It's one of the most memorable scenes in the history of film, perhaps because it repeats itself more than 10 times.
Of course, I'm talking about the Harold Ramis/Bill Murray classic, “Groundhog Day.” And the supernatural aspect of the movie is represented by a clock radio blaring Sonny & Cher's “I Got You, Babe” every morning at exactly 6am.
And as annoying as that scene becomes to Phil Connor (the confused TV weatherman played brilliantly by Murray) – and the audience – it now stands out as a nostalgic reminder of the way things used to be – almost as archaic a moment as when we see dial phones, videocassettes, and airports without security in old movies.
Most people rolled out of bed with their clock radios blaring a local morning show or station. Back in the '70s and '80s, most consumers didn't turn on the TV when they woke up, and of course, there was no Internet, social media, or smartphones. The day started – and often ended – with the clock radio.
You woke up to your favorite station – a key reason why morning drive was always – book after book, year after year – the most dominant daypart of them all. That's where radio placed its biggest stars, its funniest shows, and its best news, traffic, weather, and sports coverage.
But truly smart broadcasters also knew how important night-time radio was to their ratings health. Iconic DJs like John Landecker and Dan Ingram ruled the evening airwaves, and later soothing hosts like WNIC's Alan Almond on “Pillow Talk” performed the same recycling task. That's because if you went to bed listening to a radio station, chances are you woke up tuned into that same station – thanks to that ubiquitous clock radio sitting on your nightstand. Ratings monsters like Larry Lujack, Steve Dahl, and Ron Chapman owed a debt to their hard-working nighttime counterparts, setting the table for their morning drive shows.
Those were the days.
Today, nights (and overnights) are largely a throwaway. Many stations don't even look at the ratings after dark. It's all about so-called “prime” – 6am-7pm.
And more and more people are waking up to a smartphone playing ring tones or a disembodied voice named “Alexa.” Amazon's Echo Spot (pictured above) bears a stark resemblance to the clock radio of old. That's no coincidence.
Not to be out-Echoed, Google is now jumping into the wake-up sweepstakes head-first. Last week, they announced a partnership with Spotify. Their native (that means it's on every Android phone) Google Clock application has been updated to connect to a Spotify account, allowing users users to wake up to any playlist – the blues, salsa, country, party songs, or Monty Python comedy tracks on their phones.
As the UK-based Metro's Jessica Lindsay observes, “Instead of buying a radio alarm like some form of neo-luddite, there's now a way to this and stay in the 21st century.”
This is nothing new. The trajectories of mobile devices and traditional clock radios as wake-up tools have been moving in opposite directions for several years now.
Our Techsurveys now show more people waking up to electronic tones on their smartphones rather than with a broadcast radio morning show. That's even more the case when we study younger generations like Millennials and Gen Zs.
Now, let's not forget who these Techsurvey respondents are – they're largely members of radio station databases. So imagine what this data would look like for the rest of the population.
With this new Spotify feature, many smartphone waker-uppers will be rolling out of their beds to their favorite playlists, and the challenge to broadcast radio's morning shows gets a little more real.
To remain competitive with those under 50 years-old (note the Gen Xers in the chart), station operators need to be thinking and building the following:
- Competitive morning shows more entertaining, relevant, current, and funny than the standard music playlist
- Personalities at night who can attract an audience, and perhaps create more listening occasions for radio – not to mention, the gateway to morning drive
- Mobile apps with alarm clock features that are simple and well-marketed, encouraging fans to wake up to their favorite radio stations
- Alexa “skills” that provide “flash briefings” each morning and other solid content
The “givens” of broadcast radio strategy are showing fissures and cracks, as technology continues to rock our world. Research that continues to measure which station plays “too many bad songs along with the good ones” or whether songs are burned out is no longer a comprehensive measure of perceptual performance. The scorecard is changing.
Broadcast radio needs to start asking new, better, and more germane questions about its programming, its personalities, and its overall user experience. It would be smart for the industry to start playing a long game, rather than focusing on the upcoming quarter.
Before the situation becomes even more alarming.