Playing It Too Safe By Andy Meadows

There’s a documentary on Paramount + called Bring Your Own Brigade by filmmaker Lucy Walker. Its an excellent piece of investigative journalism that looks at the many reasons for the recent increase in deadly California wildfires. She chronicles the well-known Paradise Camp Fire of 2018 that killed 85 residents and how Paradise responded by trying to change building codes within the city. Even though some of them wouldn’t cost an extra penny, the mayor and the city council faced huge pushback from the very same residents that narrowly escaped the fire just a few years prior. Watching it all unfold onscreen its hard to understand why seemingly an entire community would vote against their own interests while staring into the face of impending disaster. How can they just keep doing things the same exact way they’ve always done them? 

But, then I think about our industry and how we’ve been essentially doing the same thing for years. The digital reckoning isn’t coming, its already here. Listening habits haven’t just changed for young people, they’ve changed across the board, while for the most part, we haven’t changed our approach at all. Conversely, these changes have seemed to force us further into our shells, causing us to play it even safer. We’ve ceded new music discovery to Spotify and TikTok while sticking to the traditional radio model for adding music. As younger audiences started to leave us we’ve shifted to more formats aimed at older demos. I can’t tell you how many radio people I’ve heard say ‘Young people just don’t listen to the radio anymore’ in the past five years, but it’s a lot. To which I always reply, they will if we give them a reason to and market to them on the platforms they’re already on. Plus, we’ve restricted and watered down our air talent to the point where they feel no longer comfortable talking about anything that might possibly offend anyone in this partisan, politically polarized country we live in. 

When are we going to start taking risks again? They can still be calculated risks where we weigh the potential reward against the potential loss. But, the time has come to start trying a different approach. Let’s shorten our stopsets and offset the lost inventory with sold imaging and sponsored features, benchmarks and digital content. Let’s turn our professional audio content into video content for our website and social sites. Let’s open up the available show prep material by letting our experienced on air personalities talk about sensitive subjects and let the listeners make the polarizing points. Let’s do those fun, engaging, interactive and wacky promotions radio used to be known for and update them to work even better in our new digital age. Let’s stop letting artists break their songs on other platforms while we wait around for some arbitrary radio release date. Let’s embrace podcasting and use it as a way to extend and even improve our on-air programming by conducting long form interviews, features and benchmarks then using the best bits of them on-air. Let’s embrace the fact that digital content is a team sport and open up opportunities for off-air employees to create and capture digital content as well as all of our on-air staff. 

I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, radio isn’t dying, it’s changing and change is good. Change puts us outside of our comfort zone and throughout history the best innovations have come from uncomfortable situations. So, as we emerge from the backside of this pandemic, eventually, lets commit to taking some risks in 2022 and beyond. 

What do you think? Comment below even if you vehemently disagree with me, actually especially if you disagree with me. Or email me at andy@radiostationconsultant.com. 

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