To quote the old adage, “now that I have your attention…”

Last week’s Editorial caused a bit of a stir in Los Angeles radio…no fewer than three different programmers in three different formats called to complain that I was writing about their station.  Paranoia strikes deep in Hollywood.

I wasn’t writing about any of the PDs who questioned my audacity (it was a Rock station), but from the number of calls I received, both from L.A. programmers and others across the country I must have struck a nerves.

For those of you who missed the Editorial, I said, “Radio sucks.”

Okay, truth is, I said much more than that, but in a business known for and built on hyperbole (look it up), you can usually boil most of our conversations into a key word or two: play my record…hire me…you’re the best…don’t ever change…radio sucks.

This past week brought that quote more into focus than any Editorial could ever do.  Princess Di’s death and the resulting media frenzy surrounding it, forced PDs to deal with a lifestyle event that wasn’t listed on the pull-down menu of their music schedulers.  The insatiable appetite of the audience for information about Princess Di put stations on overload.

Suddenly, jocks had to sound human…they had to act semi-intelligent…they actually had to talk to the audience, rather than reading liner cards at them.  PDs had to develop special programming to meet the demand.  Uncommon questions were asked and answered:  How much information?  When?  What do we do if…?

Music radio even had to do the unthinkable:  Programmers had to find a new piece of music and play it without the hype (or help) of a record company.  It was a world gone mad.

Elton John’s rewrite and ultimate performance of a new version of “Candles In The Wind” became the most-anticipated record of all time.  Never before was so much heat generated by a record.  Forget music radio…and radio in general…information agencies from network newscasts to lead stories in the most-important newspapers in the world blared the news.

PDs stayed up all night to tape the song off the telecast.  “Candles In The Wind” became the most-requested song in the world overnight.

So, what’s my bitch?  It’s that Top 40 radio doesn’t choose to “own” a particular culture or event until forced to do so.  Princess Di’s death and the audience reaction following the tragedy should put PDs on notice.  There are things your listeners care about that you are completely unaware of.  This is why you aren’t performing as well as you should.

What are those things?  I don’t know.  It isn’t my job to know.  And it won’t be your job if you don’t know.

But here’s a news flash:  You have to take the lifestyle things that happen and make them your own.  If I was programming in San Francisco during the present BART strike, I would set up mini-concerts at the ferry landings for all the new commuters during drive time…serve coffee and donuts at the toll booths…make special music sweeps for slow commutes…provide buses (with only my stations playing inside) from certain areas.  That’s not covered under “music scheduling.”  However, a good PD takes advantage of uncommon events and gives the radio station a halo.

But you can’t wait until some “act of God” provides you with special motivation.  It is time for programmers to get out from behind the piles of paper, the reams of research, the countless meetings and the endless bullshit and find out who their audience is and what they like.  If you don’t do this…and don’t do this in a hurry…you’re going to find out one thing loud and clear…your audience won’t like you.

Unfortunately, most programmers today don’t live the lifestyles they are trying to reach.  If you can’t live the lifestyle, you must surround yourself with those who do.  And you must, at least, visit that lifestyle from time to time.  Reading a computer print-out about it isn’t enough.

Does anybody out there know why Howard Stern is so popular?  Because he’s vulgar, borders on the profane, does crazy things and might do something crazier tomorrow?

You’re missing the point.  (So what else is new?)  What’s the key word?


Say what?

Howard Stern is the most popular morning personality in the history of radio because he knows exactly who his audience is and exactly what his audience likes.  No single person…and certainly no research firm…can hold a candle to Howard Stern when it comes to knowledge of an audience.  Howard found the equation early:  Lesbians=Ratings.

Oversimplification?  Of course.  Bottom line?  Howard knows his shit.  Howard “ruined” the careers of several PDs who tried to change him.  Howard wasn’t doing it “their” way.  My God, Howard actually talked with his news person.  Howard talked about sex.  We couldn’t have that on the radio.

Instead of reacting negatively to Howard Stern and his new ideas (as many PDs did about my Editorial last week), what would have happened if one…just one…of Howard’s early PDs had stopped and listened…had gone along with the ideas…and accepted Howard’s knowledge of his audience?  Had added to it?  That PD might today be as rich as Howard.

Maybe we are too busy keeping our jobs to really do our jobs.

As I see it, our job is not to suck.  And the best way not to suck is to understand who our audience is, what they want and how to deliver what they want to them.  If we accomplish all of that, then it’s a wonderful world.

If not,  remember the key word.

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