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The New Normal for Programming, Personality & Promo

Thoughts for programmers and content managers about radio best practices in this new environment

Tracy Johnson, president and CEO of Tracy Johnson Media Group

Everyone knows the world has changed in the past few months. Life has been disrupted, and there’s no timeline for returning to normal. The current crisis has had a lasting impact on everyone.

So now what? What’s our new normal?

In a recent webinar, Ken Benson of P1 Media Group, Dave “Chachi” Denes of Benztown and I shared best practices and ideas for the current environment, provided guidance for the near term, and offered our forecast for the long term.

Here are some of the highlights from the webinar.

The New Normal — Programming
In contrast with recent surveys indicating listeners say they are listening to radio more, early ratings results show AQH has declined significantly in most markets. Listeners are now forming new habits, which may or may not be similar to previous habits. The longer folks are at home, the more difficult it will be to re-attract them to our stations when society is more mobile.

Listening to AM/FM radio via streaming and smart speaker usage is higher. Programmers who have not converted to Total Line Reporting to consolidate over-the-air and online listening into one ratings number should do so immediately.

Stations should focus on connecting with listeners emotionally, providing an escape from anxiety and renew efforts to reflect the local community.

In times of stress, listeners seek comfort. Consider adjusting the music mix to play fewer new songs and more popular library titles. This is a great time to become more nostalgic, familiar and comfortable.

The New Normal — Personality
Air talent plays a vital role at this time. Most shows should remain calm, generally upbeat and positive. Don’t ignore the crisis, but find ways to relieve listener stress.

Personalities should continue to be themselves, with a few subtle adjustments. Some segments that were hilarious a month ago (like prank calls) may seem mean-spirited now. Be a little more sensitive with a little less less edge.

Keep your sense of humor. The number one most desired trait listeners seek from radio personalities is someone that makes them laugh. That may be even more important now. But be tasteful. There’s plenty to have fun with, but it’s probably not a good idea to make jokes about the disease itself.
Personalities having a hard time finding content ideas should consider just being the show that listens to the listener. Many personalities are finding connections just by asking “How are you doing today?”

The New Normal: Production
It makes no sense to spend marketing or contesting budgets now. If it hasn’t already been taken out of the budget, save it for when life returns to normal. However, play games on the air. You don’t even need prizes! Just have fun.

Most stations report phone and text activity is virtually non-existent, but social media engagement remains strong. Use that leverage. Create videos. Take listeners behind the scenes into your new normal. Some should consider starting a podcast now.

Plan now for the future. It seems a long way off, but this will end, and life will return to normal. Be ready to take advantage of it. Brainstorm ideas for being at the center of your city’s celebration when life resumes.

Forecast and Recommendations
From Tracy Johnson: Just when you thought the radio industry had no more room to cut, the COVID-19 event has made it necessary for more changes. This is a painful time for everyone in radio. Some stations will never recover. Some may simply go off the air. There are two major challenges ahead. One is re-attracting listeners to your radio station. The other is finding new sources of revenue, because we can’t assume advertisers will automatically return anytime soon.

From Dave Denes: Radio is going to struggle well into 2021. Smart managers will apply the principles in the Stockdale Paradox by maintaining a balance of reality and optimism. This is the time great leadership steps up to keep their teams positive and inspired.

From Ken Benson: The world has changed as much as it did after 9/11. We need to step back and take a new look at the industry and realize there’s an opportunity for radio to shine. This is the time to pull together and make major differences in listener lives. This could be one of the most exciting and meaningful times in your station’s history.

The webinar is available on demand here. For more ideas, visit the Coronavirus Radio Idea Facebook Group established by Benztown and P1 Media Group.

The author is president and CEO of Tracy Johnson Media Group.