Lessons from Rebuilding a Struggling Radio News Station

| February 15, 2017

By Bill McMahon
The Authentic Personality
CEO

 

EAGLE, Idaho – Competition, ownership and on-air personnel changes, misguided attempts to attract a younger audience and location on the AM band combined to reduce a former major market-leading news station to an also-ran. There was hope that moving the station from AM to FM might help things. Nope. That’s when the rebuild began.

Here are some lessons learned from the rebuilding process that influenced changes in the station’s content, presentation style and relationship with its listeners that helped the station return to consistent ratings prominence – top 5 AQH share for adults 25-54 in all dayparts 6A-7P Monday through Friday:

  • News is what a news station does, but not why it does it. News stations are actually in the life enrichment business. News merely provides the vehicle and fuel for helping to make listeners’ lives more interesting, meaningful and fun.
    • Listeners highly value stories that provide meaningful emotional experiences that challenge them to think, feel and grow.
    • Listeners prefer stories about people and their behavior over stories about stuff and things; stories about life’s struggles and triumphs, joys and sorrows, mysteries and big questions.
    • Human behavior is a subject with universal appeal. Why do people think and feel the way they do? Why do people do what they do? These real-life questions and mysteries are things every human being seeks to answer and solve.
    • Complex and controversial stories are ideal fuel for providing life enrichment.
  • Listeners want more than a quick superficial headline summary of stories, particularly those that are complex or controversial. The main facts of these stories and opposing soundbites are available on demand on every smart phone and computer from multiple sources.
  • The ideal length of a story should be determined by the time it takes to tell a complete story that is meaningful to listeners.
  • Listeners enjoy and prefer an informal, intimate, authentic conversation style presentation of the news.
    • Hosts and reporters that fully engage intellectually and emotionally with the stories they present, sharing relevant personal experiences and feelings about how the stories are affecting them.
    • Hosts and reporters that have a sense of humor and fun.
    • Hosts and reporters that provide context and blend analysis and informed commentary with the facts of the stories to help further the listeners’ understanding of what’s really going on.
  • Listeners love participating in the journalistic process and the search for truth. When hosts and reporters share their questions, theories, suspicions, speculations, doubts, frustrations, conclusions, successes and failures it makes storytelling more interesting and allows listeners to follow along and contribute if they so desire.
  • News people tend to view news reporting in terms of events rather than stories. This causes them to miss stories contained in events and drop stories prematurely when events end. Events are obvious and easy to report. Stories not so much. The execution of a criminal is an event. Not much life enrichment in the details of the event. The criminal’s life story and what inspired his or her crime or life of crime as well as the victim or victims’ stories are often loaded with life enriching possibilities.
  • Reporters and journalists are frequently trapped in the current “news cycle” when determining what is news. If it didn’t happen in the last 24 to 48 hours somehow it’s no longer news.
  • The best stories don’t expire. Their themes and messages are timeless, always relevant.
  • Story relevance to listeners is not necessarily related to the geographic proximity of the story.
  • Traditional radio and television news contains far too much common crime, ordinary human misfortune, politics, and political process events. Convenience store robberies, house fires and car crashes don’t offer much in the way of life enrichment.
  • It’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract a loyal audience that can be monetized being a news generalist. “News” is available everywhere. If a news program or station doesn’t have a distinctive and identifiable news specialty or point of view its likely to get lost in a world of smart phones, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and countless “news” websites delivering all kinds of “news” on demand 24/7.

Bill McMahon, CEO of The Authentic Personality, is a longtime talk radio station and talent consultant who has played a role in the development of the careers of many leading hosts over the past three decades.  He can be phoned at 208-887-5670 or emailed at Bill@AuthenticPersonality.biz

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Category: Advice