Tag Archives: radio

20 Different Radio Formats with Top 5 Success

One of the things I love about my job is the broad perspective gained from helping a diverse array of clients in a diverse array of situations: different places, different demographics, different content types, different platforms. We’ve always felt that such a variety of experiences allows us to better serve our clients, as learnings build upon one another, sometimes in surprising ways.

Our work in radio takes us to many markets, and while there are certainly themes and trends that are widely evident, it’s also fascinating to see how different the successful brands of one community can be from the successful brands of another. If you think there’s a one-size-fits-all profile of winning in radio, let’s go ahead and debunk that theory with a year-end review of Nielsen Audio ratings. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s define “successful” as being a Top 5 station among 18- to 54-year-old persons, Monday-Sunday 6a-12m, across the average of January 2023 through December 2023*.

Looking at 15 of the largest markets in the U.S., we find no fewer than 20 different formats represented among the Top 5 stations in these markets. There are CHR, Hot AC, Mainstream AC, and Soft AC stations. There are Urban Contemporary, Urban AC, and Rhythmic/Throwback stations. Classic Hits and Adult Hits are represented, as are Classic Rock, Active Rock, Alternative, and AAA. Also included are Spanish Contemporary, Regional Mexican, and Tropical, plus Country, Contemporary Christian, News/Talk, and Sports. In almost any format, if you’re looking for a success story, you can find one somewhere out there.

The format path to Top 5 radio success doesn’t point in one direction. (Source: Shutterstock/StunningArt)

Of course, this doesn’t mean that any format will work in any situation. Market demographics (e.g., age, ethnicity) and culture (e.g., sports teams, music history) play a role, as do competitive dynamics (e.g., others in the format, others in adjacent formats). Moreover, even when you’ve got a format with high potential, success can hinge on the proper execution of day-to-day programming and marketing.

It’s not easy to get into the top tier of performance, but isn’t it kind of encouraging to know that there are many different ways to potentially get there?

*Source: Nielsen, Average Persons 18-54, January-December 2023, Monday-Sunday 6a-Mid

Advertising is More Valuable Than Premium Subscribers?

I read an article recently that surprised me. It explained that Netflix’s “Basic With Ads” subscribers are more valuable to Netflix than ad-free subscribers who pay $15.49 a month. I always thought the streaming business model depended on us all paying higher and higher subscription fees. Turns out, all these services want us to watch ads instead of paying higher fees.

Why? Because these companies learned that getting us to watch “premium ads” generates more revenue than monthly fees.

Photo credit: Koshiro K/Shutterstock

I personally love the ads. They give me a chance to get another drink, explain the show to my father-in-law, and use the bathroom. Plus, I’m learning about all kinds of new medicines that I didn’t even know I needed.

Now let’s consider the radio industry, which continues to rely on the ad model DSPs find so valuable, yet we seem to despise so much.

An unhappy program director may say “The commercials are killing the station!” But do listeners really feel that way?

We can argue another time about the legitimate issue regarding the quantity of commercials, but I have learned that commercials are expected on the radio—and maybe even quietly enjoyed by people like me.

So, what if we embraced the commercials? Worked hard at making them premium. And recognize that they are more valuable than any “subscription fee” we might someday be able to extract from an audience through our apps or other means.

When launching a new station, one of my mentors would include dummy commercials, mainly for concerts and new releases. He did this for two reasons: first, it gave the station credibility. Second, it created an expectation for commercials. Premium ones at that. Of course, he controlled the production and spent the time making them sound great.

I’m not the world’s biggest sports fan, but I have been enjoying the commercials I see during the baseball playoffs. Who doesn’t love a winged talking/singing Buffalo with his hooves on the bar? And it won’t be long until we have another round of Super Bowl ads to talk about.

There will always be advertising that radio stations are asked to run that is out of their control. But there are plenty that are within their control. Rather than focusing on how to not run them, maybe the focus should be on how to run and present them in a more appealing way.

Ads can be great if we make them great. And, as streaming services have learned, with the right ad structure there is real value to the bottom line.

Thank You and (Mostly) Goodbye, All Access

April 1989. The Gavin Report, a music industry trade magazine, is holding its annual convention at the St. Francis Hotel in my hometown of San Francisco. Milli Vanilli’s “Baby, Don’t Forget My Number” is going for adds in the newest issue of the publication, which features several testimonials to make you smile, including a quote from the acting PD of Emmis’s CHR KXXX/San Francisco (X100), Gene Baxter. One year later, Gene would become better known as “Bean” on what would become the iconic Kevin & Bean show on KROQ in Los Angeles.

I was 16 years old at the time, living the dream. I started as an intern at X100 the previous summer, and by this point, I was board-opping the respective countdown shows hosted by Casey Kasem, Rick Dees, and San Francisco legend “The Duke” Dave Sholin. I worked with the promotion team at remotes around the Bay Area, answered the request lines each afternoon for Chuck Geiger, and when I wasn’t working, made mock airchecks in the production room.

When the Gavin Convention came around, X100 had a suite and you didn’t need a ticket to access it. No more than 15 minutes following my arrival in the suite on the first day of the event, Jane Child (who had a song rising up the charts called “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love”) was sitting on this teenager’s lap.

Life was pretty good.

It got better. My entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, as I noticed attendees had either a badge or what looked like a wristband you’d see a hospital patient wear. I had neither, only access to our suite. The next afternoon, a friend and I drove to hospitals around the Bay Area searching for the perfectly colored and shaped wristband using the cover story with nurses that we needed it for a high school project. Our plan worked. We got into every single Gavin party the next night.

I already knew I wanted to work in radio, but that sealed the deal.

The Gavin Report went out of business in 2002, with Radio & Records following in 2006. But All Access, which started as the early adopter of online music industry journalism in 1995, was always there throughout my career. I started programming radio stations in 1995, and All Access has been my daily companion ever since (with the same username and password for the entire 28 years!) I read Net News every day the way some people play Wordle. It’s just a fabric of the routine.

There are simply so many moments All Access has been a part of. It proclaimed my “Leap of the Week” when I jumped from market #69 (at the time), Syracuse to market #4, San Francisco. During the three years during which I left the industry and wrote a book, Joel Denver didn’t hesitate when I asked if he’d promote it in All Access. Of course, he did. It was never a question.

I sing in a radio industry band that was formed at a Radio & Records convention what seems like a lifetime ago, led by record label executive Danny Buch, who spent most of his career at Atlantic Records. The band would play off and on at conventions, sometimes at off-campus sites like Tipitina’s in New Orleans and House of Blues in Los Angeles. If you were a band member, you would inevitably get a call from Danny every few years reenacting the classic Blues Brothers scene: “Jay, we’re getting the band back together.”

The radio industry band at its last performance, at All Access Audio Summit in 2019. Also the last time I would see Tony Banks from iHeartMedia, who passed away in 2021, bottom left.

In later years, the inconsistency of the band morphed into consistent annual appearances at All Access’s Worldwide Radio Summit, later renamed the All Access Audio Summit. It was understandable but heartbreaking when the conference went virtual due to the pandemic. Not just because the band didn’t play of course, but because radio conventions are a metaphor and mirror image of what’s so special about the industry and why we love it so darn much. It is best when it is live, in person, intimate, and fun. Over the years, I reconnected with former colleagues that I’d lost touch with and made new friends and deep connections. All Access did a tremendous service by hosting these events.

All Access Audio Summit was the inspiration for our Contemporary Music SuperStudy, a large-scale music test that tracked contemporary music tastes across the United States and Canada, which Coleman Insights produced for four years. We knew we wanted something special and actionable that we could debut at the event because it was worthy of the time and investment.

Contemporary Music SuperStudy

Anytime I’ve ever sent the All Access Net News team Coleman Insights stories, I’d almost always get an email back from Joel, in all bold font, usually within about five minutes, proclaiming that it will be featured in First Alert. I’ll miss that.

I think all of us at Coleman feel some semblance of kinship with All Access because of how we’re structured. In the case of All Access, it has competed with other solid trade publications that usually have a much smaller staff roster. All Access was always committed to hiring multiple professionals covering multiple formats. We too, have a significant team of professionals devoted to providing outstanding service to the industry amongst competitors that often have a fraction of the people. We believe it’s important and Joel has always believed this.

Although today is essentially its last day, I was pleased to read that All Access won’t be going away completely and will continue providing limited services. We all know it won’t be the same, but we also collectively appreciate the gesture.

So thank you, and (mostly) goodbye, All Access.

Will Radio Take Big Swings Like Major League Baseball?

Our company has season tickets to the Durham Bulls, the iconic minor league baseball franchise fictionalized in the 1988 box office smash “Bull Durham”. The team, the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, is almost always good. They’ve won the division in three of the past five years, six of the past ten years, and 12 of the past 20 years. They’ve claimed the league championship in four of the past six years. It’s a great team that plays in a great ballpark.

And yet, every single year, when I’m picking out which games to attend, I end up having versions of the same conversation with members of my family and several friends.

“I like going to the ballpark and having a hot dog and a beer, but baseball is so boring.”

Major League Baseball was clearly aware of this perception. What’s somewhat startling is that they did something about it. They did something big.

The most dramatic of baseball’s changes for the 2023 season was the universal adoption of a pitch clock. When there are no runners on base, pitchers have only 15 seconds between pitches to throw the next one, 20 seconds with runners on base, and 30 seconds between batters. In the past, it wasn’t unusual to see pitchers touch their cap, kick some dirt, chat with the catcher…pretty much take their grand ol’ time. Now by attaching penalties to pitch clock violations, the game should, in theory, move much faster.

And it is.

Pitch clock at Citi Field (credit: D. Benjamin Miller, Wikimedia Commons)

The average game time is 2 hours and 39 minutes, about a half hour shorter than last year. The games aren’t just shorter, they move faster. As a fan, your mind has less time to drift to…oh, I don’t know…your phone? You’re more engaged in the action. And though one might think baseball was always exceptionally slow, game lengths are more in line with where they were in the 1980s.

The pitch clock isn’t the only major rule change. The bases are larger, meaning the edges of first and second base are closer, meaning there’s more stolen bases and better odds of making it without getting thrown out. The number of stolen bases per game is the highest since 1999. A ban on crowding infielders on one side of second base has increased the batting average for balls in play for left-handed hitters. More hits=more exciting, right?

This is a lot of change at once for an organization (Major League Baseball) that was founded as the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs in 1876 and has a lot of tradition.

Although it’s early to be making profound proclamations, attendance and viewership are up.

It took Major League Baseball a very long time to take a good hard look at what likely was coming up in its perceptual research: “Baseball is boring.” As we often say, images are like icebergs. Slow to develop, slow to erode. The only way to change an ingrained negative image is to take big, bold swings that everyone will notice. Small fixes will not move the needle.

Baseball won’t fix the boring image overnight, and they may never do so. They’ve taken the big swings and made the changes, but now they must tell everyone about it or only the loyalists will notice. At least they’ve now got a fighting chance.

Just two years before Major League Baseball was incorporated, Gugliemo Marconi invented the “wireless telegraph” in his parent’s attic, an invention we all know led to what we now know as radio.

A form of entertainment with deeply ingrained perceptions, many of them negative, steeped in tradition, with new entertainment options swirling all around.

Taking a deep dive into perceptions of the medium would be a great first step.

Then, take big swings and tell everyone about it.

Does Radio Give You Goosebumps?

One of the best feel-good stories of the year originated in one of my favorite places I’ve ever lived and worked, Buffalo, New York.

You may recall Buffalo was blitzed with a snowstorm this past Christmastime that was massive even by Buffalo standards. When it was all said and done, the city absorbed 51.9 inches of snow in four days amongst hurricane-force winds. 36 of the 51.9 inches fell in a 24-hour period.

A December 2022 snowstorm dumped 52 inches of snow on Buffalo in four days

It was during this storm that Alexander and Andrea Campagna got a knock on their door and discovered 10 stranded South Korean tourists whose van was stuck in the snow outside their house. At first, they asked for shovels, but quickly realized there was no way to dig the van out. They called a towing company, the police, and the fire department, but nobody was going to be able to get there to help.

What followed was a beautiful act of generosity. The Campagnas invited the group to stay over two nights in sleeping bags, air mattresses, and in the spare bedroom. They cooked meals together (turned out the Campagnas were huge fans of Korean food and had many Korean ingredients and a rice cooker on hand). They watched an NFL game on Christmas Eve. They shared the unexpected experience together until the group could be picked up on Christmas Day.

A few weeks ago, the Campagnas were invited to Seoul as guests of the Korea Tourism Organization, where they were treated like heroes, receiving a 10-day all-expenses-paid vacation to thank them for their generosity.

Thinking about this story gives me goosebumps. And it got me thinking about the role radio stations can play in giving people this feeling.

We know from our research that attributes like “picks you up and makes you feel good” are often strongly desired by listeners. It’s not unusual to see attributes like this have some of the most mass-appeal measures, across age groups, genders, and ethnicities.

You may hear radio stations sharing feel-good stories every so often, perhaps in morning or afternoon show segments like “Tell Me Something Good”. But which radio stations or shows are making feel-good stories?

In a world with its share of negative news and a desire for feeling good and deeper connections, I’d love to hear about shows and stations that regularly facilitate feel-good stories in their community in different ways, from reuniting family members to supporting a local business that’s in trouble.

Let’s celebrate the power radio has to give us goosebumps. Share the stations and shows we should acknowledge in the comments.

Radio Needs to Shift the Overton Window

Coleman Insights Senior Consultant John Boyne and I first heard of the term “Overton Window” around 2006, and the person who taught us about it was Glenn Beck. We were doing work for Beck when he was on Headline News. Beck explained how the Overton Window changes and redefines perceptions of what is acceptable content, and how that changes as creators push for an edge. He noted that if the “acceptable” is never challenged, the content becomes bland. The show eventually loses its edge and becomes vulnerable to new content creators. He was committed to not letting that happen to himself.  He was intentionally moving the Overton Window, shifting expectations of political talk. Glenn Beck predicted the Overton Window would continue to move, making certain things that seem shocking, out of place, or off-brand become in-brand because the Overton Window has moved.

The shifting of the Overton Window in political talk began with the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987. The FCC Fairness Doctrine, which began in 1949, required holders of broadcast licenses to present opposing sides of controversial issues of public importance. With the 1987 debut of The Rush Limbaugh Show at KFBK-AM in Sacramento, the Overton Window began its shift. Before Limbaugh, listeners expected purely unbiased information on radio talk shows. For some time after the end of the doctrine, talk stations generally featured guests from both sides, even if not required to.

Rush Limbaugh began shifting the Overton Window for political talk following the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987

When moving the Overton Window, you must do it in little increments. If you go too far, the whole thing blows up and it doesn’t work. By focusing on an incremental shift, you change perceptions over time and it’s not as controversial or startling to the audience.

Notice how TikTok has moved the Overton Window for social media while Instagram and Facebook have lost their luster. It is difficult for brands to remain relevant when things are changing all the time.

Radio had a 60- or 70-year advantage of nobody moving the Overton Window in any significant way, though individual stations have done things to change perceptions individually. But with no one dramatically changing expectations, stations often got caught being stagnant.

Radio as a medium also has an expectation or image with consumers. For years, radio was the place for “my favorite” music, for entertaining talk, news, political talk, and more. But, because of a lack of dramatic change in individual stations, the Overton Window in which the medium lived (consumer expectations for how and where to consume music, entertaining talk, political talk, etc.) was not changing either.

New innovations and platforms have shifted the perceptions of music media. But radio is not part of the discussion often enough because it has not been a part of the changing of the Overton Window’s expectation set for music and talk. Radio as a medium is no longer offering what many consumers expect for radio’s type of content. It has allowed other media and their offerings to move the window.

For radio to change the Overton Window, it must do things that are dramatically new and maybe even risky. It must do things that podcasts, YouTube, and TikTok either cannot do or are not expected to do. And yes, live and local is important, but it’s not nearly enough on its own.

It needs to be game-changing.

The Overton Window of the medium’s expectation will only change when enough stations in enough markets are doing something different. Noticeably different.

Look how the Overton Window is changing television. The expectation has shifted so far away from linear TV to on-demand content, it has left broadcast TV in a hugely precarious position. Networks get incremental success with certain shows, but they don’t change the expectation of what broadcast TV can do.

Here’s Apple changing the expectation of what a smartwatch can do. It’s changing the Overton Window of the product.

So how does radio move the Overton Window?

For starters, every radio talent needs to be an expert at triggering emotional connections. If radio is to reach younger consumers, it needs to be live during times when teenagers at least have the chance to be listening.

And it needs game-changing content.

By all accounts, putting an NSFW show about medical and relationship advice for teenagers and young adults on an FM Alternative station sounds like lunacy. But Loveline, which aired on KROQ in Los Angeles from 1983-2018, attracted new young listeners and shifted the Overton Window for the station and format as it spread in syndication.

We’re talking about changing the expectation of an entire medium. It’s not easy, and may not be possible. It will require some very big thinking.

But picture a radio medium that significantly changes its value proposition. Then, picture someone outside of the business, a well-known celebrity with significant credibility with younger demos talking about their love and passion for radio and changing expectations of what to expect from the medium.

That’s how to get the Overton Window to shift. It is the way forward.

Rethinking Radio Bonuses

Every program director and air talent at a radio station is well-versed in how bonuses work. Get good ratings, you get a bonus. Get bad ratings, you don’t get a bonus (and perhaps get shown the door). There are many reasons why we should rethink the way radio rewards its employees, not the least of which being the sample challenges and wobbles of Nielsen ratings. But there’s also a more important philosophical reason to reevaluate radio’s bonus system: it’s rewarding the wrong thing.

Evidence from other businesses suggests that bonuses based on institutionalizing certain behaviors will achieve better consumer response than just focusing on the ultimate goal of more customers or more profit. For radio, that means focusing on a show’s behaviors, not ratings. To achieve ratings goals a show needs to have a well-thought-out process and perform behaviors that are proven to achieve a better show, and then better ratings will follow. Management should consider rewarding those processes and behaviors.

It’s no secret that we’re big believers in playing the long game. Building strong brands takes time and patience, but big brands are well rewarded. Weaker brands can manipulate ratings in the short-term with things like tactical contesting, but that takes substantial budget allocation. There’s one problem with tying the bonus of a PD or air talent to ratings–they usually can’t count on the budget being there, and they don’t get to make that decision. And yet, they’re penalized for it when it’s not.

The San Francisco Giants generated some buzz in the baseball world in 2021, when it focused on process and behavior over results, and the team notably overperformed expectations.

If the Giants treated their players like radio treats its talent, it would focus only on statistics like Batting Average and Earned Run Average the same way radio focuses on ratings. But rather, the team intensely focuses on the things that can truly affect positive change.

In other words, because batters were taught to more carefully select which pitches to swing at, they struck out less and walked more. This resulted in more runs scored because there were more players on base.

Rather than trying to find traditionally strong home run hitters, players were taught to focus on the specific launch angle of the ball off the bat (hitting the ball at specific angles was proven to be the sweet spot for hitting home runs) rather than randomly swinging away trying to get their bonus by hitting more home runs. When the Giants focused their players on launch angle, not on the number of home runs hit, the number of home runs went way up. They were the MLB leader last year in that category (and in one of the hardest ballparks to hit home runs).

What if, instead of bonusing morning shows on ratings, you bonused them on the process? Here are a few thought starters on what behaviors could be rewarded:

  • The process followed for planning and generating content for the show, rather than just saying “get better ratings” or “get a 5 share” (the equivalent of pushing for them to hit more home runs.
  • The number of meetings team members had in a week with the belief that more meetings mean more and better communication.
  • The subjective quality of the show as rated by the team themselves. Let them set their own level of show expectations.
  • Their willingness and expression of building the station brand versus just focusing on their own show.
  • Their ability and discipline in following a strategic plan.

Great shows wouldn’t be demoralized when a bad ratings book hits because they’d know they were doing the job that was expected of them. Management would be supporting them, rather than only focusing on ratings.  If building the station and show brand and ratings is truly a long-term game, support the morning show and keep them focused on the longer term.

Should bonuses be focused on behaviors rather than ratings?

What if morning shows were more involved in the strategic process rather than just being the domain of management? What if a station allowed the show to do their own research as a signal that you have their back? Would they accept and respond better to consumer feedback if they participated in it? What if they designed and conducted a study like a mediaEKG Deep Dive to test specific pieces of content? And, to the point of this blog, what if they were bonused based on how they responded and adjusted the show based on what was learned?

Radio thrives when it rethinks the way it’s done things. Maybe it’s time to rethink bonuses.

What Radio Can Learn From Travel Agents

The nightmarish (or “flight-marish”) scenarios greeting travelers this summer are no secret by now. Prepare for overworked and understaffed airlines, astronomical prices, and a slew of delays, rescheduling, and last-minute cancellations. It’s a cocktail of issues bound to stress out even the most seasoned traveler. How can you possibly ease your worries?

Would you believe…a travel agent?

On the May 13th  episode of Good Morning America, ABC ran a story called “Return of the Travel Agent”:

You may say, and understandably so, you need a travel agent about as much as you need a pager. They just aren’t required to get the job done anymore. If you’ve got access to the internet, you can whisk yourself away anywhere.

So why should use a travel agent in 2022?

According to the GMA story, travel agents:

  • Can find discounts and upgrades using their relationships with companies
  • Can help travelers “navigate the constantly changing rules of post-pandemic travel”
  • Specialize in the type of trip you want to take (i.e., cruise, safari, beach)
  • Can work within your budget

Travel agents say in the story their “business is booming.”

It’s a far cry from the 2005 New York Times article, “Travel Managers Worry They Face Extinction”, replaced by the 2021 New York Times article, “Make Way for the Travel Agents. Again.”

What can radio learn from the return of the travel agent?

We’ve referred to the overwhelming paradox of choice many times in Tuesdays With Coleman. It’s great to have so many entertainment choices until it’s not. Consumers are exhausted by the options because they are all-consuming. In podcasting, which platform to use? Which category to explore? Which podcasts to try? Which premium streaming service trial to take advantage of? Which playlist? What kind of mood am I in? Which SiriusXM channel to check out? Is it over Channel 100 or under? Will I remember to cancel when I need to? Which premium TV service? What was that show mom recommended to me? Which one has the Harry Potter movies?

It’s a lot of choice, and you’re the one doing the choosing. Kind of like booking your own vacation.

To be successful, a travel agent needs to recognize and embrace their point of differentiation. Planning a vacation is stressful. A travel agent takes that away.

In research, we’re always looking for points of differentiation. What images can you own to give you an edge on the competition?

Such is one very important role of a radio personality that perhaps gets overlooked. Rather than be frightened by the fact that your listeners can leave radio to choose what music or spoken word content they want to hear, embrace the opposite.

In some ways, radio personalities are the travel agents of media. They choose your entertainment adventure. They guide you through the experience. They lean on their expertise to share facts about the music, tell you about events you’ll enjoy, and provide experiences only radio stations have access to.

Perhaps radio’s curation over customization is just what consumers need.

And just like travel agents, they’re not dead yet…and maybe even on the verge of a renaissance.

How to Bring Messaging to Life

The new “911” commercial for the Apple Watch 7 series is absolutely amazing.

From the outset, you hear audio of three actual calls to 911: a woman whose car has flipped and is upside down in water; a paddle boarder stranded in the middle of the ocean; and a man who fell 21 feet and broke his leg. After nearly a minute of listening to audio from the three scenarios, we learn that all three were able to call 911 from their Apple Watch (and likely couldn’t get to their phones). The takeaway? Apple Watch helped save their lives.

This is an extraordinary example of how to use messaging to sell a core feature of a product. Because if Apple’s focus was on functionality, it would have sounded like this:

“The Apple Watch Series 7. If you’re in an accident or in trouble, you can make a call right on your watch, and it could save your life.”

Which is more powerful and effective—telling us what it does or playing the 911 audio?

How would these approaches play out in radio and podcasting?

A news station could do traffic reports…or it could present the reports in a way that help you understand how long it will take to get to work and will affect your commute. It could do weather updates…or it could present them in a way that helps you understand what to wear that day and how it may affect your plans throughout the day and evening.

A hit music station can just tell you it plays hit music, or it can bring the position to life, affirming it as the source for new releases, updates about which artists are in the studio, and who’s coming in concert.

A sports station can tell you Tamp Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown left in the middle of the game, or it could piece together a moment-by-moment drama.

A true crime podcast can just tell you the story, or can it provide an immersive audio experience that includes scripted reenactments.

Although it’s been used as a pop culture joke over the years, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” is one of the most powerful taglines ever used in advertising. It was first uttered in a 1989 commercial for LifeCall, which allowed an elderly woman to call for help right from a pendant with a microphone that could reach a dispatcher.

Like you can do with your Apple Watch!

But what if LifeCall had just had a voiceover tell us, “Wear the LifeCall pendant, and you’ll be able to reach a medical dispatcher. It could help save your life.”

Would that have worked as well as, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up?”

“The Apple Watch. Now with life-saving technology.”

Or 911 audio?

What messaging will you bring to life today?

Artificial Intelligence Is Coming for the Audio Industry

Recently, I was targeted on Facebook with an ad for a company called Speechelo.

Considering I actually do voiceovers part-time, I’m going to guess that’s why the algorithm chose me. Though, based on the content of the ad, I’d have to conclude their targeting misfired. (I may or may not be one of the angry faces among the 5.3K reactions.)

It’s not the first time the voiceover industry has been attacked with low-rent solutions. Head on over to Fiverr, for example, and you’ll find people happy to record some lines for you for a few bucks.

But this ad didn’t catch my attention because it saves you money. No, I think it was “Create Human-Sounding Voiceovers with 3 Clicks.”

The website boasts that you can have access to over 30 human-sounding voices in 23 languages for a one-time fee of $47. It claims you can paste your copy, select a voice, then change the pitch, emphasize words, add inflections, then simply click and generate your voiceover. It boasts integration with recording software including Premiere Pro and Audacity.

Not surprisingly, Speechelo isn’t the only game in town.

WellSaid Labs just raised $10 million for their AI “synthetic voice” business. You want a synthetic voice to match the cadence of yours? WellSaid can create “AI Voice Avatars.” The article envisions the technology being used for “engaging in complex real-time interactions with consumers, and reading scripts on computer-generated news programs.”

WellSaid Labs

WellSaid Labs just raised $10 million for their synthetic voice business


So it starts with simple voiceovers. Segments like e-learning are a no-brainer transition; you can easily see companies using these voices for things like online courses or company onboarding. But it sounds like many folks in customer service should pay attention to the line “complex real-time interactions with consumers.” And news anchors should heed “reading scripts on computer-generated news programs.”

Like it or not (and I’ll bet many of our readers don’t like,) artificial intelligence is coming for the audio industry. Imagine how this technology could transform local radio commercial production, and maybe it’s not all bad. Production directors no longer chasing down jocks after their shift to voice spots they didn’t want to do anyway. Using the avatar feature for clients that want to be in the spot but have trouble getting through a script.

But admittedly, it can be challenging to find bright spots.

There are those who will say, “What I do can’t be replaced by automation,” and that will be true for many. For others, it won’t be. Voice AI will improve over the coming years, and it will improve dramatically. The reasons why certain audio talent is irreplaceable is the same as it’s always been. Great talent generates unique, compelling content that emotionally connects with an audience.

AI can’t do that. At least not yet.