By Dave Foxx
When most folks turn on the radio the first time each day, chances are very good that they’re looking for either entertainment or information. That’s really all radio is good for, but that is quite a lot. In recent years, the ‘suits’ in radio have been running in fear of alternative media. Satellite radio, MP3 players, the Internet, cell phones and tablets all offer the same music radio does, but with no commercials. “Lions and tigers and bears… Oh my!” Like Dorothy and her friends in the Wizard Of Oz, the bean counters are afraid of something that should not be feared at all. In fact, alternative media should be embraced and made a part of what we do. You my friends… are the reason why.
Think for a moment about how people use radio. Why are they listening in the first place? Well, if you ask your Music Director, he/she will give you a roll of the eyes, as to say, “It’s the music… DUH!” Is that your final answer? Before you opt for the million-dollar question, let me point out a few things:
In New York, there are 72 signals competing for the same audience.
MOST of those stations play music.
A LOT of those stations play the same music!
That doesn’t even begin to calculate the number of Internet streams, satellite channels and iPods all playing Rihanna’s latest opus, often at the same time. So, how is it that the Barbadian beauty from Saint Michael makes your station better than any other? Hmm? The simple answer is, it doesn’t.
If you pester the MD again, you’ll get another roll of the eyes. While it’s true that how you put the playlist together will make a difference, perhaps a big difference, that really doesn’t give the complete picture, but it does give a hint.
Taking a different tack, let’s look at nightclubs. Ask any nightclub owner what makes his/her club really successful, the first answer you’re likely to get is music. Music IS what drags the patrons in to begin with, but what makes them stay? Aside from the “specialty” nightclubs that feature 80s music or all House or Trance music, most nightclubs ALL play the same music. Ask the owner again and you’ll get something closer to the right answer, the deejay. Put the right deejay on the turntables and the dance floor will stay packed with sweaty, gyrating bodies all night. Add the right amenities and your nightclub owner friend has a license to print money.
Just like your nightclub owner friend, music is the first thing that attracts your listeners. It gets them in the door. It’s your calling card. People DO punch around, looking for a song they like and then will settle in to listen for a bit. The big question then becomes, how do you get them to stay?
Taking from our clubbing experience, the deejay can make a huge difference. Chances are your afternoon drive jock is not mixing on the ones and twos, but they are handling the music transitions. Getting from one song to the next is critical to their mission. And while they’re probably doing things according to a well thought out format with talk breaks, jingles, sweepers and contests, it’s their art of putting it all together that can really boost the ratings. The deejay is doing something very subtle all the time. They are promoting a lifestyle. Music is an integral part of that lifestyle, but the importance of how it is put together and how it flows are just as important, if not more so, as the music itself.
Now apply this to what we do. We’re not on the air for 4 hours, slaving non-stop to make the magic happen. We’re on for 30 seconds! We have to generate that same kind of passion for a lifestyle in less than a minute! While our promos might extoll the virtues of our particular blend of music, they’re really not about the music. It’s always about the lifestyle. How we use the music speaks to that lifestyle and that is what we’re selling. We’re not selling the music any more than Dominos is selling pizza. Dominos sells service. Just like Nike sells an athletic lifestyle, not sneakers. Volvo sells safe driving, not cars.
You might recall from a recent column that I talked about how music is like Lego™ Blocks; little bits of plastic that you can pop apart and pop together to build things. When you first start using them, you’re likely to make cars and houses. If you’re really ambitious, you might make an airport or train station. But once you’ve honed your Lego™ skills, you can tackle projects like the ones on display at the FAO Schwartz store across from Central Park. Gigantic pirate ships and Space Shuttle cockpits always make people gasp as they come up the escalator. The hit music that plays on your station and the music you use in your production is your own gigantic Lego™ set. Take the time to really get creative, remember to always promote the lifestyle, and your little 30-second slice of the broadcast day can dazzle and amaze even the most jaded Program Directors. Yours might even gasp!
Check out my sound this month. The sell is a Summer Lifestyle. So many people in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and the itty-bitty bit of Pennsylvania we cater to spend a lot of time behind the wheel, traveling to and from the beach every weekend. Those who don’t, wish they did. I simply took four of the biggest hits we’re playing and wove them into a narrative about that drive, without mentioning the horrendous weekend traffic on I95 and the Garden State Parkway.
So, what about the concerns our fearless leaders have over alternative media? How silly is that? A jukebox has never beaten a live deejay and never will. All the jukebox has is music. Your radio station has a whole team of people selling the lifestyle; the deejays, a Music Director (who can’t stop rolling the eyes), a brilliant PD… and you.