We're joined for another guest blog today. This time around I'd like to welcome Steve Goldstein, Executive VP for Saga Communications has some thoughts on an interesting predicament:
All of the press these days is devoted to new technology taking listeners from terrestrial radio to Ipods, Satellite and internet audio, and the theme is clear: our constricted playlists and bloated commercial loads have clearly made us vulnerable.
This raises a key question in today’s self-programming world: If a station is doing a good job programming to the music tastes of its audience and developed compelling personalities and promotions which mirror the desire of their local communities shouldn’t that inoculate us from iPods, satellite and new choices on the radio?
The answer is simple, yet disconcerting – listeners are empowered by choice. Emmis President Rick Cummings says “choice kills.” While that may be a little apocalyptic, it means that people are now more in control than ever of their listening destiny. Loyalty is a declining commodity in most consumer categories largely driven by an abundance of choice. Even if you are “P1” to your local supermarket and faithfully have been going to it for years, if a new one sprouts up across the street, aren’t you likely to give it a try? We are not likely to dissuade people from new choices.
However, not all of the competition is from these new sources. Much of it is coming from right down the dial. Stations are attempting more adventurous (such as Jack/Bob and others) formats and streamlined attacks which are in many ways more powerful than attacks by the new media.
Many station introductions now typically involve a 10,000 song in a row commercial free launch with no air staff. This tactic essentially offers listeners a free sample of the music, albeit in an environment that rarely resembles a fully mature station. It generally includes a good deal of uncontested music that hasn't been heard in a while and the novelty tends to have a magnet-like effect.
Today, with all of the talk about the talk and commercials on our radio stations, these "low-cal" introductions offer a sharp contrast in sound to that of a highly rated mature radio station, and therein lies the problem. The new station lobs its potential weapons of mass destruction in the simplest form of lots of tunes and no jocks. All of a sudden the non-music assets the incumbent station has built and nurtured over the years, including personalities, commercials, and promotions, has potentially become a liability.
Over time, as a station becomes successful, it inevitably makes way for commercials, client promotions, contests, recycle promos and all of the other trappings of market leadership. We cultivate big morning shows that stray away from music and have jocks that talk at length. Sales departments have a tough May and need additional spots. We sell the weather and add a bumper which should be 5 seconds, but is often 15 seconds. This is the logical and increasingly dangerous short-term outcome of Successful Station Syndrome. Then, when a new competitor leverages a music-based attack, the successful station's non-music images are challenged.
People have figured out that radio stations run a lot of commercials, that a lot of the talk is irrelevant and even at times inane. And for many listeners, all they ever came for was the music. For a successful station, that means crafting a careful balance of music, personality, commercials and perceived clutter. As we go forward, without proper handling, "Successful Station Syndrome" will become an increasingly important competitive liability.
Call it that waxy buildup on the furniture. Our largess makes us vulnerable to something cleaner and leaner. Every mature successful property needs to wrestle with its own demons of Successful Station Syndrome.
-- Steve Goldstein