A few days ago, “The Wizard of Ads” – Roy Williams – wrote a thought-provoking piece for Radio Ink that connected with me. In “My Apology To Programmers,” he talks about the drip-drip-drip erosion of programming resources, and how the audience eventually picks up on it. And his big takeaway?
“Radio no longer values that customer, and we’re being punished for it.”
Why do I know he’s right? Because I’m beginning to hear it more and more in focus and L.A.B. groups. While I greatly value perceptual studies, they don’t allow us to hear the “voices” of the listeners because their questionnaires are set in stone, and their output is quantitative data in the form of charts and graphs. But when you listen to listeners, you can hear the emotional change in tone.
The analogy that Roy used was a good one. He likened the corrosiveness of staff and budget cutbacks to a café owner with a popular soup. His accountant advises that the restaurant could be more profitable by adding 5% more water to the soup. Of course, he does, no one notices, and business was good. But then another 5% more water was added because customers couldn’t tell the difference. And because no one complained, another 5% more water was added to the formula.
And you know the end, as eventually the conclusion reached by the diner is that “The soup here isn’t as good as it used to be.”
That’s the radio story in a nutshell.
So the question is, has anyone noticed?
Let me replay you a conversation I had in a Listener Advisory Board group last summer for a heritage rock station that has traditionally had above-average personalities in prime dayparts.
Me: So is there anything that keeps you away from the station, that prevents you from listening more often?
Respondent: Yes, I don’t like it when there’s no one there.
Me: “When there’s no one there?” What do you mean?
Respondent: There are times when there’s no one there. You can tell.
Me: How can you tell?
Respondent: They just play songs. There’s no person talking and you just hear the recorded guy.
Me: Are there certain times when you notice they do this?
Respondent: I notice it more at night and usually on the weekends.
Me: And what effect, if any, does this have on how much you listen to the station?
Respondent: I don’t listen as much when there’s no one there.
Yes, it’s an N of 1, except that I continue to hear similar sentiments from listeners around the country. Companionship, curation, content, and color are all assets that great DJs can bring to stations.
Music scheduling was not originally intended to take the heart out of a station’s music footprint. And voicetracking was meant to be an unnoticeable substitute for talent being there live in the studio. Yet, quick and dirty execution or not even bothering with recorded voices undervalues a radio station’s prime asset.
Like lip-synching, fans notice. And many actually care.
Williams concludes his piece with this statement:
“Maybe I’m wrong, but I think the customers are noticing the water in the soup.”
Roy, you’re not wrong.
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.