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NUMBER 1 - How to get a station
Owning a radio station in the United States of America is not a right. The Federal Communications Commission, at the direction of their boss, Congress, acts as the overseer of the broadcast industry. They have written and applied the laws governing broadcasting. These laws are called FCC Rules & Regulations and are written in several volumes that are constantly updated.
The Rules & Regulations set down the requirements a person or company must meet to qualify to own an 'over the air' broadcast property in this country. In short, if you have been convicted of a felony or certain other crimes, you will not earn a license. A licensee requires a certain set of qualities. You need to be a good citizen genuinely concerned with providing a trusted and reliable service that is accurate and certainly centers on service over profit in times of greatest need. In other words, if you're the sort of person who jumps in to help in a time of need without much thought to the cost of helping, you are a good candidate. You need to be known for your good character. The FCC does not require all of this but your success sure does.
Running a radio station is an important position. Sure there is the internet and television and these are important as well, but radio has the unique position as being the medium of last resort. If a hurricane hits and the electricity is out, that TV set won't work for you and chances are the batteries in your laptop will not last very long. Radio is easily accessible without electricity and commonly the only medium that can reach the masses. If you need to spend money to lease a good size generator so you can stay on the air in a time of crisis, operating commercial free during the emergency, then you have an idea of what sort of person you need to be to understand your community needs you at any cost.
Owning a radio station is not just about playing your favorite music on the airwaves. There is a myriad of Federal regulations and requirements you must adhere to. There is the business side and all the various aspects of running a storefront business. If you're up for 85-90% of your time involved in other duties associated with the station versus your over-the-air sound, then you're ready for ownership.
We can compare radio ownership to being an over the road trucker. You might have become a trucker because you like to visit new places and like to travel. Very quickly you realize seeing new places and traveling is only part of the job. There are many other factors that become much more important very quickly. You still enjoy it but it is an entirely different job than what you figured when you signed up.
NUMBER 2 - Who is the real owner?
You say "I want to own a radio station because no other radio station is playing the kind of music my friends and I like". I say read no further and forget the idea of owning a radio station. I worked for a station owner who had just bought his first station. He loved Classical music and jazz. He thought everybody that listened to country music were uneducated white trash. He disliked the easy listening formats as well. He saw it as 'waiting to die' music for people who had nothing to look forward to. His station was a country music station sprinkled with some more upbeat Beautiful Music. His station did quite well.
You see, you and your friends make up just a small slice of the whole community. We live very insulated lives, circulating mostly with like-minded folks and those with whom you share common memories or experiences. There's a whole wide world out there besides you and your friends! You have to get a good handle on this.
Radio stations are like all media. You might own it, pay all the bills and solve all the problems but it is not yours as far as the community is concerned. The community believes THEY own it. If you choose to disallow the community to own your station expect a close up and personal front row seat to the worst of humanity. You're a common thief and considered against the community. They won't want you in town. Everybody in media knows this.
On the positive side, if you seem sincere about serving the community, they'll back you even if you aren't so good at it. They will give you lots of breaks and give you a chance to improve.
Let's compare radio ownership to a clothing store. Let's say you and your circle of friends are on top of all the latest fashion trends and always dress to the nines. Everybody else wears jeans, t-shirts and western wear. You decide to open the only clothing store in town. What will you put on the shelves and racks? If it's the latest fashions, chances are you found the fast lane to bankruptcy. Choose jeans, t-shirts and western wear and you could be laughing all the way to the bank.
In a nutshell: your radio station will be a success when you are a reflection of life in the community.
NUMBER 3 - No Cash Cow?
If I build it, they will come. That only happens in the movies. There are several things wrong with this thinking. You must build awareness of your station. When people know about it, they will sample it. If nobody knows you're out there, trust me, you remain a long lost secret.
The very same thing goes for sales. I knew a radio station that signed on the air with a splash. The whole town was buzzing. They hired major market talent, spent for the very best equipment, spent about 3 months worth of potential revenue on promotional goodies and in short, captured the ears of this town of 40,000 in no time flat. In essence, they changed radio in that town forever. It didn't last long. Sure, they were the undisputed number one station almost instantly but the sales department felt it you build it, they will come. It took more than a month before they had their first advertiser. They never caught up. If the sales department was as coordinated about promoting the station as the programming department, it would have worked, maybe.
Nobody cares for your radio station until you give them a reason to care. Nobody advertises on your station until you give them a reason to advertise. To get across those reasons, you must make them aware of your station and give them something worthy to make then want to listen and advertise.
People think radio is a cash cow. With any cow, they need a place to roam and they eat all the time. You have to make sure you can get enough milk to pay for it all. Oh yes, milking the cow is hard work and you have to do it every day.
Let me reflect on an important lesson I learned: when you talk about your station say what is important to the person you are speaking to. When in front of a potential advertiser, they could care less if you play 10 in a row every hour or that you have more winners than any other station on the dial. When talking to a potential advertiser you talk about why the station might be right for increasing their revenue. Talk about how they benefit. Talk to your listeners about what is important to them. Without this focus, there is a failure to communicate and that is fatal in the communications business. You must communicate and you must market yourself.
NUMBER 4 - Money, Money, Money
It really is all about the money! Forget everything you think you know about radio. Drop all the emotions and get hard core on focusing only on business. Every radio station is a business. And, yes, that includes listener supported stations! If you won't toss everything aside and think business something usually happens: you go out of business.
I know what you're thinking: you are the exception. You're not. Radio doesn't work like that.
Radio is like a car. Imagine building a car, piece by piece, exactly as you want. You wind up with the most perfect vehicle ever made. You've spent a fortune and you're as proud as a first time father and as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. This car is your radio station. You put the key in the ignition but nothing happens.
The fuel that runs the car is gasoline. Radio stations need fuel to run as well. Radio station's fuel is money. Before anything else, you must have a way to earn income. There is the light bill, music licensing fees, annual fees to the FCC, taxes, mortgages, equipment, employees and maintenance to pay for. If you are a commercial station you had attorney's fees and and auctions that cost you a tidy sum, not to mention all the engineering fees you paid up front to earn your permit to construct a station. Getting on the air can make a wealthy investor to grab their inhaler as they gasp for air. You had better have a foolproof plan to bring in cash.
NUMBER 5 - For Sale
Understanding sales is crucial. You will never succeed until you understand this aspect of radio. When we think of sales, we bristle with images of shady people trying to scam some poor sucker out of their money. This is conning people, not selling. The real fact is you SELL every day and all day. We just don't realize it. For example, in the office three or four folks might be deciding where to go for lunch. Let's say your choice is, say, Subway. As other possibilities are mentioned, you might say, "Joe, you really liked that Subway meatball sub last week, right?". Guess what, you were SELLING Joe on Subway.
Selling is literally letting people know what you do and what you offer. Do you really consider yourself a salesperson when you say, for example, "I'm an accountant and mostly I handle small business accounts, helping people get the most out of their business." Nothing shady here! It's purely a sales pitch: it says what you do and do well. The person who has a business and needs an accountant would consider this person.
Selling is so much more but you really do not realize it. You see, selling is giving a person the time to get to know you and trust you. If somebody came to you asking for $20 would you go digging into your wallet? What if you met the person several times, knew a bit about the person and their character. Assuming they seemed to have integrity and seemed to be an overall genuinely good person, would you hand them a $20? More than likely you would seriously consider it, right? Selling is a whole lot of getting to know people and letting them know you.
Sales is YOU. People buy because they like you. I knew one salesman that sold a John Deere dealer a huge advertising schedule on a rock station every month. Granted the John Deere dealer spend an equal amount on our Country music station as well. I asked the guy why. He simply said his client liked him. He even said his client said the guy reminded the client of himself when he started the dealership. Was the big buy for for the rock music station in the early 1980s a good advertising buy for the client? Probably not, but the buy was made because the client liked the guy selling the advertising. Let me ask you how often you make a purchase from a person you do not like?
Sales is LISTENING. Trust me, it's not what you say, it is what you hear! Generally a business owner has a pretty defined idea of what they want. They will gladly tell you. The question is will you listen for it and remember it. There was a girl I was attracted to and we struck up a casual conversation. I cannot recall the details but she was working at a second job so she could buy a certain type of car. In the conversation she mentioned the lack of sleep from working all the time was worth it. I happened to be shopping and by chance saw the very type of car she wanted but it was a matchbox size car. I purchased it and took it to her. I said I know this is not the car you are hoping for but I remember you telling me you are saving to buy a real one. You might want to put this by your alarm clock so you see it every morning when you wake up, knowing you'll trade this for the real thing some day. Do you think I had her attention? Do you think she remembered me? Do you think she thought I had some value after handing her the little version of the car she wanted? All I did was LISTEN. I acted on what I heard. This is HUGE in sales.
Sales is about having guts. You must have the guts to face rejection. You have to have the guts to keep going and you have to have the guts to walk away or tell a client they are wrong. Let me address all of these.
Rejection is NOT personal. You might have caught the business operator on a bad day, at a weak moment or they might have flashed to the last salesperson that came in and sold them junk. They could be testing you. I actually had one guy insult my station over and over. When he saw I didn't get mad, he smiled and said "I was just testing you; you passed. I listen to your station and I like it".
You must have the guts to keep going. Trust me, getting ten 'no' answers in a row can be pretty depressing. One boss had it right: each no means you're getting closer to that yes! I recall selling in January at one station. All of my big clients that always spent big bucks month after month said "No, not this month". I was down to second string clients...the sometimes advertiser that spent much less than my first string list. I was not hopeful for any on that list. I was so set on failure I took an early lunch. While chowing down, it dawned on me: I must let them tell me no before I decide they will not buy in January. After lunch I stopped by the first on my list. They were so happy I stopped by. The slowest retail month of the year just happened to be their biggest month because annual contracts usually ended December 31. They spent about 1.5 times what my big spenders budgeted for my station each month. I walked in 4 contracts that afternoon.
Sometimes you have to walk away. You cannot win every battle. Plus, sometimes you have to put yourself first. I recall a guy that was just angry with the world. He was a jerk and seemed to find joy in dangling a carrot in front of you, making you jump through hoops only to discover there is no carrot. Sometimes you must walk. You see, to really want your client to be successful, you need to like them. You need to trust them and they need to trust you. It is truly a give and take...not unlike a marriage in some ways. When a client is abusive, causes you to spend too much time for too little return every time and is not interested in a mutually beneficial relationship, you need the guts to walk in and calmly tell the client you feel you are not a good fit for the client and someone else might be better suited to work with them. Tell them, "I'm sorry, I must resign as your sales consultant". You should tell them and without any bitterness. What can they say about you, that you were credible, honest and respectful? Make each scenario where you walk away on the high road. I even did this with one manager of a department store and he begged me to reconsider, promising to treat me right. I gave him a second chance and I am glad I did.
The hard part for me is telling a client they are wrong. I have had clients insist on doing the wrong thing in advertising. I had a water purification company start a schedule the very day the local water supply turned to a gray muddy liquid and a boil order issued. In fact the city scheduled truckloads of bottled water because they discouraged drinking the water even after boiling. They had no clue what happened but the public was going into panic mode by mid-afternoon. My client insisted on talking about all the bad stuff found in tap water in his commercial. I refused to run it. I walked from the order. The client was ticked off and had a few choice words for me. He went to my competitor and ran the commercial. By mid-afternoon he cancelled because he was being blamed for the problem with the city water supply and had received a death threat. Another client wanted to use 'co-op dollars' for advertising. He said to write the commercial so it would qualify for 'co-op advertising' and then we'd air a different commercial instead. 'Co-op advertising' is simply this: If you are the Trane Air Conditioner dealer in town, Trane will give you some advertising dollars based on your sales. Say you do a $1,000 advertising campaign, you go to Trane and they say, for example, we will pay 50% of the bill if you will say certain things in the commercial (always get pre-approval from co-op advertising provider before airing) or if you use their text. At the end of the month the radio station sends the written text of the commercial with the precise times the script was played on your station, duly notarized. This is call 'proof of performance'. The client who wanted to use the 'co-op dollars' and then change the commercial was asking me to not only lie, but break the law.
Walking away is important when you truly know in your heart the advertising is not right for the product you are selling. It takes guts to tell your client that as much as you want the order, your expertise and experience says the advertising campaign is best suited for (insert media here: TV, Print, etc.). It is better to walk away than take the money, creating an "unsuccess" story. It is easier to sell this person later than to remove the bad taste of an ill-fated advertising campaign.
Hopefully I have not scared you away from sales. If you take an attitude of building relationships and selling only what you would buy if it was your business, you will find a good number of nice business people who truly appreciate your integrity and genuinely want you to be successful. There are a couple of bad apples out there but they are few and far between. I even found that after a couple of years my clients trusted me so much, they would call me to help them plan a sale or campaign. I would actually direct what portion of the budget went to each media outlet and coordinate the visual and audio image for the sale or campaign. I earned this position over my competitors only by putting my client first and really trying to help them be more successful. I never sold a commercial schedule. I sold ideas. I sold what they told me they wanted.
Selling is, and I suggest you write this down because these words spell success, "Selling is going out and making new friends, then working for their success, knowing yours will soon follow". Apply these words to all you do in sales and you will have success.
One parting shot: as a salesperson, you have value and offer a product that has value. You must realize this to sell. If you don't accept this fact, how will others think you have value or offer anything of value. You have the right to expect a level of respect and decency because you have value and offer a valuable product. The art is in getting the business owner to realize this. To do this, be professional, respectful and transparent in your dealings.
NUMBER 6 - Being the best
Whenever we start a project or job we always want it to be the very best it can be, right? This is wrong-headed thinking in radio, as crazy as that sounds. The biggest winners and most admired companies and people generally had very lowly starts. They simply didn't bust out of the chute as the entity they are today. Why is that? Why not be the very best on day one? The reason is simple. You need to grow into success.
Some will tell you this is the wrong way to start but in reality it is much like playing poker. You never let on you have the big cards in your hands. Simply put, business is too flaky to do otherwise.
Here is a scenario: Two radio stations come on the air at the same time. Here are their stories:
Station One spent thousands of dollars buying full page ads in the newspaper, getting a slickly produced TV spot running on all the cable TV channels that sell local spots and they even hired a media specialist to write up and secure numerous stories in various media to announce the new station. They bought t-shirts, bumper stickers and hired known local names with legendary status to staff their station. They siphoned off great sales people from local media outlets . Plus they paid their people above average salaries. At 6am on that Monday morning when they flipped the on switch, trust me, everybody in town was tuned in.
Station Two had no budget. They couldn't afford any staff. They were simply a computer spitting out song after song, not unlike an I-Pod. The owner took the time he could to sell some ads, usually pretty cheap. Station One said they were a joke. Heck, they were not even on the air at night or on Sundays. They ran 6am to 7pm Monday through Saturday.
Three months down the road, Station One was certainly the top dog. The owners had invested almost $150,000 in promoting their 'perfect' station but there was a problem: the advertisers weren't beating down their doors to buy. Those great salespeople were working hard but revenue was lagging behind expenses. You see, they needed some pretty hefty commercial rates to pull off what they were doing. They had not figured something out. The truth is the higher the advertising costs, the fewer businesses can afford you and those big advertisers are mostly locked in on annual contracts. They want to sign up but their budget is spent until the end of the year. The staff feels the pressure and suddenly they start to wonder if the station will make it...just how deep are the pockets of the investors? Something funny happens where doubt appears. You no longer have the 'winner' effect. I can't put my finger on it and neither can the listener or the advertiser but you can sense it. In fact, the advertisers sense the desperation in the sales people (trust me, if you NEED them to say yes, they won't; if you don't need them they can't say yes fast enough). As you might have guessed, this station is now 'settling in' and finding normal.
Station Two is still keeping their hours the same, has worked hard finding advertisers and now boasts almost 4 commercials per hour. They're still a computer in a closet, operating 6am to 7pm daily except Sunday and a few non-profits have asked them to run a few announcements. They've made friends with the smaller businesses who like the fact they are affordable and seem to really want to help. They now have a handful of listeners...maybe 1 in 20 listen in town. They're ready to start a full time sales person. She, not a beauty queen, has a nice personality and is quick on her feet plus she has the heart of a caring salesperson although she has no experience; a diamond in the rough so to speak.
Six months has passed. Station One is beginning to fizzle. The staff hears rumblings of layoffs and a good salesperson left them. Sales are okay but the debt just increases. The listeners sense this trouble in paradise and have become so accustomed to the station, it is no longer as special as it once was. The investors lower the boom. The 24 hour news staff is blown out. They are left with a news director and a part time news person. The lack of emphasis on local news is immediately detected by the listener and staff. It results in a couple of advertisers spending fewer dollars on the station. Some key staff members wonder if they should polish up their resumes.
The little Station Two is starting to see their first employee churn out enough sales to pay her salary. There's now a couple of dollars in the bank. They can't pay themselves an average wage yet, but they move forward. Some money goes in an emergency fund and a high school kid is hired. They extend hours to include Sunday. They're still the starving little station but they have come a long way.
It is now a year later. On Station One, their success is waning. They cut out local news and add network news instead. They laid off the overnight DJ and automated the weekends. Two of the best salespeople have left. Listenership is down a bit. Sales paces far below last year.
Station Two is doing pretty well. They hired one of Station One's news people and one of their salespeople. They now run until 10pm at night and have received some attention from a couple of big advertisers who now split their revenue with Station One. For the first time, more and more often, they find their station playing when they visit a business.
Now we are 18 months down the road. At Station One, they have a morning drive DJ and one salesperson remaining from the original. The General Manager leaves and the station is almost purely a computer in a closet. Listeners have gone away with each budget cutback and they lowered their commercial price. The station is spoken of in an 'not so long ago they were great' way. No people say the station used to be really good but not so much now. Some of those listeners are their potential advertisers that have watched the little Station Two slowly rise step-by-step up the ladder of success and are considering placing some of those ad dollars on Station Two.
Station Two has local news, a good advertising base, live DJs weekdays except for overnight and they increased their commercial rate. It will not be long before they lead the market.
So, why such a long drawn out scenario? Am I saying if you don't start small you won't succeed? Yes and no. There are many factors at play here.
Listeners and Advertisers want to be with winners. They want to be a part of your winning. Station One was unnatural, much like busting through the finish line as soon as the starting gun fires. This is not natural. Every business starts small, struggles and grows. This is as much a human factor as a business factor, so winning the race as soon as it starts means there is nowhere to go. You can't succeed because you're already there. Success is really a constant upward action that can be measured with time. When you start at point A and stay there, you don't exhibit success. Listeners and Advertisers want to measure your success. By seeing your upward motion, they want to hang on your coattails and follow you to the top. They have expectations that might be loftier than your own. Trust me, if they can measure your success, they will be loyal listeners and loyal advertisers. Growth is essential to success. You never show all your cards. You always hold a few back so you can keep winning. Doing the most you can do means you will likely have to take a step back, a sure sign of failure to listeners and advertisers. Always growing means success will always increase. So, in that respect you always want to offer less than you can because you always want to appear successful.
Business is flaky. You just can't figure it out. There are downturns and upturns in business. This is the nature of the beast. The key is to remain constant. You want to always be in a position of maintaining what you have and maybe even growing a little bit (very gutsy) in downturns. If you can pull this off, you will always be noticed as a model of success. To put this in perspective, lets turn to one's personal life. If you can be frugal enough to set some cash aside, you don't have to cut back when the transmission goes out in your car. You simply dig the cash out of your nest egg and move forward without as much as a bump in the financial road. This is essential for running a business and demonstrating success.
You need a story. People love to see someone famous and say they knew them when they were starting out. Everybody loves such a story and everybody can relate. We call them our 'war stories. We all love a story of adversity and winning at any cost, coming out on the other side smelling like a rose. We love this because we have our own stories of winning. They give us hope and assure us we too can win our battles. Your story or legacy of your business is important to your success. Create a memory, a story that your listeners and advertisers can tell. In Houston there is the furniture store operator that started in a tent along a busy road with display pieces he rented from other furniture stores because he had no credit with the furniture manufacturers. Today he has the highest volume single location furniture store on earth...a volume larger than most regional furniture chains and it all started with a few pieces of rented furniture under a tent. What a story of success!
NUMBER 7 - Not everybody's favorite
This sounds crazy but I want my station to be the least of all evils versus everyone's favorite. It's much like selecting a President in America. Of the choices, you generally don't care too much for any of them but there's one who is the best of the bunch. You see, a radio station must reach the largest number of people as possible to succeed. That means it is impossible to be everyone's favorite but you can be the best choice.
Let me explain my programming philosophy when I was at KINL in Eagle Pass, Texas. The median age was about 21 years of age. 40% was under 18. We were a top 40 station. We lacked the experience, budget and professionalism of the big city competitor that so many in Eagle Pass listened to. What to do? The typical advertiser was age 40 to 50 and didn't care for top 40 so they were not too keen on advertising but I had to have them on board and the 12 to 24 that would give me the 'numbers' to produce the results for the advertiser. I had worked in a record store and was pretty good at picking the hits. To play a song first made you cool to the youth and I knew the big city competitor would not play the song until it was already a big hit. They simply couldn't break hit records. My goal was to generate some 'cool' and at the same time, make my competitor in the big city sound stale and old. The next trick was to pull in the advertiser that was likely the parent of the prime listener. I played songs from their era sprinkled in with the hits but I was careful in the selection. You see, some artists had 'respect' as a heritage artist with the younger listener. Today's rock listener respects Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, etc. The Country listener today respects the heritage artists. These 'heritage' artists are known to the advertiser and the prime target audience. Next, mix in enough news, weather and information to become the venue to find out what's happening in town and you'll keep the older listeners. Everybody did news then, so the younger demographics would put up with news, weather and information. Hardly anybody loved the station but about 43% listened. Why? We were the best choice...the lesser of two evils. We had financial and listener success with this plan.
My point here is determine how you can get the grandmother, the kid and everyone in between tied to your station. A few will say you are great but most will simply think you are the best choice on the radio dial if you can find the right mix. I caution you to not be too generic or bland. Everybody loves ice cream but few say vanilla is their favorite. Instead of going vanilla, try chocolate instead of cherry cheesecake with honey drizzle that will be a favorite of just a handful of people. Don't forget, it is tough to sell advertising to someone who does not like your station, so you need the typical advertiser to know and at least somewhat like your station and understand it.
NUMBER 8 - What will my station sound like?
When you start planning your station you will create your format. This is essentially what the listener will hear on the radio. There are no hard and fast rules in formatting your station but you had better know your audience very well. You might be thinking you will just begin with your music decision and 'see where it goes' adding what your research determines once you get a handle on things. That's a bad idea. You need to know what the audience wants on day one. I know you've heard the expression that you only get one chance to make a good impression. Indeed, your reputation is based on the first impression your listeners have of your station.
With that said, there is some truth you can grow into your format but that is via a calculated plan. For example, if you promote you are 'building your town's newest radio station, asking for input and you are adding more and more of what listeners want, you have told your audience they can expect changes. In this manner, your well crafted plan can work.
You might wonder about developing your format. You might get some wanting one type of music and some wanting another. Amid all that, somebody wants some jazz, classical, Big Band and such. You think and decide you'll play it all...maybe country in the morning, pop in the afternoon, top 40 in the evening and jazz after 10. You add big band Saturday morning and classical Saturday afternoon plus gospel music Sunday morning. Some folks want to do metal, 60s oldies, folk, etc. and you toss that in when these people want to do their shows. Let me save you from yourself: it will not work! You see, people expect a radio station to have a certain sound all the time. You can get away with dayparting, a term used to vary a specific format by the typical age groups listening at a certain time each day.
Let me explain 'dayparting'. When I programmed a top 40 station in a small town we aired mostly older hits (aka oldies) and the easier side of top 40 in the early morning. We were slanted to more adult contemporary and 'newer' oldies during business hours. Few oldies were mixed in after 3 when school got out and we were all hits after 6pm without any oldies before becoming virtually all rock after 10pm. In this manner we went from Whitney Houston and Elvis, for example in the early morning to playing stuff like AC/DC, Guns n' Roses, etc. after 10pm. I know I'm dating myself here but my point is we changed our presentation of top 40 radio to the typical age of the listener at certain times of the day.
Dayparting goes beyond music. We did a 12 hour weather forecast every 10 minutes before 8am and were heavy on news. After business hours began we had shorter news updates and weather about every hour. By 6pm, there was n news and weather was shortened to about a couple of sentences. Dayparting includes the news and information these target groups want when they are more likely to be tuning to your station.
You might think mixing your music can work. I'm pretty liberal on this but I do realize this is a tough task. Obviously you cannot play Led Zeppelin, Benny Goodman and Patsy Cline in the same hour without your listener's brains exploding. You can likely play Taylor Swift along side a classic rock tune and you can probably get away with playing New York, New York by Frank Sinatra as well. The trick is your song choices need to start with those known by everyone and when you reach truly rock, country or easy listening, it had better be a song everyone is familiar with. What am I talking about? You could play Take It Easy by The Eagles on a classic rock, oldies, country or easy listening station. Back in the 1960s, a great example was Glen Campbell. So, choose carefully.
NUMBER 9 - How do I value the station?
Sell like there is never enough! I once sold blocks of time on a station I managed. Most buyers did weekly shows for the ethnic community they were a part of. So many times they stopped selling once they had enough advertising to pay the bills and make them a little money. Guess what? Those that acted like there was never enough money coming in were successful and everybody else went broke without exception. Trust me, somebody is going to cancel and likely it is more than one. If you need 4 spots an hour to pay the bills, shoot for 50% more. That way you can loose one third of your advertisers and still have enough to keep going.
Selling is understanding inventory. The rookie mistake is deciding you will only sell, say 4 spots an hour or 96 a day, 7 days a week. If you want to go with 4 spots an hour, fine, but price it on about 100 spots a week instead of 672 spots a week. Many sponsors want 6am to 6pm weekday spots and consider all other times as 'useless'. Can you sell at that price per spot? Maybe you can but maybe you can't.
You see, your sponsor needs to be heard enough to be remembered. If they cannot afford to do this, you have a plan ready for the trash can. At a minimum, you have better price yourself so a small business can buy a spot per day and larger businesses can get about 3 a day.
Your pricing has to consider your operation expenses. Plainly put, if you can't pay the bills on 100 spots a week with some cash overage for unexpected cancellations, you need to revise your commercial limit to match what people can afford to pay and obtain enough frequency for the client to be remembered.
I must emphasize the need for extra money over expenses. Shoot for 50% more. You never know when technical problems can force a big expense or emergencies. You must be prepared. Imagine not having the money to replace your transmitter following a lightning strike. You can't go on the air to make more money and you can't make any more money until you buy the new transmitter you cannot afford!
NUMBER 10 - Radio Police
Know the Rules! The Federal Communications Commission is the god of radio in the United States. Note I use the word god. This is not tongue in cheek. They literally have the authority to say if you can work in the radio business. They employ field examiners that will visit your station and check to see if you follow the Rules. Every radio station must have a copy of the FCC Rules and Regulations. You must know the rules and abide by them at all times.
I want to get across how important it is for you to follow these rules. If you think you can be lax in this, say like driving 5 miles over the speed limit on the highway without being pulled over, you are mistaken. Violation of the rules is more akin to yelling "bomb" on a crowded airplane. Just the hint of wrongdoing can lower the boom.
Think building inspector or health department as something to compare an FCC visit to your station. Under most circumstances they knock on your door when a problem arises. How you react to them and the violations they find will influence their reaction. They can be your best friend or your greatest nightmare. Prove you are honestly trying to comply with the rules, show respect and be helpful and you might just get lucky. Under such circumstances the examiner might give you advice on how to comply with the rules. If you act like a jerk or lie to the examiner, you can bet they'll look for all violations. Compare this to a traffic stop. I got pulled over for doing 70 in a 55 on a lonely highway. I admitted I was speeding, showed respect and the officer ticketed me for 60 instead and told me my tail lights were out and my inspection sticker had just expired. If I had been a jerk, he might have ticketed me for all three violations and deemed my vehicle unsafe to continue my journey home. Sure you can catch an examiner on a bad day but more than likely you are not going to get nailed to the wall unless you give them the hammer and nail.
Simply put, you must know the FCC Rules and Regulations. There are no excuses. What is the legal operating power for your station? What do you do if you have a problem? You must know the answers. This is an important part of your job description and must be treated very seriously. There are certain forms that must be filed at specific times and if you miss it, you have an automatic fine. You must stay on top of this. This must become n important part of your job description, not an afterthought. A station that is not on top of this is a sloppy station and likely will have other issues as well. Plainly put, if you aren't willing to be compliant 100% of the time, forget radio.
FCC Rules are written mostly in a vague way. Imagine if there were no speed limit on the roads but you were not to drive in an unsafe manner. Certainly you could interpret what that means. So can the FCC. In some instances rules are written this way to allow the station to define those rules. We have a tendency to move toward that line between right and wrong but in dealing with the FCC it is better to raise the bar over the most minimal requirement. This will work in your favor should you not exceed the bar during an inspection. If the examiner sees you strive to be above the minimal bar but slip up once or twice, they might feel you do not understand the rule instead of acting in an irresponsible manner. Doing more than the minimum is your safeguard.
If you have violations, the fines are huge and burdensome. It costs much more money in attorney fees paid to lawyers specializing in communications law to fight for a lower penalty. You must prove you cannot pay the hefty, sometimes 5 figure fine. Trust me, you'll be out 5 figures in your fight to lower the fine anyway, so it is best not to even go there.
You might wonder how often the FCC will visit you. The reality is you might go a decade or more if you do things right. Not seeing the FCC at your door is your goal because it says you are rules compliant and stay on top of things. And I might add that if you get a visit, are upfront with the examiner, cooperative, honest and do what they say without hesitation, you will be amazed at how nice they can be and how helpful they are. Note I said best friend earlier. They will do everything they can too help you comply and thank you for being responsible. The key here is communication. Ask questions such as, do you see anything that might be a red flag or something I can improve upon. If you wonder how a rule is interpreted, ask them. They do really appreciate a broadcaster that is sincere and motivated to abide by the rules. Remember, they are at your station to see that you comply with the rules. They do not want to cause you problems or get you on something, they just want to see that you follow the rules or are correcting a problem that was called to their attention.
A funny thing happened the last time my station got a visit. They wanted us to do an Emergency Alert System Test. My DJ immediately readied the introduction text and concluding text and in the middle of the song, without warning the listener, began the text. Sheepishly, the FCC field examiner said you could have waited until your next break. I said, yes I could but in a real emergency the question is how quickly we can get the information on the air. For us, it is a mock emergency and we just interrupt, so we did. He looked pleased and became much more relaxed. By the end of the visit, he joined us for a cup of coffee and a chat. I think he enjoyed the visit and felt welcome.
NUMBER 11 - Got Charisma?
You likely know somebody that is very charismatic. Everywhere they go they light up a room. People just simply like them, want to be around them and trust them. Most importantly, people feel at ease around this person. This charismatic person is one you where you can share an embarrassing moment and know you will not be made fun of and the charismatic person seals that conversation from the outside world. The charismatic person, it seems, is always thinking of you, making you feel important and is always ready to point out something positive you have done.
Your radio station needs charisma. It sounds like a fleeting idea but it can be reflected on the air whether you have a person behind the microphone or a computer on a desk. Charisma starts with an attitude. You have to filter your content to: 1) think about what you say from the listener's perspective; 2) think positive and ask if the content builds up or tears down; 3) does content make the listeners or listener important and special; 4) does the content endear your listener to your station; 5) does what you say build trust; 6) does the content come across as genuinely sincere; 7) can you laugh at yourself (funny thing is a moment where people would make fun of you can be turned into a moment they laugh with you, relating to their own moments in their lives as they marvel at the fact you would so willingly show your human side).
Charisma starts just like the Boston Marathon, a diet or even building a fortune: one step at a time; one calorie at a time; one penny at a time. It does not matter if you make one listener the subject or a group, the idea is to make the listeners know you care and that they are important.
Back in the days when radio stations were required to have a warm body behind the microphone all the time, I used my weekday afternoon shift to audition people. You could call me and I'd record you introducing a song. When I played the song, the listeners heard the caller introduce it. Later the audience voted and a winner for the day was announced. On Friday the Monday through Thursday winners were voted on again by the listeners and the weekly winner was chosen. That winner got to go on the air with me for an hour and do a show on my Saturday evening shift. They'd have a week to pick their songs and figure out who they'd say hello to. They became the star on the radio for that hour.
Some might say it was not compelling radio but I can tell you word would get around and everybody who knew the person was listening and with me running everything in the background, it was fun for the winner.
The 'Jock For A Song' idea allowed the station to show the listener was important. I got to be nurturing and give the image that I cared about the listener and we did something anybody could be a part of. It was fun for me and the listeners. Literally it boosted the listener that won the weekly contest by showing them they were able to accomplish something they might have thought they could never do. It built a bond with everyone who knew the person who was the Jock For A Song winner.
KVIL, under the direction of the legendary Ron Chapman, who ran the morning show, wisely made his morning show all about the listener. It was the listener that brought the interesting information and shared insight. These listeners were introduced as if they were a member of the same exclusive club as the listener was a part of. It might run something like: "I was talking with Mary. You know Mary over at Worldwide Travel in Irving. Well, she had an interesting point. Play clip of phone conversation here. Follow up with "Excellent point Mary, thanks for sharing that with us". Do you see the 'charisma' here?
You might be saying this charisma thing sounds good but how does it make money? Charisma is infectious. Charisma bonds people to you. It is a deciding factor in your everyday life if you'll think about it. From a monetary aspect, if you are a business owner or a contributing listener on a listener funded station, where would you lay your money down? Would you choose a station that makes its listeners feel important? Sure you would! That positive attitude might rub off on your image as a business owner (birds of a feather flock together) and the listener contributing feels their contribution actually matters. The real secret to getting money for your station has much more to do with the client liking you and your station, in that order, than it does the number of listeners you have or how inexpensive your commercials are. You can rest assured if the client is not impressed with you and doesn't like your station, they're likely not going to say yes to you even if you are the #1 station and have the cheapest advertising rates.
NUMBER 12 - How much do I ask for?
I frequently am asked about how much to charge clients for a mention on the air. Naturally, I am talking a commercial in commercial radio and an underwriters announcement on non-commercial radio station. It is a tough question to answer because there are several elements that go into play.
The first question is how many listeners do you have? The typical answer is "I don't have a clue". Welcome to the club. Nobody does know. Even in rated markets nobody knows even though the sampling done by Arbitron and others offer the only guidelines and that information is based on a tiny sampling of data collected in the recent past. Your best guess is to determine who your intended listener is and how many fit into that slice of the pie in your coverage area, then divide by the number of stations targeting that demographic. In other words, it's simply an educated estimated guess.
The fact is the number of listeners is not that important. You need results. You might think something so elusive and unknown makes you a snake oil salesman but it doesn't. If you have to prove that to yourself, offer a $100 bill to the first 5 people that show up at a business and see if your listeners show up. I bet they do!
In our quest to be honest we under-price our product. I know of stations charging as little as TWO CENTS for an Underwriter Announcement! You cannot stay in business this way. You need to charge a fair price but how might you do that?
Before setting your price, learn what the other stations charge for commercials/underwriting. Learn what a typical 'package' costs each month. Include all media such as TV, Cable, Newspaper and Radio. Gauge those prices to the popularity of the station. You should have a clue as to what the most popular and least popular stations are. By looking not only at the per spot rate but the typical spot package you can determine how much a potential client expects to pay per impression and how much they budget for advertising.
Here's the dirty little secret: Clients do not know where their 'results' come from. My Dad was a prime example. No matter what station he advertised on he saw an increase in total sales and he advertised with some big stations and some that obviously had few listeners. When he stopped advertising, sales dropped enough to be noticed. Even so, he cannot point to a single customer that came to the store because of radio advertising.
You need to know 'perception' is as important as results. If you walk in with rock bottom rates, you are considered to have very little, if any value. If your rates are 'mid-range' you represent a potential valuable asset to the business. So, cheap is worthless and mid-range is valuable.
The biggest factor in winning advertisers/underwriters has nothing to do with price and packages! You MUST fit the customer's budget and give them an increase in their business for the dollars they can spend. To do this, it is the value above and beyond the actual announcement that makes the difference. You see, there are order takers and there are consultants. Consultants win hands down.
What is a consultant? The answer is surprising simple. It is a listener. It is one who learns about the business and the customer. It is one that responds to that information. The consultant learns what the successful advertising campaigns are and the failures. They learn what the customer wants to get across to those that are not a part of the business' customer base and they learn what makes that business unique among the competitors. When you walk in with a plan to say what the client wants to say to potential customers at a monthly price the client can easily allocate, guess who becomes trusted, respected and the successful salesperson?
Now, it is important not to 'give away' the station or give them an unfair advantage, so your rates should not be so low you are considered cheap nor so high you are considered expensive. In other words, if business A spends $500 and business B spends $1,000 they both should not have the same results, number of impressions, etc. Your integrity lies in how you give the client their money's worth against the client that spends twice the amount. Certainly the $500 customer gets half the results the $1,000 customer gets.
The other factor is time and work involved. You can be so cheap you lose money. It takes the same amount of gas and time visiting clients to get the sale whether your rates are ultra cheap or ultra expensive. If you need 10 sales a day to 'make it', you might only need 1 sale a day in the mid-range price. This is time management and assessing a value to your time. Do you want to work for a dollar an hour or $25 an hour? Sure you get more 'yes' answers at $1 versus $20 but the reality is it still takes 5 to 8 visits to a client in normal circumstances to get a yes. So, do you want that 'yes' to be valued at $1 or $20? If you can get a 'yes' twice as frequently as you can at $20 its looks like this: $2 or $20...your choice.
When you choose to give your client a mid-range rate, you need fewer customers. The positives from this are immense. First, there is more of a chance you'll produce results for the client because your radio station has less clutter and listeners can retain the message better. This means fewer impressions are needed, so to reach the same number of people you might need 5 cheap spots on a cluttered station versus 1 on an uncluttered station, meaning the spot on the uncluttered station is worth 5 times more! Second, you are afforded the opportunity to really devote some time and effort to your customer. In other words, you stand the chance to create a better campaign and literally show the client just how important your relationship is. And when you afford yourself this opportunity you increase the value of that impression with the client and the effectiveness with the potential customer . Everybody wins this way and that MUST be the objective to EVERY sale. If your client doesn't win or you and your station don't win, everybody loses.
Personally, I'd rather have 6 spots an hour on my station instead of 24. If you heard 24 spots on a radio station in one hour, how many would you remember? Would you even listen? If you heard one message at a time, six times an hour, might you retain that information better?
Now, take your operating expenses, your time and your proposed goal of number of spots an hour and figure your rate, keeping in mind you will not typically sell spots in hours outside normal business hours. My rule of thumb is 60 hours a week sold and 108 with zero revenue. Anything more is the profit that pays for those 60 hours on days and hours I don't meet the goal. Next, compare your rate to what several average businesses can spend and an educated guess at what a successful campaign might be. There's your 'per impression rate'.
For example, if I have to generate $3,600 a week, and want 6 spots an hour 60 hours a week, I need $10 per impression. If the average business can spend $400 a month, that might be 2 impressions a day, Monday through Friday. To bolster results, I might add a spot or two at night and on weekends to increase the success of the campaign, commonly called a bonus.
In summary, here are the points:
1) Your per impression rate should be mid-range among your competitors as this gives you value;
2) Your rate per impression must allow you the time to personalize the campaign to client needs;
3) Your rate must pay the bills the station must pay;
4) You client must be able to get enough 'reach' with the advertising budget to produce results
5) You must be able to generate enough money to make your living.
Note: 'reach' is defined as making enough impressions with the same listener to become 'top of mind' in the mind of your listener. Generally 2 or 3 spots a day over a few months does this since the listener must hear the same message 3 or 4 times in order for it to stick in their mind.
NUMBER 13 - Making Radio Listeners Feel Safe
Programming is a bit tricky. I'll discuss what makes an impression in the listener's mind. As much as people wish to argue the point, listeners know more than e in radio give them credit for. When you have listeners tell you things like the DJ doesn't sound like they're in town, you have a clue. The listener knows if the DJ is at your station or coming in via a satellite dish on a nationally distributed format. They realize all the DJ talks about is what they saw in USA Today or what is coming up on TV tonight (why are we advertising TV to move listeners away from radio anyway???). They can pick up the disconnect of the voice tracked station. It's not just the accent, if any, or the mispronounced street and town names. The listener knows if the DJ is there or not.
What does any of this have to do with programming? It is VERY important. Say what you will, but listeners want to feel safe. What? Yes, safe! We have this inbred within us. You know what radio stations do news in the morning? It's because listeners want to feel safe! The listener knows they're about to leave the safety of their home and go into the outside world. They want to know it is safe, what to expect and know how to deal with whatever happens. You react to this information. How many times were you sent off to school, for example, with a coat even though you didn't need it that morning? A bit of news and information eliminates the surprises and prepares the listener in facing the world. Indeed, the news and weather makes the listener feel they can successfully navigate the world they will face today. I know how crazy this seems but if you'll notice, the more successful radio stations make their listeners feel safe.
So, if this all happens in the morning why does the listener need to feel safe all day. The answer: stuff happens all the time. You needn't report everything that happens. This is much more an attitude or illusion of 'keeping watch' that matters. By relating some local information and sounding live does the trick. If skies go from sunny to mostly cloudy by merely mentioning this, you give the illusion of watching out for the listener by keeping their world safe. Simply think back to how you felt when 9-11 was happening. Did media make you feel safe, well informed and better able to cope with the tragedy?
So, in conclusion, simply offering tiny tidbits of how your listener's world is changing makes them feel informed and secure or ready to face the world. If your station doesn't do this you will not be considered 'the' station they can count on. This is especially understood in small towns. Some very good small market stations announced birthdays and anniversaries, the official high and low temperature plus precipitation, obituaries, births and such, plus whenever the fire department went on a call, they'd tell listeners why and where the fire truck was heading. It was a 'sellable' feature at these stations, in fact.
NUMBER 14 - Really, what's my potential?
You might be wondering how much revenue your radio station is capable of earning. The truth is there is no fast and firm rule. You see, every community is different. You need other media to guide you to create an estimate. Many times, in smaller communities, it is the local newspaper that is most telling. Even this can be deceptive. Newspapers, like radio stations, sometime emphasize news over sales and other papers sometime put sales above news. Some newspaper owners are terrible salesmen and others are excellent. Some towns are divided and some are very unified. The list goes on. But, in reality, how can you figure this out?
The national standard of 4/10ths of a penny per dollar in retail sales is only a general rule. Naturally, this is a very general figure. It is about like comparing automobiles. Some cars are cheap and others so expensive, your home is worth less than the car. Let me offer some guidelines.
The quality of your programming and the ability of the sales staff will be your determining factor. If you are the preferred choice on the radio dial and have salespeople that have great personalities and sincerely are more centered on helping the client rather than how big an order they can get, you'll always be near or at your peak potential no matter the community.
Gordon McClendon presided over the most listened to major city radio station ever, KLIF in Dallas. He put all his eggs in programming. He felt if you were superior in your over the air product, sales would take care of itself. The truth is programming sells but do not ever expect anybody to seek you out to buy advertising. It doesn't happen. If you don't have exceptional people building relationships with businesses, you will be one broke most listened to radio station.
So, what can you pencil in on a sales goal? Here are some things you need to consider to come up with a realistic formula.
1) How many radio stations are received in your town and who do people listen to.? A quick internet search on a site like Radio Locator will reveal the radio dial.
2) Where is the town? If you are a bedroom community for a major metro area, you will bring in less money than in more isolated communities. For example, look up McCook, Nebraska radio. You'll see there are many radio stations for the population. These stations survive because they all serve the region and the region shops in McCook. All these stations would be fighting to file for bankruptcy first if this was not the case.
3) Who is knocking on business doors in your community. Do you have lots of shoppers, newspaper, cable TV and radio selling in your town? If you do, expect your slice of the pie to be smaller.
4) How big is the town you serve? Does everyone know about all the businesses already? In small towns, some businesses think advertising is about like tossing a wad of cash out the window. The sales becomes more of a PR move where high school sports and things the business is interested in. In one town, lots of pour advertisers sponsored devotionals and news from various segments of the population (ie: sponsored the cheerleader's cheer of the week because their daughter was a cheerleader).
How is the other media doing? How big are the ads in the newspaper? How many customers advertise regularly? Are there other radio stations? If so, what do they make? Sites like Manta can give you a clue in you will do an internet search. Be careful about other sites since sometimes their information is totally useless. I found one site claiming the average commercial on one station was $75. I knew the owner. He charged $3. Check Public Radio. These are stations below 92 on the FM dial with a few exceptions. Most of these stations have an internet presence, so start by going to the station website and browse for their Fiscal Year report. This is sometimes available. It tells you to the penny what they make. If it is not on the website, you can still find it. The organization's name is likely registered with the IRS so search for non-profit organization search engines and find them there. In many cases you can look at the latest IRS Form 990 the station filed. Scroll through the pages to find what they brought in from listeners (called membership or members) and under related revenue, you might find the word 'Underwriting'. Sometimes you might see 'Public Service Announcements' listed. Some stations charge for public service announcements, almost always when the organization wants an announcement made for an event where they charge an admission fee or ask for a donation. This might include a pancake breakfast for the Fire Department or announcing a revival at a church. This gives you REAL numbers you can use..
Comparing apples to apples is crucial. A longtime owner of a newspaper that's 100 years old has a long history of advertisers buying ads, so they have a great track record whereas you are just starting out. That radio station that has been serving the community for half a century has a long track record you don't have. The public radio station that has been around 25 years with their oddball free form format that is playing classical at noon, classic rock at 2 and African music at 4 will beat out the upstart NPR Statewide Radio Network affiliate.
Be careful with these revenue statements on Public Stations. A station might show $1,000,000 in revenue but the station gets just $40,000 from members (listeners that financially support the station) and $80,000 from Underwriting. The other $880,000 comes from the recording studio in the station, the concert venue they own, the festivals they hosted, government funding, the office space they rent in their building and that guy that willed his home to them that their real estate underwriter sold for them. Stick only to listener memberships and underwriting. This is your cake and everything else is the icing. A station in a tiny town in Alaska that is a very crucial communication for the area has an annual revenue of about $400,000 but only $50,000 of that comes from the community.
Back in the early 1980s, a station called KOTO in Telluride, Colorado was a 10 watt FM non-commercial station. Telluride was only about 800 people then. That's about the size of the KOTO listening audience. They had a very smart board and talented manager who centered on a goal of involving at least one person from every family with the station somehow. They knew if you had a family member involved with KOTO you'd likely support the station. It helped that they were the only local station and the only source of daily local news. They put bowls at check-out counters asking for change to support the station and remained creative in raising funds. KOTO had almost $100 per person coming in back when minimum wage was a mere $1.80 an hour! In my opinion they are one of the finest examples of small town Public Radio. Today Telluride is no longer the sleepy mountain town nobody knew about. KOTO is much bigger now as well but their emphasis remains the same. I recall seeing somewhere that they have some 300 volunteers associated with the station. Considering their range, that's at least 1 in 20 being a volunteer. That's amazing considering the town can receive 24 stations on their radio dial today. Back when they began it was likely 3 or 4 stations.
NUMBER 15 - Commercials
Thinking Advertising. If you are a commercial radio station you will be selling commercial announcements that generally are 30 and 60 seconds in length. Lots of stations shy away from shorter commercials because they can get more money per 60 second spot, but please do not dismiss the short spots like 5 second and 10 second units.
What many people fail to realize is the 5 and 10 second spot is fast and easy money. No more typing up a creative 150 to 180 word sixty that has to be produced in the production studio. A 15 to 30 word spot is usually simply a voiced script, eliminating the sound effects, editing, creative and fee for the talent. You have a lot less time behind the computer screen and in the production studio. Remember, a rule of thumb in advertising has always been to push one simple thought. A local furniture store pushes "buy today and it's in your home today, no back order slip, and 'we save you money'. They don't need 30 or 60 seconds to say this but generally they must. They'd spend the same dollars for greater frequency if they could. More of less beats less of more every time!
Spots are written for customers. I'm amazed at how 'off the subject' media gets. We do it in marketing ourselves. The client doesn't care what music you play, how many local newscasts you have a day or that you won some award. None of that matters. What does matter is how advertising can make the business money. Likewise in spots, everything is written to give listeners concise reasons to buy from your advertiser. For example: ...we have the biggest selection at the best price and you can shop until 9 tonight. What does that say? It says a potential customer, before deciding, can see all the options and make the wisest choice, pay a lower price and can shop at their leisure, say after work and after dinner. I'm sure you are seeing where I'm going. Your copy must be written from the perspective of being inside the buyer's mind. The same goes for your station's media kit.
NUMBER 16 - Non-Commercial Educational Radio
I know. You can't sell ads, just underwriting. Well, I think most people 'sell it' in the wrong way. Before beating me over the head, hear me out. I met an operator that runs several public stations that are independent (aka not an NPR affiliate, no government funding, etc.).
In the mind of the business owner he sells advertising. There is one non-commercial radio operator that states those loud and annoying ads have no place on his stations. He says his listeners want only low key announcements that deliver the facts: who the business is, how to reach them, what they offer and when they're open. He describes his advertisements as friendly personal invitations from the business owners to the potential customer, his listeners. Guess what, it works and his advertisers don't know it's underwriting, nor do they care.
He sells 'limited advertising'. Only one spot at a time and a maximum of 6 an hour. Business owners cringe when their commercial is #5 of a 5 commercial stop set. Nobody wants that but it happens. So, you get all the attention in each break making the announcements be better heard, remembered and retained. It's premium advertising at a down right cheap price.. Yep, businesses love it and it works.
Public Radio fails to sell itself. Sure, all the usual talking points get covered but aside from painting a pretty picture of how great your audience is nobody sells the power of underwriting. Why? I'm not talking the meaningless fluff of good PR, I'm talking results, perception, implied details.
What is the best advertising money can buy? Obviously it is advertising that makes you the business a person thinks of when they need a certain product or service, right? I'd say so.
Let's look at Underwriting. What does it do? Does it not say who you are, how to reach you and what you do? The result is the listener retains this information. Over time they hear this over and over and over. Then when a co-worker says their dryer conked out last night, you, the public radio listener thinks, oh, yes, I keep hearing about Mike's Appliance Repair. They service all brands. Uh, let's look up their number. Aha, Mike's gets a new customer because he says who he is, how to reach him and what he does in Underwriting Announcements the listener has heard a good number of times. Mike's is Top of Mind. Mike's is trusted by the listener and the listener feels comfortable enough to recommend Mike's to a co-worker. Thus, Underwriting in action, doing what it does best.
Some stations sell name mentions or just the business name with either address, phone or website. Are these worthless? Yes and No. If your business is called "Brewster and Sons" the answer is Yes, it is worthless. If you're Brewster's Heating and Air Conditioning or Tito's Authentic Mexican Grill, you have a definitive NO. You see, for businesses that say what they do or their name is what Jello is to gelatin, the name mention or the name mention with address or phone or website, could very well be the most incredible advertising you can get. Really! It is what you don't say that counts. Can you imagine, it's what you don't say that sells!
Why is this? Well, let me take you through this thought process. You hear "the forecast sponsored by Brewster's Heating and Air Conditioning". The name is remembered by the listener. Over the next week the same listener hears Brewster's Heating and Air Conditioning three more times. Now it is retained. Over the next three months, the same listener hears the name Brewster's Heating and Air Conditioning mentioned several times a week. This continues month after month. So, what is in the listener's mind? Let's look.
The listener has heard Brewster's Heating and Air Conditioning maybe 75 times. That really says something. This mere business name mention says Brewster's Heating and Air Conditioning is a successful business, a business that can be trusted. The listener hears about them so frequently they just have to be the best among their competitors. Certainly such a business is fair in their dealings and most knowledgeable around.
But you say 'Hold on a minute, they never said any of this. How can you say this?' Think about it. The more you hear about a business, the more you presume them to be successful and good at what they do. It is logical to presume if they were not a top notch business you would not be hearing about them all the time. So, the name mention sells way beyond words. And the message is always positive because that image is created in the listener's mind.
Simply put, I'm a firm believer that if the business name says what a business does, mere business name mentions or business name with one form of contact is likely the best advertising option available out there.
Just think of all the times you hear name mentions. Here in Houston, it happens at the 'Toyota Center' and the news station might say "at the Gallery Furniture sports desk I'm Joe Blow, for News 92 sports". Do you think they see value in a mere business name mention? How about "It's 6:31 and 73 degrees at First National Bank".
Yes, I'm of the school that says lengthy creative or information crammed spots are a waste of money but we have simply put ourselves in this rut in radio and television. Maybe it's time we rethink what we do. After all, commercials are among the biggest complaints among TV viewers and radio listeners.
And yes, Underwriting is generally viewed as from a business owner who has chosen to support the station you love, so Underwriting does carry an implied endorsement, an exceptional value only attained when in commercial radio you pay a talent fee for the on air person to voice your commercial message live in a conversational manner...hmm, conversational manner, the very way Underwriting Announcements are typically delivered over the air without that talent fee thing.
NUMBER 17 - Broadcast Equipment versus Consumer Electronics
Let's say you have applied for your station and you were one of the lucky ones that looked in the mailbox and say an official looking envelope from the FCC containing your construction permit. Pop the cork and make a toast. You're in the club.
You head swells with ideas of what your station will look like. You immediately do some window shopping for the equipment you will buy. You dream of a state-of-the-art radio studio and the best equipment on the market to transmit your signal to the community. You think of possible high visibility locations to place the studio that will gain you instant success.
Let me burst your bubble. Nobody but you cares. Your location and top notch equipment mean nothing. I'll use a car to compare. You can drive a top dollar vehicle to the grocery store or the beat up used car. Guess what? Both of these cars will get you to the grocery store. You could take your date to the prom in a limo with driver or your third owner 10 year old car. Neither the limo or the beat up car will win the girl if you are not the right person for her. All of the 'fluff' is just fluff meant to impress.
I'm not telling you to but the worst and cheapest equipment you can find but you really need to get in touch with a network of engineers and other broadcasters to learn what you can find used for pennies on the dollar. In my opinion you put money in your transmitter but this requires care. You must buy the right one for your situation.
There is an attitude in radio that there is broadcast equipment and cheap electronics you would be caught dead with as your studio. Let these comments go in one ear and out the other. I know what I'm talking about here. As the station manager of a major market radio station I can attest to the fact cheap electronics can work.
This really happened. My owner spent almost $10,000 on a studio board (mixer) for the station. An engineer had suckered him. The board, while a good one, was not one used for radio. The board was used and manufactured by a company that had gone out of business. If it needed parts, we had to locate someone who had an existing non-working board they were selling for parts. I knew we could buy three studio consoles new, right out of the box, direct from a broadcast supply company for the same price and this manufacturer was still in business and supplied parts and telephone support.
To walk a bit down the road, when the $10,000 board finally died we bought the suggested brand of studio console that was one third the price. As with any new electronics, when you plug it in the first time some of the parts might blow. It's no different than plugging in a set of Christmas lights only to find a few bulbs blown the second you plug it in. This simply happens. Expect it.
For our station, things were pretty quiet during the week but on weekends we had people coming in and out all day doing their own live programs. You see these programs were being done from our second studio called the production studio. With a studio console in the main studio with a blown part, we were forced to originate our programming from the studio where the live shows originated on the weekends. Now, we plugged in the board about 5:30 that Friday afternoon and would have to wait until Monday to even order the bad parts. We had to have a studio the next morning. We had to do something.
We took $300 and some change and headed to a store serving musicians. We bought a mixer for that price and hurried back to the station. We put everything together and it worked. You see the logistics on the weekends at the station was client A shows up at the secondary or production studio, sits behind the console and does their program. We are in the next room ready to fade them out, run a couple of announcements and give client A the time to move out of the chair so client B can do their show, an art in itself. We absolutely needed the main studio up to facilitate a buffer zone to execute the changing of the programs. We thought this mixer would do until parts arrived. The plan was to get the needed parts in and put the consumer mixer in the closet to gather dust.
Over that weekend clients were saying "What did you do? The station sounds louder and clearer". On Monday the owner asked the same question. It seems the mixer, that cheap $300 one, was outperforming the $2,500 console. We were sold on the $300 version so we bought a back-up just in case.
Here's the other factor. The $2,500 console had massive additional expenses. You see, all the inputs and outputs had to be soldered to the board. In radio we bring all items to hold a position on the console to a punch block at an easy to reach area, say on a wall like an electric panel on a home. The wiring connecting the CD players and such go in the wall and come out at the back of the console, all labeled. Then each wire is soldered to the interior of the console and labeled for each control on the console. It generally takes a good long day for an engineer or two to get this job done at a hefty $75 an hour for each. So, the $2,500 board likely takes another $1,000 or more to make it operational. The $300 consumer mixer is a 'plug and play' where you connect a plug from the output of your CD player, for example, and plug it into a place at the back of the mixer. You might have done this exact thing if you have a CD and DVD connected to your television entertainment system. It is pretty easy to do and you can leave the soldering gun at home. The result is we had a working console in the form of a consumer mixer for $300 and it took about 15 minutes to plug everything into it without needing the extra expense of an engineer and punch block. Plus it sounded clearer and loader on the radio than the $2,500 studio console. That was about a decade ago and it is still working!
The point here is the latest and greatest or the radio preferred equipment is nice if you have the cash to toss out the window but the reality is you can have a great sounding radio station for truly pennies on the dollar. And nobody knows any different but you. The reality of all this is simple: state of the art equipment does not make you any more money than the consumer version. The consumer version simply means you have money in the bank. It's truly a simple choice and so very, very few people are audiophiles and even those that are would never be happy with your sound no matter how great your equipment is.
Remember, the recipe for success in radio is to build versus starting at the top. You start on the air with no audience and usually no revenue and both listeners and revenue come painfully slow, so who have incredible debt to start with? Simply upgrade as revenue permits, if you really need to. Except for the transmitter, there are many tricks to keep money in your pocket.
Last, I want to discuss the transmitter. The FCC have very specific rules regarding transmitters. You must adhere to this. You have to provide the model and serial number of your transmitter and antenna to the FCC. They know what they have approved and what they have not approved. The really cheap transmitters, like ones made overseas, even if they are accepted by the FCC, are not, in my opinion, good choices. You hear you get what you pay for and indeed this is the case on the transmitter. A used transmitter is for sale for a reason and most of the time it's because of problems. Sometimes you can find a station increasing power and selling their previous transmitter. That might be a good deal, but I would advise a new, American made transmitter where you can get phone support and parts overnighted. Can you get a loaner if your transmitter has to go back to the manufacturer? You need to know all of this because the transmitter is your one key to having a station in the first place. You remove the transmitter and you have nothing. It is what the heart is to the human body. If you want to know what it is like to be between a rock and a hard place, just imagine being off the air and having to pay bills and for repairs with no way to generate income. It's the best way to go under fast, almost foolproof!
NUMBER 18 - Volunteers & Revenue
Ready for some hard truth? You are the biggest fan of your radio station. Oh, yes, lots of people will get excited and with any luck you can keep them excited until you've been on the air a few weeks. Then that volunteer base will slowly fade away. Why? The answer is fairly logical. Once you become the norm, the newness goes away and things go back to normal. If I had a dime for the number of people that wanted to work in radio, got their license and their first job, then quit, I'd need a storage unit to store the change. I used to tell people to try a part time position and determine if its right for you in 3 to 6 months. I can pretty much guarantee 9 or more out of 10 are out of the business in at least 6 months. You might wonder why this is. First, radio never lives up to their mental image. So many think they can do anything they want only to find the tried and true works. Then there is the pay factor and the 'dues' you pay to get to the markets where you don't have to have a roommate to survive. And if it's a volunteer the fun soon becomes a burden. Think about it. It's every week regardless of if you're sick, on vacation, lands on a holiday or if personal plans or issues get in the way. Most refuse to be 'locked' in on such a requirement.
Then there's revenue. Guess what, all that excitement goes away quickly and those dollars will always be less than you had hoped for. Never does a business come to you and offer you cash. Okay, I have seen it happen twice in 35 years. It happened at one station and in each case it was $20 each for the two businesses that did.
In short, expect little help, if any, especially in the long term. It is very rare to have a volunteer hang around a year. Second, expect to have to work businesses and ask for the money. Of you think money will come walking through your door, have them write on your tombstone "still waiting" because you will likely have taken up residence underneath it before that happens.
I'm not trying to discourage you but the most common complaint I hear is "the level of support I get from the community is far less than I would have expected". The number of volunteers is always less. The revenue is always less. In reality, set your goals low and you won't be as disappointment. In reality, it takes time to establish a station, always longer than you expected, sometimes painfully longer.
NUMBER 19 - IN EMERGENCIES
If you ever want the wrath of your community to show, just let them down in a time that they need you most. The radio industry turns a blind eye to this but people really do expect radio to provide full details to listeners when an emergency occurs. That bitterness continues for years and literally blackballs your station.
First, what is an emergency? That really varies by listener but you needn't concern yourself with where that line is. You simply need to think ahead and put yourself in the shoes of the average listener.
When skies turn dark on a summer afternoon and you glance out and say to yourself 'this looks like a bad one', you had better be thinking your listener is tuning to you to find out if their fears are confirmed. You need to be the first line of defense in getting information out to the public. They expect and will demand it. And there need not be a warning to get out this information. Your job is to address the fears of the listener. It is no different than comforting a child that had a nightmare. You simply give them the details and promise updates. They feel safe again and love that you helped them through their fears.
When a tornado warning is issued you had better be first on the air with details in a calming and reassuring way. You need to think for them and hold their hands through this. Remember, I mentioned people look to radio to assure them their world is safe.
Did you tune to radio when the World Trade Center Buildings were hit? Why did you tune in? You wanted details, right? By hearing details you felt more at ease. This is crucial for the local station and especially so in local emergency situations.
I want to cite an instance when I was working in Del Rio, Texas. People awoke to find their tap water was a muddy brown to grey color. The City was just as befuddled. The stations I worked for kept tabs on the story and frequently mentioned it, repeatedly telling people a boil order had been issued. We asked the city questions like: is it okay to bathe in this water? because it is what listeners were asking us. The phones rang off the wall as people called the radio station, not the Water Department seeking answers and to vent their anger. Luckily outside help came in the form of 18 wheelers full of fresh water coming to town. We announced locations and tried to ease the fears of the people. It was not a fun time but we stayed on this and kept the community as civil as it could be. We might have even helped people by reporting how many trucks were coming and how it was okay if one truck ran out, there'd be another in about half an hour. As far as radio went, we truly shined.
When a tornado struck the same town, we reported each detail live as we readied ourselves by taking cover. For weeks people thanked us. They said if we had not told them they might have been injured or killed. I suppose we saved lives. That's just what a license on the wall from the FCC means: serving the community's needs. They needed us at that very moment and the public learned they could count on us. Since the threat continued we sent a guy to the National Weather Service office and they allowed us to be on the air with them providing radar updates and reports before they could even issue warnings.
I got to listen to a New Orleans station following Hurricane Katrina. It was enough to send shivers down your spine. Programming was all talk. You learned what was going on as far as recovery went, where to find food, water, medical care, etc. Insurance companies answered questions and announced locations where you could file claims and the moderators who were from other stations in town talked about their experiences and took calls from the public. It was amazing radio. I am sure their words and information made the horrible conditions seem a bit better and it gave the listener hope, likely the most important aspect.
If you will think about this and prepare your station to be a first responder via information when an emergency threatens your community, you will win the hearts of the community you serve. In fact, if you ever wonder if your station matters, all it takes is going beyond the call of duty in a time of great need to know you are making a positive impact on your community and are a much needed service.
You might be just another station 99.9% of the time but its that 0.1% that really counts.
I want to address your delivery of information on the air: first, you need to always sound in control whenever the microphone comes on, that's a given. You need to be calm and friendly. Remember, the listener is tuning to you because of a level of fear. They want you to make that fear go away or confirm they do really have a reason for that fear. It is the unknown they want to know about, so calmly offer the details in an assuring way and repeat the details very frequently. I'd say something between every song even if it is to say a full update is X minutes away because people are constantly tuning in. Naturally the level of threat dictates whether you go all information constantly repeated or where you do an update, say every other song, every 15 minutes or longer. In short, use common sense. If the threat is immediate, like funnel clouds in the local area, information should be constant. If it's a blizzard and roads are closed and the power is out, then updates every 15 to 30 minutes might suffice.
NUMBER 20 - It's not what you do; it's what you don't do
If there's anything that can drive you crazy it's this. On one hand you want to stand out in the crowd in such a way everyone notices but at the same time you want to be so discreet nobody notices. The line where you draw the balance is what will make or break you.
In programming, getting noticed is a double-edged sword. Much like a politician taking a stand, it can hurt and it can help. Look at your radio station as a pie. If you take a stand, you slice the pie. Your objective is to have the whole pie. I like what a boss once told me: he explained my thinking about adding music was wrong. We were doing rock and I wanted to be cutting edge because it was 'cool'. He wanted to be very mainstream. He told me if I chose to be on the edge, those people listening now that we're at the edge musically would tune away. If I was mainstream those on the edge would listen and those not on the edge would listen as well. By trying to not be the coolest station I could hold the coolest audience, the cool audience and the not so cool audience as well. After all, the objective was to get the most listeners so it made sense. In that respect, by shying away from the edge by not playing a few songs, I would succeed.
When it came to contests and such, my mind swirled as I looked on different levels at what the contest would bring to the station and the buzz it would create. The problem was doing such meant it was time consuming and difficult to pull off. It would most likely require altering the way we did things to execute the contest properly. My boss simply said to keep it simple. His advice was to not toss the apples out of the apple cart to go for the gold because there was too much of a risk we could have the contest backfire.
All of this sounds pretty elusive, so let me bring it down a notch. If I wanted to give away a new car, the logistics required so much work it could really hurt every other aspect of the operation of the station but if I centered on giving away bunches and bunches of pizzas or flowers to the working gal of the day, I found I could easily integrate this in my programming and come out ahead. To put it bluntly, there's not enough time in the day to get everything done anyway so look for the maximum benefit from the least work. It just makes sense. Also, if I would make 100 people winners of, say, pizza and flower bouquets, I had 100 winners talking but if I gave away a car I had one winner talking. I could make 1,000 people winners of small easy to win prizes for the time it took to make one person a winner of a new car. What is better?
As far as the music goes, if I didn't play AC/DC then that group that found AC/DC too rock oriented would not turn to another station and the fans of AC/DC would still listen. My boss even made a point: if they complain you don't play AC/DC, great, it shows they listen and that's the point.
You can call this the Keep It Simple principal but it goes further than that. You have to look at whatever you do and be sure that simple to execute plan does not alienate any segment of your audience as well. If your station can pull it off without it backfiring by thinking simple and listener opinion, you'll find it's what you don't do that spells the greatest success. The key to this thinking is a very good understanding of how your station operates and how you listeners think. A good rule of thumb is if it changes any part of the day to day operation, forget it. Likewise, if it is not something all your listeners will find favor with, it's better not to do it at all. Making waves gets you noticed but those who don't care for waves aren't impressed.
And yes, making your station stand out amid all the others and create 'water cooler talk' is essential. People must have your station on their minds and it must be of interest to the community. The way you pull this off is not controversy that divides your audience but in ways that are positive for the community and interesting to the public. Way too many on air staff have yet to learn this tricky art of being the life of the party yet at the same time be that person that blends in with all the other attendees at the party. It is a true balancing act that if pulled off successfully with make you heads above the other stations. To put it another way, everyone knows someone that everyone respects and admires but they never really appear to be that person of respect and admiration. They just don't garner the attention, yet they are quietly admired by all. That person is precisely what you want your station to be. That person always blends in, is never the center of attention but always admired and loved by those around them. They earned their reputation by what they don't do instead of what they do. You station should attempt to master this art
Have FUN! So far I have been pretty negative because everyone that wants a radio station gives reasons like 'because all the other stations suck', 'nobody pays the music I like', 'I have the format that will turn radio on its ear and nobody will give me a shot' and the reasons go on and on. Nobody was they want a radio station because their community needs a local voice or for any other similar reason. Having fun in radio is so much like raising a child. You have to go through all the hassles, give birth to the station, nurture and feed it and watch it grow up. You never really know what it will sound like once it is finally birthed or what it will evolve into but it is a fun journey with many, many great moments and loads of fun if your mind is set in the right position. Radio is a service industry so you should delight in filling a void and serving the community. It's not if you love the sound of your station it is how much your community loves it. And, if you have a mindset of serving, you'll have loads of fun. Sometimes it is simple pleasures and sometimes a difference between life and death.
It could be as simple as letting a love-struck teen dedicate that song to the love of his life at the moment or it might be telling people about the tornado on the ground heading into their neighborhood. It might be telling the community about a lost family pet that is found in part thanks to your station or giving away lunch to a group of worker in an office that listen to your station while they work. It might be a politician trying to explain the issues the city is facing or it might be the hospital needing to find an immediate donor of a rare blood type for someone on the operating table that can't live without it. All of these things have nothing to do with that killer format or your favorite music but everything to do with service. And if your mind is set on serving, you'll be having more fun than a human is supposed to have. In due time you will discover you are helping the community in some way and creating a legacy. It's no surprise that many radio station operators earn the title of 'Man of The Year'or 'Woman of The Year'. And almost every one of them say, aw, it's just my job and I want to thank you for letting me serve you and the community...a truly honest answer
So, as you get your station going, have fun! Smell the roses. Relish in all you do and how the community finds they actually needed you but never knew they did.
Lastly, be sure to include things that you enjoy. What makes it exciting and fun for you, the operator? You need to have fun and enjoy what you are doing, so by all means, make it fun for you or it will become that job you wish you never took.
You might have been told to spend on the transmitter and antenna but as little as possible on everything else. These are sage words from a been there, done that broadcaster. Heed the advice.
Expanding on this I want to offer greater detail and why you should think this way. First, the transmitter is your lifeblood and so is your antenna. Without either, you're not in the radio business, you just have a studio. Every day you're off the air, your listeners change their listening habits and your revenue partners spend their dollars elsewhere. By all means buy a good transmitter, top of the line if you can, and brand new. Spend to get the best antenna for your situation. Buying less means you are less than you can be and it is very true that you get what you pay for. Buy used and you buy the previous owner's headaches.
Now let's talk about everything else. Processing is a key item. Buy a specific state of the art brand transmitter and your processing is inside the transmitter. There are software versions that are 1/500th the cost of what the full power stations use and it's the same program as in their units. There are stand alone devices that will run you $300 instead of $15,000. You could use some advice here but by all means look for the lowest price item.
Your studio, no matter what the engineer says, can be consumer equipment and sound good. I've had engineers say I couldn't use consumer electronics. When I said it was all I had and to hook it up, there was never an issue and they never modified the thing to make it work. Yes, you can run your station on a Behringer mixer and the on sale CD decks with a music store advertised Marshall Tube microphone for $200.00. You'll sound fine and in fact I prefer Behringer and other such brands because I don't have to pay an engineer to hard wire everything into the mixer that costs 10 times what the Behringer did and I don't need a punch block. I can just plug and play and if I can't Radio Shack has the adapter. I always buy new in the box and pick up a spare because at the low price, I can afford to toss the CD deck that goes out on me in the trash and open the box of that brand new CD deck and plug it in.
As you budget for starting your radio station you can and will go over budget and everything that can go against the plan will likely happen. Ask the southern states broadcaster that got to pay the expenses and pay for a tower crew when the area had a freak ice storm that was called a once in a lifetime storm. Three days later they guys could work but it was $3,000 in pay and at least another $3,000 in expenses added to the normal charge. You will have enough 'war stories' to fill a book.
Your best defense is being the biggest penny pincher you can imagine. Don't try to lower your labor costs but find every opportunity to save a dime, yes a measly 10 cents everywhere you can. If you need a room air conditioner, try to buy the floor model instead. If you need a chair and table, visit garage sales. If you will take this attitude versus your plan, then you will likely have some of the cash you need for those many times you go over budget. Yes, even the educated and researched amounts the experts tell you will almost likely never account for something not going as planned.
Imagine this: your air conditioner goes out in your car during the worst heat wave ever and you work out of your car seeing clients all day, so you must get it fixed. The problem is your pay is barely enough to cover your monthly living expenses. Hopefully you've trimmed your budget here and there and can take care of the unexpected cost. Since you saved every dime you could, you pull it off. As you leave in your nice cool car, you get a nail in your tire and now you need a new tire. Got the cash? I hope so because if you're not driving around to see your clients you earn nothing. With the tire fixed, now your radiator hose bursts and you need to shell out for a tow truck too. Expect this and prepare for this. It is very likely when you get your tower up and crack up the transmitter you start getting calls about your station being head through a neighbor's cable TV, their phone and it made their alarm system go off and the cops responded to a non-emergency costing them a $50 fine!. Guess what, it is your responsibility, so you pay the fine and for your engineer to spend a day rewiring everything with extra shielded wiring at about $75 an hour including drive time. If there are 10 neighbors, it really adds up. Will that happen, likely it won't but I'm trying to give you an idea of just how unexpected and out of the blue things you never thought of and even the experts didn't think of rear their collective ugly heads. Don't be discouraged. You'll get past this stuff with ease if you penny pinch everywhere you can. And if nothing happens, give a sigh of relief and enjoy that balance in your checking account.
A rule of thumb is if you don't prepare for the 'impossible' it will eat you alive. If you prepare you'll be in better shape and if you are lucky you'll somehow really do the impossible by coming in under budget.
Wanna trade? Radio sometimes trades advertising or underwriting for what they need. One station needed a small 8 by 12 building at their tower site. A portable building company agreed to do it free in exchange for double the retail value in underwriting spots. A local concrete worker set up the foundation and did the work for underwriting as well. Ask and ask again at competitors. Someone might just say yes. If not, you can buy or ever convince them to accept half cash and half trade for underwriter mentions. Your imagination can go wild here. One station traded cell phones with monthly plans for advertising.
You may have never thought about trading for what you need but I must caution you to do this sparingly. If you can pay cash, do so. You might wonder why. First, if you don't watch it, trading is like a credit card and a once in a lifetime shopping spree. You can do it so often you cut your throat on revenue. In reality, one station I know of went under because they couldn't pay the IRS, payroll and the electric bill because they had so many trades going on.
If you trade with a company, you set the standard. It will be a very rare instance that a trade underwriter becomes a paid underwriter that buys from you. They will forever want to trade.. The electric company won't take a free cell phone, some free pizzas or something else in lieu of cash and they won't trade either.
Trading is to be done rarely and only when it benefits you more by trading than the long term dollars the business might represent to you. My rule of thumb is you only trade with businesses that you are confident will never advertise with you (or buy underwriting). And you always pay cash resorting to a trade only when there is no reasonable solution. The trade must represent greater value to you although you never tell the client that. By this I mean, the value to you must be beyond the monetary value.
In fact, I'd feel much better saying to avoid 100% trades. In other words, you might trade meals with a restaurant so you can invite clients to lunch but make sure you pay a monthly bill and make sure they pay you for monthly underwriting/advertising. If you trade gas for the car, fine, do it with a company that buys from you and both parties pay an invoice.
Do not ever trade for something personal even if you are the owner. There is no reason to trade that pool service company that cleans your pool or that travel agency that got you the free cruise in trade for advertising/underwriting.
I truly want to stress trading for underwriting is a dangerous path that many times goes terribly wrong. Use it only when you must and it is always better to do cash for cash where you trade checks even if those checks are for the same amount. The lure of trading for both the station and the business is addictive plus those business owners will tell all their friends that will be very, very eager to trade but not spend a dime on your station.
How important is a website to your radio station? My answer is very important. No matter what you do in life, you need to market yourself. Marketing is always about reaching out to those who do not know about you. Even Churches market themselves, not within their walls, but beyond their walls. The farmer might love growing his crop but he's at the Farmer's Market or has a stand by his field to market his harvest. Radio is no different. Radio needs listeners. And radio needs financial support. That financial part generally comes from the business community and is in the form of marketing them via Underwriting or Commercials that play over your airwaves. You need to market yourself so your financial supporters reach as many ears as you can supply to them. This is simply the way radio works.
It does you no good to market to those who know you already. You need to expand on that. Stations do this by getting out in the community, to be seen and known by various segments of potential listeners. In today's rapidly changing world, the internet has become increasingly important. In fact, trends have turned the corner.
Radio has always relied on carving out a place in the typical lifestyle of the potential listener. At no other time in history has the mobile device and internet been such a big influence on that lifestyle. To get in the loop, the web presence has become almost as important as the transmitter and tower in earning a position in the lives of potential listeners.
Not long ago, fewer and fewer people were online but today with advancing technology, the internet is king. More often than not you are finding people listening to your radio station over their phone, treating it like the transistor radio of old.
Not only that but buying habits have changed. It was no so long ago that radio was the last stop before the sale. What I mean is you might see the ad for the big furniture store sale in the paper and plan a visit to a number of furniture stores for, let's say, a new couch. Your family piles in the car and heads for the furniture store. Chances are they're listening to the radio in the car. While in the car they might just hear a commercial for a furniture store and make the split second decision to visit the furniture store they just heard on the radio. That's how radio worked only a few years ago. It literally drove customers to your door. In other words, radio didn't cause the purchase, the newspaper ad did. Radio was simply the last in the line of media before the sale was made and it carried exceptional influence, but alas, it's pull on the market has been eclipsed by the internet and the website.
Okay, you say you know people who never spend time online. There is a increasingly smaller group of people that are not influenced directly by online presence but I challenge you to find a person that does not go online that is not affected by the internet thanks to their circle of friends. These groups are very few in number and radio is not a factor for them either. My Dad is not a website surfer so he asks me for information I learned online.
Now, for radio, how does a website fit in? First and foremost, it is a listening platform. If your listener has a non-land line phone, chances are they listen to the radio online. So, an increasing number of listeners tune to the phone rather than the radio. You gain listeners by having a way for people to listen without a radio.
The biggest positive is marketing. You build awareness of your station for listeners and potential advertisers. You provide a venue to recapture the effectiveness of radio driving the sale. Trends are the typical consumer goes online to research before making a purchase, more often than not deciding on a specific item and the price they will pay. When I bought this computer I researched online, read reviews and priced it at a number of retail locations. Once I found the price range I'd accept, I looked for the nearest location, called and had them reserve one for me and I reminded them of the price I saw online. I then jumped in the car, drove about a mile, walked up to the orders window and bought the computer at the online advertised price and was back home powering the thing up in about 20 minutes. This is becoming the norm on many purchases.
You say if this is happening what future might radio have. First, forget the listening device we call a radio. Detach that idea from what we call radio broadcasting. Instead we offer a constant entertainment and information source typically with a very local flavor. We need to expand to have not just the audio version but an exciting website where people can spend time and be a part of a virtual community united by the audio that drives the business. The website should be tailored to market the station and your financial support by helping them create the last stop before the purchase. Your website needs to be all about the listeners as well. You need it to have a social function and a very unique feel that gives the listener the idea they're a member of a pretty cool club, if you will. In other words, you want a website that would be the visual end of your radio station if video and pictures were possible.
In plain English, the website to your station is much like a leg or arm to your body. It has a function and is an important cog in the machine. Without trying to sound crass, the station without a website is handicapped. You can operate just fine without it but just as any physically challenged person would tell you, they'd rather have the function or physical ability and they are a bit limited without it.
One other point. Your online presence will be so important you should likely seek out an expert who is not so bent on creating pet bells and whistles but a functional and easy to navigate website and clearly understand you want the website to function as a social site frequently visited, a way to listen to the radio and a way to sell product for your financial supporters. It needs to market you effectively and increase the number of ears tuned to you. If you can pull it off, you'll be ahead of the game as radio struggles to find its place in today's world.
The Squeaky Wheel. You have no doubt heard of this. You need lots of squeaking ability to make radio work. You reputation is based more on past experiences the other party has had with media types so that reputation is likely not stellar. What that means is a less than warm reception. The other party always is careful to leave the door cracked and your squeakiness will open it so you can walk through. Now, what I mean is never taking a first, second, third or even the fifth meeting with anything less than a bunch of salt versus a grain of salt. You are on the slow road to prove yourself and show through actions that your words carry more depth than the sound they make. You see, it has nothing to do with you. It's just that the people you need in government, schools, non-profits and business community have all come across lots of talkers but all they did was talk with big schemes, big ideas and loads of excitement. You simply cannot be less than excited and glowing about your project so expect them to assume you are no different than the rest.
Think of being the squeaky wheel as being much like creating the evening meal from scratch with a legendary recipe. You build that perfect dish one ingredient at a time with care given to every seemingly minor detail. The end result after all the work and never seeking shortcuts is a perfect meal. You don't get there by rushing, cheating steps or calling it quits or getting mad and drawing a line in the sand. You are diligent, follow every step and building inroads, trust and respect every baby step you make toward the finish line.
In short, nothing ever comes easy. It takes patience, self control and the ability to let stuff slide off your ruffled feathers. Return kindness for a less than hospitable word and smile when you are upset. Be 'the bigger man' ready to lend a hand. In the end you will not win over everyone but you will win over everyone that matters and everyone that will make your station successful. Those you don't win over and known as uncooperative sorts who will never enjoy what you have earned by hard work, self control and never losing sight of your goal.
Your squeakiness is simply never giving up. I can tell you by experience those who were the toughest were my best allies. Maybe that's because they had been burned just one too many times and knew they had a tendency to warm up to things too easily for their own good, so they overcompensated by sending me through the fire before I earned their full trust and friendship. In the beginning it would have been easier to write them off as just plain mean people but I'm glad I continued to try, squeaking all the way, because the reward was beyond the point I ever got from those that made the path easier. They weren't fair weather friends but there for you in thick and thin. Looking back, my squeaking paid off big time.
The lesson to learn is the first impression is not always accurate and only by taking the time and self control to get beyond all the testing that went on was I able to enjoy the fruits of my labor. So jump in the deep end, stay positive, focused and ready to stand through the passage of time to win. It does happen but you have to wait for it
I have not mentioned this among the numbers but it sure should play an important part in your game plan. Nothing beats your honesty, diligence and candor. You have to be a person known for getting things done, for saying what you mean, for following through on your actions, fast response to problems and issues and for being upfront on everything you do. This means being honest even when it hurts you. It means not beating people over the head for a lower price. It means paying fast. It means getting things done quickly. It means being diligent to get everything perfect. It means having the intelligence to seek assistance when you need it. It means you never cut corners or shortcuts. It means you never give up. It means you treat people with compassion and a smile trying to understand what it is like in their shoes. In short you must be a person known for getting things done on time, the right way and perfect in every detail. You had better think good enough is not good enough for you but your best is.
It goes deeper than this. You have to know when to speak and stay silent. You need to learn fights and confrontations result in both parties losing. Fights and confrontations are like fences. The result is you're forced to choose sides. When you refuse to participate you win. You have to learn you cannot seek revenge or undermine folks. That cover will be pulled away to reveal your actions. Instead you stay focused on your work regardless of the bullets breezing past your head. Remember, while your enemy is loading their gun, you are simply outworking them by staying focused. The people you deal with will learn of those bullets and you will win in the end.
I must tell the story: When I was hired in my first sales job, the highly respected sales people at the station that we replaced went around town talking about what lowlife people we were. Everyone believed them. When I'd see these former sales people I'd smile and say hello, appearing friendly and unaware of their comments about me. Naturally this was typically in front of at least one potential client that really didn't want me in their business based on what bad things had been said about me. When they saw my reaction to coming across those inventing the stories, the opinion my potential client had of me began to change. In time I had lots of clients that were friends. If I had blasted these story tellers, I sure wouldn't have had that positive outcome.
In addition, a competitor in the market was always trashing my station and acted pretty snotty when we would both happen to show up at the same business at the same time. It was the 'culture' of the station. For example, if we sold a live broadcast at a business, this competitor would offer a live broadcast free to the business at the same time as we did ours. Then with their van and powerful sound system they would blast their station, yelling their call letters whenever our station did a live break. We never reacted. Victories were had. They did this at one business and the owner threw them off the property saying their free remote was too expensive even with it being free. In another instance I had walked in to visit a client. My client was with a customer when I showed up. Not more than a minute later, the sales person from that competitor showed up. He began trashing my station. I stayed silent. About the 5th or 6th slam I took was right as my client was finishing up with the customer and I said "it has been said those with an inferior product cut down their competitors to appear better than they are". I was shocked. My client said he knew that was a true statement and my competitor could leave since he wasn't going to get any of his business. Then my client and I had a heart to heart. It seemed he had heard that line before. You see he was bullied as a kid and it struck a chord. Admittedly he was a rather 'unique' individual but if you ventured past this you'd realize just what an incredible person this guy was. Oh yes, I got all the radio budget
Pushing the envelope is not a real good idea. Radio is truly a democratic styled media where the majority rules. In fact, the motivation is to reach as many as you possibly can. Typically this means falling near the middle and defining further to expand the listener base. Naturally you don't want to become plain vanilla but you don't want to be too far toward either side. This does not only apply to programming but your whole operation.
I am amazed by the number of people who think they can change radio as we know it. Change comes in small and almost undetected steps that over time represent the whole. It's not that the change is bad as it may in fact be the next best thing that revolutionizes this business, it is the consumer of your product. What amazes me most is people think they can force the change or push the envelope and give up complaining everyone is a moron. It is akin to starting the first internet streaming station and expecting every radio station to stream today and collectively turn off their transmitters forever tomorrow. Change always comes painfully slow.
Next is the Legal aspect. Before I get into this I want to try to give you a case scenario. Let's say you get pulled over for driving 10 miles over the speed limit. You make sure the cop feels safe approaching your car by making sure the cop can see your hands. You keep your insurance info at the sun visor for easy access and as the cop approaches, you have your window down as you say you are getting your wallet from your back pocket. When the cop asks how fast you were going, you don't lie plus you are cordial to the officer. I had just such an instance happen. The State Trooper asked me why I was going so fast. I explained I was not paying attention and when I saw his car I looked and saw I was going 10 miles over. I knew you were going to stop me. He smiled, ran my license and wrote me a warning. I didn't push the envelope. I tried to make his life a bit easier and I was honest and straight with him.
Why did I act this way? Life has taught me that being honest and thinking about others not only made life easier for me, it produced loyal friends, opportunities and lots of breaks when I was wrong. In other words it made forgiving my mistakes easy. It is true the other party has to function the same way but I find most people do. This is true when it comes to the FCC and the law in general. If you can demonstrate you are trying to be honest, straight and not just do things right in the most minimal way but beyond the minimal, you show yourself as a person that might have overlooked the problem without any intent of ignoring the law or the FCC Rules. When things go wrong, the FCC generally tries to help you comply instead of slamming you with everything they can. If you try not to push the envelope and stay on the edge of the bare minimum, they might not look as hard at what you're doing. Give them a hard time and push the envelope and wham, bam, you're in a world of hurt.
That fleeting 4 letter word, that fringe programming that leaves some with mouths gaping, while technically legal, send a message that you try to skirt the spirit of the rules and or law. It shows a more selfish intent of I'm doing it my way and if you don't like it I don't care. Radio, of all businesses is all about serving. Ot does not truly involve your opinion or views. Serving does not push the envelope. Serving means centering on service at all costs. If you simply try to serve your community, as much of it as you can garner, you wind up far from the minimum and there are no envelopes to push.
I might mention one other aspect. Everything is apples and oranges. You have no comparisons as no two stations are really alike...similar, yes but never identical. Whenever you push the envelope, you polarize your station into various camps and minimize any success you will have. You will simply have to take my word for this because it takes living it on both sides of the spectrum to really grasp this and you don't want to experience the wrong end of the spectrum. When you take the radio station on the attitude of targeting the largest local audience you can with a commitment to serving, the rewards are so significant your decision becomes a no brainer. As good as this is, the opposite is just as significantly bad. The way to prevent this is truly serving so your ideas evolve from serving bot your idea of the sort of station you personally want.
I remember one on air event. It was a lost little girl. Night was falling and it was getting cold. We updated every event on the air and the audience felt the horror and agony the parents felt. So listeners joined in the search and about 2 hours after sunset, she was found, unharmed and lost in a stand of trees by one of our listeners. Our station was recognized and awarded. My boss wisely accepted the award on behalf of the listeners saying they deserved the award, not the station. We did things right. We were the most listened to station with the bulk of the local population listening and our intent was to serve. By doing it right we had enough listening to effect the recovery of a lost little girl delivered to some very grateful parents. Granted she would have been found unharmed, I'm almost positive, but I think our station made it happen quicker through spreading the word and involving the community because our station was the community.
You might feel I am trying to make radio an unpleasant experience or that I am harping on how you are wrong. I really am not trying to do this. Over my career I have seen lots of successful stations and lots of stations fold up. I have met tons of people that had the next big thing for radio and it never ever worked. If 1,000 people I've met got their hoped for station, I can honestly say maybe 2 would have made it. I am discussing the typical pitfalls of what appears to be a very fun and easy business and provide you with a path that helps you ve one of those two in a thousand
The 10% factor. Early on in my radio career as a DJ I learned the 10% rule. A much wiser and experienced DJ shared it with me and I am grateful. When you sit behind the microphone you think about things you can add to your show that your listeners might want to hear. We tend to be the biggest fan of our best idea and that is where the trouble starts. You need the 10% rule to stay in check.
There was a TV show decades ago and one of the actors would say the word dynamite in a certain way. He didn't say it every time the audience expected him to say it and part of the lure was the novelty of him saying it. You see when he didn't say it when the viewers expected him to, they were glued to the TV for that special moment he did say it. He left the audience hungry for more.
The lesson I learned was something that became so common lost its appeal but with it was more uncommon it developed somewhat of a following with people trying to guess when and how that special thing is utilized.
The result is less is more and less predictable is best. Thus, the 10% rule: for every ten times you want to do whatever over the air, only do it once.
I recall talking to a listener of a particular morning show. Every morning at a certain time they would call somebody and prank them. Man, this was the latest and greatest thing ever on radio that first day. It had quite a following in a couple of weeks but within about a month listeners didn't think as highly of the feature saying some were better than others and hinting it might be staged. A few weeks later the person being pranked would call them on it during the call. In a short time, the prank call was a memory. If they had done it at a different time each time they did it and maybe just did it every week or two, every prank would have been stellar. By doing it daily, they quickly learned some of the daily pranks just didn't pan out like they should...rather weak, if you will. The need for the daily prank meant the less than stellar pranks were played. And like consuming a gallon of ice cream, the first bite is sure good but if you eat the whole quart in one setting, the last bite is just not as good.
Some people will disagree with me but I feel radio took a left turn and moved away from this. I think the concept still applies because while radio has changed, that which makes us humans has not. We still communicate non-verbally and we are still social creatures.
Once upon a time in radio, before we knew what we were really doing, we injected basic human needs in our on the air presentation. Naturally our voice inflection and other instinctive communication traits are still on the radio but we ushered in sense of community and a rather 'top dog' attitude by being the one that informed everyone about everything they needed to know.
Our listeners became voices from down the street that represented 'belonging' to the community. We announced changes in the world around us instantly and somewhat built a club-like membership in our listeners who became accepted friends, so to speak.
If this seems a little strange, let's put this in modern terms: Facebook on a local level. The radio station was where you kept up with the community around you and made sure you didn't miss a thing.
We used to use the term 'water cooler talk' as an ideal goal. It was a good one. We wanted listeners to our station to be the kings and queens of the water cooler, the ones who knew what was going on and likely ruled the roost by sharing what they heard with that water cooler community.
You are asking how this plays in the modern world and I will tell you: it matters just as much today as it did throughout time. Humans have not changed in the basic needs. You build emotional bonds with the station that reflects life in their community. Everybody wants to belong and everyone wants to be the go to person on something. Your radio station, by addressing these needs, becomes the local station the community goes to in order to stay on top of things. One only has to look at other programming on TV and radio to see that this is correct. People listen to, say, Rush Limbaugh or say, Jon Stewart to know what happened since they last checked in.
Best of all, you don't have to be in the know every second. You can be simply on top of things, especially those things that affect your listeners and get the information across in a timely manner. KLIF in Dallas had a map on their wall with the name and phone number of every business at every major intersection in the city. When a robbery or car accident happened, they'd call the businesses looking for am eyewitness or a 'what's happening now' on the spot report. A station I worked for had people through the county we could call when a tornado or severe storm was in that area. It was pretty cool to say, radar is showing the storm bearing down on...and we have Joe Blow on the phone. He's in the area, Joe, what's happening right now? Another station bragged every time the fire engines took off they'd immediately interrupt and say where they were headed.
Since most stations are computer driven, the art is to do double duty, staying on top of things in your community as you go through your daily routine. A computer program that runs your station, allowing you to insert a report as needed when away from the studio is a good idea.
If you think back on your experiences, I suspect you have have been upset because that traffic report failed to mention the route you are traveling or a menacing storm is moving in and you can't find out anything about it as you drive down the highway. If you were upset and wrong information or no information on the radio station you selected, it is due to that human condition I am talking about and the truth be told, it makes you a bit more angry than you figure it should have
Integrity. I have touched on this but I am speaking about words. We are in a business where words are all we have. Think about it. We use words on the air constantly. To the community at large we use words to convey everything we do. Words are what makes us or breaks us.
From all my years in radio the thing I have learned about words is if they're said over the air, said to a client, listener or member of the community at large, they never go away. They might be missing in action for what seems like an eternity but they always come back to roost at their birth place. Since we are judged by our words and even those uttered long ago, we must realize with everything we say, those words said today, last week, last year and even a decade before will be judged today, tomorrow or next year and your credibility stands in the balance even if those words have been long forgotten by you.
The only way to live with this recurring nightmare of long lost words is through integrity. Integrity has the ability to temper your speech by adding forethought before uttering those words. Before vocalizing, an initial thought must always be what these words mean, can mean and the effect they might have on you in the future.
This might seem like a really small thing but any claim or statement you make is etched in stone and will never be changed. You can even say the words, apologize and move on but you will be judged on the initial statement regardless of 'taking those words back' via an apology.
It is easy to get trapped by words. I remember a radio station that ran a promotion that claimed they would only stop the music once an hour for commercials...the key word is commercials. If they did, you could win $1 million dollars (divided by the number of people that phoned in when it happened). The listeners heard 'only stop the music once an hour'. That meant they expected to win when the station did news headlines, weather and traffic at 20 past the hour in morning drive. Others thought they were saying you'd get a whole hour of music before the next commercials played. You quickly note the station said it right but the listener heard it wrong. You are correct. Still that didn't matter. The listener is the judge and jury and facts don't matter. In the purest of terms, the customer, your listener, is always right even when they are wrong! Worst of all, when the promotion ended 3 months later, the listeners thought the station had reneged on the guarantee and their reputation was in the dirt. They never recovered and changed formats not long after.
So, be very careful about what you say. Carefully craft your words and uphold every one with integrity because they will come back to you. You and your station will be known as either a great bunch of people because of those words or untrustworthy and possibly as con artists because the hearer of your words was, at least in their mind, duped.
All your words will never be perfect and you will get it wrong sometimes but if you back your words with integrity and build that reputation you will find you'll receive forgiveness but they will never forget, meaning those words will likely still come back to roost at some point. With integrity at least you'll have a group of people who will defend those words.
I have said much but I have yet to really address a very important aspect of radio that is just as important if not more important than everything mentioned. Your personality is VERY important.
A station operator has to be a people person. You need to be outgoing. You need to like people. You need to play well with people. You must be likable. You must be a cheerleader for the station and a defender and compassionate member of the community.
You need to have the finesse to deal with the powers in charge and work within their framework. You are either with them or against them, so knowing how to deal with them and obtain the help you need means a lot.
Radio does not make enemies. Radio is not outspoken and does not force it's personal opinion. Radio is an understander. Radio looks at people and lets them be themselves and respects. Radio is the nice guy. Radio never makes demands, it serves. Radio is an ambassador in all things.
My Dad told me about hearing a guy over 50 years ago, early in his career. The guy made an insane amount of money to talk to employees of some big companies. He used this example: His son and daughter were in an argument. Soon the son appeared and asked his Dad if he heard the argument. He affirmed he had. His son asks who was right. Dad says "Why son, you were right". A little later, his daughter come to him and says "You heard our disagreement. Tell me why was right." Dad answers, "Why you, my daughter, were right." She leaves the room and the man's wife who had been sitting in the room all this time looks at her husband and says "You know they're both not right and you know that". Dad wisely answers, "My dear wife you are absolutely right". The point of it all, just grin and agree unless your conscience just won't allow because people like people who are agreeable.
You might say the above sounds a bit shady or insincere. I ask you to consider this: a lady you know gets a new haircut and loves it. She asks how you like her new style. You don't like it. Do you say she looks terrible or do you say something nice? If somebody is talking about how great the tea party is at a dinner you are attending but your political views are much different, do you tell the person what an idiot you think they are or do you just listen and keep your opinion to yourself? My point is every day we work at being agreeable, especially when our actions would hurt someone's feelings or ruin an otherwise nice evening. This is what I mean about being agreeable.
A radio station has a thick skin, a slow and long fuse on its temper and believes the station belongs to the community and that the operator is charged with reflecting an audio reflection of life there.
If you can talk to anybody and never meet a stranger, you'll do well. If that's not you, it is possible to learn these skills. After all you exercise these skills with your friends and family already so you are just doing what you already do with different people.
Last is the most important thing a radio station does: it makes everyone feel important and valued. Everyone that has dealt with you should say you made them feel special and often that they got something more than the average person. For example, in my coin business you get a personal not and a little tidbit of information not revealed on the website. Thus, the customer knows I value them and shared something with them that other people may not know. Why do I do this? I like being treated this way.
Think about your best experiences where people helped, taught or gave you a break. Now, do that all the time.
Radio is outdated. Now I'm not talking the medium, I'm talking the device you listen to radio on. Many are turning to their hand held devices to listen to radio. Some listen on their computer. The radio is no longer the common device except perhaps in the car. With all the projections about internet equipped vehicles that allow streaming radio via the radio device in the car, the radio will become more obsolete.
You might think this spells the demise for over the air radio, but wait, radio comes in where internet is not and where cell coverage is not good. Until the outages are resolved, and they happen in the big cities too, the radio will not die but will not be the first 'go to' device for listening to radio.
As for radio's hold on America's ears, don't look for a huge decline. While I feel radio is in bad shape as an industry at the moment, radio's strength is in connecting people by geographic place. I have friends that work in cubicles that were in radio. They have witnessed this change first hand. Curious about what his fellow cubicle dwellers were hearing on their ear buds, they asked. Overwhelmingly it was a local over the air radio station. With all the internet radio choices and stations around the globe with apps that allow listing on your phone, workers overwhelmingly chose local radio even when the station was not their perfect music mix. In other words a rocker my choose a station that is Alternative Rock. In virtually every instance it was because they wanted to feel connected to their city. Simply put, they want to know what is going on in their city.
If you think this through, it is this emotional connection that keeps radio alive. Remember I told you people want to know their world is safe before they venture out in it? Could it be they rely on local radio to do this from the time they reach the office, then head out for lunch and later head off to run errands before returning home? I suspect this is the case.
You say, but wait the station is voice tracked by people outside the city and the jocks rarely talk about anything that is happening. I agree but it is the perceived idea that is they say nothing, there is nothing to say because the world, at least their little dot in the world is okay. Frequently no news is good news. But, I must say radio in general has forgotten this important aspect and lots of movers and shakers balk when I bring this up even when I point out living examples as to why this is.
Are you in radio or the website business? The truth is the answer is both. A radio station not on the web is akin to forgetting to put on your pants when going outside. Today's world is dominated by the computer. It is a focal point at work, frequently at home and on the go. Just look at the world. How many commercials spout websites? Do you use the phone app to list on eBay? The list goes on. Simply put, you must be out there on the internet.
The biggest problem is radio views the internet as not a part of the listening experience. This is wring headed thinking. It is with many of your listeners. In fact, it is a way for them to find you versus the radio dial. But what should your website be?
I contend the website needs to be as highly researched and refined as your radio format. It has to be as individualistic as your station is among the other offerings on the dial. Indeed, if your radio is your body, the internet is the arms and legs of your radio station.
This means if all you are doing is talking about how great your station is you are merely advertising and nothing else. We all know we need to advertise but we really need our website to be the social gathering spot the radio station is. It is a directly related extension of your radio station listening experience.
Thus, your station website needs to be active, alive and have reasons for visitors to go there over and over again. Your website needs to be your Facebook, Twitter, etc. You need a website that interacts and engages your listeners in the very same way your radio station does. It must be a breathing and alive part of what you do.
Put on your thinking cap and budget some time and dollars to make your website as desirable and exciting as your radio station. Build bonds with listeners. Connect personally. One of the greatest gifts radio can give is to make the listener feel important and liked.
While on the subject of your website, I am amazed at the lack of attention given monetizing the website. I will say a strong word 'stupidity' prevails sometimes. Here you have a valuable commodity like your assigned space on the dial and you let it suck money from your pockets instead of paying for itself and showing a profit for the radio station. Frequently the website is never updated. but your Facebook page is. Facebook is advertising for your website, not your website.
Advertising or Underwriting Packages should automatically include an online presence. McDonalds has Happy Meals that include the burger, sides and drink for a complete package because they can command the money to provide the full meal instead of piecing it out. They know they can make you buy the meal, toss what isn't eaten and feel good about it. So why are we not Happy Mealing our station and website together as an attractive package merchants will buy and feel good about?
You need to sell on your website. You need to give merchants that extra kick. It shouldn't be an 'add on' feature but the package itself: on air and on line advertising in a nice tidy Happy Meal.
Can you tell me of one merchant that feels they will NOT benefit from an online presence? Is it not essential marketing for them? Don't most businesses have a website or wish they did? Can you fill that void by marketing them over the radio station and taking it a step further by offering the details on your website and then, if they have a website, include a link to the merchant's website. Isn't this logical, especially for the non-commercial station so limited in what can be said over the airwaves?
Okay, I admit it is a chicken and egg syndrome but not outside the norm. After all if you are starting a grocery store you have to have a retail space and stock it with food. You have to build a website, your retail space, and fill it with stuff that bring your listeners to the site. In this respect, your advertisers get shelf space to display their products on your website.
There's extra charge ups you can make. Would that restaurant like a coupon or might that movie theater want something over and above the mere detailed business listing on your website to accompany what is said over the airwaves on your station? Look at your website as an advertising medium that is the hands and feet to the body which is the advertising or Underwriting played over your radio station. Until we think this way we will never be giving our merchants that keep us alive their best value for their dollars.
The most important take away if quit thinking of radio as separate from your website. They are the same in so many ways.
Computers figure in radio. We know that. When it comes time to buy a software package your station will use to operate itself, you have to be very careful. First, this software is typically built by people who have no clue about how a radio station operates. In fact one of the popular software makers had the developers on hand at a national conference. I asked about the system.
I asked first if I could created dayparted clocks that have the system select at random utilizing rules I instigated to run the station. My answer shocked me. Their system required me to enter EVERY function manually and it would not repeat. In other words everything I did (liners, song, weather, bews, PSAs, DJ patter and all other stuff) had to be created in a playlist. That can be a couple of thousand entries a day if not more and even though I can do up to a week at a time, I want you to think about having to enter, say 15,000 entries every single week for the life of your station. Now, if I was going to have to have a fulltime person to use their system, I sure didn't want it. What's the point?
There's the learning curve as well. There are lots of outstanding and really cheap options out there. One I was thrilled with was so complicated that after 20 hours of trying to get each feature to work as intended, I realized I could never teach anyone all these tricks to manipulate the system and make it do what it was supposed to do.
Finally I found a system that is intuitively and logically written with all the functions I desired. It took about 2 or 3 hours of playing to figure everything out. Now, I should say I am not computer savvy. I am a babe in the woods with these things so I have to have something that doesn't require me to be a computer geek. It has been said forever: keep it simple. Thus, your choice should do exactly what you want and be so easy to use and learn that you're not spending weeks teaching your employees how it works and getting 3 am calls from frantic workers freaking out trying to get the system to do what it is supposed to do. And if it crashes once, that's once too many.
The take away is research your socks off. More expensive is not better. A wise man I worked for said it was worth every second of time spent trying to figure out the easiest way of doing something because once you uncovered it, it could be easily replicated. In other words, if you invest 1,000 hours, your investment will pay off with the ease of replicating what you learned.
Simple is required. You will be running a radio station. Radio stations always are understaffed and time is at a premium always. You never want anything that takes too much time. If you can shave a minute here and there on regular duties, you will find you end up saving hours or even a work day a week when all is said and done.
Your operation should always be as smooth as glass and be easy to operate. A wise radio owner once said, if a money can be taught to do it, that's something that works for me. His point was a learning curve that was minimal was the best option. It had to be super simple.
You need to rack your mind in creating a detailed and step by step simple plan of operation under any circumstance or event for your radio station. Leave no question unturned, no step unknown and then analyze everything again and eliminate every step possible, then etch it in stone and never change it unless you can make it more simple with at least one step taken away.
The successful radio station has superb organization and easy to execute operations. Essential to the operation is time saving procedures. In addition it should function perfectly with the most inattentive operator. Remember, if a monkey can do it, it's right.
Operation plans have plan B and plan C clearly detailed. You see the real constant is something will go wrong. The longer you go without issues, the closer you are to a breakdown on plan A.
Will it happen? Sure it will. What do I mean, try this real life example: It was a quiet Sunday morning when my weekender called me nearly in tears. For some reason the on air console quit working. I mean it was as if it decided to turn itself off forever. The actual problem was the power supply finally died. We were prepared. Plan B was to flip the switch at a certain location and go live from the next room. For the most part, everything was duplicated except a couple of odds and ends like some CDs and Minidiscs, so flipping the switch, my weekender went to the next room, started a song, grabbed the CD rach and our few mini discs and resumed broadcasting on an identical set up in the next room. My weekender needed no educating on the console as Minidisc 1 was pot 5 in the on air studio and pot 5 in the spare studio that doubled as the production room. All I had to teach was what that little switch did and where that switch was. Thus moving to the new studio was as simple as flipping a light switch on and walking in the next door studio. Simple, easy and fewest steps, right? This demonstrates how concise your operations need to be and how simple and easy they must be even when all hell breaks loose. How often does a power supply on your console go out? The answer is about as frequently as a typical driver has a car accident but you prepare for it anyway. If you have organized right, your biggest issue is remembering what to do because you hadn't thought about it for 10 to 15 years. That's why you write it down.
Local versus Syndicated. If you are dabbling in radio, you know there are many, many choices out there. You can do an all local format or you can voice track with DJs anywhere. You can subscribe to satellite driven radio formats and you can supplement with what is called syndicated programs.
To those not in radio, Z Rock, John Tesh and Rush Limbaugh, for example, are satellite delivered programs where the radio station inserts commercial breaks and newscasts. There's a variety of music formats that come off the satellite dish 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These have actual DJs on the air and the local station typically has the DJ on the air doing the prerecorded station liners your station inserts along with news, weather, PSAs and commercials.
American Top 40 with Casey Kasem, for example, was a syndicated program. Kim Kommando's Computer Minute you might hear on the way to work outside Kim's nationally syndicated radio show that is sent via satellite is also a syndicated feature. In a nutshell, syndicated programs are mostly short form programs from 60 seconds up to multiple hours. Mostly these are free programs for stations and a national advertiser is included in the show to pay for the costs.
You can hire people anywhere that will voice track your radio station even though they may have never stepped foot in your town.
For national news and international news, there are news services. You might affiliate with a state news network or a national or more than one of these. There are weather services and agricultural programs that run the same way. Using Texas, you might carry, say Fox News, the Texas State Network and Voice of Southwest Agriculture for your news and farm programming. In most cases these are free in exchange for you airing their commercials. You can even subscribe for text based news through international news organizations for a fee and read your own news.
I am not a fan of syndicated programming but that is my personal opinion and you should not be guided by my opinion. With that said, understanding your listener's expectations and needs, there are many options for programming that will serve the needs and expectations of your listeners and at little or no cost to you. You need to look at your market and your situation to determine what to do.
NUMBER 38 - Underwriting & Commercials
About once or twice a year I like to Google Radio Underwriting Rates. One of the links was to a non-profit AM, WBTN, Bennington, Vermont. They're lucky. They have a good sales manager that really knows what he is doing based on his advertising tips.
If you would grab the Green Giant, the Tide, McDonald's burger or Shell gasoline, can you tell me which, if any actually said their product was better than their competitors or did you take the information they presented and created that image in your own mind? Wasn't their wording designed to make you conclude they were better? If you say you don't buy these brands but opt for the off-brand, when did you have this eye-opening moment? I suspect there was a moment you made a decision to choose the off-brand instead. Am I right?.
NUMBER 39 TAXES
I have not addressed this yet because I needed to see how the LPFM window played out. I think many of the applicants opted to form new State recognized non-profit organizations versus getting the 501(c)3 IRS classification for a few reasons. First the cost is substantial if you are not assured a Construction Permit, so why spend thousands to get Federal approval that comes over time, many times months. Second, some groups were loosely organized so States like Delaware that permit a one person non-profit were popular with candidates no matter what state they were in and lastly, state non-profits tend to be much less restrictive in what you can and cannot do. A 501(c)3 has a specific set of operational procedures to qualify
With this reality, it is possible Oklahoma might not give you a sales tax exemption for, say a Florida state recognized non-profit organization. Then there is the deal of the state where you are wanting to know you are doing business in their state but that's another issue. So, if you have to pay sales tax, this can really add up when you get your Construction Permit.
Generally speaking, equipment manufacturers will send you to a retailer in your state but if you buy your equipment from a place outside your state you can avoid sales tax under most circumstances. This can mean several hundred dollars to a thousand or more saved considering the average equipment list is around $15,000. So get the sales tax issue confirmed when you buy so you can set aside that extra money for operations, labor for the crews that build the station or just for the unexpected.y, a
NUMBER 40 BREAK OUT OF THE BOX
So many in radio are much like the rest of the community. We tend to have our lives revolve around a small circle of friends and a handful of interests. This is great for our personal socializing but it should not apply to radio.
You might be involved with a group trying to do one or two things in your community and now you have a Construction Permit. That group makes you part of the contents of the box. In other words, you are only a small part of what happens in the world around you. You need your radio station to embrace all that it can.
You might want special emphasis on what your group does but don't make it all that you do. Compare this to religion. You might not like religion but you are in the same boat. Your radio station, like the Church, must reach out beyond its walls to do its work. If it doesn't the pew sitters is all you get and the purpose remains unfulfilled.
In essence, the radio station is a promotional tool for you. The best way to build your base is to embrace. You do this by extending 'friendship' to people throughout the community no matter their interests, going where they are about becoming a part of their little circle. You repeat this through every little group of people in the community. Now you have a great cross-section of the area your station will serve.
Like a Church, the way they get people in the pews is to get out there, as many places as they can, and embrace those small circles of interest that dot your area. Of all those folks a few will want what you offer.
Now, I must say, you don't blast your message and force people but become involved with their interests and become a part of their circle. Only then, and in a very natural way, your message is known and you grow your radio station.
Your radio station is all about being what is the community as a whole, all of its small groups and peoples. The more you involve, the more vibrant, live and firmly established your station is. To only stay in the box means a small circle unable of sustaining your station.
So, your group, whether it's centered on agriculture, hiking for fun or making quilts or protecting the environment, needs to evangelize but embracing all aspects of the community and really reflecting life as a whole in your community.
Truly it is a numbers game. The more you reach out, the better your group does by having new members in all walks of life in the area and the better your radio station will do. If your station will advance your cause it only makes sense to embrace all of the community at large so you can accomplish this mission.
So, from this pulpit I have preached the message, so get religion, get fired up and go evangelize. Talk up the radio station everywhere you go, bring the radio station to everybody you can in the community and you just might find that by serving and embracing the community the benefits will be beyond your wildest dreams.
This really happened: a Low Power FM signed on to be an alternative to current media offerings. The community was largely conservative in politics and had radio options, so this LPFM went with a liberal slant that became their focus thanks to the political leanings of the board. In a short time the community at large developed a very negative attitude about the station. They ran out of money and turned off the transmitter. The board resigned. The founder didn't give up. He went, hat in hand to community groups and got lots of negative reactions but finally found one group that would take him up on rebuilding the station that served the community. That one icebreaker resulted in others softening their stance. The station came back on the air and started doing pretty well. They wisely took some more liberal programs and moved them outside prime listening hours. In time, about 18 months, he had a pretty successful station because he went beyond the box to bring in as much of the community as he could. It even reflected in the number of people involved that jumped from 3 to about 25 regulars. In the end, he managed to fulfill his mission by bringing in the community at large by busting out of the box.
NUMBER 41 There's Just No Way You Can Do That
Talking to lots of LPFMers that have never been in radio, you find they are really inspired but make plans that set them up for failure. I was looking at one group. They reach about 8,000 in their listening area. They somehow believe they can fill about 10 hours a day with locally produced call in and interview programming on various topics. They'd be hard pressed to pull this off with 1,000,000 in their listening range. My first thought was 'people have jobs to do and they can't spend all day talking about it'.
Here's some reality. If you intend to do a one hour talk show, you had better have enough research and talking points to fill the whole hour. To do that, start by writing every word. Count on about 150 words a minute or about 9,000 words for an hour. A typed page is about 500 words when single spaced, so that is 18 pages of single spaced copy. How long will it take you to gather enough information to fill 18 pages of single spaced copy? Now add the hour for broadcasting this.
My question is how many in a service area can you get that will do this every single day? Sure, you might be talking interviews and such but what if they are late or cancel at the last minute? Then what?
You need to really give it a try doing a mick hour-long radio show of talk. After you've done this, figure if you can do this EVERY DAY.
I like the 10% rule. If you think you need an hour, try 6 minutes. Everything you do must be something your volunteers and guests can pull off without throwing a monkey wrench in their lifestyle and its demands from family, friends and career.
The station in question proposed 2 hours a day talking to city and county government officials. Another 2 hour segment was to be features and interviews from the medical community. Another 2 hours from call ins from ranchers and farmers. Plus 2 hours a day with interviews from educators in the community. This was not once a week but every weekday. They think they can do this.
So, what will work? How about a 5 minute recap of county happenings and a 5 minute recap of city happenings each week from an appointed person. Perhaps the same for the schools. Maybe a District report, a report from each school and maybe a coach to talk about school sports. Maybe a 10-15 minute weekly medical program on a specific health issue weekly. Perhaps a 15 minute interview with a farmer or rancher one a week or every other week...your universe of 8,000 is too small for more. Add some farm prices and cattle auction reports and local items of interest.
Short features is the way to go because they can be managed pretty easily, can be sustained by volunteers and guests and are more acceptable to listeners.
And listeners is the key word here. People listen to radio while doing other things. If you can get them to digest 'bites' instead of huge amounts of information they might find boring or just plain beyond their expertise and they'll change the dial as quick as lightning flashes in a thunderstorm. Short and sweet works for the radio listener even if it is not that interesting to them personally.
Radio is akin to public speaking. You might be able to pull off a 5 minute speech every day but a 2 hour daily marathon is, well, just not possible. There's just no way you can do that.
NUMBER 42 - Try Print Media
I don't know about you but if I can have my cake and eat it too, I'll take you up on that cake with fork in hand. If you are a community station, and by that I mean a station that intentionally strives to involve a specific community as a whole, the print idea might be an excelent tool.
What I'm talking about is a monthly paper, likely a fairly small one, that not only promotes your radio station but also brings in revenue. You can offer a perk to the public, such as Community Calendar or a cheap classified paper (best if weekly for classifieds). But you must take care to keep things simple. Do not write stories and gather news. Leave that to the newspapers.
Your paper can be built using the typical office program you have on your home computer. The files can be sent to a local printer who does your printing or even a Kinko's sort of place where you make copies of the paper. A printer may trade for Underwriting and ads.
Keeping this from becoming a can of worms, you MUST keep this really simple. For example, if you offer classifieds, they must be emailed. If you charge, perhaps you could use PayPal. For your Community Calendar, make groups email you the details. Any other content is simply information you already passed along via the radio. The important take away on this is you are essentially offering a print form of what you'd announce on the station.
For ads, keep this really simple. You limit advertising to classified ads and business card ads. You do not want to be in the newspaper business composing ads and having people write in-depth stories. The paper is a marketing tool and revenue source only. You must stay in the radio business.
Most people get unhinged here. They go great guns and create lots of trash. Print a small number. You want to run out of copies, not have a bunch left over. 100 or 200 copies to start is reasonable and you can adjust as you need as you see how it goes.
The fatal mistake most make is distribution. None should be at the counter at the tiny gift shop that sees about 10 customers a day. You need the convenience store, grocery store, box store and any other place with high traffic volumes. Restaurants are good places. Go by the check-out counter if you can or at least next to the newspaper rack. Remember this is your print promotional tool to build awareness, listeners and more support. If they make you buy a rack, go to the next store. You want this to be cheap and easy.
I am sure I need not mention that a good amount of content promotes the radio station and the features you offer that especially are attractive to the larger cross sections of the community.
I suggest a 8.5 by 11 inch page or a 8.5 by 14 inch page. Many copy machines can handle a 11 by 17 sheet meaning a fold in the middle gets you a 4 pager at 8.5 by 11 inches per page. Don't even think of using your computer printer to print your paper. The ink is way too expensive.
If you choose a 8.5 by 11 inch format, you might have some underwriters that want an insert. You charge a price of about a 5 cents a copy for an insert of each 8.5 by 11 inch page they compose and have printed. An insert is simply a preprinted piece the advertiser supplies you and you manually insert the page in your paper. You simply take the one page insert and set it in the middle of your newsletter. For the wavering underwriter, this along with an internet presence might be a really attractive marketing package to fund your station.
I really can't stress this enough: keep it really simple and hassle free. You should not spend more than a couple of hours on putting together an issue as far as content goes. In addition, dropping it off at the printer and distributing the paper needs to be something that can be done amid your daily rounds. Compared to a dinner, this is your after dinner coffee or after dinner mint, not an entree, so keep this in perspective.
A few copies can be mailed to potential clients that are considering you but never use this as a tool to sell as selling takes real live one-on-one communication. Mail gets tossed unless it is personally known to the recipient.
NUMBER 43 - Radio's Dirty Little Words
If there are any words that make you cringe in radio it is these:
The music and other programming is just a bridge between the important parts, namely the community features and information. As awful as this sounds to a program director or a DJ, this is true.
If you can't make money with it, don't put it on the air. Another truism indeed!
If your station is a true community station, it includes lots of short bursts of information listeners count on for their daily information.
In other words, if you do the weather, community calendar and such, these are the hard core pieces of your format that drive listeners to you. Everything between such elements of your programming is simple the bridge to the next one. Your trick is to keep them tuned in for the next event or local information feature. Obviously a liberal slathering of the broadcast day with such elements is a really good idea.
As you plan things out, you have to monetize this. This isn't corporate radio thinking but rather sensible thinking. Everything you do should be geared to bring in listeners and encourage them to stick around. Simply put, deliver the listeners and you'll deliver the results for underwriters.
When you choose a feature or element, think about who will sponsor it and why. There are lots of businesses that can benefit from a feature. Insurance agents really like weather forecasts as a sponsorship since so many claims on insurance are weather related. Banks love anything community oriented. So do grocery stores and many other businesses who feel it important to be involved with the community. Maybe a bank sponsors a community calendar and perhaps a grocery store underwrites birthdays, giving away a cake from the bakery to the birthday winner of the week. You might sell announcements of anniversaries to a flower shop or a gift or card shop. Who doesn't send a bouquet, card or gift.
You easily see what I am doing here. I am looking at types of businesses that might want to sponsor a segment or that important feature. I'm thinking of monetizing what we do because of we don't keep the money rolling in the station goes away.
These dirty word realities should have you focusing on the idea of at least hourly features or half hourly or even every 15 minutes. Remember, they DO NOT have to be set lengths. Think bites, not full meals when it comes to this. One community announcement is a sponsored feature and you might do 2 and hour 6am to 7pm 7 days a week giving you 26 sponsorship openings a day. Maybe you sell 13 accounts who get two a day, 7 days a week and the time the spots air varies everyday.
Maybe you add weather each hour 6am to 7:01pm at the top of the hour, 14 times a day with 7 sponsors open to get 2 sponsorships a day airing at different times each day.
Perhaps in the morning you have a time to do birthdays and a time to do anniversaries, school lunch menu, local agriculture report, daily business report, local sports update, etc. Each of these can play more than once in a day and can all be sponsored.
Again, I stress, these can be 30 seconds, or 60 seconds or even 2 minutes to five minutes each. I really want you to think bites. Remember, these features are much like baiting your fishing pole and tossing it in the water. You want to cast as much as you can. If you think a one hour feature versus a few minutes you are really going to have a hard time getting a volunteer to stay with it.
For example, a station was going to broadcast book readings. They were going to do half an hour a week. After a second look, they opted for a chapter a day. That way people tuned in 5 times for the book, not once a week. And the same went with their special interest shows. Instead of a 30 minute or 60 minute weekly show, they went with a 3 to 5 minute show where each segment led to the next. Again, a listener tunes in every day in lieu of every week.
From a monetizing aspect, they have 5 shows to sell versus one. In other words they are making the most out of their available sponsorships.
Listeners prefer daily bites versus the long form show. Think of your life. Much of what you do is daily. To toss in an exception of weekly means you might skip the weekly because it is not a daily routine. If you are talking about a subject of interest to the listener that has the radio on at work, they can't just shut down for 30 minutes or an hour for a program but a 5 minute segment is in essence, a cigarette break or bathroom break, so they can devote the time to hear the daily program delivered in bites versus the whole meal.
The more local features you do, the more listeners feel you are the local station that keeps them connected. The weather 2 times in the morning and news and community calendar bunched with local PSAs, and all the other stuff into a daily report is just not going to be heard by as many people and open to as many sponsors as when you take things as little bites through the day. The more you do the more the listener wants to listen, fearing they might miss something if they tune away. That even goes when they hear the same thing repeated 2 or 3 times each day.
No matter your focus, bites (5 minutes or less) are your best bet. Remember it takes almost 10 hours to fully research an hour-long program. Certainly interviews are an exception but count on almost 150 words for every minute. You quickly learn you had better have about 2 or 3 times as much information to fill an hour so you don't get caught short if something happens.
And the most important part is promoting the next day's broadcast. I listened to a daily program that focused on fireflies on week. At the end of one of the shows, they said, "Next, why a male firefly needs to know they can never trust a female firefly. Details tomorrow. (and for the record, male fireflies are the ones that fly while females stay in the grass. Some females learn flash sequences for other species of fireflies. When a different specie of male fireflies comes down to say 'hey babe', she grabs him and kills him for a nice meal).
NUMBER 44 - To be 24/7 or not
I have heard both arguments. One station says they want to be live and volunteer operated so they opt for a shorter broadcast day. The next station says they want the same but when the volunteer isn't there, the computer fills the void.
The harsh reality is we live in a 24/7 world. Unless you are in a tiny town, chances are there's something open around the clock and maybe several if not many things. Even in the tiny town you can likely buy gas with the credit card even if the convenience store is closed. So, in essence, you might have very, very few listeners at 3 in the morning, but being there is essential to keeping listeners. Anyway with a 100 watt ERP, the difference in the electrical charges might be as little as $5 or $10 a month.
There is the convenience factor. If you go out of town and drive back late, you might tune in that LPFM at 2 am and find silence, so you turn the radio to another station. How long until the LPFM is tuned back in. If you say that stray listener is not important, ask a daytime only AM radio station that has to sign off at sunset. In December, that might be 4:45 or 5:15 in plenty of places or is stuck signing on a full power at 7:45 am. These stations lose listeners like a dam that broke. If listeners are like water, it is rare the water downstream seems to show up behind the rebuilt dam. In the listener's mind the station is sometimes on and sometimes off and they just don't want to hassle with figuring it out. Anyway with daytimers, the sunrise and sunset times vary each month, so it is confusing.
My advice is 24/7 is the only option. If you want listeners to make your station a part of their life, you really have to be there anytime they choose.
Remember: losing is when the radio is changed to another station.
NUMBER 45 - Bites
Bites. You might be wondering. Think sitting down for a meal and now imagine that meal as your radio station's sound. We consume meals one bite at a time. Meals are varied from appetizers through main course to dessert.
Obviously the key to your programming is developing your menu. In the restaurant business, a menu is established to attract as many diners as possible.
At a steak restaurant you might notice a variety of steaks offered. That menu might also include hamburger steak, maybe a seafood and chicken selection and even non-meat offerings. There might be big servings, smaller servings, maybe a seniors menu and a children's menu. You have numerous choices for appetizers and several dessert selections and possibly many drink offerings to wash it all down. The menu is designed to cater to as many people as possible without losing its main focus or specialty. Your radio station should be a menu of elements without losing your focus.
As you make your menu selections, imagine your order being brought to the table by your server, you grab your fork and dig in, taking one bite at a time. We do this because, well, scarfing everything on the plate in one fail swoop is just not enjoyable nor possible in most instances. You eat one bite at a time.
With your radio format menu set, you need to arrange it in bites. Most people eat from the various offerings all at once. Most don't eat the steak, then the potato and then the vegetable medley but take bites of everything on the plate giving your dining experience some variety. Your radio format needs to be this way.
He's the big point: you need to grab as many listeners as you can not with your music as much as your information. The information menu needs to be varied and as all inclusive as you can get. By serving as many 'tastes' as you can with your radio menu means you reach the largest cross-section of folks in your listening range.
As you feel your listeners from your radio menu you need to keep in mind your varied menu means some listeners might not be that interested in a few menu items and anyway, radio is a medium that works best in short bursts of information. Thus, you should think bites instead of full meals. Let listeners have a bite and want another or say, no more for me, thank you.
I prefer air one or two community events during the community calendar and make that community calendar a frequent programming segment than to read every event at one setting. That's because most people, who might not even be interested in what I'm talking about, will stay tuned knowing I'm giving them a bite versus a full meal. In addition, by putting the Community Calendar on, maybe hourly, I can feature all the events over several hours instead of all at once. That means instead of one underwriting sponsorship, I have multiple slots to underwrite.
It is a well known fact radio always liked the bites idea. Mostly it was monetary. If you do weather every 30 minutes, you can sell it and clients love to buy features. All that 30 second news update every hour and you have a news bite and a new hourly feature to sell. See where I'm going here? Most people who could care less about news will hang with you for a 30 second headlines and you will have whetted the appetite of the news junkie once more.
Remember, bites are short, sweet, managed easily and go down smooth. It is amazing how a 10, 15 or maybe 30 second bite amid your hourly programming gives the listeners just enough bites without making them beg you to remove the plate. In short, the old radio rule applies here: keep them wanting more and they'll stick around.
When you think about your Low Power FM, you will have a tendency to make a list of various clubs and groups in the area you'd like to have on the station. You likely would have them do a show. I urge you to reconsider.
Most people have no clue what it takes to do a show. They might do one. They might do two. They might last a few months, but likely you'd be lucky to have one out of many stick around and do a regular show.
Think less. If you have a garden club, how about in lieu of a 60 minute weekly show, how about a bunch of 1 minute to 5 minute shows on a bunch of topics. You'll likely have to help and then record these but they can repeat and regularly. You do the same for others.
A nice idea is a story time. Whether you're thinking kids or adults or both, think in segments rather than long form. Try reading a book into a microphone. It is hard even if you're in radio and read text daily. Perhaps you narrow it down to chapters or even shorter segments that a designated person at, say the library, can work in their schedule in lieu of it becoming such a burden they dread it.
I think you will find most people can handle smaller segments, especially regular 1 to 5 minute lengths. One thing I found is picking a topic and recording a telephone conversation. People do much better having a conversation than simply talking about something themselves plus 'stage fright' and a fear of not getting everything in will be eased. Plus, they will sound natural, not stiff. You'll be amazed how many people sound very different and unnatural when sitting behind a microphone, such as trying to rush through a sentence without taking a normal pause or two to breathe.
The idea is likely that you want as many segments of the population involved with your station, so the easier you can make it on them to do their segments, the better. Since a group will think long and hard about topics, you'll want to take full advantage and get as much done initially as possible because they will not likely find the time to do that much thinking on successive shows. Plus people tend to be on and then off and then on again. It is hard to be creative every day or just when you need to be. Expect the ebb and flow with enough back-up shows in the library to get you past any busy schedule or lack of creativity. Yes, people wait to the last minute and many times have to bail out on some things, likely their show.
Another thing to think about is live weekly or a chance to record it. People take vacations. Things come up. People get sick. Obligations get in the way. Imagine having to be at a certain place at a certain time every week. I bet you can. For most it is a job and the average person will jump through hoops for the job because it keeps their lifestyle in tact not to mention make sure you can eat and have a roof over your head. Their weekly radio show doesn't offer this benefit, so it is much less important to them than it is for you. In short, the consequences are not the same for missing your show versus not showing up for work.
I contend the real solution is making it as easy as you can on those groups you want to be a part of the station. Frame their contribution in a way that is less of a burden, takes less time and effort and will likely be maintained over time without burnout.
The best factor for getting a show to become a 'regular' is to get an Underwriter. When the group is getting a bit of cash, say a 50/50 split of the Underwriting cost, there is an obligation to the organization and the station. A third party helps them feel a need to continue so even if they want to stop. They'll feel an obligation to make sure the show survives with another person spearheading the show. Chances are you will have to sell the Underwriting and you'll need to account for the time and effort the show costs you as well. You'll sell it at a premium, in other words. Plus, the Underwriter might help with timely topics your host can cover on the show. I'm not talking about the Underwriter being on the program but rather be another thinking brain in coming up with topics.
By thinking less is more, you should be able to establish a good library of programs that can give a local community feel to your station and involve as much of the community as possible.
One warning: make EVERY show an evergreen show. In other words, if you're doing garden tips from the local garden club, you will want to avoid things like 'it has been a wet spring' because it might be a dry spring next year. Every show should be able to repeat and sound fresh even a year later. You should think about it like saving money. Each paycheck (or recording session) you put aside as much as you can so that when you need, you can pull some dollars out at any time (in this case, evergreen programs).
So, make your list and check it twice and get ready to do a bunch of work. You'll be happy you did because when you sound like he whole community every day, you created the sound that will rally the listeners and Underwriters to your station. And be prepared. If you can do it right, you earn a reputation that makes people come to you because you have the better venue to get word out. It takes most stations a few years to achieve this but if you center on involving the community, the whole community, it can happen. It's the same effect the local newspaper has. A that local newspaper might be your guide in being the community. Yes, the audio version of the newspaper is a nice goal: a reflection of the whole community right this very minute versus a Thursday dateline.
I have yet to touch on this and it took an actual instance to make me want to write this. A friend that has a Low Power FM got it back after losing it a couple of years prior. He went to a non-profit organization with a lengthy history to let him apply under their umbrella, so while he ran it, a separate non-profit held the license and he was assigned the radio director position for this non-profit. Nice and clean, so to speak. You see, he wanted a good cross-section of his community on the board and he had that at first. But the left leaning side, the most active, began approving more and more left leaning programs to the schedule. When complaints from other board members and the community came in, it hurt listenership and income a bit. The board members that balked at the station being too left leaning got the wrath of the left leaning board members until the board members not supporting the programs left the board. As you might guess, these resigned seats were replaced by more left leaning board members. It had become so extreme left in politics that even the left leaning non-profit got scared and ordered all the programs off the station and no underwriting either. That infuriated the left leaning board members that voted my friend off the board and let him do a weekly bluegrass show but nothing else. He was ticked since he started, financed the station from his pocket, gave the space for the offices and studios and paid the bills. He refused to let them have his 'equipment'. This new group moved to town and got back on the air at an unauthorized location.
So now you have a station with the founder voted out but still on the license operated by a group that will not do what the non-profit and founder want. Naturally the non-profit wanted it shut down and so did the founder who was in fear of FCC fines. Before all this hit the courts, the left leaning members imploded and the station was abandoned. It took some time for the founder to get everything back and form a separate non-profit independent of the original non-profit. Fortunately, he got his station back.
Another friend was strung along by a tower owner who wasn't really wanting to sign a deal until the LPFM operator went up on his tower. Suddenly, the tower owner changed the deal in his favor. It is still much less than the big tower companies but a substantial departure from the original verbal 'deal'. The moral here is get it in writing before you spend to hang your antenna. This LPFMer is not stupid. The tower owner really pulled one over on him. It may be the tower owner thought he would get the short end of the stick, so to speak, but a promise is a promise in writing or not and when you're doing business you don't want to deal with someone who will not do what they say. If the LPFM operator moves to a new tower it will likely cost him more and depending on FCC actions, there is a slight chance he will be locked in to the existing tower no matter what.
The main points: Control your board with an iron fist or it will take you over. Get everything in writing before you act. What could be nice people, become power hungry and deceptive when radio is a reality. You'd be amazed at how people will try to take the station from you because you simply did act and they didn't. And when you boot them out, they seek revenge and create havoc for you. As a friend of mine put it, nobody gets to do a show on his station, period. No volunteers, etc. He refuses to open that can of worms due to the potential consequences. He will 'sell' the opportunities. His reasoning is if they 'buy' the time for a specific donation, the mindset is that the volunteer does not assume 'ownership' but that of a client and best of all they get the benefit and pay some of the costs associated with that benefit.
NUMBER 48 - Patience
Patience is certainly something you need to save up a bunch of. It will get all used up. There will be delays and frustrating situations that will pop up. The best thing you can do is stay calm and think things out. Above all walk away as friends. In radio you cannot burn bridges.
The first thing to remember is things will move slowly and nobody knows what you know. You will have to take a bunch of people by the hand and gently explain things. Never minimize any person you deal with but lift them up, make them important and set a goal of getting them on your side.
Have you had questions about 'radiation' or an electrical hazard? One fellow actually said "It's a freaking antenna no different than the TV antenna at your house. Are you scared of that electrical hazard on your damn roof?" He should have said something like: I understand and respect that you want to be sure there will be no problems or issues. I want the same thing. What I'm asking is to install an antenna on a pole and is is really exactly like the TV antenna on the roof of your home. The only difference is my antenna sends a radio signal and your antenna receives TV signals. They both work the same way, not any different than making a call versus sending a call on your phone. An antenna can send or receive. Ours will send.
The important thing to remember is the antenna is manufactured to specific safety standards required by the Federal Government to be sure the antenna does just what it is supposed to do. Then we have Federal Regulations from the FCC and must operate just as they say. And the equipment must be installed and checked by someone that has knowledge of how to make sure everything is done to all the Federal Regulations. So, you can be at ease that the strict Federal Regulations will meet or exceed any local requirements. I demand this and am paying experts to get it done right.
What else can I do to show you that should you give me approval that there will be no problems and the decision will not come back to haunt you or put you in jeopardy of losing your position?
This fellow was dealing with a municipality. He didn't want to go through their scrutiny and tried going over this person. You see the City Manager was okay with it but his Department Head was not. My friend failed to understand the pressure a Department Head is under. If there is a mistake made, there can be legal consequences and maybe termination or demotion. Not understanding radio, the Department Head had a bunch of questions that were way off base but had he taken the time to explain and befriend the Department Head, I am sure the deal could have happened. Patience my friend, patience.
Putting yourself in the shoes of the person you are seeking approval is a great idea.
One thing I have learned about municipalities is the governing board is generally clueless about the legal matters. They need the help of an attorney and a manager that can both craft their decisions into operable and legal articles. When the Department Head gives approval, the municipality board, not knowing anything of the Department Head's job, simply takes their word and goes with it. You can bet if anything goes wrong, it is the Department Head that faces the consequences, so you can expect to get a very hard look. Relax and take it easy as you work your way toward approval and don't forget to smile!
BEWARE OF EXPERTS. I had the chance to listen to an expert on Low Power FM. I was truly amazed at how little the guy knew. The fact was he had a couple of lines that were true gems that should be heard but it was glaringly obvious he knew about as much about radio as the dog that lives next door. The first hint was the FM radio dial in general. He talked about stations at 80.6 FM. Uh, the FM dial runs 88 to 108 megahertz and channels always end in odd numbers (ie: 105.7; 88.3, etc.). Next he said you could find all you need to get your station going for free. Maybe it might be possible but of the hundreds of stations I know of, nobody got much for free. Then he said there were online sites and an FCC database where you could file your own application and find a frequency. Yes, if you are in the middle of nowhere, that might be possible but that surely leaves a bunch of unanswered questions on your application. And the FCC rejects incomplete applications. He did admit you might need $100 or $200 for an engineer if they won't do it for free. Let me caution you there is a whole bunch more to completing an FCC application that finding a blank spot on the dial. It doesn't work that way. Is the frequency quiet and I'm not talking 'listening' to the frequency but how quiet the frequency is compared to co-channels and non-radio interference. What are the resident frequencies in your area? You need a pretty expensive program updated daily to get the best shot at the best frequency. What about FAA requirements and the EPA requirements you have to prove. There is just too much to figure out without going to experts. It's akin to having your appendix taken out by a guy that read a book about it versus a qualified doctor and surgeon. Considering the infrequent filing windows the FCC allows for LPFM, why not let the experts that make their living doing this stuff handle your work? And as far as those experts go, beware. Look at the FCC database and look at the names of various applications showing the engineer. Find somebody that has approved applications and hire them because they know what they are doing and the FCC knows they do. Some so called experts are not.
He then suggested you join with many local non-profits to file for a license. Really? You do realize every non-profit has their own agenda and it is very hard for a large group of various non-profits to get on the same page. I think you would really be setting yourself up for a headache trying to rally everyone together in the right direction.
He certainly knew nothing about streaming on the internet. He said by doing local programming you could avoid paying any music licensing fees and performance fees. Does he not know you pay for fees on copyright music, not having anything to do with whether the program it originates on is local or not?
The last thing was he said if you did just local programming people would listen. That is a bunch of garbage. You have to program for the community, something he seems to miss. In addition he said it was important to locate the studios in a local place where anyone could just stop by and go on the air without any restriction. Did he forget that pesky FCC rule saying you have to maintain control over your facility. For sure that does not mean you can't welcome people in but it does mean you had better control that access somehow.
He said this is the only time in the history of American radio that this would happen. The truth be told, there's not much left to be claimed on the radio dial but there has been no indication this is the last chance for an LPFM station ever. Sure there is a big fight for frequencies from all sides but the FCC's job is to try to accommodate everyone, maybe expanding the FM dial to include other international channels used for FM radio now that analog TV is going away. I suspect there will be another LPFM filing window.
Okay, I'm an expert but only by working the business and being passionate about radio. That just means I know more than someone with less time in the business. It does not make me a 'god' of radio or all knowing. In fact, just the opposite. I find more experienced and less experienced folks teaching me new things all the time. I learn by networking and wanting to know more. If you'll do that, even if you're new to radio, you will know what you need to know.
So, beware of experts. Know that there is really nothing wrong in radio although it might be very wrong for your situation. I'll say this: if you serve 6,000 people, don't expect to have a revolving door of compelling volunteer driven talk shows filling your airwaves all day. If you have 600,000 in your listening area you can likely pull this off. Thus, all local volunteer talk shows is very wrong for a town of 6,000. You might be able too get a bunch of short little features from a good number of folks in town each week such as the new arrivals at the library or summary of club meetings and such but don't expect the garden club to host a two hour on air seminar and field calls every Saturday morning. You'll have a better chance at winning the lottery, twice!
Naturally, if you need some advice, I can share my thinking. You simply digest this with other bites of advice elsewhere, apply it to your station and market and see if it fits. Radio advice is almost like asking a room of broadcast engineers what to do. They all have different answers and their opinion is the only correct opinion but in reality, all the answers work, some better than others and at differing costs, but if you'll listen, and pick and choose from your options, you'll find the answer that is right for your station. In fact, one LPFM used his computer knowledge to avoid several thousand dollars in equipment as his engineers balked. He is still running via his plan and the engineers are still scratching their heads too bull headed to learn something.
For the record, my application cost me $2,250, not free or $100 or $200. My transmitter, which must be a certain type by FCC Rules, will be new and the best in the industry. Ask some engineers which one I'm talking about and I bet you can name the brand I chose because the manufacturer including processing, remote access, a 4 year warranty where they can log on and see what your transmitter is doing and they're the company all the broadcast engineers respect. You might say I'm committed to do things right and you should too. If you are going to try to get by and not adhere to FCC rules, you will be found out and busted. In fact in Oklahoma, one station had their license revoked because they demonstrated a history of not doing things right. That does happen and trust me, the FCC isn't like the cops that might let you go 55 in a 45 without getting a ticket. Do that and the FCC will be like the cop that writes you for the ticket, the fact your inspection sticker expired, no seat belt and no turn signal at the last turn. If you had just been serious about following the law to a 't' you'd get no ticket.
NUMBER 50 - The Website
With radio listening falling in the over the air column, it is rising rapidly in the online column. For this, you need a site for your radio station. Unfortunately, there is little thought that goes in to the website. I want to offer some ideas for your consideration.
First, what is your website? Simply put it is your radio station's address. Just as your frequency on the radio dial is your address, your website is just as important.
Content comes next. When you plan your radio station's over the air sound, the content is exclusive to your community. Now, you might be a satellite hooked up to a transmitter but that satellite delivered content is always a market exclusive. You will not hear two stations on the dial doing the same thing. You are the only thing on the dial doing what you do whether it is purely local or coming off the bird. You promote your station that way everywhere in your listening area. My question is why do you not do the same on your website?
You really do not have to be a rocket scientist to realize your website is your radio station. It is not like your radio station, an extension of the station or anything else but your radio station, period. Why is it the radio station website is like an unrelated and foreign object compared to what listeners get on the radio?
So, where do you start? Who is successful? Who has the visitors? I chose to look at the big sites like the search engines, eBay, Amazon and such. Especially Amazon and eBay were of great interest. I found some commonality. None of these sites were hard to navigate. None were so cluttered it sent my brain in overload. All had their own content. All were unique. All had their exclusive brand. All were designed for the visitor and designed to keep me on their site. None took me to other sites. I explored their site each time. They might have brought information in to the site but they never sent me away from their site.
You know I mentioned the website is your radio station. That is all you need to focus on. Create a list of what your station is to your listener. Is it music, talk, news, interaction with air talent, weather, local info, sports, etc? Write this down and pay attention to how you provide this over the air. This is your website, nothing more and nothing less.
Before you put anything on your website you must ask yourself if it is indeed part of your over the air radio station. Tonight's TV schedule, for example, is not a part of your radio station so why the heck is it on your website? Because people watch TV does not mean your radio station should advertise why your station is so boring they should just turn on the TV instead.
In radio we build audiences with the right product the larger number of listeners want. We design the radio station to attract listeners and then keep them listening, the longer the better. We do this because more listeners and the longer they listen, the higher the rate you can charge for commercials or underwriting because of the number of listeners and the time they spend listening. We always spend so much time on maximizing this but on the internet, we haven't a clue with the station's website. Think: the website is your radio station.
Your website is NOT a site to gather outside sources to send people to other sites when they see something they like. In radio you don't send your listener away, do you? You own your content or adapt it to your on air station so do the same on the website. Simply put, the longer your visitors stay on your site and the more people you can get to visit, the more you can charge businesses to reach your visitor. And the longer they visit, the greater the chance they will see the advertiser and ultimately listen online. Simply put, links are like telling your radio listener to tune to another station, saying you don't want them here.
Now, what is your listener? What do they do? What do they like? Where do they go? What do they talk about? What do they want to know about you? Now build your list. This is your website.
Now, what can you do with this list that will build time spent on your website? How do you make them come back or even make your homepage their start up page when they open their browser?
Obviously your website must be as fresh and ever changing as your over the air sound. This means updates daily. This means a place where visitors can comment and interact. It means you respond. It means you have features they use and want. In other words, your website is a mirror image of your radio station, a live, living and breathing entity that changes minute by minute and acts as a gathering place for your listeners and your station. Your added value is the two way street and reasons to visit.
Your website must be immediate. If a storm knocks out power in a certain area and you announce that on the air, it had better be on your website too. Remember, your website IS your radio station. To do less is to let your listeners down. It tells them the listener is not important and that is another important topic
Are you really bringing in the income you should? It is always a good idea to know where you stand and what you are doing right as well as where you can do better. In commercial radio this is a pretty easy formula.
In Commercial radio you look at what is happening with certain stations and gauge how you are doing in comparison. Naturally you look at the stations most like what you aspire to be, set goals and work toward achieving them but what does that really mean?
In Commercial Radio revenue is directly related to Retail Sales. This is actually a moving target, but ratios are generally from about $1 in radio advertising per $1,000 in retail sales to $8.40 per $1,000 in retail sales in the largest cities. For an average, some say $4 per $1,000 in retail sales. Naturally you need to know those retail sales figures and that is pretty elusive as well. Before we go there, there is one more part to the equation: you must divide the total retail sales by all the stations selling in your listening area. Knowing the average commercial rate for the stations selling in your area can give you an idea of what your slice of the pie can be, say based on how many listeners you think you have in the area you serve.
The first trick is determining retail sales. There are many sources. You can use a general figure based on local sales tax revenue your community gets. This is okay but not descriptive, just a sum of revenue on taxable sales which does not include all retail sales. In addition it can include the service industry. You can look at the very old Census figures but for the life of me I cannot figure out how they do this. For example, one town with about $90,000,000 in retail sales only shows $5,420,000 in retail sales at the US Census. You can look at Manta or Dun & Bradstreet. Just do an internet search for these sites. They list the businesses by town if it has a post office and I assume your town is big enough to have one. The trick here is the listings are pretty much by zip code although listed by town name in the directory.
Neither Dun & Bradstreet or Manta are perfect. Dun & Bradstreet misses plenty of businesses but is the very best at actual sales figures. Manta does a great job at getting every business in the town but does not have sales figures on many businesses. You get lots of "less than $500,000" and some really wild figures. Checking Dun & Bradstreet, a specific business might do $126,000 but Manta gives the income range of $1,000,000 to $2,500,000. And Dun & Bradstreet has a real problem on saying what a business does. For example, if the business is Brad Smith and Company, or Mike Bradley Enterprises, Dun & Bradstreet says the business makes brads. Likewise if the last name is Doll, then Dun & Bradstreet says they sell Dolls. You have to make some real assumptions, for example: Clark County Irrigation District is not really a bottled water seller as Dun & Bradstreet might claim but rather akin to a public water supply.
What gives Manta's generalized sales is offset by the businesses Dun & Bradstreet misses and what Dun & Bradstreet accurate sales figures are offset by the business classifications and missing businesses. So between the two, you can get a fairly accurate picture. It is what both Dun & Bradstreet and Manta give you that is crucial: in almost every case you know how much the business is making, have the address, phone number and owner's name. All of this is great information to have when you are walking in to businesses in order to pitch radio advertising to them whether you sell commercials or underwriting.
Now, Public Radio is a different animal. Determining how you are doing is directly gauged to "Listener Hours". But you don't really know how many listen to your station do you? Nobody really does even if they have ratings to look at because those ratings are based on very small numbers of listeners surveyed and could be vastly different from reality. So what can you do to figure this out? Frankly, you have to assume a whole lot.
The first thing I do is look at my market. I make some notes and then using my awareness of other communities that are quite a bit like my community, assume that a similar community will be like mine. In trying to determine the number of listeners for one station, a NPR station that was simply a repeater of the NPR Talk/News format from the major city, I learned they claimed about 4% of radio listening. I looked at other features like how long a listener tunes in each week and how many different listeners the station had over a week. I could assume, since this city had virtually identical demographics in all aspects, I could surmise the local 'repeater' station had about the same percentage. I simply divided my population with the population in the metro and adjusted the number of weekly listeners accordingly. While this is in no way accurate, I prefer call it an educated guess. Even the figures were evasive.
For example, the station in question claimed a 4 share but 1/3rd of a million listeners a week tuning in 3.75 hours a week giving them 10,500 listeners per quarter hour. Since the population in my area was so small, I had to divide. I wound up with about 5,500 weekly listeners for the local station listening 3.75 hours a week meaning 20,625 Listener Hours.
My calculations based on the material I had available and the analysis I did with those figures could be very inaccurate but I really needed a way to arrive at some number and I really questioned if my 'understanding' was correct. In fact, my missing data that makes this seem off in my mind is I am not entirely sure the weekly listening total is unduplicated listeners and if that figure is the 'gauge' to determine the amount of time a listener tunes in. In fact, I ran a set or two of figures against the specific station's annual reports that showed Listener Donations and Underwriting with the formula below. I got an incredibly low total in one instance ($160,000 versus $1,000,000) and a slightly low figure in another ($360,000 versus $420,000). I felt the second set was more correct since I know this station scores above average compared to other Public Radio stations.
Here's the formula for Public Radio: 3 cents per listener hour from Listener Donations and 2.4 cents per listener hour for Underwriting. I gather this to mean each listener hour is 5.4 cents. So, if 5,500 tune to the NPR Repeater in my area and listen the same amount as in the city, I have 20,625 Listener Hours. This gives us $1,113.75 at a combined 5.4 cents per listener hour. This figure, multiplied by 52 weeks in a year is $57,915 or a bit shy of $5,000 a month.
So, why do any of this research? Isn't this just mindless busywork? Yes and No. Any business needs to know their potential and they need to more importantly know if they are under performing. McDonalds doesn't open a store anywhere without knowing what it can do and what their share of the market should be. In fact they know an exact customer count to anticipate, what they spent and how frequently they dine in a fast food restaurant within an area of about 5 to 8 miles from any location. We might not need so much detail but we need a road map. We need to know where we are to get to where we are going and we need a plan to get us there, so in that respect, this is very essential information to know even if you have to work with unknowns to arrive at your best guess.
Let's return to the Manta and Dun & Bradstreet topic to make a point: businesses generally spend 5 to 8% in advertising. This means a business earning $250,000 a year has about $12,500 to $20,000 a year devoted to all advertising. With this information and some evidence of how they have purchased advertising in the past, you can propose an amount that is affordable and doable. In other words, you know what they spend, how they spend, what they spend, say at one time as in a newspaper ad, and gauge what is a properly priced package for that business. For example, $1,000 a month is too much but $20 a month is a joke.
Now the monkey wrench for Public Radio. One source says Public Radio makes over $9 a week for every listener donation. What? In one case it seemed to indicate a station did $780,000 while the station really did $102,000 a year per the annual report. Even running the public radio figures of 5.4 cents an hour gave me an annual income of $37,000. The next station doing about $100,000 showed the $9 a week figure at $117,000 a year, much closer, and the 5.4 cent figure showed about $76,000. In each instance I had some raw listening figures to plug in. My point is take this with a grain of salt
Defend your station as if it is Fort Knox. There is a funny thing that happens when you get a license. Those otherwise reasonable people become crazy with power or maybe entitlement. They will do things that will destroy what you have created. Be very fearful.
Let me cite examples:
One station gathered a nice cross-section of his town to build his community station. He had members from government, the chamber off commerce, religious organizations, schools and other non-profits that also had political leanings, both conservative and liberal in preference. He spent only his own dollars to get the station going, did all the work and even donated an out building on his property for the studios. Things went well the first few months but the liberal size started flexing its muscle and board meetings became a chore. In fact, some of the board members we so upset they resigned. Those that resigned were replaced by more liberal leaning members until the station had lost sight of its goal. When the person who paid for and built the station and even gave the station a studio balked at the leanings of the board, they voted him out. Illegally they moved the station to a new location including a new tower site. Not only did they do this without an engineering study, but without FCC approval. It would be a year before the board imploded and the guy got his station back and then spent much time trying to beg the FCC to not fine him for the board's actions and allow him to retake the station. He has it now. And to think this all happened because the guy wanted a good cross-section of the community, groups that do not always get along.
Another operator had a volunteer come forward and offer to build a website, one that would be much more interactive than the simple website they had. He told the guy to show him what he had in mind. The volunteer creates a website renaming the station and offering things the station presently doesn't offer. Not only that, he had this site registered and even had it set up to where visitors of the old site were transferred to the new site. There was even a donation button going to the volunteer's PayPal account. The operator had to threaten legal action and involve a lawyer to change what the volunteer did. Per the volunteer: in his mind being a part of the station as a volunteer gave him the right to direct the station. Take that to heart. It is VERY illogical but this is how seemingly rational people change when radio is involved.
One volunteer that had a show that drew negative comments from some in the community was told to clean up their act but their response was it was what the community wanted. Needless to say, the volunteer's show was dropped. Next, the licensee discovered several complaints had been filed with the FCC and the guy was going around telling Underwriters he and his friends would never buy from the business until they cancelled the Underwriting. As you can imagine, community image was hurt, there was financial loss and complaints to respond to. It was a nightmare.
I'm not trying to scare you away from volunteers but I am saying be very careful. Get to know volunteers before you allow them to do anything. One station wrote agreements volunteers had to sign clearly stating that any action of the volunteer had to be cleared first. They also required volunteers to be members in good standing. In short, violations could get them dismissed from the station and the agreement stated the volunteer was responsible for all FCC violations and any negative actions would bring legal actions against the volunteer. That seemed to resolve the issues.
In short, keep your most trusted limited to a small board and it is even best if they are not that interested in broadcasting but more interested in the business and operation of the station. That keeps them from wanting to change programming and such.
Get everything in writing. This really goes without saying but you'd be amazed how easily what seems to be consent of both parties really isn't. This includes Underwriting. Since some stations work trades or allow volunteers to sell Underwriting where they might earn a commission, be sure it is all on the up and up. I like mailing a signed contract approved by the station manager to the business versus having the person that sold it take it to the business. The biggest issue is thinking a one month agreement is really a month to month agreement and you learn in the second month the business did not agree to a second month. This tells businesses you are unorganized or even a con artist, so quickly resolve the issue. The customer is always right so do the right thing always
It is much better to forgive and take your loss than to risk your image in the community. It is much better to forgive and maybe get the client back on the air than to force the issue.
I have found many clients prefer a "TFN" Contract. This stands for "Till Further Notice". Now, this means you check in with the client every few weeks just in case but under normal circumstances the Underwriting Invoice becomes just part of the monthly expenses. In rare instances, showing up can mean a cancellation and you'll learn who not to see (chances are not more than 1-2% of clients) but under most circumstances, stopping by to say hello to the owner just reinforces the agreement and strengthens the relationship.
I can't believe I have not mentioned this yet. You must have a passion for radio. It will be your ball and chain, so you had better love it like you do your spouse. This means you will be at radio's beckoned call 24/7/365.
Part of that passion is staying in the loop on radio. Radio is like History. History and time are the same. Time never stops and history is just as constant. As time changes things, history does too. So you need to work at being on the cutting edge of the business. Why? You have to be on top of everything that affects your listeners.
Radio is all about serving the community so you have to stay on top of all the moving and shaking going on and stay current with exactly what your community needs and wants.
The way you do this is by reading industry news, listening to other stations and networking.
Lots of first time radio station operators think they can change the world. A select few do but most fail. I'm talking music here. You see being a music lover and radio person go pretty much hand in hand. You think people listen to music just like you do. After all, you think you have good taste in music and others will like what you play. This is backed up by friends who like the same stuff you listen to. But wait, you are dead wrong.
Most radio listeners are casual listeners. Music lovers are plugged in to their own music library, not radio. You say that's because radio doesn't play the music you like. You are right but virtually all the radio listeners want known and familiar songs. Yes, the same old tired songs you gripe about. Don't believe me? Let me ask how many stations you DID like STILL are in the format you liked and how many co-workers or non-friends were fans. The true music lover is that 1% and, to be honest, the casual music listener is that 91.4% by national standards.
By reinventing radio with your brand of music simply means few if any of that 91.4% will listen. The trouble is in the numbers. You can finance your station easily by reaching the masses. You can finance the station yourself when you serve yourself. Harsh words indeed but this is reality. You can't change out inventory at Walmart and keep the customers. People that shop Walmart expect otherwise and if you don't give them what they expect, they won't be back. Simply put, you cannot change the radio listener or expand their appreciation of music because they simply are not interested. They like what they are getting.
In fact, even the complainers don't like the expanded playlist either. You see, it's sort of like why liberal talk radio failed but conservative talk radio flourished. It wasn't about what side of the political fence you were on but your core values. Conservative radio realized almost everyone didn't fit the typical stereotype but even with vast differences, they shared common core values and morals. Liberal Radio tried to center on politics in lieu of centering on the commonality of the liberal. Conservative radio might talk about government accountability versus if abortion should be allowed. It was the core values that built the audience. So, by centering on this, and using political issues to focus on these core values is why Conservative Radio made it. Liberal Radio, just like Conservative Radio, cut down the other side but Conservative Radio made the common core values the reason to do so. Liberal Radio did not embrace their core values so their listeners were splintered into hundreds of factions that only a few felt Liberal Radio comfortable with.
What I am trying to demonstrate is the same old tired songs you hear on the radio reach almost everyone but if you want to include more songs to the formats there are splinter groups offering hundreds of various options. Thus, instead of reaching a bunch of folks, you only reach a select few. It is not like there are just the two groups. After the 91.4% the remainder is split so many ways, you are really, really lucky to reach 1% successfully and most will only think your station is just okay and not a station they love. If donations from listeners are important, they had better think you're of more value than just okay.
With the limited listening potential of Low Power FM, that makes specialized or eclectic formats an almost perfect storm recipe for failure. I have a friend reaching 500,000 out of 7 million in the metro with his LPFM. He is very nicely programmed to target the up and coming families living in the preferred and rapidly growing area of the metro he reaches. Some wanted him to do a heavily blue collar format. That would have been a poor choice because most people in his listening area are at least semi-white collar. Simply put it would not be successful so he opted for what the community wanted proved by some research to back him up. And if billing is any indication and listeners is any indication, he made the right choice. And yes, he thinks his station is okay, not perfect compared to his tastes in music but he is centered in the real world.
WHY DO STATIONS PLAY THE SAME OLD SONGS?
That’s a good question. I’ll try to explain. It is true most stations select a small playlist and stick with it. Some current hits stations might play as few as 100 songs while formats like Classic Hits might have 500 to a maximum of 800 songs. You say there are thousands of great songs and you are right.
So, if there are so many great songs out there, why aren’t they all played? The reason is their popularity. Now, stay with me on this: radio stations have a certain demographic target. This might be the 25 to 49 age group and let’s say it should be especially popular to women in this age group. So your job is to build a music library as many of those people in your target market want to hear.
Competition for listeners is fierce and the better the job you do at keeping the listener, the more financial opportunities the station will have for success. If you can afford it, you do research through online, over the phone and in what is called auditorium setting (ie: a conference room at a neighborhood motel).
What you do is play snippets of songs and allow the person to rate the song. Sometimes you play the songs twice or more, a few seconds of each. Hundreds are tested over a period of time. For example, if you play Lionel Ritchie next to Yesterday by The Beatles, you can bet both songs will rate higher than if they follow, say, Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd or maybe Birthday by The Beatles. So mixing up the music is crucial and song songs need more than one play to get a good clue of how people really think.
Listeners rate the songs, usually on a 1 to 10 scale. As you might assume, the numbers go this way: 10 is you love the song, 5 is you could go either way and a 1 means you absolutely hate the song. Naturally these ratings vary across neighborhoods, economic level and other factors including differences between male and female listeners. As you can suspect, the 49 year old has few songs in common with the 25 year old.
Once you have tested what might be as many as 1,500 songs over a period of time, you gather all the details and look at the results. As you might suspect, after surveying a nice cross-section of 25 to 49 year olds in various sections of a city, at various economic and educational levels and such, the number of songs everyone loves is only a small percentage. So, you might have maybe 200 that rate a high 9 or a 10. It might be fewer, so whatever this number, these songs cycle through more frequently.
In fact, it is best if your play list is mostly 10s but you will need the 9s and the 8s and likely the 7s to build your play list. For logical reasons, you want to stay away from songs that the majority could either take or leave or do not like very much. Put yourself in the position of the radio listener: Are you going to stay tuned in to the station that plays songs you could take or leave, or songs you don’t care for? I think not. If you could, the station would only play songs you love.
We know you will not love every song, but if you do like the song and even if it has an emotional tie, you’ll likely stay with the station and listen a long time.
It is easy to figure: the more listeners you have and the longer they listen, the better the chances you will gain the advertising dollars and produce the desired results from that advertising. In public radio it is either Underwriting, a form of advertising and frequently individual contributions from listeners.
So, when you look at your desired segment of the market you are targeting, the trick is finding the songs everyone in your target audience likes so you can ‘own’ that part of the desirable radio market. When you look at the vast difference in music preferences between a 25 and 49 year old and those of various income and educational levels the number of songs they all like is whittled down to about 500 to 800 songs and you can bet 100 to 200 of them get played more often that the bottom 100 or 200 on the play list. In other words, you 10s play more frequently than the 7s that play less frequently.
POSITIONING SONGS, NEWS, COMMERCIALS
We were taught what was called the Arbitron Clock years ago. Now Personal People Meters have voided the tricks we used to influence ratings but the reasoning is still of value simply because of the way humans act.
If you get in the car to go somewhere I think you might discover that many times you leave at the top or bottom of the hour. Chances are you will get to where you are going about 20 to 25 minutes later. Most appointments are on the hour or half hour. Thus, radio listening is greater in the :00 to :15 past and :30 to :45 past the hour segments. In order, the third most listen to quarter hour is :15 to :30 and the fewest listeners are tuned in from :45 to :60 or :00.
You have likely noticed this but were never aware of why that is that radio does what it does. Commercials, while about 60% of listeners stay with the station, 40% tune away. News on a music station is a big negative but needed to gain your older end of the market. More people will tune away when news comes on than leave when commercials play.
This means both of these segments need to be placed at times where they can affect the fewest listeners. As a result, most stations will play commercials only when needed. If it’s one break, it is going to be at :50 past the hour. If two breaks that second break will be at :20. If three breaks, the third is at :45 and finally if you absolutely must, you can take a commercial break at :05 but most radio stations would prefer do ::20, :35, :45 and :55.
With news on a music station, shorter newscasts at :50 past the hour are most common and typically have a lifestyle feel, limited to headlines and may include some sports scores, weather and maybe some entertainment news. One to three minutes is typical. Generally the news sounds more conversational. All of this is designed to prevent people from tuning away. The last two stations I programmed had little news. At one station we did 92 second news updates 8 times a day (6 in the morning at :20 and :50 6 to 9 am; 11:50 and 12:50, then 4:20 and 5:20 in the afternoon weekdays only). About half the news was entertainment news. At the final station I programmed had 1 minute newscasts at :50 seven times a day Monday through Friday.
In fact, these days I would do no news whatsoever unless there was a huge local story. I’d even limit weather forecasts to not more than 24 hours (ie: today, tonight and tomorrow) and lean toward a 12 hour forecast in a conversational style. In other words I’d say windy versus North winds at 20 to 30 miles per hour and I’d say a good chance of rain for a 50% or greater probability. I’d never say high in the mid 60s but rather a statement: high today 65. I’m passing on simply useful information not a formal weathercast.
Song Positioning is crucial. Since more people listen the first 15 minutes of the half hour (starting at the top and bottom of the hour), the best loved songs of your target audience are especially played here. As fewer listen in the second quarter hour of each half hour, the 7 and 8 scoring songs and songs that might be newer or unknown to your audience are placed here. Even so, some 10s need to be mixed to retain the audience.
Songs like Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hotel California by The Eagles are likely 10s across the board, so you are more likely to play them at the top and bottom of the hour because they are loved by your audience and in fact, hit a wider audience that the format might indicate. I think you get the idea.
If you find yourself wanting to fight this advice, you are like me. We learn in radio to simply quit wearing the station we program on our sleeve. We have to remember a radio station, whether commercial or not for profit, is a business. It is not at all about us and our opinions but what the vast majority of the audience wants or the target demographic. Your success will come by serving your audience and almost never by doing what you personally suspect should be done.
Yes, you can be a revolutionary in radio but you do so sparingly and with basic research to show your revolutionary idea will work. I have an idea about playing only one Underwriter Message at a time about 6 times an hour, limiting each to about 8 seconds or so. My research tells me 40% do not want to hear commercials so the faster I can get back to music, the better. Anyway, my competition has long breaks, so hopefully they might switch to my station and stick around. Will it work? Maybe. Maybe Not. The only way to know is to try it and be ready to go back to the tried and true way if it looks less successful. It is really a very minor change in programming but I back it up with research to give it the credibility to give it a shot. I’m not married to it and it won’t hurt my feelings if it doesn’t work. I’m simply trying to give the listener what they say they want…a happy medium of sorts.
A parting shot on the seemingly tired old songs you hear on every station. I have tested lost classics on groups, such as at a party, family gathering and such. There were no comments. When I played those overplayed songs, I always was asked what station it was and things like “would you make me a CD of these songs”. We might be tired of them but the audience isn’t.
It really leads me to believe ‘familiar’ is just as, if not more important than ‘love the song’. Songs that are familiar and known score high even when they are not in the primary format. Pretty much, if it is known by your target audience, they will not reject it. Strange but true. Ironically it might only score a 6 or a 7 but the familiar aspect seems to bring it up a few notches.
For fun, tune in your favorite station and see if they do this
So, you get on the air and the world turns against you. It can seem that way. Promises made are forgotten, help, funding and such vanish and then unexpected problems arise. There's one dealing with a distant station illegally raising their power and one fellow that had some bad gossip spread through town, supposedly by someone in media sales. Volunteers expect pay for every single thing they do when they agreed to do the work for free. Then those on the air try to tell you, the licensee, they control their show, not you. Finally some busybody broadcast engineer wannabe makes up a story about how illegal your operation is and puts it up online. You sigh and say why me. The answer is you have a license and they don't. Get used to it. It is going to happen.
Getting beyond this goes back to my earlier remarks of guarding your station like Fort Knox! It is really best to be the Lone Ranger without Tonto or a tiny and cohesive board that has the same vision. In other words, don't sling the door open and welcome supposed fans of your station in. Spend lots of time getting to know them and how they act before you let them take a tiny millimeter because they'll mistake that for a whole darn kilometer, metrically speaking.
There was the example of the guy that was approached by a fellow that wanted to sell underwriting for the station because he loved the station. He asked if he might do a two hour weekend blues show and he and the licensee board president agreed. In fact they drew up an agreement that said if the fellow did a 2 hour weekly show the station would trade him the time for selling underwriting. In other words, any standard commission up to a certain sales threshold would in essence 'buy' the 2 hour weekly show block. Even underwriting the guy brought in for his show counted. After 3 months the guy walked in a $200 order and stormed out when the licensee wouldn't give him 50% commission on the sale. Later this fellow went online to say the station was run by a bunch of thieves and cheats and that anyone in their right mind would never do anything with the station. I saw the agreement. This isn't just a case of misunderstanding.
When the power was out causing one LPFM to be off the air, there were many posts on their Facebook page saying they knew the FCC was going to shut them down frequently saying they heard commercials on a supposedly non-commercial station. They heard Underwriting, substantially supporting my case that the average listener doesn't know the difference between Underwriting and a Commercial and could care less.
When a DJ got a gig in another town and left the new LPFM where he got to practice his craft until the next offer materialized, listeners said the FCC took the guy off the air. If you have any knowledge of radio and the FCC you know just how ignorant that comment is.
My point is stuff will fly at you from every direction. Know this is going to happen, thicken your skin now and remember this stuff doesn't matter. You should stay focused and keep plugging away at it. The people who can make your station a success likely face many of the same trials and tribulations you are experiencing. It happens when it is yours. Lashing out just brings it to the light of day and the ignorant remain that way because they couldn't spot the truth when they're staring at it because the lie makes for a better story.
Some things are just plain difficult to figure out. As you start your LPFM, you'll find questions not easily answered. A network of other broadcasters is a great idea. The sounding board is pretty much an essential. But not everyone is right. I can tell you about the guy that had an Underwriting guru writing his scripts and then got fined for airing commercials. So more than one opinion is a great idea.
So, how do you protect yourself? The best line of defense is knowing your local broadcasters personally. Think about this. Who knows FCC Rules? Joe Blow the listener or John Q. Public the local radio station owner? If a complaint is filed on you who is complaining? Typically it is the local broadcaster that feels you're violating the rules. Their thinking is if I have to follow the rules, so do you. Knowing the broadcaster and cultivating a good relationship gives you a hedge against having to defend yourself.
Second, think like an attorney! A good attorney thinks of every possible scenario and every possible way people can interpret something. Their job is to protect you by covering every base and scenario. Here's an example of what I mean: Underwriting Spot: Joe Smith, Edward Jones, a local face for your investment advice. Is that legal? It might pass but as one fellow broadcaster told me, saying 'a local face' implied the other investment advice companies had no local representative and thus, gave Edward Jones a competitive advantage. So, the phrase violates Underwriting Rules. The truth is I can likely get away with it but what if I have to prove it is okay? Even if you are right it will cost you to defend yourself. Why would one choose to go there? But, you see how you have to think about everything.
Another friend with a station was contacted by a third party about a friend that wanted to contribute to his station in return for a radio show. All well and good but if that party was really interested, why the third party? That raised red flags with me. Then, it was later found out, the third party expected a commission because he put the station operator in touch with the guy. My friend wisely declined. It just didn't feel right from square one. Then the third party posted the LPFM operator was crazy and a wacko. It seems the third party glanced in the mirror and thought the image he saw was the station operator, not himself, the true crazy and wacko guy. I told him not to worry. Anybody in radio knows of the guy and knows he is trouble. His words won't hurt the station. Now imagine if the LPFM station did the deal? See how reading between the lines is so crucial?
So, when it comes to writing Underwriting Spots and even making every day decisions, it is best to not make snap decisions but run through the ways something can play out first.
One LPFM broadcaster was having a fundraiser. They were invited to show up at a local business and set up a booth in their parking lot. The business would give every person who contributed a defined amount, say $5, to the station, a gift certificate for the same amount. Is this legal? The answer is yes and no. You see, the listener has to come to the business and the business is offering consideration. Consideration is not money but something with a monetary value. A $5 gift certificate has a monetary value of $5.
So, how to make it legal: do not promote the business. You can identify the business in giving your location. You can mention the station supporter, the business where you are setting up, has given the station some thank you gifts for those who contribute to the station. You can say, generically, what the thank you gift is but don't use terms like lovely and durable, etc.
Even if you are careful a local broadcaster may complain and you might be forced to prove you didn't step over the line. It might be a better idea to generate contributions online giving the gift certificate in return. Maybe you have a radio auction when listeners make a contribution in return for the gift certificate. And if you really want to do a live broadcast, why not hold it at a neutral site, say with permission, at a city park.
The point I am trying to get across is we humans try to always push the envelope. Give us an inch, we try for two and soon it is a foot. There is a place where the line blurs and you can't see if you are under or over the line. Simply put, stay away from the line. We are talking risk. If you gain $500 by sitting on the line, you might be spending $1,000 to prove you did not violate the rules. This is akin to driving 5 over as you pass a cop running radar. Sure, on the average day they won't stop you but they can and if they do it is a given they are thinking there might be other violations too. Is that inspection sticker current? Is that brake light out? Were you wearing your seat belt? Is that an open cold beer within your reach and who is drinking it, your 15 year old son in the passenger seat or you the driver? See where I'm going here?
I worked for a station owner that had a complaint lodged by a distant station saying we were operating above power at a time we were not to be operating (an AM daytime only station). That distant station contacted the local FCC guy. As a courtesy he phoned to tell us about the call he had received. We told him it wasn't us and he said he knew that because my owner always does things by the book. We always did do things by the book but the FCC knew that. If we had a reputation as a station that pushed the limits, we might have been trying to prove we weren't on the air.
The FCC really gives us lots of freedom to interpret the rules. It is much like the profound statement my 11th grade Government teacher made that sounded crazy at that age but brilliant after I thought about it years later: Only by not exercising our freedom to the extreme can we have greater freedom. Think about that, if you will.
Consistency. There are a bunch of folks trying to do a community format where volunteers come in, say once a week, to do a show playing music of interest to them or talk on subjects of interest to them. The biggest program is a lack of consistency. You will never do well without consistency no matter what the various groups say. You really have to check what they say by this: They say we have consulted and helped X number of stations get on the air. Yep. I believe that but name ONE that you operate and are responsible for maintaining a listener base and revenue stream. I doubt they can. I contend they have little if any real world experience in day to day operations of a radio station.
What I am saying is you can have a great group of diversified programs on your station and represent the whole community but you have to be consistent to get listeners. You see as humans we are creatures of habit. We have expectations and tend not to like change. You need to build a natural flow to your station. This means you don't have a classical music show next to a punk rock show. You build your daily schedule consistently. Think block programming. It might be talk and news shows bunched together on weekdays in a certain time frame, then music shows that are not opposite ends of the spectrum during othertimes.
Here;s what I mean: say Monday through Fridays you have talk and news, say 7 to 9 and 4 to 6 daily. Let's say at 9 you have a bluegrass show, then a classic country show, then maybe an indy country show. Then it might be a show leaning Southern Rock, then classic rock and finally rock. After that an Alternative show or AAA. From there you might be Americana, then oldies, followed by crooners, then beautiful music and finally classical. Sure each show will have its fans but there is a reasonable expectation that some of the previous show's fans will stay with the station for the next show.
The problem comes when you're a talk show on Monday, heavy metal on Tuesday, news on Wednesday, classical on Thursday and Folk music on Friday in the same hour. It's like turning on your favorite TV show and finding it might be on one week but not the next instead airing on a different day at a different time. It is so hard to figure out when it is on, you give up watching it. The radio listener is like this. Imagine going to a restaurant where you had he best burger ever but on your second visit they're only serving catfish and then Chinese food on your third visit and pancakes on the next visit and so on. Chances are you won't be back because you haven't a clue when you can get another of those great tasting burgers. Now imagine if they only served the burger during lunch. You'd be sure to grab lunch there again and again and you might very well return for catfish or Chinese food for dinner or pancakes for breakfast.
Dayparting is essential. More often specialized shows go on weekends (polkas for example) and more common music choices on weekdays with careful attention to who listens to the style of music. Alternative and heavier rock skews younger and works well in evenings but oldies, classical and such skew older and work best during the day. Just apply some basic logic and common sense to the schedule.
Many stations opt for a hybrid with volunteer shows in the evening and on weekends with a fairly eclectic but widely appealing music based format during the day on weekdays when most volunteers can't do a show due to their job.
My parting advice is don't try to change how people listen to radio. You have as much chance of doing that as making everybody driving on the roads right now drive exactly the way you want. In others works, go with what is already established in trends because others have already figured out why not doing so will be unsuccessful. And don't kid yourself, as much as a community station and free form you want to be, you will have the same monthly bills the station that doesn't buck the system has. It's just plain logical: when it costs the same money to start and operate why would you risk trying something that is so risky when you have tons of successful examples of those who don't? And any bucking you do (and I am somewhat of a rebel in bucking the system) make sure those bucks are minimal. You can affect some change when it is barely noticed, if at all.
Many stations will suddenly realize that the bills start piling up on day one. It is a natural situation for your station to be systematically working area businesses, building relationships and eventually your revenue base from some of those business owners. This takes time and quite frankly runs much slower than the bills that seem to be striving to overwhelm you and divert your attention. The reality is you need cash, yesterday. Sure, you knew this would happen and you planned for it, but you want to treat this just like that emergency that pops up. You want to try to keep from digging in to your savings to cover the expense. You would rather consider the emergency as skies threatening rain rather than the flash flood and hold that savings for when it pours. That's a wise decision.
Getting fast cash means thinking smart. What can you do that helps further the image you want for the station, brings about faster acceptance of your station among listeners and potential advertisers and gives you some cash to deposit? What can you do that will take the least time and effort without diverting all your energies from your long term plans? For lack of a better term, I call this feature advertising.
Here is what I mean: there are segments of the community that can help you on this. Many times it revolves around children. Many times it is a festival or community event. Both build fast cash.
We needed cash at one station I worked. We served several small towns that did not have a local radio station but they had a school. We asked the athletic director of the high school to do a weekly 5 minute school news and sports update. The person could call it in each week at a time that was convenient with them. It would air, say, each Tuesday at 7:20 in the morning. This was in 1992 when we were doing this and it certainly works well in today's world.
We went to every single business in the town and within a few miles of town. Those without a storefront were called. It took two days. We sold $25 a month packages. For that, you got a name mention at the start and at the end of the weekly report and you were mentioned again on at least 100 promos a month. How many did we get? Usually about 30 or so clients. We got payment up front each month and billed them after the first month. In fact, where written details were offered, we charged $49 but gave them the $25 price if they'd pay in advance and agree to be on the whole school year. In fact we used to tell clients that if they agreed to go with the whole school year and at some point wanted to cancel, we would do so without any penalty or questions from us because we don't win over business by trying to force people to do things they prefer not do.
So, this little once a week 5 minute feature made us $750 a month. We liked it so much we repeated this over and over.
This was a no brainer fast cash tool. It let smaller town businesses get their name out and they always felt their town didn't matter but we showed them they did. In their mind, we gave them big town exposure for their small town price. Heck, every handyman, arts and crafts person and even folks that sold Avon, Pampered Chef and such came on because the price was as cheap as the classified or business card ad in their local paper.
In fact, when a community had an event, we did the same thing. We are talking events like a Chamber sponsored or City sponsored event. These were events where the town's population would swell, when visitors filled the streets. For example, one community had a Wine and Cheese festival since dairies and vineyards were a big deal in the area. Tens of thousands would descend on the town through top notch promotion. We'd sell the $25 to $50 package to local retail merchants. On these events, we gave the business name and address. We went with 100 mentions and we'd really clean up. Sometimes we would run 4 spots an hour starting the day before the event that typically run a full weekend. The Wine and Cheese Festival, for example, started Friday afternoon and ran through Sunday and was held at the fairgrounds.
On our weekly shows, promos mentioned every single sponsor but on the event oriented spots we usually had to have more than one promo for the event running at the same time because we just could not fit all the sponsors in one spot. Each event or weekly show took a day or two to sell. We tried selling by phone but always got better response rates walking in to the business. Your secret weapon is to always get the local bank to be your first buyer. Business owners think the bank president is a savvy business person so if the bank buys they will likely buy as well.
The reason this works: the amount you ask for is very low. It is easy to say yes and pay immediately. Second, there is not a whole bunch of copywriting involved. On the weekly shows, it might just be a 60 second spot since all you are mentioning is the business name. For event promos you might need 2 or 3 to squeeze in every client and you might be playing 4 or more promos an hour.
The thing that most people don't think of is how it positions you. You are covering a local event or segment of local life. That is always a good thing because it makes you part of the community.
All those businesses you hope will buy a package from you will hear the names of bunches of businesses that already said yes to doing some marketing through your station. That business owner mulling things over will think they're a late bloomer because so many have already decided to buy your station. Yes they might hear that long list of sponsors in the promo and think that might not be very effective but I can tell you they will also think your station must be very successful because so many businesses are on the air already. Business owners are very concerned with riding trends and staying up with the pack. Your success is based on being on the cusp of the greatest and latest. I can tell you an old timer in business might not think highly of the internet or really understand it but more than likely the old timer had one of the grandchildren build a website for the business although they might gruffly say it has never produced a dime in their mind. Still they felt they had to have one because everybody does.
Local means local! Do not go out of town very far. I am talking about seeking underwriters or advertisers. I call this the Walmart syndrome. You have a local auto parts store in town and they do well. In the city where the locals go to buy what they cannot buy locally, there are many competitors with better inventory than the local guy can carry and the prices are lower because they have tons of customers. So, the big city is their Walmart, a big non-local threat to your business because the big city business has better inventory and lower prices.
Now, you are in a town, community or area with a local identity. You realize everything is 'convenience' oriented. You realize you pay more down the street rather than 30 miles down the highway and you are willing to pay more to support a neighbor that makes it convenient to get what you need. You must support them and shelter them from the outside. This insular approach means you are community and working to make the community work. You are the head cheerleader for "Shop At Home".
You never go out of town to sell a business that competes with a local business. Never. I will consider only one exception: the local business will never advertise and you need their support. This means a heart to heart with the owner. You explain you need a certain dollar amount to succeed and you need their support. You clearly explain you do not seek outside of town dollars unless it is for a product or service not available in your community. You explain that you want to have only local support because you want the town to continue to be healthy. Without their support you may be forced to seek revenue from out of town (don't say this but imply the money must come from somewhere). You tell the owner of the business that you need them to join with other fellow merchants to make this work and ask them to get on board. The implied threat is you will go get their big city competitor on the air, but you never say this. You simply want them to join the rest of the community.
If you have the heart to heart, do not follow through. The backlash is too severe. The merchants will feel safe and secure until you get one big city competitor on your station. At this point, you sold out. It is not about community but about money with you. And treat the guy that won't come on board just like a good advertiser. You may never win those dollars but you support them anyway. It's just good PR to support your whole community. I had such a client. He would secretly help the station and demanded I not tell anybody he did. We needed some posters printed once and the tightwad paid for it according to the printer. I went and thanked him and was told to never tell anyone he did. It was because I had acknowledged his grandson on the air.
Don't get caught giving up your position. I had a sporting goods store that spent about $400 a month every month in the newspaper agree to spend $100 a month with me only if I would agree to not accept an order from any of his competitors out of town. I explained that was akin to me making him promise not to sell any of his sporting goods to anybody outside the community. He didn't like my statement but understood. I suggested if he spent an amount similar to what he spent in other media I'd consider it. Then I asked if he had the same deal with the newspaper and he said no. I had seen competitors in the paper. I simply asked him to play fair with me. It took about a year before he came on with us but I did have his respect and appreciated I did not play dirty. I never surrendered by position and won by not picking a fight.
Do you realize a radio station is a business? You might say I'm wrong because you are a non-profit but let's clearly state what that means: it means you do not make a profit. In other words, you set aside some funds and earmark the remainder for various projects and the operation. It does not mean you do not act like a business.
If you decided to start a clothing store, you might make notes about what people in the area where the shop will be located are wearing. A beachwear shop in a ski resort is not a good idea, for example. Selling 3 piece suits in an area where the typical worker is in agriculture or ranching is not a good idea either but I see so many in radio doing just that.
If you started a clothing store would you only stock fashions you personally like and fashions your friends like or would you determine what the community at large is buying so you can reflect that in your store's inventory? I suspect you would go with what the community at large chooses to wear.
The same person that would do just that might very well say, on my radio station I'm playing what I want. And since I'm a non-profit I refuse to use standard business practices as my mode of operation. Is it any wonder a third of LPFM stations go off the air before their fist license renewal? That really pains me. Finding out what the community wants is not difficult. You simply talk to them. And you ask men, women, youth, senior citizens, business owners and the ordinary worker. The more you ask the more evident it becomes there are certain things everyone has in common. That is your starting place.
To not have at least a rough outline of how you will fund your station is a no-brainer. But don't be stupid. I talked to a down-hearted operator that explained he had spent hours gathering addresses, composing, printing, stuffing envelopes and mailing 400 letters to businesses to offer Underwriting on his station. He said nobody even called. I believe him. He was ready to turn in his license.
The truth is the letter he sent failed to identify any reason for a business owner to WANT to get Underwriting on his station. And if he had visited businesses in the time he spent doing hiis mailing, I bet he would have made some nice inroads but he hates sales. So, he tried to SELL me on helping him. He had no plan, no clue and simply didn't want to do the work. When I explained he would get support by asking for it in person after visiting the businesses a few times and letting the business owner get to know him, he balked that there had to be an easier way. When I suggested he needed reasons the business would benefit by buying Underwriting, he wanted to abandon the Underwriting idea and concentrate on listeners donating to the station. Two did donate...$120 total.
Simply put, the guy did not want to run a radio station. You have to sell, something you do every single day, multiple times a day and you have been selling ever since you could communicate verbally. Somehow he felt listeners would magically pay him for something they could get for free. It didn't work. That station is gone. Too bad.
Back to the clothing store. If the clothing store was your radio station, would you stock it with inventory the community wanted? Would you invite people to drop by and see your shop? Would you even put up a sign, keep regular hours or even put an open sign in the window? I am sure you would. If you would do all of this for the clothing store business then why wouldn't you be willing to do the same for your radio station business?
The reality is you will have an electric bill just like that clothing store, a water, sewage and trash bill and other expenses. For the clothing store you would create a plan and determine a path to be sure there was the money there to pay the bills. Do the same for your station.
Another station was dead before it began. The poor fellow felt it was God's Plan. The trouble with many who are so inspired feel God has to do all the work. God is busy creating perfect plans and it is your job to execute the plan. Let's get real, if you plan to win the lottery, you won't have a chance until you buy the lottery ticket. You can plan all day, every day but until you act, nothing happens.
Now back to this poor fellow. He chose his denomination as the focus of his Christian station. The big problem was there was not a church in his county wearing the denominational brand he chose. In fact only 140 people were on the membership roles in the next county over.
By the time he made it to the air, he had no money for a satellite dish (there were a few options for 24/7 programming for his denomination) or a computer to run his station. Even though he had a personal computer, he broadcast live each day. To widen his appeal he played his music collection between programs. Amid the denominational programs he recorded off his computer you'd get classical sacred music, some Praise music and his love, old time country. In fact old time country was a good choice.
Still needing money, he had to keep his parttime job to supplement his social security. This put him signing on the station about 4 in the afternoon and signing off about 11 at night, not hardly prime radio hours. On weekends he would go on earlier, maybe 2 in the afternoon.
His first year he got zero dollars in for the station. Then he took a lightning strike and had to send the transmitter off to be repaired. It left him off the air a lengthy time, over a month. He had to put the repair on his credit card. The second and third year were like the first with zero support. His debt was climbing as small emergencies like auto repairs and such happened. Then a second lightning strike shut him down for good. The repair would take his credit card beyond the maxed out credit line. He turned in his license.
Sadly, with a little thought he might have stuck around. He didn't ever approach business owners or even try to embrace the community. He never tried to change his schedule to be on when most people listen to the radio. He never extended a hand to local non-profits for community announcements. He never sought publicity in the local paper. Somehow it was to all fall in place. It didn't and his plan never would have worked. This is way too common. Amazingly, some of these folks are my biggest critics. They claim I am trying to make LPFM a business and generate as much money as it can. I have to ask them: is their plan working better? Is it better to go broke and turn in your license or is it better to treat your LPFM like a business that tries to gain listeners by serving the community and tries to have enough cash on hand to handle everything?.