One of the interesting things about a blog that isn't “geo-fenced” – that reaches people interested in radio around the world – is hearing from different countries and alternative approaches to what American radio is doing. While most JacoBLOG readers are here in the U.S., I've noticed a growing number hail from cities and regions around the globe.
I swear – this post was essentially written several days ago. But as the world is spinning these days – seemingly out of control at times – what seemed like a pretty good blog topic – the power of personalities and live reads – has become muddled by the recent radio news headlines.
I should have known something was up when our post yesterday about the Orlando Magic cutting its radio team resonated with so many in the business, and not just people who make their living behind the mic.
In case you missed it, the NBA franchise recently announced its “radio” play-by-play coverage for the 2020-21 season will be covered by the FOX Sports Florida TV team. Yup, simulcast television audio for broadcast radio listeners.
The Magic cut its veteran radio team like they were a bunch of rookies that couldn't shoot free throws, except in reality, they had decades of experience broadcasting games going all the way back to the days when Shaquille O'Neal was slam dunking himself to fame on behalf of the Magic.
As many of you commented throughout the day, these cost-cutting measures don't just disappoint English and Spanish-speaking fans (the team provided a Spanish language broadcast for the growing numbers of Latinos moving into Central Florida), it leaves money on the table in the form of endorsements and other revenue opportunities.
The impetus for today's post was two recent stories in Inside Radio. The first was about a study bought and paid for by iHeartMedia whose purpose was to obviously prove once again the efficacy of radio. But not just its reach – its ability to influence listeners to buy products thanks to the trust level engendered by on-air talent.
The story? “Survey: Listeners Trust In Radio Has Grown While Social Media Trust Has Declined” looked at a new study by Engagement Labs. Many of you know their CEO, Ed Keller, an industry expert in the impact of word of mouth.
Not surprisingly, this research contained some heartening news for radio executives, especially in light of the trust gap experienced by social platforms like Facebook.
The stat that jumped out at me is that three-fourths (77%) of the radio listeners surveyed said they trust information they hear from their favorite on-air talent.
iHeart's CMO, Gayle Troberman, concluded that broadcast radio's “human-first approach to programming on more than 850 stations in over 160 markets” creates an optimal listening experience for both information and entertainment.
Exhibit 2 was an Inside Radio story about the power of testimonials – live reads – that have been around since the glory days when Ronald Reagan and Paul Harvey were on the airwaves.
“The Endorsement Ad, Call It ‘Social Audio,' Is Having A Moment With Marketers,” examined the power of radio's “influencers,” its trusted personalities.
They interviewed Marshall Williams, CEO of Ad Results Media, a company that makes its living on personality endorsement campaigns. Marshall is a persuasive fan of “live reads,” and participated on a Podcast Movement panel for our “Broadcasters Meet Podcasters” track a couple years back.
In the story, his opinions were once again echoed by iHeart's Troberman who reminded readers that endorsement ads stand out as “one of the most powerful opportunities we have at iHeart.”
That's little solace to the scores of newly departed Entercom talent who got the bad news yesterday. They will not be doing live reads for advertisers anytime soon.
This new round of cuts was apparently focused on the company's Alternative and Country formats, both of which have benefited from testimonial ads from local DJ “influencers.”
There's no reason to single out Entercom, because these so-called RIFs – Reductions in Force – have occurred at many, many companies across U.S. radio, even before we knew what the coronavirus was all about.
It's just that once a new round of cutbacks starts, it seems to embolden other CEOs to apply the same tactics.
But is there a strategy?
On the one hand, radio executives point to COVID-19 as a moment when the listener-station bond has been strengthened by trusted local personalities. On the other hand – the countervailing force – is that the same pandemic has created the financial dire straits necessitating these “bad news days” for the industry, and so many of its on-air people.
Radio points to the power of its hometown DJs as being difference-makers. But the countervailing effect is how many have lost their pulpits, their positions of influence, their celebrity power as the layoffs, furloughs, and axings continue.
How can both things be true at the same time?
And that's where the question has to be raised about whether radio broadcasters have effectively leveraged and optimized their on-air talent. Are they getting considerably higher rates in exchange for a DJ saying they're driving the car, on the diet, or getting a mortgage?
Other audio platforms – from podcasts to satellite radio – have become increasingly focused on the power of the celebrity host, whether it's Joe Rogan, Howard Stern, or Michelle Obama.
Talk to anyone in podcasting and they'll emphatically tell you about the continued effectiveness of live reads, celebrity endorsements, and testimonials – so much so that they command a considerably heftier rate because of the direct participation of talent.
Broadcast executives will remind me that many of the people working on the air in American radio – including those who became unemployed yesterday – aren't in the same league with some of the aforementioned celebrity – when it comes to fame, notoriety, or talent.
But on the local level – the hometown turf where U.S. radio will win or lose – these personalities have value that go well beyond their ability to execute two crisp breaks an hour, and follow the format.
And if they're lagging or aren't effectively working on behalf of advertisers, let's train them and sharpen their skills. All the evidence points to the power of live reads, so why not work to create deeper benches of local celebrity influencers who can bring value to the bottom line?
We are most assuredly living in “transformative” times. The T-word is oft-cited to explain why radio must evolve, while cutting expenses, during this cruel year when outside forces – COVID and its sweeping effects – have taken their toll, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
What is the ROI on radio talent at this moment in time?
That may be one of the central questions facing radio broadcasting leadership this year – and beyond.
Beside their ability to keep audience's tuned in while delivering results for advertisers, what role do local DJs, shows, and hosts play in this new scheme of things?
That's a question that will be asked again and again. As we're learning from our current health and economic crises, it will very likely come down to leadership – the right people at the top making the best possible decisions that will impact careers – and lives.
There are many countervailing forces in America these days as we try to unravel the true value of a college education, face-to-face meetings, the power of protest, and the politic of a country caught up in tribal extremes exacerbated by a pandemic.
In radio, we're facing some of those same issues, often appearing to be at cross-purposes with each other.
We'd better figure it out.
- We WILL Get Fooled Again - March 31, 2023
- What It Was Like To Be A Programmer During The COVID Crisis - March 30, 2023
- Research Will Break Your Heart - March 29, 2023
Steve Reynolds says
Always well said, Fred. This one is especially on point. Every credible image any radio station has flows directly from its talent. Even their music images because its the credibility and passion from talent that sells it. Talent is the only thing that humanize the radio station, make it real, all to build a connection with listeners so they come back for more. Talent is the best conduit we have for a relationship with advertisers who trust us with their marketing dollars when they could go elsewhere. Any radio company that isn’t investing in the growth of their personalities cede those images to other radio stations to its left and right on the dial who will. We probably wasted a crap ton of money in this industry over the years developing AM stereo (remember that?) and HD channels, when the answer for differentiation, relevance, and success was (is) staring us right in the face: invest in our people.
Fred Jacobs says
Steve, you’ve said it well. If anyone understands the power, role, and value of personality, it’s someone who’s not only been on the air but coaches those who spend them time behind the mic. Thanks for chiming in on this issue, one that radio will need to grapple with, especially once the pandemic is behind us.
Mike N. says
There’s no reason to single out Entercom, because these so-called RIFs – Reductions in Force – have occurred at many, many companies across U.S. radio, even before we knew what the coronavirus was all about.
Yes, there is a reason to single out Entercom.
Iheart did essentially the same thing and laid off all their people in January before most Americans had heard of Covid-19.
Don’t think for a second Entercom didn’t plan on doing this then. Iheart gave them cover and Covid gave them the excuse.
TTHEN, they have the gall to start off their press release with this sentence.
“I’m excited to share some important moves…”
Really? Excited about it laying off hundreds?
I would say it was tone deaf if I didn’t know that the press release was not written for radio but for Wall Street.
And though they essentially had months to plan this move, they are still too lazy to take the personalities they fired off their websites.
Believe me, I get it. Business is lousy right now but how is all this a good look for the industry when not only do they get cover for something they had already planned to do but are “excited” about it.
As Churchill said, “when you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite.”
James Risk says
Terrific post to a well written article!
Fred Jacobs says
Jimmy, thanks. I know a lot of people appreciate Mike’s point of view on this.
Fred Jacobs says
Mike, you raise many points that will no doubt resonate with many readers of this blog. Cutbacks are never easy. How they’re handled and carried out can be difference-makers. The results, however, are the same – a loss of jobs and potentially a lot of revenue.
As I pointed out in the post, these moves are being made to help the bottom line, always important but even more meaningful given the pressures of 2020. But you have to wonder whether talent cuts don’t end up creating even more lost revenue as radio loses more of its “community ambassadors.”
I am all too aware that “talent” runs the gamut. There are some truly gifted, hard-working people that are especially valuable right now. They are great for both programming and sales. And there are others who frankly need some work, need to be motivated – or both. For this latter group, it should be on all of us as programmers, managers, and consultants to do what we can to help them learn, grow, and achieve success – especially as the goal posts are moving.
I appreciate your comments.
Rick Peters says
My most effective and lucrative radio station In my 8 station cluster is my NewsTalk FM. It doesn’t have the highest ratings, but what it does have is 14 hours a day if live, local talk hosts who do live reads! These live reads work! We are sold out continuously. The audience believes my hosts when told about a local business. Live reads rule.
Fred Jacobs says
They are worth their weight in gold, Rick. For radio stations with strong talent, sales people who get it, and local clients who buy in, it’s been a winning combination for radio. It’s sad so many have apparently forgotten how this simple model works. Thanks for the reaffirmation.
Bob Bellin says
There’s nothing new here…sadly. Radio periodically gets research that underscores the value of live talent as a listening inducement and vehicle to sell products. And radio has always responded by firing live talent. Its not surprising to see Entercom jumping on the tone deaf press release train as radio has been a race to the bottom for awhile now. Note to them – Christmas is an awesome time for mass firings.
Radio thinks they can cut their way to success. My mother used to say, “Had the horse down to one grain of oats a day then the damn thing died.”
To all BODs of radio companies : If all you want is cost cutting I will be happy to fire as many people as your current CEO for half the money that you’re paying them. And I’ll be as humane as possible about it, minimizing bad press and possibly precludimg a lawsuit. As a candidate you may well support likes to say, “what have you got to lose?”
Fred Jacobs says
Bob, sarcasm appreciated. It’s sad to see the radio industry take their economic woes out on the one piece that makes stations unique – talent. And perhaps some may consider your generous offer.
Bob Bellin says
When the pandemic started, I predicted a radio business where each company would produce one version of each format and just ferret that format out with some local imaging to every one of their markets with a station in that particular format. You said it was dystopian, even for me, which it was.
Isn’t that what Entercom has started doing? I hate to be right in this case but fear that I am.
Fred Jacobs says
The “hub” approach may, in fact, be where the biggest companies are headed. Does that signal opportunity for stations who retain some semblance of “local?”