Today's trek in the JacoBLOG time machine is just a hop, skip, and a jump back just two short years. But it reflects conversations we continue to have in radio, no matter whether you're tethered to a commercial, public, or Christian station.
Live & local.
I'll get to the “live” part on another day, a topic covered in our new AQ5 study of air talent. We asked about voicetracking (who does it and how often?) as well as the value of going live, and the results are…revealing.
But today, it's the “local” part of the equation. I'll be presenting our 15th Public Radio Techsurvey today to its more the 60 stakeholder stations via Zoom. If you work in that space, you know it is going through something of a transformation this year, with changes in leadership at the highest levels, unprecedented layoffs, and a whole lot of fundamental questions being asked. It sure feels like next week's PRPD Content Conference in Philly will not be the run-of-the-mill radio gathering. Given the agenda put together by PRPD's president/executive director, Abby Goldstein, there will be many serious discussions revolving around some fundamental “givens” that no one's taking for granted in 2023.
Like what it means to be local. For more than a half century, NPR news stations have leaned heavily on network programming. The two iconic drivetime news magazines – “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” – are considered the “tentpole” programs on the week. And the rest of the lineup is often filled with other network shows. For many stations, longform local programming is an exception, and not even close to the rule.
But now programmers, managers, and leaders in public radio are questioning the fundamentals, asking questions about program origination that have not been asked in years – or ever. What does it mean to be “local?” How is it defined, and what does it look and sound like? Can public radio stations benefit from “hitting the streets,” in not dissimilar ways to how it's done in Rock, Country, and Urban radio on the commercial side of the street. Our new PRTS study tackles many of these issues, and I'm excited to be able to take the stage in Philly to present it to the assembled masses of public radio's best and brightest at the Hilton at Penn's Landing. The topic of “local” will, in fact, be one of the key points, not just in my presentation, but throughout the entire first day of keynotes.
And to that point, this blog post. It proves that “local” isn't so much about where a program originates from. It is more about a station's state of mind. Or perhaps better put, sense of place. It's the story of what commercial radio continues to do right, in spite of its inherent problems, many of which are admittedly self-inflicted. Meanwhile, hope to see you in Philly. If you somehow haven't made the decision to attend the PRPD Content Conference, registration info is here. – FJ
Seth Resler shows you how to use webinars to generate leads for your radio station's sales team.
Two posts in a row about Detroit?
You'd think my music scheduling skills would have guided my ability to balance topics a bit better. But yesterday was one of those days in Detroit radio. It was gloomy, dank, rainy and it felt like Halloween arrived a month early.
Those are the perfect conditions for Alice Cooper to come back home and dedicate a new street – OK, in this case, a court – in his name – at the sight of a former insane asylum turned haunted house this All Hallows' Eve.
(Some cities are famous for their museums. Others for their waterfronts. In Detroit, it's mental institutions.)
And once again, it was Detroit's Classic Rock station, WCSX, that paved the way, along with its morning guy, Jim O'Brien, who's making these events a tradition.
I could tell you about this radio station's stellar ratings all day. But that's not the story. There are stations with big shares and monster cumes in every market of the country. And as we know, that success is often fleeting.
This is about building a brand that's built to last in a city that still values its radio. I often preach the benefits of live and local in this blog – capturing that local vibe, heritage, and fabric of a community. I'm the consummate of fan of talent acting as ambassadors to cement a radio station's linkage to its community and its audience.
But it seems like every time I write a post about how local radio is the only medium that can make this happen, it is met with skepticism and downright negativity by those who can only be described as self-hating former radio pros. And I get it. If you worked in this business in the '70s or '80s, you might have been fortunate enough to spend some memorable years at stations that truly lived up to this potential. For the most part, that radio industry is a thing of the past.
Here we are in the 21st century, and even an FCC Commissioner is lamenting the unfair competitive environment broadcasters face, going head-to-head with unregulated behemoths like Facebook, Google, YouTube and Amazon. Nathan Simington made that comparison yesterday at Radio Ink's Hispanic Conference in Miami. And he led off his diatribe, citing Apple and its App Store, making the rules about who gets in, who is barred, and how those multi-billion dollar profits are divvied up.
Alas, Commissioner Simington offered no simple answer to this existential media imbalance. He did open the door to less restrictive broadcast rules, noting “The Commission can reduce burdens to broadcasters and offer greater freedom to operate.”
Translation: More deregulation.
But as we all learned after the Telecommunication Act of 1996, the law that ushered in the current state of radio's version of “Risk,” owning most or even all the stations in Topeka isn't going to solve radio's biggest, systemic problems. And we can all wait for the Commission to act until we're all qualified for Medicare.
Or we can take control of our destinies, and do the smart, tactical thing by leaning into the attributes that only radio has – its sense of place and community.
That's a big reason why CSX and O'Brien are so noteworthy. A street named for a hometown music hero didn't just come and go during yesterday's dedication ceremony at Eloise.
It's becoming a tradition for this station to honor a part of its community that is as famous as Detroit's connection to cars:
Music, of course.
And as Jim O'Brien told me, “I was thinking back to Glenn Frey Drive. I remember asking ‘Why do we wait until someone’s gone to show appreciation to them?' That’s why Alice Cooper Court is so special. To have him with us when we unveiled it yesterday was powerful. It’s our way of saying thank you to Alice for being part of our lives.”
Whether it's soul, rock n' roll, hip-hop, jazz, punk, or EDM, no metro in this country – or this planet – has produced so many seminal stars. Many only need one name: Madonna, Aretha, Motown, Eminem.
When it comes to promotions, we all want to be a part of something big. And there's no doubt fewer stations are able to pull off a market-wide, memorable event in 2021.
Even those big concerts, festivals, and fireworks shows are transient: they come, they make a big splash, and they're gone.
That's why WCSX's efforts to create a sense of permanence for local musicians is impressive. Those memories are lasting. When locals drive by one of these streets, the association with the radio station that made it happen is in place.
As WCSX's Director of Programming, Scott Jameson, puts it, “The strongest tool in the box for terrestrial radio is being insanely local. Competitors may replicate your music recipe, but that’s only half the battle. Artist ownership, connecting with your community and delivering what your P1’s are passionate about drives brand loyalty.”
Bob Seger was a recipient of Detroit's version of a Hollywood star when his boulevard was dedicated in Allen Park in 2018 (Ann Arbor, where Bob grew up said “No”).
And before that, it was the Eagles' Glenn Frey‘s passing in 2016 that motivated O'Brien and CSX to lobby the powers-that-be in Royal Oak to change the name of the street in front of his alma mater, Dondero High School, to Glenn Frey Drive.
Even Alice Cooper remarked about this WCSX tradition of naming streets in honor of some of its biggest musical stars:
“I love the idea that they're naming streets after rock stars in Detroit.”
What's not to love?
Much credit to Scott Jameson, Mac Edwards, the station staff, and parent company Beasley Media Group for encouraging this embrace of the local ethos. There are really just a few markets where these promotions actually take on a tribal feel.
And Detroit is one of them. It's one thing to “get” what makes a town and its listeners tick.
It's another – as Lee Abrams reminds us – to AFDI.
Come to think of it, Lee was one of WRIF's program directors, way back in the early '70s.
Hey, Jim, could Suzi Quatro Street be next?
Thumbnail photo credit: Jenny Risher
Fox 2 Detroit coverage of the Alice Cooper Court dedication is here.