By Holland Cooke
Internet-based innovation is disrupting every legacy industry.
Ask an insurance agent or travel agent or stock broker or bookstore owner, if you can find one. Or the record labels or TV networks or cable companies. Or stores. This year, Black Friday happened on smartphones. Most AM/FM broadcast hours are now automated.
In today’s Gig Economy, the cabbies’ cartel was ripe for disruption. Now, hacks who haven’t yet defected to Uber (or Lyft) give you an earful. NOT making this up: As a New York cabbie crabbed that “there are 11,000 taxi drivers in the city and 14,000 Uber drivers!” an ad recruiting Uber drivers came on the radio!
Radio is being end-run like crazy:
- Listeners don’t need FM to hear music. Heck, they PAY SiriusXM and iTunes and Amazon et al to avoid 6-minute commercial stopsets.
- No need to wait for information staples like weather and traffic “on the eights;” or news, or sports scores or the play-by-play that used to be a radio franchise. They’re apps now.
- While radio talkers monologue, people now dialogue via Social Media.
With content now a commodity, what makes radio special?
The same thing that amuses me so much about Uber: the characters. Every driver I’ve had is a story. The 68 year-old who drove me this week looked like he might’ve been at Woodstock. Retired Harvard professor. “What’s the longest ride you’ve ever given?” I asked. “From Rhode Island to Washington DC,” he laughed. “How much?” I HAD to ask. “About a thousand dollars.”
Your mileage may vary. Drivers I’ve had say they clear $20 to $65 an hour; and get paid like clockwork every Wednesday. And they’ve figured out where and when the most lucrative rides will be. As I tumbled off Amtrak, I hit the Uber app at the curb, and a driver standing 10 feet away, recognizing me from his app, said “Holland?” He knew the train schedule. Another driver told me his jackpot was Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights in Newport. Every time he takes restaurant-goers over the bridge, Uber charges his E-Z Pass the 83 cent RI resident rate, and charges the passenger the $4 cash toll, and he pockets the difference. There’s also an airport surcharge. Ka-ching.
You don’t have to tip Uber drivers, but I do, because I end up interviewing them. FAQ: “What’s the worst ride you’ve ever had?” Several told me: “The couple in the back seat was fighting.” One driver recalled how “He accused her of cheating on him, grabbed her phone, and started reading flirty texts from the other guy. Awkward!”
We used to pay for audience research.
In the 1980s, stations did focus groups. The 1990s research fad was one-on-one interviews with people screened to represent the station’s target listener. By the 2000s, research was cut from the budget.
TALKERS readers and hosts I coach are accustomed to my mantra that “everything we do is story-telling.” And like these enterprising drivers, our listeners – who are also coping – are stories.
So what if you drove for Uber, or Lyft? Even if only for a few hours a week. Ask your passenger, “What station would you like to hear?” and otherwise…converse. Drivers I’ve had chatted with me about Trump, supermarkets, their teenagers, Netflix, and other everyday concerns and interests…the stuff we used to pay to hear while we were sitting quietly behind that one-way mirror during focus groups.
Holland Cooke (HollandCooke.com) is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke, and see his video “Listeners Expect to be Heard” this month on TalkersTV.