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 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.
Remember when you went to the fair as a kid and there was a booth called “Fool the Guesser?” This eccentric gentleman was tasked with guessing your age (within two years), your weight (within 3 pounds), or the month of your birthday (within two months). If he got the answer wrong, you won a prize. It was a simple trick. He had to know the answer to just one question. As crazy as this guy looked, somehow, he seemed to always get the answer correct, mystifying the gathering crowd.
“Fool The Guesser” at the New York State Fair. Source: Syracuse.com
Was he psychic? Or are these things just obvious to an astute observer?
Many years ago, I met a radio researcher who claimed that the answer to just one question was the key to winning or losing radio stations. Just like in Fool the Guesser. Curious about what that question might be? I was too. The question was “What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of (radio station name)?”
His line of thinking was that if most listeners mentioned the base music position of the radio station, the station was in a healthy place. If they mentioned the morning show, a contest, a feature, or some other programming element before music, he would say the station was not properly branded, and in a bit of trouble. The classic radio example is Howard Stern. Howard’s brand was so powerful, it overpowered the base positions of the stations that carried his show. When he fled for Sirius, a large percentage of the brands were forced to flip with no foundation to stand on.
Today, that remains a critical question and one of the most valuable health checks you can perform on your radio station. Indeed, it forms the foundation of the Coleman Insights Image Pyramid philosophy. Listeners must be able to, in a word or two, be able to explain what your station represents. What kind of music is it famous for? This applies for Spoken Word stations as well, with the Base Talk position replacing the Base Music position.
The Coleman Insights Image Pyramid
As the Image Pyramid demonstrates, the importance of the correct answer to the “one question” doesn’t mean the other elements are not important to study as well. The base position is the foundation, the other elements provide brand depth.
The “one question” exercise can be applied to any brand. Certainly, other audio brands in the podcast and streaming segments, but in other product categories as well. Take Spirit Airlines, in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. If consumers start regularly answering the one question with “cancelled flights” instead of “low fares,” Spirit is going to have a serious problem.
While no replacement for comprehensive research, try this exercise with your brand. Ask about the first thing that comes to mind.
Coleman Insights founder Jon Coleman introduced Blue Ocean Strategy to Tuesdays With Coleman blog readers late last year in “Should Radio Go Back to Normal.” In short, brands that find themselves in heavily competitive crowded market segments are in metaphorical shark-infested, blood-laden waters. Hence, Red Ocean. On the other hand, some brands have established unique points of market differentiation in the minds of the consumer. This clear lane is the Blue Ocean. A few months ago, it struck me that podcasting resembles a Red Ocean in a number of ways. It is dotted with millions of shows whose names, logos, hosts, structure, and production sound similar. I wondered if there was an opportunity for podcasters to apply Blue Ocean techniques that brands in other market segments have successfully used to differentiate and make the competition irrelevant. That’s how the idea of my presentation, “Create A New Lane: Using Blue Ocean Strategy To Get Your Podcast Noticed,” which I shared at the Podcast Movement conference in Nashville last week, began.
As Jon pointed out in his December blog, Blue Ocean Strategy may have value for underperforming radio stations. Is it better to live in the shadow of a dominant competitor or blaze your own trail? When, for example, a station in your cluster is the third highest-rated CHR or second highest-rated Country station, is it more strategically advantageous to choose an untapped or underserved lane?
One way to look at available opportunity in podcasting is by reviewing the number of shows in each category in Apple Podcasts. For example, the general Science category has over 30,000 shows. Chemistry, a subcategory of Science, has only about 900. Should you publish a general Science podcast that may cover Biology in one episode, Physics the next, and Chemistry the next…or do you publish one that focuses specifically on Chemistry, hyper-targeted to those interested in the topic?
The Chemistry category contains about 900 podcasts, compared to over 30,000 in the general Science category
The Religion category is a massive Red Ocean, with over 150,000 shows. Christianity is a subcategory of Religion but is its own Red Ocean at over 90,000. Yet Hinduism, observed by 15% of the world’s population, represents less than two percent of the Religion category. Not to mention that India is the third largest podcast listening market. Whereas Religion and Christianity are Red Ocean, Hinduism is Blue Ocean. The most underserved categories? That belongs to swimming and volleyball, at only about 130 shows each. Total. As James Cridland of Podnews likes to say, “If you can’t rank in the Top 150 for swimming, you’re doing it wrong.”
Swimming is one of the most underserved categories in podcasting
This Red/Blue Ocean exercise can also apply to topics as opposed to categories. The Golden State Warriors are a hugely popular NBA franchise. If you search for “Golden State Warriors podcast,” Google’s algorithms will offer you many suggestions of shows that cover this topic. But do the same thing for “Stephen Curry podcast,” and you’ll find none. Zilch. Zero. But Google will recommend a golf podcast. Curry is one of the most popular athletes of all-time, yet there is seemingly no podcast focused on him. If you launched both today, which would have a better chance at acquiring new listeners? A general Warriors podcast amongst a sea of established Warriors podcasts or a Steph Curry one? The Golden State Warriors are Red Ocean. Stephen Curry is Blue Ocean.
A Google search for “Stephen Curry Podcast” shows a wide open Blue Ocean opportunity
Apply this exercise to your content, as a sales consultant that attended my session did. He explained to me that his podcast offers broad sales advice. The name of his show implies broad sales content. Now, he’s thinking about how to focus his show. He’s considering his target listener. Is it C-suite level? Sales managers? What market segment? A company that sells software for used car dealers has a podcast called – you guessed it – The Used Car Dealer Podcast. It’s a great brand building and lead generating show for them, though they wisely don’t use the show as a commercial. A podcast for car buyers (or even car dealers) is Red Ocean. A podcast for used car dealers is Blue Ocean.
When deciding to adopt Blue Ocean Strategy for your podcast, it’s important to remember you should not just pick a category or topic because it is underserved or narrowly focused. The content still has to be great. You must have a level of expertise, and put in the research and the work to make it so. But if you do, and the category or topic are Blue Ocean, you are increasing your chances of success.
Finally, it’s important to remember that Blue Ocean strategists don’t differentiate with just one thing. The greatest Blue Ocean brands differentiate in multiple ways. That means thinking about all the things podcast listeners see when they search for shows. The thumbnails look alike. The descriptions sound the same. The structure and production value is similar. Make a list and consider how you would Blue Ocean each item. The show name. The logo. The description. The sound. The host. The category. The topic. And so on.
Sometimes a radio station changes its name, format, or both. Other times it makes a morning show switch—sometimes the talent leaves voluntarily, in other instances not so much.
How do stations usually handle these large-scale changes? On far too many occasions, they move forward in their on-air presentations like it’s “business as usual.”
And that is bad business.
Radio station management often doesn’t think about the brands’ relationship to the audience. When big decisions are made, they avoid telling listeners because there is an underlying line of thinking that radio is “show biz” and therefore explanations are somehow unnecessary. “Talk” to the audience? We don’t actually talk to the audience. We present. We’ll make the change and they’ll get it.
Over the course of doing focus groups throughout my career, I heard from radio listeners that had been exposed to these types of changes, in instances where the station didn’t talk about the changes. The audience never understood. If it was a morning show change, they would ask, “Where did the morning show go?” “Where did these new guys come from?” The way these changes were handled generated a sense of confusion. It also created a sense of disappointment and sometimes anger. The radio station has asked its listeners to build a relationship with its hosts. Now the hosts listeners have built relationships with have been taken away and they don’t get an explanation?
Sounds pretty crappy when you really think about it.
A classic example of how to not handle a change was how ESPN handled Mike & Mike. The hugely successful show that paired anchor Mike Greenberg with former NFL player Mike Golic aired on ESPN Radio for 17 years. Then, all of a sudden in 2017, it was announced that Greenberg would be leaving to host his own show. It was never really explained to the audience why he was leaving. When Trey Wingo was brought on to replace Greenberg, the new show was never clearly defined. Why should the audience care? There were reports of acrimony and bad blood between Greenberg and Golic, and Golic and Wingo ultimately didn’t last three years.
Bristol, CT – February 8, 2016 – Studio F: Mike Greenberg, left, and Mike Golic on the set of Mike & Mike. (Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)
Perhaps the show would not have survived anyway, but in many respects it never had a chance. When you replace a heritage show that features hosts that have undeniable chemistry with a new show that is essentially starting from scratch, you need to let the audience in on the change. By doing so, you are asking permission for them to give you the time needed to develop the new show. When you don’t, when you just expect them to “get it,” their reaction is far more likely to be negative. “They took away my favorite show and replaced it with a worse one.”
Golic and Wingo were simply put in a terrible position.
Bristol, CT – November 27, 2017 – Radio Studio: Mike Golic and Trey Wingo on the set of Golic & Wingo (Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)
Here’s another example.
YouTuber Stevin John released his first Blippi video in 2014. Wearing a blue shirt with bright orange glasses, suspenders, and a bow tie, John presented Blippi as a children’s entertainer and educator. Blippi has been a massive success in children’s entertainment. Blippi has 13 million YouTube subscribers and an additional 11 million on a Spanish language account. The videos have racked up billions of views. That’s billions with a b.
Five years after launching Blippi (in 2019,) fans attending the Blippi Live tour noticed that Stevin John wasn’t the one playing the Blippi character. It was the same orange and blue clothes, but it was actor Clayton Grimm on stage with no explanation. Audiences were just expected to accept that Blippi was Blippi, no matter who played him. Recently, John launched a new Learn With Blippi series of videos on YouTube, and Clayton Grimm is now also the online Blippi. What did viewers think? The comments are turned off.
(L) Stevin John as Blippi; (R) Clayton Grimm as Blippi
This has resulted in widespread confusion, with online comments that include, “Who’s this??! This ain’t gonna fly with my kids,” while another wrote, “My 3-year-old said, ‘That’s not Blippi.”
If you dig deep enough, you’ll find John addressed the issue in an interview with Billboard before the 2019 tour. “I won’t be on the road, but I am obviously extremely involved with the whole process,” he said. “Blippi is as a character and I’m the creative force behind it, but since YouTube is a monster and all of these platforms are really crazy I can’t go on the road for many weeks or months at a time.”
When you’re trying to deliver a crucially important widespread message about a change to your brand, maybe an industry publication like Billboard isn’t the way to go. This is a message that should have been delivered aggressively through traditional media and social media, and should be clearly front and center on the Blippi website. But it’s not. In fact, the answer to the question “Who is the actor that plays Blippi?” on the FAQ page is Stevin John.
What happens when a radio station changes its name or music?
When a station makes a wholesale change to its brand—a name change, music shift, new imaging, perhaps new air talent—it cannot emerge “fully developed.”
Your station can’t have one name, one music library, one set of DJs, and one imaging package on the air on a Thursday, and suddenly debut all new things on a Friday and pretend like nothing has happened.
This is in part because listeners are not paying close enough attention. They will not pick up on the nuances you expect them to. The result is that the new brand doesn’t get the opportunity to build properly because the audience is confused.
They changed their name from G102 to The Vibe? Why? That morning show I listened to every morning for five years is gone. Why? They’re not playing my favorite songs anymore. Why?
Every brand change needs a story. You cannot just jump in the pool with no explanation.
There was a rock station in Davenport, Iowa in the 80s that ignored their brand fit and followed the music trends. The station started playing popular Top 40 artists like Prince and Madonna. The ratings tanked and listeners were furious. Ultimately, station management realized they had made a mistake and recognized they were damaging the brand. When they corrected their error, they didn’t just take Prince and Madonna off and hope the audience picked up on it. The program director went on the air and apologized. He explained why they did it, why they were changing back, and handled it with some self-deprecation.
The ratings came roaring back.
When E. Alvin Davis was a program director and consultant, he explained the value of having the PD talk to the audience about what they were doing. He would introduce himself in promos explaining new contests. Here’s what it’s called, here’s why we’re doing it, and here’s how to play. Let the audience peek behind the curtain.
Ultimately, that’s the whole point. Let your audience peek behind the curtain. If you tell them why you changed the station (and please, do not insult their intelligence and say, “you told us you wanted it”,) they are more likely to accept it. If you explain why the music has changed, they are more likely to notice (and listen). If you explain why the new morning show is there and why the other one left, they are more likely to give the show a chance.
Show biz is an important part of radio, but sometimes we need to dial it back just a bit. When changes are made, be intimate and honest and don’t pretend the change didn’t happen. If your goal is to build strong bonds with your audience, you’ve got to be willing to share the ride with them, in good times and in challenging times. If you treat the audience like the bond doesn’t exist, the bond will be broken and the change for naught.
In an October 2000 interview with Rolling Stone, television producer Gay Rosenthal tells the story about the time he was at lunch with VH1 Executive Vice President Jeff Gaspin and the conversation landed on Milli Vanilli. The two started wondering out loud whatever happened to the massively successful duo that was brought down and disgraced by a lip-syncing scandal in the summer of 1989. Rosenthal said to Gaspin, “I don’t know, but why don’t you let me take the ball and run with it, and let me see what I can find out?”
That’s how Behind The Music was born.
Rob and Fab don’t look particularly happy for two guys that just won Grammy Awards.
The VH1 docuseries that examined each artists’ history from their origins to their peak of success, and took a deep dive into their struggles and hardships (no BTM was complete without the struggles!) started in 1997 and lasted 274 episodes.
Thanks in part to the streaming content explosion, Behind The Music is getting a reboot on Paramount+ with eight new episodes starting July 29th. Those that remember the glory days of VH1 will also recall Storytellers, which lasted all the way until 2015 with artists telling stories behind the songs. The diverse lineup of 98 episodes started with Ray Davies of The Kinks and ended with Ed Sheeran.
But surprise, shawty! The desire for fans to learn more about their favorite artists never went out of style. In just the past few years, Netflix alone has churned out popular docs on artists representing just about every genre of music.
Consumers have always craved more information about the artists they love. They read liner notes in the vinyl, click the button on Shazam, and type in lyrics on Google.
It is disheartening when personalities on music radio stations either a) don’t offer information about their core artists or b) don’t offer anything very interesting or engaging.
Of course, it doesn’t make sense for most stations to run long-form documentaries and “musicology” doesn’t belong on every format. But if there’s any medium that should be serving the craving for artist connection, shouldn’t it be radio?
By default, listeners will assume air talent on music radio stations are experts. Air talent have a unique platform to both introduce artists to the audience and build emotional connections with their listeners. You can provide basic general knowledge listeners can find anywhere or you can be the “insider” the listener relies on for engaging content. Taking the extra time to find this content can build important images for the station and the air talent.
Engaging artist information and connections is radio’s space. It’s also radio’s to lose.
Over the last couple of years, a new girl in town has caused quite the buzz in the radio industry. Her name is Alexa and chances are if you work in radio, you’ve had (probably way more than one) “How do we handle Alexa on our stations?” conversation.
The rationale behind wanting to run smart speaker promos on your radio station is understandable. You want to train your listeners to ask for your station on the new tech they are adopting. You know that it is a potential growth area of listening for your brand. And, perhaps there is a mandate coming down (whether it be from corporate or on the local level) that’s telling you Alexa’s important, so make sure you get those promos in.
Making your listeners aware of Alexa is a part of audience building for the long-term, so it should be a part of your strategy. But you need to sell it the right way. The dominant brand in your market will win smart speaker listening. If you spend too much time tactically promoting Alexa and less time promoting the value of your brand, you may be unintentionally hurting yourself.
It is not dissimilar to a radio station that spends too much time promoting a contest at the expense of its Base Music Position. Contesting is tactical, and so is Alexa. It can’t come at the expense of your brand.
Tactical programming should support, not come at the expense of, promoting your Base Music or Talk Position. (Coleman Insights Image Pyramid)
A restaurant that becomes famous in your hometown because it has great food and a great ambience will be the most popular in town even if people don’t know exactly where it is. It will be the most popular because it has a great brand. People will find it when they want to eat out because it is a strong restaurant brand. However, a restaurant that is not top-of-mind and valued by consumers will not be crowded just because it puts its address in big letters on its web page. That restaurant needs to sell its food and ambience, then people will find it.
This is not to suggest that promoting Alexa as a place to listen to your station is a waste of time. However, in the rush to build listening via Alexa, it seems that many stations are running lackluster one-off promos for listening to the station on Alexa–it’s not the kind of emotional verbiage that will change behavior. Rather than liners that simply mention Alexa, consider whether it makes sense to create a campaign that builds smart speaker listening awareness and your brand at the same time. Take into account how many people have Alexa, how they use it, and whether it fits into your marketing. If it does, rather than just running liners, build a consistent campaign. This is how to truly make habitual change.
If the brand is strong, listeners will come to the distribution in their own time. If you build the brand, the more likely it is listeners will ask Alexa for it.
So, when it comes to those smart speaker promos, don’t do it just for the sake of doing it or because you think you should. Think about how you can use every moment of airtime to build your brand. When you do promote Alexa, think about how to make it memorable, engaging and how the campaign can support your brand’s image growth.
For the past 12 years, Z104.3 has served Baltimore with Top 40 music. Prior to that, the frequency had gone through iterations of formats including Modern Rock, Smooth Jazz, Classic Rock, Classic Hits, and Soft AC.
Perhaps 104.3 was destined to return to CHR, a format that flourished when B104 ruled the Charm City from 1980 to 1992. Those who grew up in Baltimore in the 80s may remember B104 as a dominant brand that was part of their lives—and they almost certainly remember B104’s slogan:
B104 Means Music.
In 2021, it’s easy to write off “means music” as a generic, trite, and meaningless tag line. But in the early 1980s, many CHR stations were still on the AM dial, operating as full-service outlets with a lot of talk, interruptions, and noise. “B104 Means Music” spoke volumes about what listeners could expect from the brand—particularly when contrasted to the competition.
This doesn’t mean B104 didn’t have personality. Brian Wilson and Don O’Brien, known as Brian and O’Brien (there’s another branding lesson in the catchy name) regularly topped the morning ratings throughout the decade. But B104 understood that the first battle to win–to drive listeners to the station–was music, and it did.
There are powerful ways to add meaning to your brand and there are wimpy ways that never stick. Downplaying or soft-pedaling it, especially in today’s saturated world, is a recipe for disaster. You have to bring the sledgehammer.
Branding expert Laura Ries (daughter of branding legend Al Ries) explains this need for a sledgehammer in her book, “Battlecry: Winning the battle for the mind with a slogan that kills.” She details sonic tips to engage the brain when crafting a slogan, like rhyming: “Roto-Rooter, that’s the name. And away go troubles down the drain.” Or repetition: “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” While the “visual hammer” references she makes (like the Aflac duck or the Tropicana orange with the straw) are trickier for audio brands, the lesson of the message is the same. Say what it is, say it loud, and make sure it means something.
Fast food may not be good for you, but the category sure delivers memorable slogans. Arby’s “We got the meats!” is stuck in my head these days.
Legendary programmer and voice talent Mark Driscoll whimsically positioned the original Rhythmic CHR incarnation of Q102/Philadelphia with the slogan “What the hell, here’s another hit…” The words came out of nowhere, magically setting up the off-center attitude of the station, and stuck in people’s heads like that song lyric that just won’t go away. The “#1 Hit Music Station” slogan serves an important strategic purpose, but nobody is going to repeat it or laugh about it on a Zoom Happy Hour.
To this day, for thousands and thousands of people, when you say B104, they’ll say “means music” either in their head or out loud. They’re still buying the shirts on eBay.
So when it comes to your slogan, don’t come to the battle unprepared. Bring the sledgehammer.
In the past, I have used this blog to write about WVBR, the first stop in my radio career. The station, in Ithaca, New York, has a commercial FM license and is owned by a non-profit corporation consisting of students at Cornell University, where I earned my undergraduate degree. I spent four years as an air personality on WVBR and I was the station’s general manager from 1985 to 1987, where I had a team that included iHeartMedia’s Tom Poleman, SiriusXM’s Steve Blatter, CNBC’s Jessica Ettinger, and syndicated host Todd Schnitt helping me run the station.
WVBR is still going strong today, staffed by a dedicated group of Cornell students and community volunteers, and offers an Alternative music format during the week and a wide array of weekend specialty programming. I have remained an active alumnus of the organization and—after serving on its board of directors from 2006 to 2014—currently serve in an informal advisory role.
When the pandemic lockdowns hit, WVBR faced a crisis, as many of the student volunteers who normally hold down air shifts would be unable to do so. This created an opportunity for alumni and other non-student volunteers to step up and provide at least a minimal level of personality for the station’s now-automated programming via voice tracking. With a lot more time on my hands while the pandemic kept me working from home and not spending my usual eight to ten nights a month in hotel rooms while traveling for business, I decided to seize the opportunity. Thus, more than three decades after I hung up my headphones, I was back on the air, hosting a weekly four-hour show of Alternative music from my home more than 500 miles away in North Carolina!
A picture of a much younger version of me, when voice tracking didn’t exist
I am pleased to report that “Wednesday With Warren” is still growing strong and tomorrow marks the 29th week in a row I’ve hosted the show! As I reflect on the past six months, I’ve learned a few things about using voice tracking:
It takes a lot more time to do a good show than I realized. When I volunteered to do this, I incorrectly assumed that it would not require much of a time commitment. I quickly learned, however, that if I wanted to do the show right—in other words, go beyond reading liners, station promos, and song introductions and talk with knowledge about the music I’m playing and relevant events in the community—it required a good deal of preparation. I am getting more efficient as the weeks pass, but I still find that I must put a minimum of two hours into the show each week, even if recording the breaks themselves takes me less than 30 minutes.
Nothing replaces listening to the show live. I can listen to my recorded breaks repeatedly before I upload them to the station, but nothing helps me get better at this than listening to how they fit into the overall live flow of the radio station. Since work commitments often prevent me from listening to my show live, I use DAR.fm to record all four hours of my show and listen to the full playback, critiquing myself along the way and making notes for things I should try to do better the follow week.
It can be a lot of fun! I find myself talking about my show with many of my friends, describing it as my “passion project.” Even when my crazy business travel life resumes, I intend to keep the show going for as long as WVBR needs me to do so.
I made a very smart career decision in 1987. This experience has added to my respect for air personalities; it is hard to do this well and only the most talented and dedicated people can create compelling content, especially when using voice tracking. There was a time when I naively believed that an on-air role was going to lead me to my career goals. Thank goodness I made the move to the research side of the business all those years ago!
I don’t believe anything will ever be as powerful for radio stations as truly compelling and highly entertaining personalities who are “live and local,” but I am enough of a realist to recognize that voice tracking is here to stay. My experience with it over the last six months has convinced me that with effort and preparation, any air personality dedicated to their craft—and possessing more talent than me!—can use the technology to create compelling radio.
You can listen to “Wednesday With Warren” on WVBR between 9AM and 1PM Eastern time on 93.5 FM in the Ithaca area, wvbr.com, Live365, or TuneIn.
This is the second of our two-part blog series focusing on a roundtable discussion about the impact of 2020’s upheaval on the audio entertainment industry. Last week’s post focused on what the social justice movement, the election, and the pandemic meant for how people consume and what they want from audio entertainment.
In this second installment, our Senior Consultants—Warren Kurtzman, John Boyne, and Sam Milkman—share their thoughts on nonmusical content, podcasting, and the need for thoughtful innovation.
Coleman Insights Senior Consultants (L-R) Sam Milkman, Warren Kurtzman, and John Boyne
This was already true to some extent before all of 2020’s craziness, but we enter 2021 with the sense that the margin for error is slimmer than ever. Hyper fragmentation and democratization of the media was already making it challenging for audio entertainment brands to cut through; now with economic uncertainty and so much of what we’ve always known to be true about how and why consumers use audio entertainment potentially changing, every client we work with really must get things right as often as possible.
Personality content is going to be more important; there is a race to create unique unduplicatable content that is happening in radio, with podcasts, and even the streaming platforms focusing on this, too.
We used to talk about how crucial developing nonmusical content was for radio, but now it’s vital for all audio brands. And it’s not just about the brand value of personalities; developing unique, compelling personality content is expensive, and understanding the behavioral impact personality content can have—whether it drives consumers to use an audio brand—is going to be more important as audio companies make ROI decisions on this content.
As personalities become a bigger part of the strategy of almost every audio brand, how do you make sure that you are truly reflecting what your audience wants both in terms of content and tone? For example, we saw many Hip Hop radio morning shows adapt to the heaviness of 2020 with less of a focus on comedy and celebrities and greater emphasis on social issues.
It’s important to have great talent and unique content, but more than ever, our clients are demanding more sophistication in the development and execution of that talent and content. That’s where qualitative research and content testing are becoming a bigger and bigger part of our business.
Right, John. That’s where the discussion about the Hip Hop shows Sam mentioned continues. Many shows adjusted their content based on the gut instincts of some very talented hosts and producers who are successful because they are in touch with the audiences they serve. But now, they must refine what they offer. Have all of these shows got the balance between entertainment and issues exactly right? Are they truly reflecting what the audience wants from them right now and will that change over time? Will it be different when we’re no longer in a presidential election year or after the pandemic ends?
I think this extends well beyond radio morning shows. Our podcasting clients are going to need to get a handle on how their audiences are responding to their content if they want to keep growing.
There’s so much room for growth with podcasting. We don’t know what the ceiling will be.
Let’s stop treating podcasting like it’s a nascent category; it’s part of the lives of so many people.
Yet there are still so many people who haven’t tried it yet.
But it is now a big business. Look at how companies like iHeartMedia, Spotify, Entercom, Amazon, SiriusXM, etc. have snatched up podcasts and podcasting companies. That’s happening because it’s growing and starting to generate revenues in a big way.
Which is my point. We anticipate doing more and more research for podcasters who recognize they’re in a big business. They need to measure the health of their brands, and they need to do content testing to see what works and doesn’t work with their audience.
All three of us having been doing this for a long time, and as I reflect on that, it’s striking how much more complex and challenging things are than when our business almost exclusively consisted of perceptual studies and music tests for radio stations. It’s invigorating and I know all three of us—in fact, our whole team at Coleman Insights—can’t wait to get to work on exciting opportunities for our clients in 2021.
Every time we turn over the calendar to a new year, it makes me think of thoughtful innovation. This may be truer this year, as we emerge from the pandemic and look for new opportunities. We do a lot of research on how consumers feel about and perceive things that exist; I’m hopeful that 2021 will include more work on innovations that audio companies could potentially offer to listeners.
Agreed. This harkens back to many of the points our founder Jon Coleman made in his “Should Radio Go Back To Normal?” blog post in December. I hope that many of our clients pursue Blue Ocean Strategy ideas in 2021 and that we have many opportunities to provide them with the insights they need to make those ideas succeed.
It’s debate season!!! Where presidential and vice-presidential candidates face off in a public forum! Issues! Moderators! More back-and-forth neck action than a tennis match!
I love a good debate. I was captain of the debate team in high school (no, no one is surprised by that). My first solid memories of politics are from the 1988 Democratic debates and lately I even find myself dropping that classic from 1992, “Who am I? Why am I here?” (Admiral Stockdale, you are kind of missed…) Debates are great for raising awareness, hearing directly from candidates, and creating cultural reference points.
And debates are great for radio. It’s a real shame that television leads as a debate medium, because the elements TV adds can be distracting. We start to focus on hair, clothing, and, as recent events show, plexiglass and insects. If you’re shying away from covering a debate—about anything, not just The Big Race—on your station, stream, or podcast because you think people are only interested in watching people argue, I urge you to think again.
Television rocked the debate world (such as it is) in 1960 during the presidential campaign. You know the story: Nixon debates Kennedy, and it’s the start of a new era. Kennedy looks young and fresh and tan while Nixon looks weak and sweaty (poor man was running a fever and had just left the hospital after being very ill with an infection). And in that moment Kennedy became a shining, unbeatable political star, poised and handsome, while then-vice president Nixon lost a lot of his political momentum.
Popular legend maintains that Kennedy won the 1960 debate with TV viewers, while Nixon won with radio listeners.
Well, that’s not the whole story for radio listeners. In 1960, television was widely available in quite a few homes, but radio still played a big part in the consumption of news and major events.
There is a persistent myth that radio listeners either thought the two did an equally good job or they gave the win to Nixon, while TV viewers thought Kennedy had won. According to this article, the legend about the TV/radio disconnect was based on a survey of 2100 respondents, only 282 of whom listened to the debates on the radio. So the “conventional wisdom” that Kennedy trounced Nixon on TV and Nixon carried the day on radio isn’t really accurate.
But don’t let that deter you. Let’s note that in 2003 a political scientist conducted a study and concluded that TV viewers judged the participants on their personalities alone while radio listeners judged “on both issues and personality.” And Lyndon Johnson thought Jack Kennedy lost the debate—he listened to it on the radio.
TV, for all its wonderful characteristics, is built on distractions. What does the set look like? What is Senator Harris wearing? What color is President Trump’s tie? Whose makeup is messed up? What is up with those weird split screens, which wouldn’t be so weird if the candidates weren’t standing in front of the Declaration of Independence—which is a great document, but it’s, you know, made of words. Words do not a good TV set make, my friends.
All the buzz surrounding this year’s VP debate was about the fly that landed on Vice President Mike Pence’s head, seen by television viewers.
But radio… now, there’s a medium for the imagination and for focus. Listeners can focus on what they’re saying, how they’re saying it, why they’re saying it. There is no audience to get a glimpse of. No errant fly to draw attention from the issues at hand. We can imagine our favorite candidate looking especially good, even if he or she suffers from a crooked tie or a weirdly placed lapel pin. We can listen closely to plans around policy and opinions on issues.
Lest you think I’m only referring to big national debates between candidates for major national office, I urge you to think beyond that. Local races can also reap the benefits of reaching radio listeners. Issues affecting your local audience are just as important. Why not bring people into your studio to debate a hot or critical concern for the community you serve?
There are other, more practical advantages to airing debates on the radio. According to Nielsen’s Ballot Box Breakdown, radio reaches 95% of Hispanic Americans and 91% of Black Americans—huge numbers, especially when you consider that Hispanic Americans spend less time watching TV than Black or White Americans. And think of the advertising! Radio is, after all, this country’s #1 reach medium. Engaged listeners are great targets.
Since 1960, we have become so accustomed to television that we have forgotten the beauty and benefits of listening to and discussing political events on the radio. Image is everything, right? But when we’re choosing our leaders or wondering how we should vote on an important issue, do we care more about a tan and a good haircut… or about intelligent discussion of the issues we find most important?
For the next debate? Lead them to the radio before you send them to the polls.
BRANDING, CONTENT & RESEARCH STRATEGY
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