An Interview With Dave Charles (Part 1)

Chris Byrnes – ByrnesMedia

Dave Charles recently joined ByrnesMedia as our new media and B2B consultant. Dave will be known to many readers as the co-founder of Joint Communications with John Parikhal, a media consulting company that helped many radio stations in Canada, the US and around the world for 17 years. Dave is a real road warrior and has rolled up his sleeves and got in the trenches to help hundreds of radio stations in 68 countries. He returns to Canada with a global view of media, listener attitudes and a strong belief of what radio needs to do today to remain relevant. I sat with Dave and talked to him about his experiences and vision.

ByrnesMedia: What are the biggest differences between the radio business today and when you started in the business?

DC:  Radio today lacks real personalities who compel you to listen and join them on a journey of entertainment and discovery. Great radio should be ‘theatre of the mind’.  Radio, then, was my source for new music and entertainment information.  Then, there was more trust placed in those personalities that delivered the great music, local information and fun.  Growing up in southern Ontario I had the opportunity to hear some great personalities like Tom Rivers, Michael J Wilson, Hal Weaver, Jackson Armstrong, David Marsden and Jay Nelson.  Personalities add life and fun to radio. We need to find the next generation of personalities.  Most under-20-year-olds today are into social networking and new media.  This all impacts the amount of time (TSL) that they have to spend with traditional media, so radio has to be more relevant than ever if we hope to be part of their world.

ByrnesMedia: Dave, you’ve worked in 68 countries over the last 15 years developing and successfully practising great radio.  What are the differences and what things are relevant for Canadian radio today?

DC: What my adventures in over 68 countries taught me about developing winning radio is that you must be immediate and relevant to what’s going on in your service area.  If you’re not, you’ll fail.  In South Africa I worked with SABC, the government broadcaster in 11 different languages.  There, relevant daily information that related to their life and world was essential.  Water, food, crop reports, Aids, crime and jobs were the key issues.  We got a huge response to a daytime hourly feature called simply ‘PIECE JOBS,’ which was their term for part time work.  We ran announcements from companies looking for workers.  The station became the focus point of people lives.  That drove home to me how important radio can be if you focus it on the things that really matter.  The other thing about South African cultures was they always found joy and relief from their troubles in the music.  Never forget how important music is in people’s lives.  Right now, you’re playing someone’s favourite song.  Make it special and respect that music connects with so many emotions in so many ways.

ByrnesMedia: What are the top 5 things you learned internationally and how can they be applied in the Canadian radio environment?

DC:

  1. Listen to what people are saying. If you don’t, you’ll probably miss the essence of what really matters for your station.
  2. Transfer knowledge. In doing so you’ll get respect, and in return, people will open up to you and give you more than you can ever imagine.
  3. Volunteerism is something that binds radio to the community it serves. Radio can benefit from this kind of specialized public service in so many ways.  Your stations need to lead this movement and get credit for it.  It’s a much more viable way to contribute to your role in the community you serve.
  4. Share your experiences. In doing so, you’ll get back even more stories.  Great radio is built around four things – information, entertainment, interaction and involvement.
  5. Network widely. I call it the ‘missionary work’.  Carry business cards.  Ask people to sample your station.  Get names and weave them into station promos.  For example, ‘Greg Diamond of Burlington Golf and Country Club spends his morning drive to work with K-Lite 102.7… thanks for listening Greg’.  You know his friends will hear his name and you’ll make an instant connection.  Today’s radio needs to do more connecting.

ByrnesMedia: You were based out of Australia for the past 15 years. What things do you feel the Aussies did well in terms of radio and what can we learn from them in this regard?

DC: Aussies love to take the piss out of themselves.  ‘No worries mate…she’ll be right’ is the attitude I loved.  At first I was very suspicious of someone saying ‘NO WORRIES MATE’.  I said to myself, surely you have some worries.  What they really meant was, chill, enjoy yourself and don’t take everything so seriously.  Like in the U.K. and Ireland, there’s a real local pub culture to socialize in.  Aussies love their cricket, footy and beer!  Aussie Radio did a lot of location parties.  A good example was the strategy based around..’B105 wants to meet every listener, one neighbourhood  and one listener at a time’.  For months on end they had neighbourhood block parties where their entire morning show would be on location.  They invited people from the neighbourhood to talk about why their place was so special, features, great places to hang out etc.  B105 dominated Brisbane for many years based on this one promotion.  You can think global but you must be local to win the hearts and minds of your listeners. Street or listener parties work!

ByrnesMedia: What’s the fit for social networking and radio?  What should radio focus on with regards to social networking?

DC: Radio must twitter and become a part of the key social networking sites. Twitter is a creative way to get your key messages out.   Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and others are part of what the under 35 demos are playing with.  I would bring in heavy users of social networking and get them to show you how they use the social networking sites. They’ll help you navigate these new platforms.  Chris Byrnes’ station in Woodstock has an iPhone app for Heart 104.7.  It’s cool and it keeps you in this new environment and you can take Heart 104.7 wherever your iPhone goes.  I call on experts who are completely up to date on how to use these sites.  Most of us fear them.  Don’t do that. Rather, embrace them and understand how to use them.  Remember that the internet is very wide and unfiltered.  Radio is very format focused and extremely well filtered.  I bookmark those internet sites that continue to provide me with entertainment and information.

ByrnesMedia: Radio is facing incredible competition for TSL (time spent listening) from new social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  What are your thoughts about this new media reality and what should radio do with regard to these new realities?

DC: Be a part of the new media environment by using it.  That’s the best advice I can give you.  If you use it, you will understand it better.  Next, filter it. Social media sites offer some nuggets but most of it is crap!  Twitter drives me nuts, but that was because I didn’t really understand it.  It requires you to edit your remarks and get to the point.  Remember Obama used Twitter to promote his campaign and get the word out.  He demonstrated that there was a smart way to reach the under 40 voters.  Twitter does that in spades.  There are other social media sites that offer visuals and more content.  Facebook is like that.  I always check out the highlights on YouTube.   Radio can use social network sites for a personal and cultural point of reference on what people are talking about.  Use social networking as part of your show prep. Right now social networking has more usage than email. Some are saying that email is too slow.  Social networking is very fast.  We live in a world where speed counts.  John Parikhal reminded me that he’s finding in his research that radio needs to be hyper immediate to be relevant.  ‘CJXX has just learned…’  ‘This just happened in City Hall Chambers minutes ago…’ ‘Bill Smith just twittered that James Street is closed due to a water main break…’

ByrnesMedia: What are some of the most important things that radio must do better to improve its marketing and external perception?

DC: Take it to the streets. Connect with as many local events as you can and get your brand as part of the product placement required to get credit. Billboards are a waste of money unless they are impactful and create talk!  Your station must be visible at a variety of local events and I stress ‘VARIETY’. Small, medium and big events in the community you serve provide platforms for your brand to be seen.  Put your station’s brand next to something that really matters.  Tie you brand into other brands that have value. GREEN, SAVE, HELP,  EDUCATE, FUN, CHANGE, and GROW are things I’d want my station to be associated with. Look around your community.  Who can use your help. I can see the sales people raising their eyebrows. Relax, it’s all a part of creating  goodwill.   By all means, sell to those who have budgets to support their events.  Take my test.  Walk or drive through your market.  Look for new ways to extend or adapt your station’s brand. For example, why not do a series of local park benches made from recycled material in the name of the station  and a listener together?  Simple but effective. ‘Enjoy your rest, thanks to Mary Smith and CJXX’.

Alan Slaight was famous for telling his stations that there was no money available for marketing.  We then had to get creative and work with sales and everyone in our community to find ways to promote the station’s brand.  One example was we created a station hockey team called the BULL SHOOTERS.  This team raised more than $ 1,750,000.00 over three years for small community charities.  It cost nothing.  We went out and got sponsors for this charity team and in doing so, created so much goodwill and fun. Ask Kim Hesketh, Manager of JACK FM in Victoria about this hockey promotion.  It was a killer! By the way, I’ve still got the Bull Shooters hockey puck, because I was the team goalie!

ByrnesMedia: What does today’s radio business have to do to adapt to ‘new media’ competition?

DC: Be seen as a part of new media and embrace it.  New media requires content.  Radio across Canada produces great content 24/7, 365 days a year.

In Part II of the interview next month, Dave will talk about content and how to attract listeners, he’ll have some advice for GM’s and GSM’s and talk about the role of the consultant in today’s new media landscape. Dave will also talk in more detail about the B2B model and his role at ByrnesMedia. By the way, if you have a question for Dave, please send him an email at dave@byrnesmedia.com.