Real Time (Part Two)


Last week I wrote an Editorial based on facts pulled from the book, “Real Time,” by Regis McKenna.  The premise of the book is that today’s consumers aren’t like yesterday’s…that in today’s world, keeping the customer satisfied is a never-ending battle.

The premise…and many specifics in the book…are directly relatable to radio.

Today’s audience is harder to satisfy.  Many other entertainment entities are vying for the listeners’ time.  Radio has to be better than ever…just to stay even.

In many instances, that isn’t the case.

As I’ve stated many times before, we have to be more than just “music” stations.  Music isn’t exclusive any more.  Although there are more formats than ever before, many of these “different” radio stations share the same music.  To pin your hopes of market domination only on your musical stance is a futile proposition.

The pure focus on “music only” gets more diluted when you factor in the economic realities of today’s radio conglomerates.  In the fourth quarter of last year, Chancellor Media increased the commercial load on all of their stations by one minute per hour.  Although the company dropped the extra minute after the first of the year, several companies have delivered the same edict this month.  To increase revenue, more companies will add at least a minute of commercial time to every hour for this fourth quarter-and don’t be surprised if the increase continues through next year.

As companies add commercials to increase profits, “more music” will no longer be an operable phrase.  Stations will have to provide entertainment outside the framework of music.  Programmers will have to work harder to “keep the customer satisfied.”  In order to accomplish this goal, we’re going to have to redefine our standards of operation.

McKenna tells the story of Paul MacCready the designer of the Gossamer Condor, the first human-powered airplane to fly across the English Channel.

How did MacCready succeed where many others before him failed?  He entered a competition because needed money…not because he was trying to design a new plane.  All MacCready wanted to do was cross the Channel to win $50,000.  He put together a balsa wood contraption that literally fell apart as it flew…making it lighter.  When it fell completely apart, hopefully, it would have crossed the Channel.

He did.  He won.  That’s it.

MacCready said the lesson he learned was, “Someone else always determines how we think.”  In their design attempts, other competitors had all gone by the book without ever asking the question, “Why are we stuck on these rules?”

That question is one programmers must begin asking themselves.  Forget the rules…the whole game has changed.  We must begin a new evaluation of our philosophies based on a whole new set of priorities.

One of the rules we’re stuck on in Top 40 is that an abundance of teens is a bad thing.  Not true.  In Almost every other form of advertising, products use young people as a selling point.  “Look young, think young, be young,” is the American Holy Grail.

Why are teens a bad thing where Top 40 radio is concerned?  Because the sales manager doesn’t know his head from his ass.

Teens drive older demos.  Whether it’s music, clothes, cars or a lifestyle, most parents are led by their teenagers.  Research proves that teens are responsible for the majority of purchases in the home.  They might not have the buying power, but Washington lobbyists should be so powerful.

A sales manager checks the book and sees a bunch of teens with substantial older demos.  He says, “Hey, if we get rid of our teens, we can increase our older demos.”

Wrong.  How many Top 40 stations have abandoned their teens only to see their older demos plunge?  Top 40 teens drive the older demos.  Once a Top 40 abandons the teens, the station becomes another A/C with increased competition.  How many successful Top 40s have made the move to A/C?  I’m waiting.

Not only are Top 40s guilty of abandoning their teens, but a lot pay no attention to their best customers…may of whom are teens.  Today’s listeners want instant feedback…constant attention.  They want to feel their wants and needs are being attended to.  So, what do we do?  We don’t answer our request lines.

Are you people insane?

Other businesses bend over backwards to find out what their clients want.  In radio, we often choose to ignore a direct line into our listeners’ psyche.  Boston Chicken uses a real time customer feedback system found on in-store kiosks.  A touchscreen computer sits beside store exits.  Boston Chicken hopes customers will complete a 30-second survey of their opinions so they can better serve their customers’ needs.  The premise being that the freshest information is the most valuable.

Why aren’t you doing this with request lines?  Why ignore a golden opportunity to instantly tap into your listeners?  Request lines can provide a wealth of “instant” information.  Not only can you determine what listeners want to hear, but you can find out who is listening, what they like, what they don’t like and what they would like.  All without a kiosk.

It is a small investment in time and money to access information that is definitively important to your future.  It’s also the easiest way to keep the customer satisfied.  Everyone wants to believe their opinion counts.  No one wants to call their favorite station and hear the phone ring for hours.  It gives the impression that no one is listening.

A programmer who doesn’t pay attention will get the same impression.

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