The Disease Killing Radio

The moment that I heard the answer, I knew we were doomed.

I remember asking a GM at a brand new CHR station that I was working with to define what ratings success looked like… what would be a good rank P 18-34 to define success. The GM said “I’d be happy if the station got into the top 5.” Top 5? Really?

Part of the problem in our business today is this attitude that “top 5” can define success. Perhaps I’m just a type ‘A’ personality, but I never wanted to be anything but #1 in my target demo, and would certainly never define success at “top 5”.

So when the same station attains “top 5,” the promotional and marketing funding and resources are cut. That’s it. We’ve arrived. Whoo hoo, throw a party. Then it stops growing, but that’s ok because top 5 is good enough.

The would-be #1 station is stalled at #5 because somebody thought that was “good enough”. It became even more humorous when I was told that I didn’t need to be so aggressive. Huh? Because I was top 5 and wanted to be #1, I was too aggressive. The real issue was that the GM and the company were not nearly aggressive enough.

Needless to say, this wasn’t going to work out, and I eventually left. The same station today is typically #13 or 14 P 18-34. And they seem perfectly content with it. I guess it’s cheap to operate so it likely generates a little cash flow, and somehow that’s ok. Sadly, they left millions in potential on the table.

There is a disease that infects the entire industry… this disease is the reason why so many mistakes have been made, and why the radio industry struggles to produce 2% revenue gains at best… it’s the same disease that’s caused younger demos to migrate to new platforms and just turn radio off. That disease is called RISK ADVERSITY. We’ve stopped taking risks. We would rather settle for being #5 because #1 is too expensive. We would rather give up millions in potential revenue just to avoid taking a risk, and instead settle for 2-3% revenue growth. We would rather be the 3rd station in a format than try a new format. Risk adversity is killing radio.

As a programmer, I could never look in the mirror and be satisfied with defining success as top 5. If you strive to be anything less than #1 in your target demo, you will never succeed in a competitive environment. My friend Gene Romano used to say that great programmers are 50% confident and 50% paranoid… and it’s absolutely true, but in that formula there is no room for settling. When our team went from 14th to 1st in Detroit at WKQI, I knew it was going to happen. We hired the best talent in the country at the time… we had the best morning show, the best midday show, the best PMD show, the best Night show, the best Promotions Director, the best imaging, a playlist that sounded just like the market, and we held high standards on what we allowed our name to be put on. If it didn’t fit the brand, we didn’t allow our name to be on it. Period. Yes, there were occasional internal fights because of this, but we would win those battles, and eventually built a massive brand by holding to those standards. This was the same formula we used a few years earlier at WFLZ in Tampa. Both of these brands thrive even today because of the strong brand foundation and standards that have been held.

If you are a GM and your PD is super-aggressive, you should THANK them being so… since there are only a few left in the industry. Your goal should be to hire the most aggressive PD that you can find, arm them with the tools they need, and get out of their way so they have the freedom and space to perform.

If your station is in need of a turnaround, hire someone who comes in and challenges the current system. You will never grow by doing subtle variations of what you’ve always done, listeners don’t notice nor do they care. Get a renegade and let them do what they do. I guarantee your ratings will improve… and so will your revenues!

And if you define success as “top 5,” you’re part of the problem. Get out of the way.


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5 thoughts on “The Disease Killing Radio

  1. Hal Widsten

    Agree 100%, Dom. The other part of the equation is debt. The big guys have too much, and a big drop in revenue in the 1st quarter of 2015 doesn’t help

  2. Jay Walker

    I worked for a PD many years ago who was of the mindset that he didn’t want to be number one as he’d “always have to be looking over his shoulder”. He was a great human being but I left because I wanted to work for WINNERS not WHINERS..


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