I had a LPFM station ask if I could help them. Naturally I said yes. They can call me with questions. I pretty much wrote up an operation guide for them, their media kit and offered programming tips. It was customized for them specifically.
To do all of that I figured I needed some pay. After all the word count on everything was over 56,500 words. In that I detailed organization info, programming elements and why, the sales effort, the how and why and more.
We agreed on $600 or roughly what the electric bill is on a LPFM. It fit their budget. Did I make money? Sure, $600 but I sure didn't even make minimum wage but that's not the point. I am passionate about radio and I want to share some of my experience to save folks from mistakes I already made.
No, I can't help many stations, only a few. And this isn't a plea for customers. It's an offer to share if you want the information.
WHY CONSIDER THIS?
I have several friends in LPFM Radio that have spoken to many stations just as I have. I learn from them and they learn from me. We share a great deal. The topic that comes up frequently is that LPFM licensees, for the most part, do not understand radio. They just don't know what has to be done to create a successful and viable station. If you think about this, it makes sense. LPFM stations are an entry point for jumping in the radio waters. All of us agree it is painful to watch sincere and well meaning folks let their misconceptions of radio pull them down, sinking instead of swimming. We even see it when a radio person is involved. In those instances the radio person lacks a knowledge of programming or sales or management.
There's a lot to radio and you need to know radio from the inside out to pull it off. I was talking to one fellow. Our conversation turned to barbecue as we talked of taking a break for lunch. I asked if he was to open a barbecue restaurant (admitting he makes some great barbecue) if he'd just rent a space and start cooking. He said "No way. The restaurant business is tricky and he'd need to learn a bunch before even attempting it." I agreed but asked "Then why don't you and your board think the same way about your LPFM station?". Plainly put he gets snagged by the non-profit part as meaning he can't have a business plan. He admits that. I asked if he was to open a non-profit restaurant would he research it and create a business plan? He said "Heck yes. The restaurant business is tricky!".
My objective is simply this: I want to save you from the costly mistakes so many LPFM stations make. A series of mistakes can literally spell the demise of your station. But why me? First, I'm passionate about radio. I study it. I have also worked in radio for decades. I have been lucky enough to have been a DJ, program director, salesman, Sales Manager and a General Manager at 3 stations, one in a top 10 market that I have managed for over 20 years. That doesn't mean I'm an expert but it does mean I have come across almost anything a radio station can face. And it means if I don't know the answer, I had better know who has it and get them to tell me. Literally that keeps me in a paycheck.
There's the LPFM that mailed a flyer to every Chamber of Commerce member offering Underwriting but nobody called. I could have saved the guy the time and money if he had asked. Those flyers got trashed. There's the guy that been on the air the better part of a year, that publishes his Underwriter rates online but complains nobody has called him to sign up. I could have told him what to expect.
I know stations when a lightning strike took them out and by being off the air, they couldn't raise the funds for repairs. They never did. Radio people believe in God. We see acts of God all too often. You should have tucked that cash aside instead of buying all those t-shirts and bumper stickers.
Have you figured out that guy that was going to turn radio on it's ear really had your potential listener turning a deaf ear to you? Why do stations think it is better to follow the unproven and unknown path when the path to successful radio has thousands of successful examples across the county, some in your backyard? You will not reinvent radio but you will create failure if you try. Yep, let's be sure we don't follow a successful model for our station! It's not sarcasm but reality way too often and I really don't know why.
In short, many LPFM groups do not know how to sell themselves, how to program nor what is needed to actually run a station. I've had people tell me Prometheus knows and their friends that do seminars do. Consider this: Prometheus is a great group of folks that build stations. They do not run stations. Their friends do seminars all over the country. If they were running stations they couldn't do that. It's not that they lack general knowledge. A college instructor teaching radio is a very different position from managing the day to day operation of a station where it's success determines if you continue to get a paycheck from that station. I haven't quit my day job! That's the difference.
I'm not trying to scare or sell you on me by saying this. It is simply a fact of life: you have only one chance to make a good impression. We all know it is much, much harder to strike down a bad impression than it is to continue making a good impression. I once worked 2 stations that were rivals in one market. I was the Program Director at one. The claims I made at that station in six months took two years to destroy when I was hired by competitor. Thus that reputation I built over 6 months took two years of hard work to bring down.
Plainly put, you need to have your ducks in a row before you start and a well defined plan to protect and enhance your image. If you don't, I can assure you it will be a bumpy ride with slow progress. In radio you learn from your successes and your mistakes so this statement comes from experience.
If you are about to begin or maybe already started your station, contact me. I'm willing to share, to try to help and if the idea of an operations and or sales manual for you seems like a good idea for you, great. If not, that's okay. I'll try to help or offer a thought or two.
Please understand I am just one radio person. I always encourage expanding your knowledge by talking to lots of radio people. You literally can't learn too much and the greater number you communicate with the more you will see patterns that spell success.
To close, let me encourage a lack of prejudice in your thinking. Be open minded. For some reason the community radio person sees radio people as what is wrong with radio. If that is your thinking, your ignorance is showing. The difference between for profit radio and non-profit radio is profit. For the commercial stations excess goes to the investors. For non-profit stations the excess goes back to the station. Aside from this, it's the same if you are for profit or not for profit. The listeners know you as another station on the dial. The businesses know you as another way perhaps to get a few more customers. And quite frankly very few think your station is worth paying to listen to. Ask XM/Sirius how many think radio is worth paying for (answer 5%). To be blunt, it's like opening a restaurant but refusing to resemble a restaurant in any way, then scratching your head wondering why the plan didn't work when you shut down. The reality is the LPFM is exactly like the small town radio station. I say this because I get accused of 'thinking too much like commercial radio'. My response: 'that commercial station is making it so why aren't you?'
Naturally there are exceptions to this. It takes the right market and the right set of circumstances to be the exception. The saddest part to me is a station with great plans that never quite get realized because of a lack of funding and community involvement.
I realize this seems quite negative. The thinking I describe is so common it is almost universal in LPFM Radio. And I do get blasted as not knowing what I am doing because much of my experience is in commercial radio. The truth is for profit and non-profit stations need listeners. They need the money to pay the bills. The listener sees you as just another station on the radio dial. I preach looking at what all radio has in common, not what makes stations, profit and non-profit, different.