Why I Am Proud to Work in Radio in 2012

Chris Byrnes – ByrnesMedia

I recently celebrated my 35th year working in the radio industry. I started at a small stand alone AM station in January of 1978 as a broadcast cadet earning an annual salary of $3,334 per year! It was a great start to my career because I was one of 10 people out of over 500 who applied for these positions offered by a large radio company. I received hands on partial training at the radio station and spent six months working in each department of the radio station, while at the same time being formally trained via correspondence and block courses over three years. This training has really helped me over the years to better understand how each department of a radio station functions and interacts with the others. I was fortunate to work with some amazing broadcasters who taught me a lot and tolerated my impetuousness.  Hopefully some 35 years later I am more thoughtful, but still retain the energy and drive to get things done and do my part to create great radio. I get out of bed each and every day excited to work in a business I love. I’ve tried other things at various times in my life but found that radio is by far the most satisfying.

Still, you don’t have to look very far to find people predicting the imminent demise of radio. Yet when you look at the facts, radio is performing as well today – and in many cases better – than it did 35  years ago. I was thinking about this as I returned from the World Wide Radio Summit that was held in Los Angeles at the end of April. This was the second conference I had attended in three weeks, and not surprisingly, the topic of the relevance of radio was discusssed at both WWRS and the NAB in Las Vegas. It was great to connect with colleagues from other parts of the world and to hear their successes and about how radio is still relevant in their communities. This got me thinking about why I’m proud to be involved in the radio industry in 2012. Most people reading this work in the industry so perhaps I am preaching to the choir, but I’d like to tell you a few of the reasons why I love being part of this industry:

Radio is free: In this day and age when everything seems to cost more, the one thing that remains free is radio. That has been the one constant since Guglielmo Marconi invented radio in 1895. No one needs to open their wallet in order to consume and enjoy radio.  By the way, I have always been puzzled as to why, as an industry, we do not do a better job of selling this benefit.

Radio is fun: Radio is a fun medium, not only to work in but also to listen to. There are very few jobs where your creativity can be so easily brought to life and then shared with thousands of people. Radio is the ultimate theatre of the mind medium giving creative writers the ability to create the impossible using words, music and sound effects. Most people start their day by listening to the morning show not only for the information they need but also to also set the mood for the day. Morning shows that can make their audience laugh via the joke of the day, the prank phone call or the witty banter between hosts works best on radio.

Radio is instant: Where else can you wake up with an idea in your head and have it on the air before noon? This is part of the magic of radio, but all too often we get caught up in the minutia of the day-to-day grind, and often we miss these wonderful opportunities to do something out of the ordinary and surprise and connect with an audience. Spending time brainstorming ideas to increase ratings or drive revenue is something we all need to do more of. For example, the programmers might want to spend time looking at their features and replacing the weaker or tired features with something that is new and of interest to your audience. I am hearing fewer theme weekends these days, and I seldom hear a music special based around the death of a big music artist. In recent days, both Donna Summer and Robin Gibb have passed away, but how many radio stations put together a tribute to either artist? I’ll bet that record sales and digital downloads went through the roof for both artists, as happened when Michael Jackson died.  This is a clear indication that consumers want to listen to these artists and playing songs by these artists allows you to connect with your audience and share in those memories. While most stations do not play songs by those artists today, there is nothing wrong with a small departure from your format to honour the memory of artists who made a real contribution to the music business. Your audience expects you to do this, and if you give this ground up to the internet or Entertainment Tonight then you are missing an opportunity.

Radio has a huge reach: This is a product that virtually everyone uses in any given week.  In Canada, 95% of people listen to radio each week. In the USA that number is 94% and in England where people pay an annual license fee to listen to radio and watch TV, 93% tune into radio every week. While time spent listening may vary from format to format and from country to country, the average is 20 hours per week, and despite an ever increasing selection of media options, radio is still the second most consumed media in North America, just behind television.

Radio is effective: People tune in to radio for information, entertainment, and companionship. But they also tune in to hear the radio ads, because consumers want to know about local products and services and they want to know where they can save money. Radio is the last medium heard by most consumers in the minutes before they make a purchase.  Advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi conducted an interesting study about the subliminal nature of radio ads back in 1981. It was called the Ironing Board study and they re-ran the same study in 1995. In both cases they found that people listening to the radio take in a lot of information heard on the radio even when they are doing other things.

The objective of the study was to find out to what extent people actually took in radio ads when they were listening as a secondary activity. The 1995 study aimed to update the original results and investigate listeners’ ability to recall ads in both conventional ad breaks and Newslink spots, which appeared within the newscast. For both studies, over 300 housewives were individually invited to bring a bag of their ironing to the recruiters’ homes, ostensibly to test a new starch. The recruiter gave them 15 minutes to test the starch with the radio on in the background: unknown to the housewives, the “radio” was actually a tape containing a variety of ads and other programming. In 1981, the respondents were radio listeners; in 1995, this was refined to commercial radio listeners, and the tape replicated their favourite radio stations.

After both studies, the respondents were asked about the starch performance, and then about what they spontaneously remembered being on the radio.

The key conclusions of the 1981 study were:

  • Listeners can and do take in messages even when distracted by a primary task .
  • This includes branded recall, and recall of “softer” information such as dialogue, sounds and music .
  • Some ads are much better recalled than others. The best-performing ad was remembered by over a third of respondents, the worst-performing ad by only 10%.

All this related to a single hearing, which led the researchers to question the high levels of repetition used in radio advertising.

The 1995 study:

  • Confirmed the findings of the original test, despite the fact that consumers are exposed to far more advertising messages in all media.
  • It also suggested that for conventional advertising breaks, the position in break did not have any real effect on recall.

However, when there was a solo ad positioned within news bulletins, average awareness levels were significantly higher.

Radio sounds great: The technical quality of FM radio today sounds amazing. With digital consoles, smarter processors (check out the Omnia 11 and Vorsis processors if you want to set your station apart from the competition), improvements in sound cards and faster computers, the audio quality we broadcast today can be as close to CD quality as we desire. The cost of recording music in linear form is a little higher than compressed Mpeg, but the end result is worth the effort. Most radio stations use audio limiters and processors and also have in place systems to ensure the audio levels are consistent between music, voice and commercials – something the television industry in Canada is now being forced to deal with by the CRTC. Improvements in audio receivers have also helped improve the audio experience. If you have purchased a new car lately, chances are you will have 10 or more speakers spread around the interior of the car cabin and the radio itself will be far superior to the radio of just a few years ago. All this means a great sounding signal that goes for miles.

Radio is easy to consume: Radio is everywhere and can be heard in the car, in the home and in the work place. Most homes have several radios and chances are, most people wake up to the radio each morning. Many work places have a radio playing in the background and most office phone systems have the ability to play a radio station in the background. These days, the radio appears on a large number of smart phones either via a radio station application or built into the phone itself. Radio is also easy to stream on a computer, iPad or iPod and many other devices, which has helped grow radio listening. A recent study showed 35% of Americans had listened to an online radio station in the previous week. In short, radio is easy to find and easy to use.

There are more radio stations on the air today than ever before: In 1943 there were just 960 radio stations in the USA. Radio’s growth exploded in the 1960s and ’70s, as broadcasters, consumers, and advertisers discovered a new “frontier” on the FM band. Today there are 10,800 commercial radio stations on the air with 344 new commercial station construction permits issued in the past 12 months. In

Canada, there are almost 700 radio stations on the air, with 17 new stations approved in 2010. There have been several more approved by the CRTC since then, including two new FM sticks that were approved for Calgary on May 24, 2012. There are 5,765 commercial radio stations streaming audio over the internet with more launching every day. This creates more jobs for those eager to get into the industry, and while consolidation will result in some jobs being eliminated, on balance I think this is a great time to be getting into the radio industry.

Radio is a great frequency medium: Radio is a cost effective medium because you can reach a lot of people and run the message frequently enough so that those people who are in the market for a particular product or service will be more likely to purchase. All advertising works by repetition and you may need to be exposed to a commercial three or four times before you take action. Repetition has been proven as the best way to learn and retain information. It is also why a song writer repeats the same words a number of times in a song. It’s called the chorus and this repetition helps us remember the song . Radio is a great frequency medium and, therefore, works well for advertisers. For about the same price as a half page ad in your local paper, an advertiser can run 21 radio commercials over 3 days. Running 7 commercials a day for three days will ensure potential customers will hear the same message several times. It has been proven time and time again that if you say something enough times it will sink in and people in the market for that product or service are more likely to respond because of the frequency.

Radio is targeted: Each radio station is operated with specific market segments in mind, so despite there being many radio stations nationwide, there are particular stations that target your specific market. In the car, at the office, in the garden you can reach your customer on the radio throughout the day or night. This increases the frequency that your message can be delivered.

Radio makes a difference in people’s lives: Radio is local but the signal often goes a long way. This means that when disaster strikes, radio is often the best medium to get critical message out to people quickly. For example, when earthquakes struck Christchurch New Zealand or Port a Prince Haiti, radio was the only electronic medium that stayed on the air and was able to get critical safety information out to people quickly and efficiently. Radio broadcasts community information and gives people ideas of what to do locally with their free time. While other media can also do this to some extent, radio is more immediate than newspaper, billboards or magazines, so radio is best to let people know when things change. Radio warns people about traffic hold ups or accidents and helps them with their daily commute, which is becoming longer in many Canadian cities.

Radio is flexible: We can put an announcer in a store or at an event. This is one of the real benefits that radio offers over most other media. Our outside broadcasts get customers to come to a specific location. Radio can provide product sampling, on-air giveaways and great contests. That’s hard to do with print or television. But we need to be creative in the look and approach we take to these events to make them special and ensure radio continues to own this space.

Conclusion: Perhaps our love of radio comes about because it is free and easy to consume. But the reason I love listening to and working in radio is the emotional connection radio makes with each and every listener. I am a big fan of radio and I believe it will remain both relevant and influential in 2012 and for many years to come. I hope you will take a minute to reflect why you love working in radio in 2012. If you’d like to share your thoughts give me a call or me send me an email.