop stations) are what gives XM promise in that demographic…but it ain’t easy convincing listeners that we’re NOT like FM…AND—we have our own challenges to indeed NOT be like FM…ain’t easy. I call it the “Blender factor”. Blender being a cool magazine that seems to be in sync whereas the typical low age target stations are more like a cross between a bad tabloid and a weak attempt at the late Teen People. It’s important for our people to shed their baggage in the pop world, because it NEEDS shedding and the baggage is diseased. Our 20 on 20 and some of the other channels certainly aren't bad by any means, in fact they do a good job---My point is not about how the channels sound--it's WHAT is the plan that'll re-engage teens to radio in the 21st century as the tried and true way that worked last century is dated. I hope we find the answer. Recognizing that it's an issue instead of denial is the first step. Thinking about it--aggressively blowing up the playbook and decisively challenging the old way in order to create a NEW way that might just deliver the approach needed to connect in 2007 and beyond. Radio in its traditional form CAN become a medium of the aged as the new listeners opt for something that reflects THEIR era, and it's worth questioning if "youth radio" does that today.
Part of the problem I've noticed with programmers reaching out to teens is age distortion. You think you are targeting 12-24 year olds, but in reality the thing is geared for 8-14 year olds. I really wonder if anyone over 14 is impressed with Paris Hilton, whereas I can see a 9 year old being enthralled...but then you see stations targeting 16-24 year olds covering Paris and Brittney as if they are taken seriously--something I doubt. The "interest" is more of a joke. Of course all of this "12-24" stuff really has NOTHING to do with programming...zilch. They are advertising definitions. In fact it's all Bullshit unless you are selling ads. What I'm trying to say is I don't think many Top 40 stations truly reach & touch people over (for lack of a better reference) 14 year olds.
Then there’s the marketing challenge of convincing young non believers that radio is “OK”---but that’ll backfire unless it REALLY is ‘OK’—otherwise they’ll hear the message, tune in and be disappointed. If you convince people to check it out—you gotta blow ‘em away, and deliver on the promise. Nothing is worse for the cause than convincing someone that you got the goods and then delivering something that doesn’t come through. It’s deeper than a standard marketing challenge…it’s about AFDI’ing and delivering something that’s REALLY good…and attacks all the reasons they think radio is bad.
It’s a lot easier to do older targeted stations because the blueprint has been designed and while many formats that have been around for awhile disintegrated, they DID have a period when they were dead on it. It’s a matter of authentically and correctly re-creating the magic from their best eras, or inventing it as many older skewing channels are more eclectic or interesting in nature and have never been done. I see nothing wrong with “re-creating” formats that are long gone like the ones in our decades channels because those were great days that deserve to be re-lived. Re-creating or mimicking 80’s and 90’s radio is scary because I don’t think we should mimic what sucked. The challenge is to invent new takes on more contemporary formats. Fighting the urge to do it as it’s been done as many of these formats never REALLY had a golden era…at least not in the minds of civilians. Yes—you go to radio conventions and hear everyone jacking each other about how K-108 is “kicking ass” though real listeners may have a different impression. My point is either to invent, re-invent or re-create…and to know which channels need invention, re-invention or re-creation. Not easy. The radio mind tends to think that the stations you worked at that had high ratings were great. Period. I wish rating services had a “satisfaction” factor. It’s sort of like any utility. You use it but don’t necessarily LIKE it. At XM we are in the business of getting people to LIKE us…A LOT, so they’ll pay. I think we do that…but can always do it better. There are still 200+ million people without satellite radio. Never has it been more important to think like real people instead of industry types. It used to be when a listener had an idea, the response was “We’re in radio…you aren’t—go away” (or at least we’d THINK that). OR—you bury yourselves in data that is likely flawed in the first place but looks cool. Bottom line—it all distances yourself from the street…and with all the competition out there—the street CAN be your best friend….if you let it.
Many "oldies" stations are dropping DJ's. Not sure I get that. I guess that is a difference in XM. Our decades channels, particularly the 50s and 60's are created and programmed to mirror the way a Top 40 station sounded back then. Authenticity. It should screw with your head...take you back to 19-- to the point where you lose all sense of time. We bought the ORIGINAL PAMS Jingles, run old ads (so campy that no-one could possibly consider them "real" ads in the ad free environment), DJ’s who UNDERSTAND the spirit of radio on those eras. 60's even has Chickenman. FM Oldies radio is SO lame. A SHORT list of songs presented by DJ's who weren't born then, using 2007 techniques. We opt to recreate the sound...the attitude...the vibe. Why? Because it WAS brilliant! Why would we NOT want to recreate...authentically, the golden era of music radio? Those stations had 60 shares...musta been doing it right. People who were there wax on about the magic. There isn't a person on earth who was there back then who can't name most of the DJ's. They were the years that defined great radio. In fact, at XM Bootcamps, I’ve played old tapes so our people can hear it...and transfer that magic to their channel and this era. Unless you are old enough to have lived through that era, there’s a tendency to use more recent radio as your standard. That robs you of understanding radios potential. If you grew up with radio in the 80's and 90's, that's like being a modern rock artist without having experienced the Beatles, or a Metal artist that never listened to Black Sabbath or a Country artist that never bothered checking out Hank Williams Sr. You don't have to have lived in the era to apply the magic, but you DO have to experience it...otherwise you'll NEVER reach your potential. That's why I'm into history. I don't think you can design the future without understanding the past.
One of the things about XM is that we try to put DJ's where they mean something. Some channels they mean nothing--it's all abut music. But for us, the 50;s and 60's are all about personality. It's REAL hard to make it work, but we try, and I think it is working splendidly.
We DID drop a daily show called CQ, where listeners phoned in. In reality, live call ins were NOT part of 60's radio. Then again, it sounded pretty good and allowed us to engage the Nation. But it DID get out of control so we backed it to weekends. Might bring it back more frequently...we'll see.
The real gem of our Decades channels is the salutes Terry Young does of the great Top 40s of bygone days. He just did WQAM in Miami which as I always say--was the best. Did another favorite WLS a few weeks ago and had Ron Riley co-hosting. Ron was a WLS stalwart in the mid 60's. WLS is a good station to study. They were a station aimed at farmers for years, and then in '60 they went to Top 40, but were saddled with everything from Don McNeil's breakfast club to hour long news blocks. Eventually they really came into their own with guys like Dick Biondi at night...WCFL threatened them with a clean and highly cinematic presentation in '65. John Rook came in around 68 and cleaned WLS up a lot, and throughout it al, WLS remained dominant. Terry's salute brought it all back...and it was an education.
Saw this about The Associated Press NOT covering Paris Hilton. Not a bad idea for a “legitimate” new operation. There are plenty of tabloids that can cover her running out of gas or partying with Brittney.
Paris the Thought: A.P. Says Au Revoir to Hilton Hottie
On Feb. 13, the Associated Press declared its plans to boldly go where few wire services would dare to go in this day and age: the no–Paris Hilton zone.
“Next week,” entertainment editor Jesse Washington wrote in an e-mail memo obtained by The Transom, “the print team is planning an unconventional experiment: We are NOT going to cover Paris Hilton.
“Barring any major, major news, we are not going to put a single word about Paris on the wire,” the memo continued. “If something does come up, big or small, we encourage discussions on whether we should write about it.”
The results of the experiment, naturally, will be fodder for a future A.P. story. “Hopefully we will be able to discuss what ‘news’ we missed,” read the memo, which could have used some stern copy-editing, “the repercussions of our blackout for AP both editorially and business-wise, and most importantly the force that cause the world to be fixated on this person who, despite her shallow frivolity, represents an epochal development in our culture.”
Reached for comment, Mr. Washington said, “There was a surprising amount of hand-wringing. A lot of people in the newsroom were saying this was tampering with the news.” One editor’s response was apparently: “This is a great idea—can we add North Korea?”
Mr. Washington said he was inspired by the fact that, in the past year, Ms. Hilton has appeared on the A.P. wire about twice a week.
“We got lucky,” he said. “Totally by accident, her birthday party was the day before we started the experiment. There really weren’t any major news stories involving Paris, so we didn’t have that many really tough decisions to make.” Though “her name did pop up in a couple stories, despite my best efforts.”
…to be continued