As we continue to bounce back from a global pandemic, adjust to life-changing technologies and struggle to keep our old media platform relevant in a new digital age, it’s easy to understand why many groups are taking drastic measures to cut cost. For a few years now we’ve been an industry in survival mode filled with radio groups doing whatever they can to keep their doors open and transmitters on for another year. But, how can we change the dynamic so we’re not just surviving but thriving in 2024 and beyond? I believe the best way for radio to do that is to begin structuring our radio groups for what radio will look like tomorrow instead of what it still kind of looks like today. Here are some thoughts on how we can do that.
Smaller staffs that are better compensated, well rounded and forward thinking. To be employed in radio at the local level now employees have to be full service, capable of doing a little bit of everything while being really good at one or two things. Spreading our thin budgets out amongst a bunch of low paid employees who may love what they do, but don’t add any real value, isn’t the right answer for today or the future. Continuing to do that for longer than they should forces groups to completely automate after it’s too late to identify and retrain our strongest staff members.
Make our stations more interactive. Put in minimum engagement requirements and rewards for any remaining local staff to encourage them to engage with listeners across every platform their station is on daily. Then, supplement that with technology to allow the station to continue interacting during unmanned hours as well. We should also use all of that to collect information that helps our stations regionalize and localize our formats so they’re not exactly the same as digital and out of market competitors.
Embrace freelancers, remote workers, outside resources and artificial intelligence. Independent groups that don’t have the luxury of corporate programming resources to leverage talent from their other markets, should fill that gap through partnerships with on-air talent who have home studios, freelance content creators, companies like mine and A.I. to retain a competitive edge. There are already AI powered prep services like Radio Content Pro that are essentially like having a radio-specific writers’ room that works 24/7/365 and soon AI voices will sound natural enough to pass off as human and cover unmanned dayparts (And eventually, I’m assuming, even interact with the audience).
Keep our local buildings but shrink our footprints. Totally abandoning our local presence will crush any hope we have of keeping local ad dollars (which admittedly are still shrinking) and growing local digital dollars (which will continue to rise). A better idea is to pair down our offices and studios as much as possible allowing some employees to work remotely from home and turning our on-air and production studios into audio/video podcast studios that can be rented out when they’re not in use. This is also a good way to identify local content creators who might be able to contribute to the station at a reasonable cost.
Don’t give up on the younger generation. If we continue the trend of moving more and more stations to recurrent/gold based formats to ‘fish where the fish are’ we’ll just continue to fight over shrinking audiences. Young people will listen to the radio but only if we give them an experience they’re more accustomed to. That includes shorter stopsets, watching TikTok/Spotify/YouTube to determine what songs to add instead of basing it off what other stations add by looking at MediaBase and talking about the things that are relevant to younger demos by engaging with them and listening to what they have to say.
Finally, we have to adjust our sales model to make it more digital friendly. The old model of talking to a potential advertiser, setting up a meeting with them to assess their needs and their budget, coming back to the station to figure out a custom solution that works for them, setting up a follow up meeting to pitch that solution, will reach a lower percentage of advertisers every year. We have to supplement that with an easy way to purchase advertising that’s similar to the experience ad buyers get when they advertise on digital and social platforms that’s transparent and allows buyers to purchase without speaking with anyone if that’s what they prefer. However, that model only works when paired with someone local for the advertiser to talk to if and when there’s a problem.
What do you think? How are you building your radio group or station to last? Comment below or email me at Andy@RadioStationConsultant.com.
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