By Robby Bridges
“Never ever give up” is a quote on my page of my senior high school yearbook from the colorful, iconic British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. “The Old Man,” as subjects of her Majesty’s fair nation of a certain age still fondly call him, was far from perfect. He was flawed and complicated but he was a remarkable leader I’ve always admired and been inspired by. (Seek out Churchill on Leadership: Executive Success in the Face of Adversity by Steven Hayward, it’s a great summer read) This past holiday season, I found Gary Oldman’s portrayal in Darkest Hour masterful, recalling Sir Winston’s steadfast leadership as he took the reins of power just as Nazi forces eyed the UK in the westward invasion of Europe in 1940. The film shows Churchill wrestle with the grave challenge he and his nation faced, those who would appease and/or give in to Adolf Hitler in his own cabinet, his own torment on the matter, inspiration by his own people and climaxes with his great speech on the floor of Parliament: “We will fight them in the hills, we will fight them by sea, we will fight them in the air…we shall NEVER surrender”. Of course as history dictates, he and his leadership prevailed. Absolutely awe-inspiring stuff, no doubt.
I certainly don’t mean to trivialize a perilous moment in history by making some vague analogy between Churchill (and ultimately the U.S.) taking on the Axis of Evil in WW2 with the state of our radio business today, not for a moment. However, I think those of us in a position of leadership in this business (or who wish to take leadership of their own brand/career as talent) can find courage, inspiration and guts in the great figures of history. Surely, if the “greatest generation” could stand down hostile enemies in the face of overwhelming odds, the challenges we face in our roles in business are not so insurmountable. But as I say, I believe it takes some guts.
Traditional media, or “old media” as the technology bloggers like to call radio/TV/print, faces not so much the risk of irrelevance but a greater risk of time crunch. Today there is SO much media available to the consumer, brands need to cut thru the noise, grab attention and hold it by building fandom/brand loyalty.
No medium provides one-on-one (or as the late, great Dan Ingram coined it, “Second person singular”) like radio. Talent who communicate intimately, have a hook, an “-est and are on a station that is focused/connected to the community will succeed. I sample music streams from apps to services online to cable services. I listen to various podcast hosts and generally they all fail to capture/convey the special magic that radio is capable of. Our formula as a business for music radio formats for creating/extending occasions for content works. However, there IS a lot of media and a lot of options. What can terrestrial radio do to generate a “moment” frequently?
Radio often latches on to trends in pop culture, in the community, for a cause or related to an artist…but beyond that, what’s next? And how do we cross-pollinate the compelling content that radio hosts/brands create to impact beyond live terrestrial radio? That’s where guts come in. Programmers, managers, owners and VPs ALL should be encouraged to take calculated risks, try new things, innovate and win.
That’s not to say there should be one chess move made void of research, planning or strategy. But to simply do what radio has always done over the air, nothing more, nothing less, would be a failing strategy if there weren’t multiple new entertainment platforms competing for consumers’ ears, time, attention and affection. Do we give up and just roll over? Do we accept the techies’ suggestion that radio is old and tired? Radio has and should continue to, innovate. Even in the major corporations, leaders should manage up with a plan to lead and that goes beyond hitting F7 in Selector and showing up at a car dealer with Bob and Mary in the Morning.
My hero Mr. Churchill was the leader of the people’s government and yet faced challenges and obstacles in his own war room how to press on against a mighty, determined enemy. The challenge of leading our people in our business in our corners of the country is not easy, but we have to have the guts to believe in ourselves, our team and our business if we are going to stand our ground as part of the fabric of life for millions. And we can. Never be afraid to proudly lead.
Robby Bridges is Dir of Programming Cumulus Detroit/WDRQ-FM, WDVD-FM and Detroit’s NASH ICON and serves on the corporate format team. Previously programming WEBE/Bridgeport and WFAS/Westchester,and APD WPLJ/New York, WCTK/Providence.He has also been a host/programmer for Cumulus Media Networks 24 hour formats. Previously Bridges has worked in various capacities at Z100/New York, Q102/Philadelphia, WODS and WBMX/Boston and elsewhere in New England. Robby can be reached at 313-872-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.