To compete, a radio station must occupy a singular position in the mind of the Listener. For a radio station to succeed, the Listener must realize one clear benefit.

5 Steps to Posturing the Station for Success
  • Evaluate. Analyze the market thoroughly. Research not only music preferences, but competitors, all media and technology usage, marketing and lifestyles. Ethnographic/one-on-one interviews and relaxed, properly-moderated focus group settings are invaluable for discovering key Listener issues.
  • Define. Identify a narrow ‘laser-target’ audience for the service. Develop a complete lifestyle model of the individual Listener. Establish a comprehensive plan for creating content unerringly aimed at this target.
  • Distinguish. Build the product and focus it to hyper-serve the target audience. Everything on and off the air -- including the website, the logo, even the lobby decor -- must reinforce the station’s unique position and demonstrate its benefit.
  • Implement. Aggressively put the plan into motion -- and see it through. Be certain that everyone committed to the product’s success has a clear understanding of the objectives, and makes a positive contribution.
  • Evaluate. This whole process is cyclical. A service developed in this fashion is on a collision course with success. But it’s then the process must begin anew -- to extend the product’s life-cycle and maintain focus.

‘Pick a target, pick a hill.’

As imperative as identifying the target Listener, is the value of point-of-purchase marketing. By reaching out to the Listener at the time and place she’s most inclined to use your product, you stand to most effectively influence her listening behavior. E-mail, telemarketing and direct mail messages delivered to the workplace are particularly effective for driving on-air and online consumption of AC radio.

Bright, Tight, Brief, Real & Resonant

An external marketing focus can’t triumph without a corresponding internal discipline. Everything that happens on the air should score high marks in five basic principles:
  • Bright. Know what the Listener likes, feels, understands, is talking about today--and talk about it too. Share your enthusiasm for the music and her daily experience.
  • Tight. Always flow forward. Each hour of programming should be considered a seamless, produced whole -- never perceived as a series of individual elements.
  • Brief. Talk about one thing and one thing only, each time you open the mike; anything else clouds the content and confuses the Listener. Less is more.
  • Real. Talk about your experience, framed in the Listener’s perspective. What passions do the two of you share? What will be said today that only you can say?
  • Resonant. Everything you say must have immediacy and meaning -- resonance -- with the Listener’s life ... or else it’s a waste of her time. Your content should balance evenly among the music, station promotion and audience activity.
Remember: ‘local trumps lists.’ In choosing between material that intersects the Listener’s daily experience in her hometown ... and a magazine-article list of ‘top five ways to groom your dog’ -- the local content always wins her heart.

What Do Women Want?

A landmark study by BrandChamps for Meredith Publishing revealed the three experiences the Listener wants -- and needs:
  • To reconnect: With herself, her significant other, her friends and her family.
  • To rejuvenate: Downtime to recharge her ‘life batteries’.
  • To reinvent: The opportunity to explore new opportunities and expand her worldview.
When crafting each promotion and each marketing message for an AC station, appeal to at least one of these needs.

'Surf, Sun & Sand': What Are Your Colors?

A Listener may only give you 15 minutes to touch her emotions. Wisely, the programmer strives to make each quarter-hour a musical microcosm of the station: a representative balance of styles, eras, tempos and textures.

A more engaging and visceral approach begins with considering the experience the station should offer the Listener. In Miami, it’s analogous to a day at the beach -- where the three key ingredients are the surf, the sun and the sand. Associating those elements with three primary colors -- blue, tangerine and taupe -- not only provides the station with a consistent palette and design platform, but even becomes a template for the music-scheduling philosophy.

The core sound of the station -- 50% of the library -- is coded ‘surf’. Another 25% of each category is the happier, poppier (usually more uptempo) ‘sun’ titles. And 25% is ‘sand’ -- the edgier, slightly harder tunes. Song sets are balanced to avoid direct transitions from ‘tangerine’ to ‘taupe’, always flowing through a ‘blue’ title to reinforce the station’s musical essence.

Ratings Drive Rates ... Drive Revenue

The successful radio programmer has always possessed an amalgam of attributes: attention to detail; a good ear for music and other program product; technical and production skills; awareness of emerging technologies; a mastery of the marketplace -- both statistically and emotionally.

The successful Program Director tempers this show business sense with a bottom-line sensibility. One important quality is the ability to maintain an understanding of, and positive relationship with the sales engine. My aunt, a career broadcaster herself, gave me sage advice 30 years ago which remains the foundation of my fiscal and operational philosophy: ‘Watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.’

‘The role of the Manager is facilitator, expediter, barrier-destroyer,
diffuser of good news.’
-- Tom Peters

The most effective organizations are built of diverse people who offer a broad catalog of skills yet share common values. As a manager and team-leader, those values I encourage and prize above all others are initiative, versatility and attention to detail. It’s amazing what can be accomplished by a small, but cohesive, passionate and focused team. I’ve repeatedly discovered that a collaborative environment is crucial to creativity; truly, ‘all of us is smarter than each of us.’

‘You can think in black & white, and still imagine a zebra.’

When belts tighten and resources dwindle, innovation and creativity become essential to maximizing the station’s marketing investment. Growing up around pressmen, I learned the least expensive printed piece to produce is one color -- black ink -- on white paper. Yet consider one of the most exotic animals on the planet: The zebra is, essentially, a ‘one-color job’ -- black stripes on a white horse.

Moral: You don’t need lavish budgets to engage the Listener’s imagination and passion -- and with external marketing, even a simple but well-designed and executed campaign will be marvelously effective.

Thoughts on What’s Up Around the Bend

Electronic measurement will surely engorge an AC station’s cume. We’ll be able to boast perhaps double the audience of working women. But no matter how accurate the new mechanism, all the methodology will do is measure exposure to radio -- not engagement with radio. Our audiences will be larger ... but no more responsive (or valuable) to our advertisers.

In this era of continually emerging technologies, music alone is a commodity -- a need that can be satisfied at any one of a dozen destinations. The future for free, local radio is to offer unique, interactive, unduplicatible content that is ours and ours alone. If we are to engage our Listener ... if we are to connect with our Listener -- we must speak to her. We must speak with her.

In gaining her trust, in arousing her passion, in appealing to her ‘tribal’ sense of community -- we create a credible, durable brand; one which ultimately can be leveraged to deliver superior results for our Clients.

At our core, we are in the content business. Our present delivery system is grounded in a self-limiting, single-stream ‘push’ model. We must retool our product as a website that happens to have a transmitter attached (rather than the inverse). Ultimately, the broadcast signal will act as a 24/7 billboard or promotional ‘sampler’ for the nearly limitless menu of on-demand, customizable, interactive and Listener-generated content found online.

A Postscript on Excellence

Despite the massive change which has swept our industry, the days of legendary radio are not behind us. I was fortunate to experience at least the waning of WABC, WLS, KHJ and the other Top-40 giants. These are the stations that set the standards, the stations they write books about. These stations were the product of an unending, unrelenting, passionate quest for Excellence.

And that’s why I run my race. I want them to write a book about my radio station, too.

‘The purpose of life is not to be happy.
The purpose of life is to matter, to be productive, to have it
make some difference that you live at all.
Happiness, in the ancient, noble verse, means
self-fulfillment, and is given to those who use to the fullest whatever talents
God or luck or fate bestowed upon them.’
--Leo Rosten