A recent newspaper article about Katrina noted that during times of weather crises, it's not uncommon for people to hear busy signals when attempting calls (whether to FEMA or not). The writer also pointed out how the busy signal has become nearly extinct - thanks to cell phones, and services like "call waiting."
When you think about it, that's essentially true. We're used to getting through, or at least to voicemail or an automated answering system. How often do you actually get a busy signal anymore - especially from a business?
That is, unless you've tried calling a radio station lately. In another sign that our business is out of step with the techno world, calling a radio station's request line is still a major crap shoot. The odds are great you'll hear one of two things - yes, a busy signal, or perhaps even worse, a ringing phone that goes unanswered.
Imagine calling an airline and having the phone just ring and ring and ring. Or trying to make a reservation at a restaurant and hearing a busy signal that just won't end. The odds are good that you'd take your business elsewhere or conclude they obviously don't care about being in touch with you.
Yet, radio stations send out that message any time someone calls the request lines and runs into these unfriendly responses. In theory, a local station has a leg up over the new media we compete against. When was the last time you were able to get through to AOL, for example? Or tried dealing with Apple tech support over the phone for your iPod? How do you tell XM that you're having reception problems in a certain area of town?
It may be a small thing, but a radio station that invests the time and effort in performing small service tasks - caring enough about its audience to pick up the phone - will reap the reward of providing a connection with its listeners. It might even be worth promoting as yet another key difference between radio and everyone else.
If you don't believe me, just pick up the phone right now and call your request line(s). I'd love to hear what happens.