How Your Listeners Can Kill You

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” – Herman Melville

What do Gibson Guitar, United Airlines, DHL, Hertz, and AutoZone have in common with many radio stations? They’re all companies that have employees working at odds with the company goals, according to a study by

The bottom line is that your switchboard is one of the front lines for listener contact, but those people usually aren’t well trained or well motivated.  They’re just punching the clock and putting it time each day, and that can result in an experience that’s different from what you might want.  We tend to think of the jocks and the only first line of contact, but every time anyone from your station touches a listener, it can be good or bad.

Have you read any online reviews lately?  Social media has increased this razors edge.  Try searching for “(your station) sucks” and you’ll see what I mean.

The challenge with those companies listed above and many radio station companies, it that we’ve been great at taking the “connectivity” out of our stations so we can get better “shareholder value.”  From the obvious like voice tracking to the more subtle like IVR phone trees when they call the station, we’re eliminating an important emotional connection.

What can you do to reverse this trend?

The Faithful Tribe

What tribes are, is a very simple concept that goes back 50 million years. It’s about leading and connecting people and ideas. And it’s something that people have wanted forever. –  Seth Godin



And it turns out that tribes, not money, not factories, that can change our world, that can change politics, that can align large numbers of people. Not because you force them to do something against their will. But because they wanted to connect. – Seth Godin

Someone told me a joke recently, that God is a Chicago Cubs fan, but said to them, “Don’t do anything until I get back.” Well, I was at a Cubs game a few months ago, and at Wrigley I saw a good game, and supportive, screaming fans – the Cubs tribe.

No doubt the Cubs fans in Chicago, and elsewhere, support their team win or lose. They’re almost proud of their record of never giving up. When your fans are organized into a tribe, there’s no stopping you.

The same is true of your fans. They’ll be the first to be critical when you lose, and the first to defend you from others not in the tribe. Unfortunately most of us have forgotten the second part of the Seth Godin book – We need you to lead us. Without leadership the tribe wanders and becomes disjointed. Leadership means uniting them online and offline, giving them a story, and NOT trying to use them to buy something unrelated to the tribe or try.

It’s called community…and it’s in your future.

Create Your Own Fate

“History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.” John F. Kennedy



Edward John Smith was born in Great Britain, went to school, fought in war, and became a Captain. He married, had a daughter. The family lived in an imposing red brick, twin-gabled house, named “Woodhead”, on Winn Road, Highfield, Southampton. He was doing well.

You may have never heard of Smith, but some of you, especially those of you who are in leadership roles, are heading toward his fate. You’re letting life happen around you with an unclear future that you think you’re protected from. As Kennedy said, “To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.

It’s not the future you’re expecting, but you may be in the same boat, with the same result, as Edward John Smith, Captain of RMS Titanic.

How Much Jefferson Is In You?

Jefferson was no dreamer – for half a century he had led his state and the nation in fact and in deed. I like to think it was because he thought in terms of the morrow as well as the day -and this was why he was hated or feared by those who thought in terms of the day and yesterday.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt, speaking at the dedication of the Jefferson memorial in Washington.


Let me see if I’ve got this right, Jefferson accomplished a great deal because he could make decisions today while looking at where we were headed? Sounds like a strategic thinker to me.  Sounds like the kind of person radio needs right now.

The Future Is Yours To Write

“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” – For What it’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield


As I sit in my hotel room in Mexico,watching the waves come in I find myself pondering radios future…because it’s my future too. But as Buffalo Springfield says, it ain’t exactly clear. My friend Mark Ramsey blogged about that every thing recently, and thinks there are two stories running in radio broadcasters heads.

The first story is “one where radio reacts reflexively to claims that “nobody cares about radio anymore” with evidence to the contrary. It’s one where broadcasters illustrate radio usage as being as great or greater than ever despite the huge number of distractions consumers have today that never existed before. It’s a story where we attack the new competitors as being “outside” our category or being “less than” radio in one way or another. As the attention and interest surrounding radio alternatives rises, we go for the jugular. We recognize that advertisers are attracted by these shiny baubles and fear the notion that they will take their dollars, previously earmarked for us, and devote them to these new ideas.”

This is a story of “if I close my eyes no one will see me.”. That worked when we were kids worried about monsters in the room at night, but it’s pretty delusional for adults of today. Even if it’s not exactly clear, there is something happening here.

The second story is one where radio welcomes new competitors because in the cold, harsh light of day those competitors may earn a seat at the table, but it’s still the kids’ table. And smart broadcasters know that these competitors will simply make their industry better, because that’s what competitors do.

This is the story where radio acknowledges that while reach is still awesome, folks are not listening to radio as much as they used to and that’s okay. Why? Because it’s not radio’s fault – it’s not because radio’s “bad.” It’s the “fault” of the zillions of alternative ways people spend their time nowadays and it’s why NO mass medium has the same intensity of usage it had 20 years ago. So get over that. The listenership is not going to iPods or Pandora or wherever. In fact, it may not be listenership that’s going anywhere. It’s time that’s going places. And time will follow whatever fun and entertaining things can fill that time, whether those things are audio-only or not.

Being a change agent, I chose the second story. In the 70’s it was pretty much radio only…if fact AM radio only. We were in control and could do what we want. Then came FM, and later on Al Gore invented the internet. Oh yes, then Steve Jobs put music on the telephone. A whole new playground. There are now hundreds times more attention grabbers than there were in the 70’s. And…wait for it…things aren’t going to get any less distracting. People aren’t going to drop other media to return to their one true love, radio.

Let’s forget about radio for a minute and think about people instead. We all know there are people who only want the music, and nothing else. Focusing intently on the music and paying scant attention to everything else will only hasten our demise. Others, like Pandora, have an on ramp for those people because it is only music… we don’t. Those people are going to go to any media that gives them their music without talk. We aren’t going to change that. Then we have the attention deficit disorder generation who actually are going to chase after the newest thing. We can’t change that either.

So what can we do to continue success? Forget the past and focus on a future rooted in the reality of today. Stay focused on people, the listeners who are loyal, and what they want. No, really, what they want. The reasons they listen to you beyond the music. The actual essence of the brand. You need to figure out how to be magnetic enough to draw listeners away from other sources, to you.

One answer goes to people, and by that I mean your people, the ones at the station. If listeners can get your music elsewhere, the number two success element of the station is who is on-air and who backs them up. That’s another blog for another time, but the answer to writing your future starts with forgetting the good old days and paying attention to the realities of today. Music is the foundation, the stage everyone else performs on, the start of your brand. But it’s not the only part of your brand.