By Holland Cooke
BLOCK ISLAND, RI — I read the news today…oh boy. ‘Tis the season, and every day brings news of new firings. It’s brutal. Fridays are fearful for everyone but the guy who sells cardboard boxes. And there’ll be more. Cutbacks that come in January are by kinder companies who at least spared the doomed a blue Christmas.
As you can imagine, I hear, quickly, from displaced program directors, and I always take their calls. Heck, they always took mine. Local on-air talent has been getting whacked all along, automated into oblivion. As that’s been happening, PDs survived by adding host duties to their repertoire…until now. The job once titled “Program Director” became “Operations Manager” as additional stations were dumped-into his/her lap; then “Brand Manager” when even-more-duties-for-no-more-pay were reported as promotions in the trade press. Now, The Big Companies are splicing-out that entire middle management layer.
This may be the most opportune time ever for canny radio programmers.
That’s not a misprint. Yes, PDs are expendable. And, alas, much of what airs is becoming insufficiently appealing/engaging/local/special to compete with new-tech competitors that are eating into AM/FM use. Just this week we learned that Time Spent Listening is down, again, slightly, from a year ago. No mystery if you listen to much of what passes for weekend talk programming. And THERE’S the opportunity I describe when I’m talking a freshly terminated PD down off the ledge.
In “The New Normal,” the audition for a weekend talk radio show = the check didn’t bounce. And that business model sure will become weekday business as usual. So I’m urging anyone willing to listen to ride the horse in the direction he’s facing.
Don’t buy! Rent.
Admittedly, what I’m about to describe is not for everyone. For a couple decades, industry elders have preached that, “if you’re in radio, you’re in sales.” Some displaced PDs heard that, many didn’t. If you’re entrepreneurial enough to be sales-involved – whether you’re a PD or on-air talent – that bought you some time workin’ for The Man. Time’s up.
Good News/Bad News. Bad News: Now, with even top-biller SALES REPS getting canned, your multiple skills and roster of endorsement spot clients no longer make you indispensable. Good News: If you’re sales-savvy, you’re advantaged for the new business model.
Parlay your assets into Do It Yourself radio. I’m not talking about podcasting-instead. I’m talking about renting transmitter time. All that many news/talk stations ask of weekend talent is pay-for-play, so consider pay-and-program.
If transmitters are merely real estate, observe Real Estate 101: O.P.M.
“Other Peoples’ Money,” to pay for the weekend airtime of which you’ll be PD.
Whose money? Lowest-hanging fruit is:
- Attorneys: Because laws vary state-to-state, this topic is much less opportune for national programming than local. See the TV commercials? And how about those billboards hanging over the Interstate? THE INTERSTATE, where many of the eyeballs being counted don’t even belong to locals! And thumb through the Yellow Pages, the 8-track of ad media. Law firm advertising demonstrates an ego radio can massage. And, done well, these Q+A shows are superb lead generators. And because you’re a programmer, you can teach a lawyer how to do good radio. Based on experience, I’ll warn-you-away-from big firms. Too much hubris, too hard getting past the receptionist. Aim lower. Newbies and single practitioners and specialists are a better bet. If no one prospect can eat a weekly deal, rotate several, into a weekend segment called “The Lawyer is In, The Meter is Off.”
- Veterinarians: Those critters aren’t “animals,” they’re full-fledged family members. Dog lovers pony-up several thousand dollars for hip replacements! Tip: You’ll never get a vet to sit still in a radio studio on Saturday, when they’re jammin’ at the office. So leverage your skill set to do what we do at stations I work with: pre-record, using voicemail and Email for ask-the-doc’ questions you invite with weekday ROS promos your transmitter landlord includes with your weekend longform buy.
- REALTORS! Also busy weekends, so pre-produce them too. Spring is prime time.
- “And find a food dude, a wino, a health-and-fitness guru, a financial advisor, and loquacious purveyors of other buff stuff and how-to.”.
Ask the sales manager how much that otherwise-respectable news/talker wants for 2 or 3 daylight weekend hours. Then negotiate. As an insider, you know the shorthand. Then pitch would-be talkers. Fashion well-assembled podcasts into a weekend magazine. Hot-clock 3-segment hours. Mark it up good, and keep the change.
Prediction: In 2015, enterprising ex-PDs – some in partnership with sellers also being fired — will LMA entire stations.
Be “the PD of podcasting.”
That transmitter makes you real-enough to pitch retailers; but you’re selling them more than airtime. Retailers who survived The Great Recession were nimble and observant. THEY SEE people hypnotized by that-thing-in-the-pocket-we-used-to-call “a phone.” So content you prepare for air goes there too. Tweet hashtag-laden links to single-topic podcasts and online content that moves the ball for your clients.
Most of the plumbing is free. A decade ago I was hollering “Wordpress” from the stage at the TALKERS conference. Today, it’s estimated that one quarter of all web sites are FREE WordPress templates.
At www.HollandCooke.com, click “Talkers/RadioInfo Archive,” and peruse these articles:
- Is YOUR Job Still In The Budget?
- 3-part series: How-To Pump-Up Your How-To Show
- Are You Doing BOTH KINDS of Radio?
- Before You’re Numb (or FIRED), Interview Your Dentist.
- Talk Radio Weekends: 2 Sure-Shots
- Can Twitter Help Save Your Job?
- Have You Hugged a Lawyer – or AN EXTERMINATOR – Today?
- Upgrade to FREE
Holland Cooke is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet; and he covers conventions for TALKERS and RadioInfo. Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke