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Monday Memo: Is “On-Air” now “Old School?”

| July 26, 2021

By Holland Cooke


BLOCK ISLAND, RI – In the summer of 1974, there were two slogans on the WPRO/Providence studio whiteboard:

  • “The Station That Reaches The Beaches,” the legacy liner with which long-ago PD Al Herskovitz bludgeoned high-band directional AM format competitor WICE; and
  • “The Greatest Summer of Your Life,” by then-PD Jay Clark. And for me it sure was. He hired me for Saturday and Sunday nights, $2.50 an hour, and I would have paid him. That gig was my career turning point.

As Jay showed me around the station that day, he pointed to the whiteboard, and said – winking as he took the pipe out of his mouth – “Keep saying those two lines.” And he had us walking-the-talk, showing-up everywhere, creating our own events and hijacking others. Delivering experiences.

Under assault, from consultants…

Crosstown WJAR (now WHJJ) suddenly sounded lots like then-mighty WBT,Charlotte that consultant Tom McMurray had PD’d. He even brought Mike Ivers along for afternoons, joining market mainstays Charlie Jeffords (mornings) and Mike Sands (middays), and Andy “Big Ange” Jackson (nights) late of WPRO. And they promoted, off-air, like crazy.

And with processing cranked-up to eleven, WGNG (now Catholic Relevant Radio) pushed its 1KW at 550 to-the-max. Legend has it that when ex-WCFL PD John Rook showed up to consult, the first thing he asked was “Show me the towers.” AM was the music battleground. But not for long. Inbound shortly thereafter, durable Mike Joseph flipped the newspaper-owned non-starter FM to hits, attacking WPRO-FM, also recently gone-CHR to flank our AM.

If, wherever you were, the Top 40 station had PAMS jingles, the lyrics included “fun.” Seems quaint now, eh?

Back to the future.

Fun experiences had already gone-virtual pre-pandemic. And now – even with pent-up demand to go places and do things – the Delta variant has some listeners wary, and others are broke. As are stations not staffed -for and capable-of old-school touch-and-feel encounter.

With music radio fighting-for-its-future against streaming – and most broadcast hours now robotic – stations that still invest in local DJs that can still bring the “fun” will be conspicuous. Ditto talk radio, now largely plug-n-play with sound-alike syndicated political shows.

Yes, podcasting delivers on consumers’ expectation for on-demand EVERYTHING. And it’s an opportunity to let retailers sponsor pertinent special interest topics. Think weekend how-to talk programming on steroids. Our listeners are already audio consumers, and our transmitters can tell ‘em this other content is available. But these are still digital dimes, compared to the analog dollars solid live programming and painstakingly-crafted commercials will earn us.

Who are YOU, to THEM?

What’s on your studio whiteboard? What can you offer – and deliver – that distinguishes you from all the other audio choices we now compete with?

Distill your proposition, and drill-it-in. When I programmed all-news WTOP, Washington in the 80s, crosstown WASH-FM PD Bob Hughes complemented me after listening to the market for a week aboard his sailboat on Chesapeake Bay. He told me our mantra “Where you get the Top News…INSTANTLY” just jumped out of the speaker.

Now I’m the consultant (as is Jay). And I am pleasantly surprised by recent demand – from the independently-owned stations we call “mom & pop” – for me to coach their local news people, sharpening their copy. And as newspapers nosedive, clients like are stepping-up, aggressively publishing more-than-just-audio. But broadcast radio is still the #1 reach medium that drives eyeballs to stations’ digital assets. And as we’re back in-car, radio keeps-pace with the busy consumers retailers want to see pull-into the parking lot.

Holland Cooke is the author of the E-book “Multiply Your Podcast Subscribers, Without Buying Clicks,” available from Talkers books (click the banner on this page). He is a consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet.  And HC hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America.  Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke

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Category: Advice