By Holland Cooke
BLOCK ISLAND, RI — I’d say “QUICK! What day is it?” But I just told you. Although by Wednesday many among us might need to double-check. Early March seems forever-ago, yet like yesterday. Life under quarantine has blurred the listener routines we need to be part of.
Waypoints were wiped-out.
Perennial occasions are life markers, except this year, when rites of spring were wronged.
- Graduates didn’t walk. Basketball and hockey haven’t ended and baseball hasn’t begun. We didn’t suffer the usual terrible restaurant service on Mother’s Day. Father’s Day? Tough to plan, as states’ phased reopenings unfold, based on how we’ve social distanced (NOT well in some places).
- Easter and Passover went under-celebrated. Or were supposed to. Our governor – a devout Catholic – begged her fellow faithful to keep weekend gatherings down to 5-or-fewer. Not all kept-kosher. Two weeks later COVID-19 hospitalizations spiked here.
- Memorial Day, usually an island-wide party in the summer haven where I live, was surreally quiet, with bars and hotels closed and restaurants in take-out mode.
- Summer vacation plans? Way up-in-the-air, as airlines and destinations are question marks, and many families are financially challenged (as in lining-up for food).
We’re deprived and disoriented…and sampling information and entertainment options.
Don’t shoot the messenger.
Radio touts Reach, while Time Spent Listening has decreased every year for two decades. Now, the shutdown has accelerated trends already in motion, like telecommuting, teleconferencing, television-instead-of-theaters. And non-AM/FM audio consumption.
Even before time in-car plummeted, Digital had been eating away at TSL there for years.
- Radio’s claim that we’re “King in the car” erodes with each car purchase. The lease turn-in creampuff I just bought features a circa 2017 info-tainment system that hides AM/FM. Speak what you want to hear, right down to song titles if you’re Prime with Amazon (which forced several legacy department stores into bankruptcy in May).
- Listeners didn’t even wait for these new-tech dashboards. They were plugging smartphones into cars’ USB ports a dozen years ago. Analogy we Baby Boomers remember: Those FM converters we bought aftermarket in the ‘70s, from a store named “Radio Shack.”
- Users leapfrog to new technology. Broadcasters were already following, not leading, them to new platforms. Then, pandemic.
“Morning drive?” “Afternoon drive?” “Listen at work?” ‘Seems quaint now.
Old-school radio benchmarks are toast, but fundamentals endure.
And doesn’t THAT sound like a consultant?
Radio was already weathering a perfect storm: Satellite radio, streaming, and podcasting came along JUST AS mid-1990s Consolidation tee’d-up the continuing cutbacks that have rendered most broadcast hours robotic. Then Alexa, now the shutdown.
- 15 years after he said it at the TALKERS New York conference, I still attribute the quote to Michael Harrison: “Give them something they can’t get anywhere else.” Even among the dizzying array of options in my new used car, your station will remain conspicuous, and advertisers will notice.
- Talk radio suffers most when windy host opinions upstage information, which is changing so quickly now. Be useful. Clark Howard is a rock star.
- Music stations I hear doing well balance empathy and oasis, quotable factoids between long music sets that light logs enable. Local references will distinquish you from Pandora et al.
- You saw that New York Times front page with names of 1,000 who died from the coronavirus? Regardless of format, if your station website looks normal, change it. These aren’t normal times; and even if they were, that web site should be about listeners’ lives, not just an online brochure about a radio station.
- Cliché Alert: “During these unprecedented times…” is the new drinking game. Knock-one-back every time you hear it and you’ll be hammered in no time. Skip it. Your listeners are already drinking more than pre-pandemic (OperationsInc research: a third ADMIT it). They know times are unprecedented. ‘Have been for months. Cut to the next sentence, and you’ll sound less-rushed.
PS: On Wednesday, play “Ode To Billy Joe.”
Holland Cooke (HollandCooke.com) is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. He is the author of the e-book “Holland Cooke: Greatest Hits” from Talkers Books. Click the ad banner in the right-hand column on this page for an instant download. And he hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America. Follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke