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I remember the scene vividly. It was the Christmas episode of WKRP called “Bah, Humbug” (Episode 0052 to be exact) a WKRP version of ‘A Christmas Carol’. In the episode Mr. Carlson is haunted by the three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Dr. Johnny Fever, as the ghost of Christmas future, shows Mr. Carlson that the station has become totally automated, in fact Herb, who has taken to talking to himself is the only employee left. At the time I saw this I wasn’t working in radio but thought, ‘what a sad thing to happen’!

Well folks get your bags and get ready to disembark because we have arrived at Christmas future! While it takes more than one person to run our radio stations our on air product has become as homogenous as a computer chip generated playlist could make it. We only play the songs that have been tested and we only test the songs that are already being played by everyone else, not wanting to ‘take a chance’ on an unproven song. The focus of our marketing is on the morning show because that’s the only live, local part of our day…if that. To make it worse new radio talent isn’t being developed or can’t be developed because of the state of radio. Does this really mean that radio is dead? Not necessarily.

The Future
What radio has failed to learn are the tricks that marketers have been using for decades, despite having the concepts poured out right in front of us in the form of national commercials. So what can we learn from them? Simply put, ‘Branding’!

Understand How Your Audience Sees You
McDonalds made a mistake when it introduced the ‘adult meal’ because they forgot how their customers saw them…as a restaurant for kids. While it made sense for them to introduce a McMeal for adults, after all it is adults who are bringing their children to eat at the golden arches.

Speak To Your Audience
Back in the days when there were no other real entertainment options it was easy for radio to take itself too seriously, believing listeners to be mere minions cowering beneath powerful broadcast towers. Well, it’s not so much like that anymore. Speak to your listeners in a human voice, both in your promos and imaging as well as your live on-air presentations. As often as possible include the listeners point of view in your promos. Stop trying to “sell” your listener and talk to them as an equal.

Stay Focused
Whenever you sit down to write promos/liners keep your ‘brand’ in mind and never stray from the vision of who your listeners believe who you are.

One of the advantages we have over the Coca-Cola’s of the world is that we ARE a broadcast medium. So why don’t we use that to our advantage?

Branding your radio station should be the singular focus of your ‘anti-Christmas Future’ efforts to increase market share and to make yourself stand out as a viable entertainment option for your audience. Here’s one last thought to help motivate you: imagine your sales director running your radio station, alone from a single computer terminal…scary thought? Get to work on your brand quick!

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