How to Improve Radio

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “The Bigger Picture” series, written by Charese Fruge on September 1, 2021 

Let’s be honest, the radio industry has a seriously bad rap right now. It’s easy to identify the top reasons why. Downsizing and consolidation, lack of investment in the product, talent, and resources, too many corporate strategies shoved down to local levels, only a ‘select few” in decision making positions. I could go on for days. It’s heartbreaking for those of us who have a passion for a business that was once the “industry” to be in. And it’s disheartening to learn that the younger generation has little to no interest in traditional radio these days.

One of the good things that came out of the VP/EVP Round Table session at Morning Show Bootcamp this year was “how can we improve radio right now?” It’s a popular topic as those who are passionate about the business’ future continue to explore every option possible. It was one of the final questions Mike McVay asked the men on the panel before the session ended. There were many obvious recommendations and hope among the audience that the recommendations would be taken seriously by the men who offered them. They have been suggested on more than one occasion, but perhaps if I put it in writing “one more time,” it will start to sink in. Sadly, we talk a lot about things we need to do to fix the business, but our follow through in the radio industry is little to none.

The first recommendation was, we need to work on re-imaging and marketing the reputation of the business. Everybody’s favorite solution: “We need to change the narrative.” Hubbard’s Greg Strassell even went so far as to suggest investment in marketing the industry and brands. Luckily for him, he works for one of the few companies who can probably afford to do it right now and most likely would, given the opportunity.

It would need to be a twofold campaign; however. Marketing to just the industry and potential industry partners/expansions could have an impact, but that is a limited audience. We’d also need to focus on marketing to the outside world and trying to attract everyone we’ve lost to streaming services and other digital platforms. Especially the younger end millennials and upper end Gen Zers. We’ve completely lost them, and sadly, it was a self-destructive process. We as an industry lost to ourselves.

More importantly, the next recommendation suggested by some of the panel members, was that Talent is and must be critical to the success of radio. Yes, even the ones who work for companies who continue to get rid of talent agreed. It was suggested that we must invest in good talent and allow them the opportunity to open up a little bit. Strassell also had “the quote” on this topic, “Talent is the software that drives radio.” Again, this is not a new topic, or new solution, but one we’ve got to stop talking shit about it and start doing something about. How far do we have to go before we have driven out all local radio, any chance at ratings and zero chance at revenue?

And the final recommendation from the panel on how to improve radio was understanding digital platforms and how to use them to engage audiences on behalf of traditional signals. Using Podcasts to expand the brand and editing and repurposing quality content for on air use. Using the stations stream and social media platforms to promote a stations morning show. Using digital platforms to create FOMO for brands and talent so people will tune in. And making a constant and revolving connection between the traditional signal and the digital brand. If the content on digital is compelling enough, you may get lucky and convince some of the younger audiences to check out radio again.

There are many more recommendations for improving radio and the current perception of the industry, but these came from the guys at the top. And for the most part they make a lot of sense and really are the top three priorities. If the industry would just go so far as to start realistically working on these three steps, instead of just talking about them, we might be able to save radio and actually move it forward. I ask this question often in almost all my columns. Is there anyone out there in a position of power willing to start actually moving the conversations forward? There is an old saying out there I am sure you have heard, “Actions speak louder than words.” It’s no different in business than it is in life. Time to sh*t or get off the pot before it’s too late.