At the Radio Show last week, I attended the Marconi Awards dinner. And it was a reflective evening for me. On my right was Caroline Beasley who continues to show great leadership within the industry and her company. As the new owners of my alma mater, WRIF, it’s fascinating for me to think about how the station has grown and evolved over the decades.
And on my left was Marcellus Alexander, EVP Television for the NAB. But decades ago, we were on the staff at WRIF. When he and I worked together, I was the PD and he was the GSM.
To make the evening even more interesting, WRIF was up for a Marconi (Large Market Station of the Year, and no, they didn’t win it), and PD Mark Pennington was at the next table.
On this night, WRIF was on my mind – reminiscing with Marcellus about the people who made the station great more than 30 years ago, chatting with Caroline about where it’s all moving today, and thinking about Mark and the hard-working staff at WRIF who were more than worthy of this year’s Marconi nomination.
I looked at the Marconi Awards program and all the stations and personalities listed across all the categories, and I started thinking about the qualities that set them apart. And while it may not be true 100% of the time, most of these stations (and DJs) share certain traits in common.
The next morning on the plane right home, the Wall Street Journal reviewed a new marketing book, “Perennial Seller” by Ryan Holiday. He postulates that many of the marketing tricks, gimmicks, and stunts that brands engage in pale in comparison to the long game they play – building relationships and establishing a reputation of consistently strong performance.
And I flashed back on all those Marconi nominees, and what sets them apart from everyone else. It turns out that Guglielmo Marconi (pictured above) was an Italian inventor and aristocrat who likely would have enjoyed the fact this prestigious award is named after his brilliant invention.
(An aside: for the life of me, I have no earthly idea how stations and personalities are nominated, who votes, and the criteria for winning. After years of sitting through these dinners – the food, the music, the snappy one-liners – it’s beyond me why some stations always seem to bring home the prestigious award named after the inventor of the medium we call radio.)
In the book, Holiday uses Iron Maiden as an example of a decades-old band that’s never enjoyed hit songs or mass airplay, but has endured because of “creative durability.” By incessant touring and connecting with its loyal legion of fans, the band has persevered and thrived from sales of concerts, merch, and of course, music.
It dawned on me that most of the radio stations honored last week at the Marconi Awards dinner – and especially the winners – share many of the same qualities Holiday talks about in his book. And I came up with a list of seven attributes that go a long way toward explaining why most of these Marconi nominees were part of this year’s program.
1. They have longevity
It’s not just the “Legendary Station of the Year” group of elite brands. Almost all Marconi class stations and personalities have been around – most for a loooong time. As Holiday talks about in his book, you don’t become an enduring brand overnight, and that’s surely been the case with Marconi nominees. Greatness takes time.
2. They’ve been consistent
You’re hard-pressed to find the roller-coaster of format changes among this group of stations. That’s because most made the right decision on Day One when they chose their strategic focus in the first place. And like Iron Maiden, winners like WTOP and KSHE have stayed in their lanes for decades and decades, while format fads came and went. You often hear about frequencies that seem to house a new format every couple years. And you never see them on the Marconi stage.
3. They’ve built venerable brands
It was interesting to me that for at least two Marconi winners – WBEB and KPLX – each station engineered a brand makeover, while staying in format. Today, they’re called More FM (from B101) and The Wolf (from K-Plex) respectively – but both are still serving the same audiences they have for decades – and doing it very well.
4. They use the available platforms
Holiday talks about how communication tools come and go (think MySpace), so the key is to engage with fans wherever they are. That requires knowing your audience, where they hang out (socially and digitally), and connecting with them in their preferred space. The winner of the Legendary Station category – WCBS-AM/New York – was described as having been early on social media, podcasts, and other platforms where audience congregate.
5. They have made a lasting impression
My bet is that if you traveled to any of the markets where Marconi nominees are licensed, these stations would be highly top-of-mind. They’ve burned their call letters into people’s memory banks. And to win one of these awards, they’ve done the same thing in the radio industry. I’m always amazed by how many people tell me certain stations are great, even though many lost their luster years ago. But when those brands are indelibly etched in voters’ minds, that’s how you win a Marconi. Yes, perception is reality.
6. They have built great fan networks
Like the Iron Maiden example, I would venture to say these award winners and the also-rans all claim highly loyal listeners – and often, advertisers. Their track record speaks for itself, allowing them to survive during the tough times, and thrive during the good ones. And there’s no one way to do this – email database, Facebook, event marketing. Each of the Marconi nominees likely has its own pathway of creating fan networks. But they all have them.
7. They sell themselves
This is one of Holiday’s key points – brands (and personalities) can’t be timid about selling themselves. Whether you’re an author, a radio station, or the morning team, it’s all about getting out there and hawking your wares, your brand, your accomplishments. Just about every Marconi nominee – and certainly every winner – shamelessly self-promotes. Sales is not for the squeamish.
For next year’s Marconi Awards dinner in Orlando, my expectation is the elite roster will include many of these same “usual suspects” – stations and personalities that may not check every item on this list, but certainly do most of them quite well.
To be a great, enduring radio station or a standout host means more than just showing up every day – it requires locking in brands into the public – and the industry’s – collective consciousness. Whether it’s Nielsen ratings or Marconi voters, it’s about winning a popularity contest.
To all the Marconi winners and nominees, a hearty congrats. There’s a reason – in fact, many of them – why you’re up there on that Radio Show stage.
The brilliant and clever Guglielmo Marconi is smiling on you.
P.S. WRIF didn’t win, bested by Hubbard’s Q102 in Cincinnati.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.