If you need more proof that seemingly everybody wants to do radio, consider this:
The nation's biggest retailer started their own station a few years ago – and chances are, you've never heard of it.
The old days of Muzak in stores – complete with outrageously schmaltzy versions of Steely Dan and Kiss songs, along with pleasant announcements like “Clean-up in aisle 17” or “Price check on register 4” have taken a back seat. These days, it's about creating just the right in-store ambience for shoppers – and for workers.
If you're planning on heading into a Walmart over this holiday weekend, take a listen to what's coming out of their speakers. Unlike most other retailers that hire a service to program music and other messages, Walmart is doing their own thing – and it's radio. Or a reasonable facsimile.
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Simply put, it's branded as Walmart Radio (obviously WSAM was not available). And it's a radio station designed for “associates” and other folks who work for the company. Given that Walmart employees number more than 1.5 million workers in the U.S. alone, that's a potential cume audience the size of Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, or Jacksonville, Florida.
This venture must be returning on investment because earlier this year, Walmart Radio proudly announced the addition of DJs who do live shows during “dayparts” that even Nielsen would find unusual.
“The Bo Show” features Bo Woloszyn and “airs” Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 1-3pm Central.
And “The Night Show with Antonio” is hosted by Antonio Williams on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 4-6am Central.
(You read that right – apparently Walmart associates' PUMM levels are robust during these hours).
Walmart Radio shows have all the trappings – the guys give out a request line number, they take listener calls, there are jingles, artist IDs, and benchmark features, and they're on social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and yes, TIkTok – all @WalmartWorld.
I have no idea who Bo and Antonio are – and whether they're the patriarchs of a more complete airstaff that will actually “broadcast” seven days a week. They aren't especially polished, and could probably benefit from some Zoom time with Steve Reynolds, Randy Lane, Angela Perelli, Tracey Johnson, Mike Stern, or some of the other great talent coaches in our business.
But perhaps it's better these guys reflect their tribe – the family of Walmart workers who are part of the “essential workforce,” especially during these COVID times. They sound real, and for air talent, that's an accomplishment.
I'm sure Walmart didn't use Coleman or Mark Ramsey for a “format finder.” Maybe they sensed their employee base needed a friendly voice during the middle of a cruel pandemic that has put immense pressure on their workers and their families. As we know from our own radio experiences, personalities engender connection and companionship, much needed during COVID, whether you're home schooling your kid, working at the ER, or toiling in the Walmart warehouse.
Walmart Radio is fun – very much reflective of the vibe exuded on their social media sites. They celebrate associate anniversaries on “Milestone Mondays” and take pride in their employees, stores, and communities – yes, a lot like what a great radio station is supposed to do.
Happy #MilestoneMonday! 🎉 Mary at DC 6001 in Rogers, AR, has been keepin’ it fly at Walmart for 40 years 😎 She shared her decision that started it all four decades ago and her advice for newbies with Heather. Take a look and let’s congratulate Mary on 40 years! 🥳 pic.twitter.com/mht0fPrBjO
— Walmart World (@WalmartWorld) October 13, 2020
Walmart Radio is a tribute to the role personality broadcast radio plays in our lives. Rather than a bland music service with interstitial recorded announcements, Walmart doubled down on the role human beings play in what's coming out of the speakers.
And Walmart is emulating “real radio” – you can hear it in everything Bo and Antonio say. The “audience” of Walmart workers and these two jocks are very much a part of “the show.”
Even stylized turntable labels on Walmart Radio's webpage mimic a common radio visual
So when you visit Walmart this season, don't just be on the lookout for their “Everyday Low Prices.”
Take a listen to the music – and the entertainment – being pumped out of those in-store speakers. They're doing radio.
Beasley Tampa's market manager, Steve Triplett, sent me the heads-up about Walmart Radio, and reminded me of this:
“It says so much about the value of live audio content for creating and enhancing the shopping experience. This is exactly what great radio does for life in general.”
Not surprisingly, Walmart is a broadcast radio advertiser. Obviously, their CMO and marketing team appreciate the radio connection.
The nation's most successful retail operator will gross an estimated $524 billion this year, well ahead of their #2 competitor, Amazon.com. When they decide on a macro, cross-company policy, the business world would be smart to pay attention.
Like signing on a radio station.
And who knows? It's probably just a matter of time before Walmart Radio launches in-store “collective contesting.”
With a “cume” that big, it would probably work.
You can listen to Walmart Radio here.