Killing Radio – In Their Own Words

A friend of mine was being “courted” by one of the big companies, and as is typically the case, he was told that in addition to hosting a show on one station, he would also be voice-tracking several other stations. They proceeded to give him a memo of instructions entitled “Network Talent Guidelines”, which outlined how and what he is supposed to say and do on the voice-tracked shifts.

Here are some of the instructions word-for-word directly from the memo:

“To maintain the veil of you being local, avoid doing these things in network breaks: No time checks on the network. You’re on the air in 4 to 6 time zones. Even dayparts can get in into trouble. Here are some guidelines (except if you have affiliates in Hawaii and/or Alaska):  

  • You can only say “Good Morning” from 7 AM to 10 AM Eastern
  • You can only say “Good Afternoon” from 4 PM to 5 PM Eastern
  • You can only say it’s “Night” from 10 PM to 2 AM Eastern

No weather or current conditions mentions. Saying the lunar eclipse looks beautiful gives you away in areas where it’s cloudy or where it’s not visible. Commenting on the brilliant fall foliage doesn’t work in Bermuda or Hawaii. Avoid all descriptions of the locale. Depending on the context, even words like city, mountains, beach, freeway or mall can give you away. Small communities don’t have freeways, you can’t even be certain they have a Starbucks.  Rather than say the name of a state, opt for the name of a major city in that state. Example: Rather than say “Fleetwood Mac is playing in Englewood, Colorado tonight…” say “Fleetwood Mac is playing in Denver tonight.” Please do not give out local phone numbers on the network, only 800 numbers.

Please do not tease anything coming up outside of the hour you’re in. Network affiliates are always coming and going. When they switch to local programming or a syndicated show it’s always at the top of the hour. Local shows, promotions and features must be teased within produced promos that only play on that specific station.”

The real message here is “keep content as generic and universal as possible”.

The most successful radio stations of all-time have one thing in common: a shared experience with the listener. How can you possibly share an experience with an audience by following THIS plan? This is merely a set of instructions on how to deceive your audience.

In an era where authenticity is critical to the success of every brand, how can you possibly expect to be successful following a set of instructions designed to simply lie to the listener? Generic, cold, and irrelevant content like this is another example of what’s killing radio. And by the way, the company that issued this memo operates some of the lowest-rated stations in nearly every major market. Geez, I wonder why?

Seriously, if this is your idea of “operating” a broadcast property, and spending money on talent and  content is just a nuisance to you, why not just sell the assets to someone who actually WANTS to operate and is willing to fund content without lying to the audience? Then you can invest into a more lucrative business that can generate the huge profits that you seek.

Please don’t misunderstand… I’m not somebody who thinks that “profit” is a bad word. On the contrary, I want radio to be a very robust industry – I just believe we aren’t going to get there by employing these practices. History is proving me right… just take a look at spot rates today versus just a few years ago. We have no pricing power because we de-value content and those that create it.

The pyramid is upside down… the current model places content as the lowest priority, or “necessary evil”… and until we put great content, unique and compelling talent, and a great listener experience back at the top of the priority list, we will continue to lose ground…. and the best ‘sales tactics’ in the world won’t be able to fix it.

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2 thoughts on “Killing Radio – In Their Own Words

  1. Kevin Fodor

    Dom: Dead on. I have always contended that voice tracking, in and of itself is NOT evil. HOW the radio business is trying to use it IS. Overworked staffs being forced to produce “generic” content produces a bland and boring station. And the staffs are NOT being given the proper time it requires to research and produce the local content. This can all be done with fewer people than we needed in the 1970’s and 80’s…BUT…not with the scant staffs we use in many places today.

  2. Ken Dardis

    2003: Lowry Mays, then Clear Channel CEO, comments that “We’re not in the business of providing news and information. We’re not in the business of providing well-researched music. We’re simply in the business of selling our customers’ products.” (Look at the most recent RAB spot and network revenue report to see how that’s working.)

    2010: The radio industry honors Lowry Mays by creating “The Lowry Mays Excellence in Broadcasting Award.”

    What else needs to be said?


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