I know we're all looking for signs – any sign – that our lives, our world, our businesses, our radio stations – might be returning to something we once so took for granted:
So much of 2020 has been about adjusting to what has been called the “new normal” – a nauseating, frustrating phrase that has gotten on our collective nerves. We can't enjoy even the simple things – going to a concert, sitting at a bar watching a football game, or hugging friends and family members.
So many are trying to predict when there will eventually be a vaccine that is safe, effective, and accepted by a majority of the people who live here in the U.S. and around the world. The scientific community, of course, is hedging their bets. Even Dr. Fauci predicted the other day that life as we knew it won't be the same until perhaps late in 2021.
So, I'm here with some good news. I think it's coming sooner than that.
How do I know?
We're all looking for the one omen – that moment that makes you realize that we're back, at one with the universe, in our once hunky dory world.
And over the weekend, it happened. You may have missed it because it was purely a moment that only Motor City residents were perceptive and intuitive enough to pick up on and truly appreciate. But it happened, and it was the first time in months that something actually predictable, consistent, and yes, normal took place.
Ironically, it was on the football field. The Detroit Lions caved in the fourth quarter, losing a game to those evil Chicago Bears that for most teams would have been “in the bag.”
For the first three quarters, things were looking good. The Lions took a commanding 23-6 lead into that final 15 minutes of the game. But like a script from 2019 (2018, 2017, 2016, 1996, 1983), of course, Chicago rallied. With just two minutes to go, took a 27-23 lead.
But the true test was the Lions' final drive. Would the Lions engineer a last minute comeback or go down in flames? Their truly great quarterback, Matthew Stafford, brilliantly led the team back down the field. With 11 seconds left to go in regulation, the Lions were comfortably sitting on the Bears' 16 yard-line, poised to steal this game back from those dreaded Neanderthals from the Windy City.
And then the inevitable happened as you can see in the short, painful clip below. That's the Lions in their familiar Honolulu blue and silver uniforms.
Denizens all over Metro Detroit just shook their heads…and smiled. It was truly the first “normal” thing we've experienced in a long time. In a sick way, it was comforting. And it bodes well for the future.
But if you're programming or managing a radio station, you know that “normal” is a long way off. That easy routine you simply fall into, especially when you've worked for the same station in the same market for several years, becomes like a friendly pattern.
Each year, you block out the calendar with the same events, often preceded by the number of years you've done them. The “12th annual this” or the “9th annual that” become rote – a pattern that plays itself out again and again like clockwork.
Your holidays events, your fundraisers, your contests, your morning show promotion – all the events, vehicles, and tricks that work so well, year in and year out – are methodically planned, scheduled, and presented to the sales department.
But not this year, and certainly not this Q4 when familiar touchstones like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas, and New Year's occupy fixed positions on every programmer's calendar. In public radio, it's the pledge drives and other year-end activities, always locked in because the station does them every year.
And then there's the knowledge you'll be juggling airstaff vacations, often a frustrating game of human Sodoku. You know the sales pressures that always accompany the year-end. They'll still be around. And of course, the office, station, or cluster holiday party, an event that often produces awkward moments and unintended consequences.
And even that sense of dread that cuts, layoffs, and reductions may be that lump of coal in yours or someone else's stocking.
In short, you know the drill, the routine, and the moves.
But not this year. None of these familiar events and moments are looking to have much semblance of “normalcy” as we close out a horrific 2020. And that means most of us are going to have to do some reinventing, all while likely working from home, with no budget, and a depleted staff.
This time around the sun, the familiar patterns must change. There won't be neighborhood trick or treating. There will be Thanksgiving Zoom feasts. And the malls and airports are going to look a lot different this year.
The food drives, radiothons, and other charitable activities your station typically engages in will require clever reimagination. Their need will be greater than ever, but their planning and execution will need knowledge, information, creativity, and a warm touch.
There will likely be some disappointment in the air, especially felt by listeners of all ages who will face their favorite holidays with big limitations and caveats this year. Even hearing Brenda Lee and Burl Ives on the radio won't ease the pain. And part of your job is to find a way to enchant, delight, and satisfy your fans at a time when they're especially vulnerable, emotional, and maybe even depressed.
Capturing the mood, the vibe, the zeitgeist of your market and your tribe is always the key, but in this year of 2020, it will all require much more creativity, innovation, and reinvention.
We're here to help.
In just a few days, we're launching a new COVID 3 study – a follow-up to our two previous deep dives into the psyches, media habits, and consumption patterns of your core listeners. Our earlier studies were conducted in early April and mid-May, and captured those moments perfectly, first following the initial lockdown, and then the ease of restrictions and early reopening that paved the way for the brier patch we find ourselves in now.
This new study will track many of the key questions from the first two waves – including media habits, employment status, and the audience's emotional state. But it will cover some key questions radio management, sales, and programming teams need to know:
- Shopping spending and location (stores, malls, online)
- Black Friday and Cyber Monday plans
- Holiday entertaining plans (parties, stay at home, travel)
- Health and fitness
- Tech purchases and giving
- The desire to support local businesses
- Health and safety concerns
- Contest interest
It's ambitious, but important. And if you're a North American commercial radio station, we'd love to have you participate in this one to help us build a great sample of radio listeners and to help you plan, plot, and strategize your Q4 game plan, end of year budgeting, and activities as we turn the page on this brutal year and look ahead to 2021.
If you have a reasonably good database, a solid social presence, and a few hundred bucks, you're in. And the results will hopefully be the information you need to guide your programming and sales teams through these rough waters.
Our wish is for you, us, all of us to end this year on as “normal” a note as possible. And arming you with fresh, reflective, and accurate audience information is our goal.
2020 has been a rough year for radio, and our hope is this study will help strengthen your station's revenue in the final quarter of the year.
And so you know, we'll be watching those Lions intently for the rest of this already strange NFL season.
An ill-timed shanked field goal, a costly turnover, a pick 6 late in the game, or a blocked punt will be warmly welcomed just like they are every year.
Here's to all of us having a better fourth quarter than the Lions usually do.
We can only hope.
Get more information on our COVID 3 study and register here.