By Robby Bridges
Every year for the past 14 years, I get an email around January 1st from the fine editors at FMQB asking if I’d like to write a few programming columns again. This year, I paused for a moment because I was frankly surprised by the response to my last piece in September called “Radio will be stronger than ever in ten years.” My thoughts and others’ appear in Programming to Win, but I feel like most of us know to look at our turnovers, refresh our categories, how to look at research, etc. I’ve covered talent coaching, storytelling, what makes morning shows pop, the top 40 Top 40 jocks of all time… To me, PDs should be on top of these things and know they are no longer our biggest programming hurdles to success. I challenge myself and all my colleagues to manage them and pay attention to the small details that make radio stations special.
But that’s the crux of it…in that last column, I litigated my case against a piece that came out last fall (by an author in the podcasting sector outside of radio) that our business is dying. I researched his points and made counter-arguments, while also sharing both strategies and hope for a bright future and I believe them. The emails and social media comments I got back were about 50/50 positive to negative. I have pretty thick skin and I like a good debate, but this was different. In some cases, longtime radio pros/veterans who had not all-but-given up, but had given up on believing in radio, including where it stands AND where it can go. And that’s why this column for me has turned into more an op-ed than a programming column. If any of us have lost the passion, fallen into a malaise or stopped seeing the value of what we do, how we can make a difference in our communities, how we touch our listeners and what the value of our brands is to our advertisers, then we have to first overcome that to move forward again.
Around Christmas, I happened upon MGM’s classic The Wizard of Oz on cable. The choice of director Victor Fleming to open in black & white, showing a scenery of bleakness, of bland, of people just accepting things as they are with no real hope for what’s next…and the sequence with the fortune teller and Dorothy in the midst of this hanging on to her inner sense that surely there must be more. As you know, when she arrives in Oz, there is the brilliant scene as she opens the farmhouse door and the picture shifts to bright, sparkling Technicolor, showing this magical land dreams are made of. In the end, of course, Dorothy just wants to go home and comes to accept her big dreams can exist in her own world – she is surprised how easy it is to get there, as the Good Witch tells her just to click her heels. “Why you’ve had the power all along my dear, you just had to see it for herself.”
All of us who make up this magical realm of sound that travels from our imagination to the ears of our world through the upper atmosphere ought to remember we have the power within us: to care about what we do, believe in it and remember that we aren’t just people going to a job. My goodness, we are broadcasters, we are entertainers, we are informants! Find that passion again and channel it into the world we live in. Remember when you first heard your name on the air? Remember that bigger than life promotion you saw in person? Remember the way studios smelled of magnetic tape, cigarettes and coffee? Remember that extra sheen radio stations seemed to add to your favorite song over the air? Remember that amazing top of the hour ID? Remember how good it felt hosting that event to help people?? Remember that feeling that you’d give up just about everything else maybe other than your family to be a part of this special thing that radio stations are?? Remember?
Reframe your thinking on the challenges we face. Fewer jobs are available? How do your abilities fit the ones that remain and/or what are you doing to be part of the next generation of talent/programmers as content is complemented and expanded online? The FCC is allowing for satellite studios now to become obsolete, so how do we reinvest our resources? Budgets aren’t what they were…what relationships do we have? Revenue is moving to digital…what are we doing, especially on the ground, to leverage our value proposition for local direct buyers where it really matters for most bottom lines? Radio matters and what radio does matters. It matters to the listeners and it sure as hell should matter to all of us if we expect to grow and thrive in the future. Will it be easy? No, it never has been. But we simply must believe, and contrary to the attitudes I referenced in response to my last piece, that is not a folly. We’ve had the power in us all along, we just need to see it AGAIN for ourselves, because the public hasn’t given up on us. Maybe we’ve given up on ourselves a bit, even just in spirit. That future will be radio’s next great chapter. It’ll take brains, a little heart and some courage of course too. Let’s go.