What radio needs to survive the future

Carol Dooley writes for Radio Today about getting to the heart of the listener in the modern radio world.

“Pity the poor Programme Director in 2013. It wasn’t that long ago when PD’s were judged soley on the basis of generating a great JNLR based on the sound of the station. But the market is a much different place now and the job of running a radio station has become far more complex.

People no longer listen to radio the same way they did 20 years ago, 10 years ago, even 5 years ago! As a result they’re also no longer content to take what we throw at them or accept what we think they want.

Consider this. In the United States many radio stations now refer to their Programme Directors as Brand Managers and their listeners, quite rightly, as Consumers – Consumers, that is, with a very wide choice.

The penny has dropped that retaining or increasing Market Share no longer depends solely on what goes out over the airwaves or having a street team.

Here in ireland, we’re facing market saturation and yet we continue to behave with blinkered vision. We still think it’s enough to tease listeners with so called great competitions (caller 10?) or mindless strap lines – a better music mix or more songs in a row than anyone else. Yes of course music is important but guess what? The average listener has more songs on his personal iPod than any radio station database! And, he can programme them to play any way he likes!

To get at the heart of the listener is to create something special that he just can’t get anywhere else. In short it’s all about the ‘Experience’. We’re living in a time of great change and upheaval in the media world. In 2013 the radio consumer experience – good or bad – is based not only on what comes out of his speakers but on how we interact with him through social media.

And herein lies the problem and challenge.

In radio there’s a lot of content marketing as of couse there should be. But all too often it’s focused on pushing out messages that are all about the station – Like us on Facebook and Twitter, listen at this time, enter this great contest, see how funny our DJ’s are. Like running incessant promos on air many stations use Facebook and other socal media outlets as more or less dumping grounds for sales promotions, giveaways and jock promotion. Seems we’re lacking in understanding as to why people use sites like Facebook to begin with.

Successful stations recognise that whether over the airwaves or through social media it’s all about ‘WIIFM’ – the ‘What’s In It For Me’ from the listener’s point of view. How is our station going to make any real difference in his or her life? What unique experience do we have to offer. Just what is it that resonates? How do we connect? Do we at all? It’s time to reassess.

Now, with more competition than ever before we have to stop looking at our business through a lens of pushing our content to listeners and advertisers. We rarely contemplate the consumer experience whether as a result of our programming or our ability to sincerely help our clients grow their businesses. And it’s high time we did because times are changing and like it or not the radio industry has to keep up.

What worked 10 years ago no longer applies. We cannot keep borrowing from the past without deference to the present and the almost certain future. We need to learn what consumers are doing, thinking and feeling and reflect that in our brand.

As renowned radio consultant Fred Jacobs so succinctly puts it if we are to succeed in the digital space we have to:

Stop thinking like a DJ. Stop thinking like a PD. Stop thinking like a Promotions Director.

Think instead, like a consumer.”

Carol Dooley is a Broadcaster on Sunshine and former Radio Nova Programme Director

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