Indecent Promotions

In the past several months, as the numbers continued to erode, the Top 40 format has been assaulted on all fronts. From “not playing enough new music” to “causing a hole in the ozone layer,” the format and those programming it have been accused…justly and unjustly…of countless faults.

Top 40 radio always stood head and shoulders above the other formats for its unwavering ability to be on the cutting edge with information, music and bigger than life promotions.

The proliferation of cable and satellite broadcasting took the information niche away. Entertainment shows and MTV are generally first with music news now. The music industry has become such a big business that even the network news organizations cover those stories. By virtue of the sheer amount of information being disseminated and gathered by other top sources, Top 40 is no longer on the cutting edge.

Music? What’s the joke? What with all the testing that’s done, by the time Top 40 gets around to adding a song, most of the audience already knows the words to the chorus. There was a time when being first to play the latest song by a known act was a big deal. And it still should be, if not playing it, at least talking about it. The best things about MTV are the promos. By the time you see the new video they’re hyping, you think you know it already. Top 40 radio should do the same. Music is not exclusive. Every radio station has access to all of it. How we set it up has separated Top 40 from the other formats forever. Whether or not you like the new George Michael is not important. If you sell the action to your audience, they will be excited whether they like the song or not. You don’t have to play any selection a lot. But if you’ve got new music by a known star and you’re excited about playing it, your listeners will feel the same way. Then they can decide. If it sucks, at least your audience knows that you gave them the chance to make that decision before anyone else. Besides, the majority of your audience won’t remember the lousy song as much as the many promos you did about always premiering new music first. And they will appreciate you for it.

So what’s left? Promotions. I can almost hear the groans and excuses. Always #1: I don’t have the budget. #2: I don’t have enough time. And good old #3: Less than 10% of my listeners every play a contest.

All valid reasons…for getting out of programming.

Listeners won’t remember your station because it plays the best songs. Hell, every station plays the best songs. Since very other station is building its reputation on the repetition of “favorite” artists, you must do something different to make your call letters stick out in their mind.

The fact that a minority of your listeners actually participate in promotions isn’t reason to stop airing them. The percentage of people who participate in Wheel Of Fortune is miniscule compared to the viewing audience, but wee all enjoy watching it. Radio audiences love to hear others make fools of themselves to win contests. If they are prepared correctly, no one will tune out. A successful promotion cannot be duplicated by your competition or others sources, It’s yours…exclusively. And in this world of nonexclusivity, we must create our own exclusives.

You don’t have time? Make it. Creativity is inbred in all of us. Get out from behind that music scheduling computer. It doesn’t take any time to be hip. It takes an attitude. If you’re programming, you have it. Or had it. To make your radio station stand out from the others, you have to create. Its part of…and important part of…maybe the most important part of your job.

You don’t have the budget? You don’t need a budget. Many promotions that make you shine don’t cost anything at all. Others can be funded by record companies or clients.

Jack McCoy’s The Last Contest, one of the biggest (and many say the best) radio promotions ever done, offered millions of dollars in prizes and cost the radio station he programmed not one penny. The American Revolutionary Bicentennial Contest (the ARB contest, get it?) trumped on the front page of R&R back when it meant something as possibly the ultimate radio contest, cost nothing.

The promotion is the key. Not the cash.

Listeners are offered tens of millions of dollars to play the lottery. It’s impossible for you to compete with that kind of a grand prize. But you can out-promote everyone else. If you take the time to do it.

Create promotions that make your station special. One of the best promotions is to tie in a contest with a particular song. If the promotion is innovative enough, it will make the song synonymous with your call letters. Every time your competition plays it, it makes the audience think of you.

Use ideas from the news. The Power Pig in Tampa does the creatively. Their recent “I Wanna Bet Like Mike” promotion (spotlighted on pate 10) is a perfect example.

You don’ to have to have big bucks to have big ideas.

Top 40 programmers have to stop blaming other formats, outside influences, changing demos and music diversities. The biggest problem facing the format is that Top 40 has become boring.

And it’s your fault.

You can’t change the music. You can’t change advertising trends. You can’t change budgets. But you can change presentation.

Jerry Clifton provides each of his stations with in-depth promotional ideas. He even has a Vice President of Fun and Games. Is it any wonder he’s successful? He works with the same music. The same pool of talent. The same stations. Maybe he creates it better than the others.

Study the promotional page in The Network Forty for ideas. Then come up with your own. Ask your staff. Be exciting. The audience expects nothing less. And wants a lot more.

You want to be like Mike? You’ve got to take the shot.

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