It's one of those things about radio that simply annoys the hell out of listeners – especially the loyal ones.
It's when a DJ “disappears” from the airwaves with no notice or explanation. There is no last show because management doesn't want to take a chance the now-unemployed air personality will go rogue during their famous final studio appearance.
Rarely will you see the net effect of these abrupt changes in the ratings or audience research. Sure, ratings or even P1 levels might shift as a result. But when listeners only get a voice on social media, it's easy for management to pretend it didn't happen.
I moderate a ton of focus groups for radio stations, so I hear the emotional feedback from audience members all the time. And when there's no official explanation, urban legends take over, almost always making talent the victim and positioning management as evil, uncaring, and cruel. While the latter may indeed be the case more often than not, the bosses do not have to be the bad guys.
The problem is, whether station management, the researcher, and the consultant will admit it or not, a jock with just a 2-share has likely built up a bigger following than most gave them credit for. It may not be enough to satisfy the station's ratings and sales goals, but it's something.
And the result of a favorite talent vanishing from the local airwaves and the website can be hurtful to listeners, making them feel even more disconnected and even estranged from station they once called their favorite.
When they're botched and poorly planned, sloppy departures send a message to remaining staffers the same shabby treatment will likely happen to them. Of course, it also can cause brand erosion.
We see the effect in Net Promoter Scores – the degree to which listeners recommend stations to others – every year in our Techsurveys. You're not likely to tell your buddy at work good things about a station that mismanaged the exit of a favorite on-air talent.
We've been tracking Net Promoter in every Techsurvey, dating back to 2004. And these trackable numbers tell the story of radio stations, their highs and lows, their big moments, and their embarrassing ones. Like it or not, the audience is an emotional entity – they react to what they hear – and don't hear – on the airwaves.
And when these cuts, RIFs, or layoffs happen abruptly and without warning, they can create blowback on social media, sometimes instigated by talent themselves. Management can comfort themselves with the knowledge these disruptions are only temporary, but why go through them in the first place? Is there a way to not only alleviate the vitriol, but perhaps pull off a more human transition, and even generate a little revenue at the same time?
That's what Netflix – and other streaming platforms – apparently struggle with. We don't exactly know what drives their decision to cancel shows prematurely before their intended endings. Obviously, the criteria has a lot to do with viewership, binging levels, demographics, and the degree to which viewers finish out seasons.
And TV critic Erik Kain is pissed off about it. In a new Forbes opinion piece, he avers that while Netflix has the right (and even the responsibility) to cancel its absolute losers, shows that actually aggregated an audience deserve closure – not just for the audience but for the producers who are likely to create more successful content down the road.
In “Dear Netflix: Give Your Cancelled Shows The Final Seasons They Deserve And Everybody Wins,” this aggrieved critic makes the case for that famous final season – or episode – that closes the book on our hero.
Kain contends that – just like radio – it often takes time to forge a relationship with an audience. But with enough episodes in the bank, even OK shows develop a following with their audience bases. It's often like that on the radio, too.
While he may overestimate his own importance as a viewer, there is something to be said for announcing the upcoming season is the last one for a TV show. At least in theory, that builds anticipation for the finale and a welcome end to a beloved – at least for some – show.
It's a lot like that on the radio. What sounds like the better option? Radio's abrupt ending where a host finishes out a show he, she, and listeners don't realize is the last one, with a new person in the chair the next morning? Or learning that at the end of the week, the morning team will broadcast its last show on the station?
The answer is, it depends. There is talent that has earned the right to a final show – a chance to respectfully say goodbye while giving the audience a clear explanation about why it was time to part ways.
And there are hosts who simply can't be trusted with the responsibility. There's no reason for management to risk an embarrassing moment – or worse. There are advertisers, listeners, and a license to protect.
But more and more, I see talent gracefully saying their good-byes on social media, often diplomatically and even thankful for the opportunity. A final show might help them close out this chapter in their careers, while giving their listeners a chance to hear the last hurrah.
In some cases, there's a financial upside, too. A mutually agreed-upon retirement opens the doors to a final series of shows that might attract sponsors and other revenue-generating opportunities. The Scott Shannon departure from WCBS-FM seemed to work that way.
Is there risk?
Of course. There always is when you're dealing with personal taste, audiences, and talent. In the case of Netflix, another season (or even a final episode) is expensive to produce.
In radio, the potential costs are much different, especially if that last show doesn't go as planned.
Ultimately, there's an ROI to greenlighting that last show. To pull it off with class requires a steady hand, a great plan, and a lot of mutual understanding and cooperation.
That elusive final show carries risk. But it also can bring potential reward.
Closure isn't always attainable, whether it's that Netflix drama or that afternoon show that's simple run its course.
It carries a creative challenge, because not all endings are happy ones. But it also can make a powerful statement about aa brand and its connection to the audience and the community.
A true finale is hard to pull off – on a TV network or a video streaming platform – or on the radio.
It's never easy to say goodbye.
- An Open (News)Letter To Radio - December 6, 2023
- The Case For Handcrafted Radio - December 5, 2023
- Is It Time For The Music Industry To Write Radio A “Dear Genre” Letter? - December 4, 2023