What I Learned About Radio By Leaving It

I admit it. I was wrong. That doesn’t happen very often so mark today in your calendar.

I left radio for several reasons, among them…I was convinced I had nothing left to say.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Today was my third day of training at the dealership. It was my first day of taking online tests and training courses.

If you’d have told me I wouldn’t learn radio’s greatest lesson until I got out of the business, I’d have said you were nuts. I am a student of the game. I always have been…always learning and listening…soaking in the data. I would read articles and studies constantly. But what can a car dealership teach us about what we’re doing wrong in radio?


The “Big Three” Domestic American Automakers are seeing their sales numbers rise close to the 2006 figures. The recession, at least in the auto industry, seems to be coming to a close.

Why is that?

It’s too soon for me to tell. But what I CAN tell you is that in these training videos I am watching, I’m starting to learn…and I’m also learning that there’s something the thriving car business knows that the still struggling radio industry seems to have forgotten.

In radio, we’ve got a 3 pronged relationship. There’s the Radio Station. It needs money to operate. What do they have that they can monetize? Commercial airtime! How do we do that? We go to local businesses and ask that they give us money and in return, we’ll say nice things about them on the air. Eventually this dynamic led to commerical spots running on radio. Radio needs money. Go to the clients. The Advertiser gives us money, we air a commerical…pretty simple. It’s almost like any other sales based industry. Except that with advertising the third prong is the CONSUMER. The advertiser isn’t just giving us money because we’re pretty. They want what we have. It’s not the music. It’s not other advertiser’s commercials. They want our most valuable commodity: Our fans. Our listeners. The people that like what we do enough to listen to us day in and day out…to break their habits and normal schedule or, in the most humbling case, build their daily routine AROUND radio.

Radio provides the airtime to target the listener. The listener is then not only exposed to advertiser’s message, they are called to action, hopefully resulting in participation in the advertiser’s business. That’s invaluable to the advertisers, specifically car dealerships who still spend a considerable amount on radio advertising to get our listeners and turn them into THEIR customers.

That’s pretty basic. That’s a process most of us should have down pat…or should.

Why, then, is the car business thriving when radio is struggling? We’re dealing with largely the same consumers. As a matter of fact, I would argue that many of THEIR customers listen to OUR radio stations. If that’s the case…why is one industry improving after the disasterous economic crash and the other is still trying to find its way?

The car business treats their customers like valuable assets. They understand that if just ONE customer walks into their showroom and has a negative experience, the power of bad Word-Of-Mouth could break them as much as good Word-Of-Mouth could make them. They greet them upon entry and engage them. They’re trying to sell them a product. Their success depends on whether or not that customer drives off the lot with one of their vehicles. It is considered a failure to have that cusomer come in and then they decide to buy from another dealership. Somehow, by something they did, they lost them.

The radio industry has come to treat their customers…the listeners…like an annoyance.

Go ahead. I’ll give pause to allow you to argue that in your head.

Or resolve it.

Radio turns listeners away at every turn. Nights are syndicated. Overnights are jukeboxed. Weekends are often voicetracked. Look in your own buildings. How many dayparts are live? How much of the “live” dayparts are actually LIVE?

The phones ring. No one answers. That’s tantamount to a customer walking in the showroom and being ignored. If you’d like to know how the car business would handle that after just three days on the job I can tell you. It’s unacceptable.

Why does radio turn away their listeners? On remotes, at promotions, on the air, in the lobby…at seemingly every turn? Why doesn’t radio take every opportunity to engage and make an impression?

The car business…and many others…treat their customers like they are THE most valuable asset.

Who are radio’s customers? Your GM, GSM and Corporate blah blah is saying “The Advertiser”.

Radio has forgotten its most valuable asset.

The Listener.

The dynamic doesn’t work as an exchange between the station and advertiser. Radio has nothing to offer but airtime. If no one is listening to them, that air is worthless.

Blame consolidation. Blame downsizing. Blame voicetracking. Blame Clear Channel…Cumulus…the small Mom & Pops that can’t afford a full staff. Blame who you want. There’s plenty to go around. Blame the individual radio professional. There is blame to be shared all over.

This isn’t the time for blame. There have always been corporations that take over businesses, downsize and consolidate responsibilities. This has been going on in industries for years. It’s nothing new.

This is the time for action. There may not be much the individual can do to affect major change at the top. However, you CAN change your perception, attitude and approach to day-to-day interactions with the listener.

It’s time radio remembers who they serve. It isn’t the advertiser. It’s the listener. It always has been…from the beginning. Radio wasn’t invented as an innovation to advertise. Advertising came later. Radio, just like car sales, is about creating relationships with their customers. It’s not a ratings share. It’s not CUME or TSL. Those are measuring tools from a broken ratings system.

Next time a listener comes into your lobby and you, the air talent, walk by because you’re in the middle of scheduling music or voicetracking your 3rd daypart in the building, stop for a second. Smile. Make a memory for them. Create an impression.

Next time you are on a remote and you’re hiding in the station vehicle or in the businesses breakroom, go outside and wave at the road like the Little Caesar’s kid. Draw them in. Make an impression!

Next time you’re in the studio playing Angry Birds and the phone is ringing…answer it. Better still…BE IN THE STUDIO.

Easier said than done, I know. But there is a reason radio is suffering while the car business is recovering.

It has a lot to do with how we treat our customers.

Are your customers your most valuable asset or are they a niusance?