The Marconi Award winners are out, a great time to congratulate radio's big honorees. There are a lot of familiar call letters in the winners circle again this year – WTOP, WSB-AM, KYW, and WCBS-FM. We've gotten almost used to seeing their managers, programmers, and owners accept these coveted glass awards And then there are a few where all the planets lined up this year — KLOS, KTMY, KLLI, and WTAW among them, stations that don't usually capture radio's version of the Oscars.
But what about the thousands of other stations in the radio ecosphere? The ones who make up the vast majority of stations in the radio broadcasting industry, winning sometimes, falling short at other times, and landing in the middle of the pack most often.
Then there are the perennial losers – the ones that always rank in the lowest regions of market rankers. Perhaps they're signal challenged, they've simply been neglected, and/or they're poorly operated. There are many radio stories we all like to tell about stations that bucked the odds to become victorious, as well as those that have fallen from grace.
But no one wants to talk about those absolute LOSERS – the ones who never ever know what it's like to come out on top. Because of their losing ways, they are challenging to staff, and even harder to sell. And yet, they somehow find a way to persevere. They change formats, PDs, and even ownership – often frequently. Yet somehow, that tradition of losing and haplessness is “in the walls,” sadly becoming a permanent part of a radio station's losing narrative.
I have no shortage of sports analogies, and one of the most pathetic is the focus of today's post. There is a handful of sports teams so consistently awful they find new ways to fail, year in and year out. And there is one that stands even below this pack of also-rans, laggards, and abject failures:
The Detroit Lions
As a consultant for nearly four decades, I have a pretty good answer to most questions I'm asked. Except for this one, when someone finds out I'm from Detroit:
“Oh, are you a Lions fan?”
There's no easy answer to this simple, innocent query. I can't in good conscience call myself a “fan” in the truest sense. That's because in reality, I've grown to despise this team, and just about everything about them. When you live in the “313” (and other parts of the Detroit Metro), you cannot even fathom how many Sundays (not to mention Thanksgivings!) this team has ruined over the decades.
And yet, like Charlie Brown with Lucy and the football (how appropriate, right?), I keep coming back for more. It's like an overflowing toilet – it's disgusting to watch and you know how it's going to end up, but you can't keep your eyes off it.
There's a morbid curiosity where you just have to keep seeing it to believe it, wondering again and again whether you should be rooting for or against your hometown team. After all, would a #1 draft pick even make a difference at this point?
One of the original teams in the National Football League, the Lions have never won a Super Bowl. Better put, they've never played in “the big game.” In fact, they haven't even come close. In their entire history, the Lions have won exactly ONE playoff game – in 1992 against the Dallas Cowboys. Barry Sanders played on that team, coached by Wayne Fontes – the last true highlight this team has had.
To add to the narrative of this awful franchise, the Lions became the first team in the modern era to play an entire full season without winning a single game. In 2008, they ran the table, finishing 0-16. (The Cleveland Browns would go on to duplicate that level of infamy in 2017).
And the Lions may find a unique way to not win a game this year. Yesterday, they played to a rare overtime tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, retaining their string of no wins this season. The game was reminiscent of a Shakespearean tragedy – the kind where in the end, everyone dies.
Of course, there have already been some heartbreaking losses so far this season. After all, you can't run the table with zero wins without some amazingly awful luck. The bad karma hit early this year when the Lions lost a cliffhanger in week 3. That was when Baltimore Ravens kicker, Justin Tucker, booted an NFL record-setting 66-yard field goal as the clock ran out, defeating the Lions 19-17. Veteran Lions fans just knew as the pigskin hit the crossbar, and bounced OVER IT that this could be a season to remember.
Two weeks ago, the Lions ruined the Halloween weekend with a pathetic 44-6 drubbing to the not-so-good Philadelphia Eagles, prompting frustrated outbursts at Ford Field like the one pictured here.
But you know what doesn't suck about the Lions?
Their social media.
If you followed them on Twitter, you'd think their record is 9-0, on their way to the NFC Conference Title, with a possible trip to Super Bowl LVI in L.A. this February.
That was the premise for a great Deadspin story last month. Writer Criss Partee noted that if you simply looked at the team's Twitter feed, you'd come away thinking the Lions must be one of the NFL's elite team, instead of their true identity as the Honolulu blue and silver colored league doormat.
But one thing about social media that most of us have learned over the years is that through the lens of social media, we can live our best lives. Or better put, we can depict ourselves as better looking, more talented, and much more successful than we are in what now has its own acronym:
IRL – in real life.
And the pregame social buzz for yesterday's Steeler's game made the battle between two teams going nowhere as a battle for the ages. At least it looked that way on Twitter:
We'll be rocking the all-white tomorrow against the Steelers 👀 pic.twitter.com/nv5v3OBWVj
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) November 14, 2021
You'd never know this team is winless this year by reading the tweets from the Lions' social media spin doctors. These digital masterminds are resourceful, clever, and even literary in their depiction of a blue collar team that doesn't know the meaning of the word “quit.” You can only imagine how challenged they must be every week to find something positive and aspirational to post.
As Partee muses in a story aptly titled “Lions social media makes season a little less agonizing for fans,” the coaching staff could use a dose of this creativity in their play calling, personnel moves, and game preparation.
“Adversity makes men.” –Victor Hugo pic.twitter.com/M1QcSKPIkq
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) November 5, 2021
Week after week, this hardy group of social media Pro Bowlers keeps coming up with clever, positive tweets that try to make fans forget about what's happening on the field. You only wish the team's long-time owners – the Ford family – would hire coaches and draft players as talented as their social media department.
In a league that emphasizes the fan experience, the Lions' social media scheme is to make the best of a horrendous situation and to ease the pain of what's left of the fan base. To that end, Partee's subtitle is a classic:
“When life gives you lemons, make lemon-themed tweets.”
The Lions & @milkmeansmore welcomed students from @detlionsacad as part of our @FUTP60 initiative to learn the importance of physical activity and fueling our bodies with proper nutrients. A special thank you to DPSCD and FoodCorps for hosting us at Drew Farm for such a fun day!
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) October 19, 2021
So many radio stations seem to engage in what Lori Lewis calls “random acts of social.” They're “on” social media – in fact, some even make the claim “we're killing it,” based on the number of “likes,” “followers,” and retweets. But their social messaging is often mixed, confused, inconsistent, or even off-key. Their strategy lacks that single voice – a social focus.
Whether your station had a great weekly, a successful fundraiser, or you're in the ratings doldrums, a cogent social media strategy is essential. It's the way you present yourselves to your loyal listeners, as well as those just passing through.
There are key questions to address:
How can you engage your fans to best earn their time, attention, participation, and even love?
How can you post things that will inspire them to share it with their communities?
How should they be rewarded for visiting your page?
What should they feel about your brand while scrolling through your feed?
As the Lions know, more fans actually experience their team on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram then spend their Sundays at Ford Field or angrily watch and listen on TV and radio.
For radio stations, the same holds true. Your best players, your team philosophy, and your brand essence can be shaped on your social media assets, places where you have more time and space to show your true colors, tell your story, and when necessary, spin and shape your narrative.
Win or lose.
Or tie. (sigh)
- We're Going Back To The Future - December 3, 2021
- When Do We Lose Interest In Discovering New Music? - December 2, 2021
- To Everyone Who Says “Local” Is Overrated… - December 1, 2021