Go back far enough in the history of music radio and you find deejays who picked the music on their shows. These were music-connected people first and entertainers second. To be sure, those who rose the highest were entertainers in their own right, but it was their connection to the music, their understanding of the emerging youth culture in the country and their often entrepreneurial spirit that drove their success.
Eventually stations took control of their playlists and set up procedures to be used for music selection and scheduling, often removing on-air personalities from any real control and often any influence. But, the great bulk of those who remain as on-air personalities on local stations are people whose initial interest was just being on the radio or were driven, at least initially, by a love or affinity for music.
While the radio business accepted using research to “test” music, the bulk of the research for the other parts of a music radio presentation is the ratings themselves. Arguably, this worked just fine when a radio station’s major competition was limited to other radio stations. It’s a bit like the business that has been a major supporter of radio stations for decades: local car dealers.
You’re well aware of the loud, boisterous advertising and promotional tactics of car dealers – often the bane of PD’s. The job of the car dealer is to get the consumer to buy the car from them instead of another car dealer. And car salespeople consistently rank among the least-trusted occupations. Many of us need a car. Many of us love cars. But, few of us enjoy buying a car from a dealer.
While not a perfect analogy, there is a similarity between music radio and car dealers. People like cars, but often dislike car dealers. But, if you want the car, you probably have to go through the dealer. People love music, but don’t always love radio stations. But, if all you want to do is hear the music…you need to listen to the radio…until or unless there are inexpensive, highly-portable ways other than radio to hear music. And, of course, those ways are here and are migrating quickly to equal status with the car radio.
When it’s local radio versus the lower-commercial-load, ultimately-flexible, infinitely-customizable Internet brand, can our on-air personalities be anything less than stellar? Can we afford for them to be anything less than raving fans of the songs they’re playing, with perfectly-scripted, captivating tidbits about the songs, the artists, area appearances, etc.? Can we afford for them to be anything less than engaging storytellers with interesting voices and honest enthusiasm for everything they present? Are we relying on people trained in operating the equipment or people trained in acting?
What about the produced elements? Obviously they need to be perfect as well. But, when was the last time we asked listeners how they feel about them? Are our production values engaging and entertaining for listeners? With consumers exposed to more and more pieces of produced video and audio on a daily basis – does our production stand out in a positive way?
The audio entertainment landscape is complex and getting more and more crowded. Can we afford to rely on the way we’ve always done it?