Beating Heritage #1 Stations By Andy Meadows

In some markets the station at the top has been there so long it can feel like there’s no possible way of catching them. They’ve won at the game of radio, established a position format-wise, connected with the audience on a deeper level and therefore consistently crush everyone else in cume, tsl, aqh and revenue. So there’s no way to knock them off the top of the mountain. When we’re competing in this kind of environment it’s hard not to think like that, especially in diary markets where perception can often trump reality. However, while it’s certainly a tall task, even heritage number one stations are beatable. The ways to do so vary depending on a wide range of market factors as well as what we’re working with ourselves. Yes, there’s little room for error, but with time, discipline and lots of strategic planning, they can all be taken down. Here’s what it takes.

Regardless of the circumstances it’s virtually impossible to beat a heritage number one without these four things in place, good engineering, external marketing, a great programmer (with a strong consultant), and a solid sales team. Let’s take those in reverse order. Taking down a long-time number one can be a lengthy and expensive process and that requires lots of revenue coming through the door to fuel the car that needs to overtake all the others to lead the race. Without programming that’s better than theirs, or at least on par, we’re never going to appeal to enough of an audience to beat them (Or the right kind of audience if we’re using multiple stations to surround them and choke them out.) Word of mouth isn’t enough to catch a market leader, that’s why external marketing is an essential part of the strategy. We can’t double our cume without telling tons of new people why they should listen to us and that requires LOTS of advertising outside our own signals. Yet, lots of sales revenue, great programming and a solid external marketing strategy will still fall short if we’re not engineered for success. Market leaders don’t go off-the-air regularly, they aren’t poorly processed and everything necessary to do their jobs on a daily basis tends to work on a daily basis. They aren’t filled with point-to-point wiring that looks like a bad home-studio setup, the automation computer doesn’t crash because somebody bumped the studio furniture and their operation isn’t filled with single points of failure that knock them off the air.

But of course, each market is unique. The specific approach that will work varies form market to market. Some market leaders have grown complacent and are more vulnerable to a direct attack. While others have used the extra revenue they’re taking in from being at the top to reinvest in their operation and ensure it continues to run like a well-oiled machine. That’s why we’re always evaluating the market and asking ourselves whether we should program at, near or away from the station we’re targeting. All that being said, sometimes radio people have a misperception about how great it is at the market leading station and why it’s therefore impossible to catch them. But, in reality with our industry in transition and trying to figure out the right balance of how much to focus on terrestrial versus how much to focus on digital, everyone is watching their spending right now, looking for ways to cut costs, and constantly assessing everything they are doing from structure to strategy. Market leaders are not spared from this, because they tend to carry a lot of overhead and higher rates that they don’t want to compromise. Because of that, I would argue that now is a better time than ever to knock off a heritage number one.

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