When our “Digital Dot Connector,” Seth Resler, joined us in 2015, we knew his stint working in Silicon Valley was time well spent. For Seth – a former program director and air talent, his sojourn to the world of technology served as a much-needed break from broadcast radio.
It turned out Seth's “vacation” provided perspective on the radio business that most of us could benefit from. He now looks at content, distribution, and marketing through a different lens.
And in today's post, Seth examines some of the traditional mores that radio stations have followed for decades. In buildings where there are four, five, or more stations, talent tends to stay in their lanes. In today's post, Seth pinch hits for me, asking some key questions about how radio air personalities could extend their brands by connecting with their fraternity brothers and sisters down the hall. – FJ
Richard Belzer's famous character, Detective John Munch, holds the record for appearing on the most television series: 10 different shows on five different networks, including Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Trial By Jury, The X-Files, Arrested Development, The Wire, The Beat, and 30 Rock.
Belzer's popular Munch character has also made cameos on Paul Shaffer's 1993 album The World's Most Dangerous Party, in the 2016 Spider-Man/Deadpool #6 comic book, and even in Muppet form on Sesame Street.
I love these television crossover events. I've loved them since the Harlem Globetrotters first appeared in my Scooby Doo cartoons. To me, there's just something exciting about Urkel dropping in on the Tanners, the Griffins running into Homer and Marge, or Buffy heading to L.A. to help Angel fight evil law firms. Like mashups between two very different songs, crossovers generate buzz and interest in the artists whose music is brought together, often in unusual but interesting circumstances.
In any medium, it's exciting to see the characters I love interact with other characters at are very familiar to me, but unfamiliar to them. Marvel has crafted an entire universe around this concept, while the best television series finale in history built a joke around it. (Of course, I'm talking Newhart.)
So why doesn't radio do similar crossover events?
Multiple times in my career, I have found myself working at a station that was part of a larger cluster. Behind the scenes, I'd interact with employees from the other stations, but never over the airwaves. Every station behaved as if it were the only radio station in the world, when in reality many of our rock station listeners probably had our classic rock sister station programmed into the very next preset button on their car radios.
Our stations not only shared owners; in all likelihood, we also shared a lot of listeners. Why didn't we acknowledge that fact through cross-promotion? After all, wouldn't we rather have our listeners flipping over to our sister stations when a song they didn't like came on instead of tuning to a station owned by another company?
I love the idea of radio crossovers for the same reason that I love television crossovers: It's cool hearing my favorite personalities in situations that break from the norm. With the Internet, we now have opportunities to create content featuring crossovers – or mashups – that we never had before.
If Taylor Swift comes to town, there's no reason why DJs from the Top 40 and Country stations in a cluster can't team up for a backstage interview in an online video. When you look beyond music-related content, there are even more opportunities. For example, DJs from two different stations could team up to create a podcast series about local wineries or the minor league sports team.
I see three ways that radio crossovers could work:
Crossing Dayparts: In our business, it's common to have colleagues whose paths rarely cross because they come into the station at different times. But the rise of on-demand media allows them to collaborate in ways that weren't possible before. For example, at KISW in Seattle, Steve Migliore from the station's morning show and Ted Smith from the station's afternoon show come together to host the Mega Cast podcast. The two of them enjoyed each others company but rarely had an opportunity to work together, so they created one.
Crossing Stations: Two stations in the same market could find a way to collaborate by creating digital content. The advantage is obvious – it doubles the promotional channels for this content: two websites, two email lists, two Facebook pages, etc. While it's easy to see where stations that share audience could collaborate — the Rock and Classic Rock stations, for example — the more outlandish crossovers, the better: Country and Hip Hop or Alternative and Top 40.
Ian Camfield, the midday guy at Hubbard's ALT AZ in Phoenix works in the same building as KUPD's “Morning Sickness” show starring John Holmberg. Camfield began spending time behind the mic on Holmberg's show, and it's now morphed into a regular appearance. The two enjoy sitting in the same studio and schmoozing so much they started a podcast, The Morning After. With Brit Camfield at an Alternative station and Holmberg entertaining Phoenix on the market's Rock station, they are very much the odd couple — and that's one of the reasons it works.
(By the way, back in the day, stations often flipped airstaffs on April Fools Day. Imagine the Rock station flipping staffs with the NPR or Classical station.)
Crossing Markets: So many radio companies own stations of the same format in different cities that it makes sense to share content across markets. iHeart Radio has done this well with its awards show and its Las Vegas concert festival. I've also seen radio companies produce blog content that can be shared across multiple stations. Yet, outside of syndicated radio shows, this rarely happens with on-air personalities.
One way this could work is by emulating television spin-offs. Mork & Mindy and Laverne & Shirley were two popular shows that started with characters which first appeared on Happy Days. We've already seen some broadcasters use the spinoff model to create digital content. For example, several members of Elvis Duran's morning show have launched their own podcasts under the heading “Elvis Duran Presents.”
Imagine another way this spinoff model could work: Let's say Acme Broadcasting has a popular morning show in Metropolis, and it hopes to eventually bring that show to one of its stations in Gotham. The Metropolis morning show could record a music news segment or be a part of a recurring bit on another Gotham morning show to warm the audience and the market up. Then, when it comes time to start simulcasting the Metropolis morning show on another station in Gotham, it already has some familiarity, increasing its chances of success.
Of course, the challenge with creating these types of crossovers is that radio companies are set up in a way that encourages programmers to be territorial. The incentives for PDs and air talent are usually based on the ratings for their own stations, which inherently creates fiefdoms. Why would a Metropolis PD direct listeners to content from the Gotham station if she doesn't get credit for it?
To take full advantage of the crossover opportunities that on-demand digital content make possible, we may have to rethink the way we structure and incentivize our staffs. Radio stations are no longer standalone players in their markets. Instead, let's acknowledge that our listeners tune in multiple stations. And let's use that as an opportunity to give them something exciting by pairing up on-air personalities in ways that they don't expect — and that is out of context.
Putting talent in unexpected places isn't much different than seeing favorite athletes or movie stars on shows like Dancing With The Stars. It's great for fans of both personalities and shows.
Crossovers generate buzz and help air talent expand their “tents.”