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WHY IS "EVERYONE" WAITING FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO DO IT?

by Jaye Albright

Director of Country Programming, Jacor Communications

I work with and listen to about two dozen radio stations. Thus, I am fortunate to be a part of quite a few very constructive planning, action timetable creation, brainstorming and goal-setting sessions each month.

Then, several months later, I return to those stations expecting to hear excitement, positive change and creativity on the air. Only, more often than I'd like, to be disappointed.

Two examples:

I recently helped a station create some exciting new jingles that cost us $5,000 to produce. Expensive, for the market size, but everyone who heard them thought they were worth it. Then, a month after the jingles were delivered, I visited the market and didn't hear a single jingle on the air in four hours of listening!

In another situation, following listener advisory panels that I moderated the station management team agreed that a 'no repeat workday guarantee' would be just what the listeners ordered.

Three weeks later, I checked in with the PD only to find out that were still "working out details" on implementation of the tactic. He wasn't sure when he could get it on the air.

I decided to write this item instead of either SCREAMING or FIRING SOMEONE, both of which I could easily do right now.

Speaking as a middle manager in one of America's larger radio companies, I wonder why it is that so few of our employees seem to see the sense of urgency in the opportunity in front of us. This is one of those high risk, high reward times that comes along only occasionally in every lifetime. Big changes are occurring; big demands are being placed on us. Big opportunity is ahead for those who are committed to rise to the occasion.

In radio today, there are - simply put - two situations: overwhelmed and unemployed. No question; many of us wish there was a THIRD option, but given the available choices, it seems that the wise selection is obvious.

I am not picking on anyone specific here, but I definitely see this as a general problem that many, many managers are talking to one another about. The bigger our corporations become, the more layers of bureaucracy there are and the more like characters in Dilbert many of us are becoming.

We can't allow that to happen to us. One broadcast paradigm has not shifted: radio is still the fast-moving, high-competitive, low loyalty business is has always been.

Thus, someone - our GMs, VPs, PDs, MDs, sellers and air personalities - has got to recognize the right thing to do and DO it, or we ALL pay the price.

Our owners are paying too much for our radio stations to allow us to become slower in our reaction times, complacent in our now-larger companies. We still only get seven or eight percent of the ad dollars and fewer than one fifth of the population is using radio in the average quarter hour.

Department of Justice concerns notwithstanding, our stations don't have a monopoly on anything and certainly NOT on our users' TIME. And, none of us can afford to act as if we do. The companies we work for are worth more than ever. That just means that we have a lot more to lose should we fail to please our listeners and media buyers.

THUS: when are we going to stop making excuses? There can always be a "good reason" why you couldn't do something. But, the people who manage to find a way in spite of all those good reasons are the winners. The ones with good reasons why they couldn't do something get left in high achievers' wake.

What can you do to minimize irritants NOW? Maybe the processing equipment isn't perfect. The spot load is too high. You're overworked. The listeners don't know those things. What can you do right now to make a difference they can HEAR?

"I don't think" needs to be replaced with "I am sure." If you don't know, find out. Don't guess. If you don't know what moves the meter among the many things you're being called upon to do, ask someone.

For example, what is REALLY important is there must be a clear definition of your position statement. Do you demonstrate what the words you say to describe your station to listeners MEAN to them, in terms they might use themselves? Do you have a user's guide to the radio station that is built to increase daily occasions of listening? Can you hear everything important that your station is about in a random half-hour of listening? Can this be executed flawlessly, every time, by even your weakest part-timer?

Ask part time, weekend and overnight talent if they understand precisely what the formatics need to be for your station to recruit listeners. If they don't know exactly what to do, that is not their fault. It is yours. Set up an easy-to-understand sound hour. When your liner says "new music," play new music. When a liner stages "variety," play variety. When a jingle says "fun," precede it with something creative and FUN.

Have the specific elements mapped out "bigger than life" in the control room so that it's easy and simple to do the format correctly. Make it difficult to do the wrong thing.

Your goal should be to ALWAYS have a better song on the air than the competition. On a routine basis, take several hours of each station's music that aired during the exact same time frame and refer to your research. How many times did our songs perform better than their songs?

If we are not hitting a 75% or better mark, then we should retool our library until it does! These are the basics of counter programming. When do they play their secondary tracks? Powers? Recurrents, etc? How about us? We should always be playing the better song, category for category, song by song.

Do the same exercise with current contest promos. Are you BIGGER, simpler to win, easier to play than THEY are? Is there an uncomplicated reason to listen built in? If not, what can you do to change that, immediately?

Keep "new stuff" coming on the air constantly. The stations that sizzle are constantly fresh and NEW. Never let the NEWNESS wear off your sound. This requires daily updating and rewriting of fresh, time-dated production imagery. It's not easy. But, it can be FUN. Specialize in SURPRISE. I cannot think of a better way to spend money than on the on-sir product and imaging is crucial.

Understand what elements are important and prioritize. Nothing moves the ratings faster than SIZZLE of HOT, FRESH and NEW unexpected, creative, well-produced FUN. Listeners know when you are faking it. And, speaking as "your" programming manager, I can too. So, please don't wait for me to discover it: DO IT. Develop non-negotiable standards for yourself and your coworkers. There is no person who is more impatient with the status quo than me. So, now that you know that (if you didn't already), use me as a resource. Together, we both can be agents of growth.

But, I can't do your job for you. And, making exciting radio is your job.

NOW.

© 1998 by Jaye Albright
(albright@usa.net)

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