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You Have A Nice Personality

October 1, 2019

Radio has been under siege for years but still remains a viable advertising and entertainment medium. However, we are now in the process of squandering what makes us unique and valuable: personal connections.

As an industry, we like to tout our on-air personalities as being difference makers. But how many jocks really do stand out? How many bring something compelling, interesting, or memorable to the radio every single break?

I bring this up as I have become hooked on the SiriusXM channel Outlaw Country. The music is an interesting – if not eclectic – mix that does not always hit my sweet spot. What keeps me listening are the personalities.

These are not your garden-variety disc jockeys. They are not selling a contest or sales appearance. They are not telling me the latest stale celebrity gossip or touting yet another concert appearance. As a matter of fact, they have a very difficult time just reading the promo cards. To be precise, they just read the liner cards verbatim.

They are – for the most part – true personalities. The kind of people you would like to spend time with. They are likely too far out in left field for commercial radio but what they deliver is an object lesson in the lost art of personality.

One of my favorites is Elizabeth Cook. She is a country performer and her weekday show is called “Apron Strings.” She is all over the place, and she owns it. Her breaks are full of non-sequiturs. Sometimes she talks so fast – and her Southern accent is so thick – that you can’t understand what she’s saying (unless you’re fluent in drawl). None of that matters because she is present, engaging, and adorable.

She oozes personality.

Radio still runs on the time-honored model of packing Morning Drive with high-priced talent whose mission is to entertain and amuse. After that, the day generally revolves around shutting up and playing the hits (while making sure to promote the web site and Alexa skills). This worked for decades, but the competitive landscape has changed.

I see data from a lot of PPM markets and – as a general rule – there is more available AQH between 2:00 and 5:00 pm on Monday through Friday than there is in ANY hour of Morning Drive. I will leave the “why” of that to smarter minds. However, the “what” is very important. Why don’t we treat PM Drive (or all day parts) like we do Mornings? Why do we restrict the so-called entertaining part of our program day to one small block of time?

Could it be because we think talk is bad? It is true that bad (or worthless) talk will cause tune out. But words can matter and draw an audience.

I am blessed with three Gen X daughters. They listen to a little radio but consume a ton of podcasts. This small sample size tells me that the younger generation – the one that is deserting radio – is not turned off by talk. They actually welcome it. What is said in the audio space can be a magnet if wielded by those who know how to turn word salad into word art.

What is the solution? Simple: Curate and cultivate personalities on the radio. Allow them to grow and fail. Give them space to create both content and emotional bonds with an audience. To borrow a hip term – it is time for radio to be disruptive.

Every year Major League Baseball conducts its amateur draft. It lasts for forty rounds. Each team knows going into the draft that only a very small percentage of those picks will make it to the show, let alone Triple A. Yet year after year they invest in the process because they know one absolute truth: their industry is based on talent.

So is ours.

For the budget we are spending on voice tracking, why not find a YouTube personality and give them a non-fringe air shift and ample coaching? Find people with a voice. People that have an intangible quality that makes others want to listen to them.

We continue to conduct the entertainment portion of our business like it is 1995. We are bombarded on a daily basis by articles and surveys that predict our demise as a medium. Yet – almost in spite of ourselves – we endure.

Our future is not ten-in-a-row or traffic and weather together. We do not have exclusive ownership of those benefits any longer. Fostering and encouraging personality growth is something radio owns and has a proven track record in. What are we waiting for?

As Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee George Allen said: “The future is now.”

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant

Thank you to Doug Erickson from Erickson Media for posting this blog.

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