A few years ago, I caved after umpteen multiple day power outages and bought a generator. Once or twice a year, we lose power and now I really feel very thankful for that big box. What would I do without it during these emergencies? Problem is, the rest of the year, it sits in the back of the house and I never think about it.
Last week at the Worldwide Radio Summit in L.A., Cumulus’ John Dickey made a point of reminding the room that it was radio that kept thousands informed during the Alabama storms, keeping people company and providing them with key information – not Pandora. Radio's exploits have been well documented in every industry trade as this story has unfolded.
Every time there’s a tragedy, it is good old trusty radio that steps up and provides the crucial coverage. And it typically does an incredible job during these moments. At these times, the industry comes alive for a few days, remembers how important it can be to people, and does a little well-deserved chest thumping.
Unfortunately, there are always going to be three, maybe four tragic events a year where stations spring into action and remind everyone why radio matters, especially in emergencies.
But what about the other 361 days when it’s business as usual? Too often, that’s when radio gets taken for granted. Is that the fickle consumer’s fault? Or is it more about what is radio doing the rest of the year that is inspirational, compelling, indispensable, and mandatory for its local audiences?
Sadly, consolidated scalability has created an environment where it is difficult for many local stations to be essential when there isn’t an earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, killing spree or other unfortunate event. Those are the times when (hopefully) the voicetracking is shut down and all hands report to the station to provide emergency coverage. But as we know, these events are rarities.
So what are the building blocks that can make local radio essential the rest of the year?
If you have a local morning show it starts there. Throughout the year, are they truly active in the community? Are they plugged into local issues, politics, and culture? Are they connected with local icons about the issues that affect their hometown?
And can strong local personalities become the source for everything going on in the community or are they too wrapped up in who will win Dancing With The Stars? National pop culture is important but radio’s ultimate value is its local relevance and its ability to reflect the grassroots ethos. As the late Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” To that, let’s add “And so is most great radio.”
And while daypart jocks should have vast knowledge about all things local, they need to bring compelling conversation to their shows (within format timeframes) and, as importantly, to social media channels. Are personalities engaging listeners on Facebook or are they hyping that pair of Cage The Elephant tickets at 2:15?
Are they writing blogs and connecting with listeners via digital content avenues that are best showcased off the air? Are they harnessing the real-time power of Twitter to disseminate information or to learn from local listeners about the best clubs, bands, discounts, and events?
Stations are often proud of the fact they’ve broken the 10,000 or 20,000 Facebook “friends” milestone. Yet few are actually conversing and connecting with these listeners. What is your staff doing to keep them engaged every day, caring about your station and the community, soliciting feedback and commentary, and demonstrating that your social media efforts are enabling ongoing conversation and true listener input?
A number of years ago, Paul and I visited CNN in Atlanta on a nice August day to discuss research and database strategies. (Sadly, research turned out to be “analyzing Nielsen ratings,” and surprisingly, there was no email database in place!) Back then, the network was struggling to find its identity and consistently win in the cable news ratings race.
One week later, Hurricane Katrina occurred, and a new CNN star – Anderson Cooper – was born. CNN earned its stripes that week, and won in the ratings as a result. But here were are, six years later, and CNN finds itself in the same boat. When there’s a huge news story – like the assassination of Osama bin Laden – CNN often vaults into first place. But when it all blows over, they’re back to their normal position, badly trailing Fox News and seeking a unique position among the many cable news networks.
This suggests that the true power and appeal of radio or a station brand is not what it does during these rare anomalies, but how it acts and performs during normal times. Stations that commit to serving their communities, advertisers and audience will create a brand presence that isn’t just powerful during catastrophes. Great brands and real community service has meaning and resonance all the time.
What is your brand doing to not be taken for granted the other 361 days?
Thanks to Bill Jacobs for some great thoughts and contributions to this post.