Coleman Insights President Warren Kurtzman recently circulated an email with a piece of audio attached. In the clip, a man named Steve called in to Chicago’s Classic Rock station 97.1 The Drive and left a voicemail that said, “You guys are doing such a great job, I just had to call.” Everyone has time to complain or say something negative these days, but who takes the time to pay a passionate, emotional compliment to their favorite local radio station?
I called WDRV Program Director Rob Cressman to learn more about what inspired Steve from Chicago. He said, “That particular audio represents hundreds of equally passionate others who have emailed, called the request line, or called and left me messages on my desk phone.”
Just what, exactly, inspired this wave of emotional response?
The national anthem of the United States, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
In our conversation, you’ll discover how 97.1 The Drive didn’t just play the national anthem a few times–the playing of the anthem became a COVID-inspired benchmark, airing four times each day, and it continues to be played daily at Midnight and Noon.
Rob and I took a deep dive into the thought process behind the playing of the anthem, the delicate execution, the remarkable response, and the brand building lessons learned to find more passionate listeners so deeply inspired by their local radio station, they just have to call.
Below are highlights from our conversation, a link to Steve from Chicago’s voice mail/our full interview audio, as well as a sampling of emails received by 97.1 The Drive.
On whether he’s ever seen a listener response like this:
I don’t think I’ve ever seen an outpouring that’s been this consistent and strong. I think probably after 9/11 would be the closest. I was working in Memphis at the time, and we did something similar that indicated unity and brought the community together. People were prone to reach out and say thank you, but not at this magnitude. This has been surprisingly overwhelming.
On the delicate presentation of the Star Spangled Banner:
It does play without additional fanfare or commentary. I was very cautious because I didn’t want to be perceived as pandering or being political in any way. That’s a tricky widget.
On how playing the national anthem changed listener behavior:
People were setting their internal clocks. They’d hear the national anthem and know it’s either 12 or 6, AM or PM. So many of them stop what they’re doing, observe this couple minutes of silence while they listen to it, no matter what they’re doing or where they are. It’s gratifying to know that we can still do something in 2020 on the radio that absolutely changes and affects people in such a way that changes behaviorally.
On generating listener passion during and after a crisis:
It’s about being in the minute, being connected to a community, and thinking the way many of your constituents do. It’s about super serving fans who are experiencing some of the worst times of their lives, and trying to affect a change of mood, a change of attitude, something that’s unifying, something that people can feel is tangible and makes them part of a larger group. It’s having arms outstretched and welcoming people into the club, without those people having to jump through one hoop.
On having the right people on the team:
It’s important to not only have a staff, but having the staff who has been coached to a level to understand the importance of aligning with the community and understands the importance of amplifying a particular mood or spirit. When things change culturally, when things change politically, when things change surprisingly, we’re able to pivot and adapt so we can be in the moment with so many people in Chicago and beyond.
Listen to call + interview:
A small sampling of messages received by 97.1 The Drive listeners:
Who ever decided to Play the National Anthem (Star Spangled Banner) at the end of your playing segments /sessions deserves a raise /pat on the back. I listen to The Drive at home and in my Jeep. So keep the good work / forward thinking up. Thanks again for being a Patriotic station.
Being a father of two service men, one in the Army and one a Marine /now police officer, I am very pleased to hear at the Noon hour that you have not caved in ,and are still playing our wonderful National Anthem everyday. I always stop my noise making and listen when it comes on. Thank you so much for your support of this wonderful country, and PLEASE don’t ever stop. Thank you.
Sending you an “attaboy” for playing the National Anthem. Inspired. I sang along. Loudly.
I’m a patriotic nam veteran, and TRULY appreciate the playing of our fantastic national anthem. I’ve heard it at Noon, and at 6pm. I have spread the word at my American Legion,
As I traveled my work route at noon today, The Drive played the Star Spangled Banner – in its entirety! I turned up the volume and rolled down my windows. I was proud to listen to it and proud to be an American.
I was driving home from church today and enjoying the music when I realized I was hearing our National Anthem! That amazed me!