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‘Tell Me Something I Didn’t Know’

Is it too late for radio to be cool and locally relevant?

Social media are cool.

Don’t take my word. Ask anyone. They’ll tell you they can’t live without Facebook. Their precious Twitter is a way of life. And Foursquare? They’ll brag that they’re the mayor of their local Walmart.

What about TV and radio? TV is boring. And radio? Radio is so last century.

How did these two media, radio and TV — which still reach the greatest number of people, with the most frequency — become uncool?

We did it to ourselves. We aired too many commercials. We played the same songs over and over until they were burnt to a crisp. We stopped hiring real personalities. We put more emphasis on sounding professional and less importance on sounding local. We used voice-tracking from out of town because it was cheap and listeners couldn’t tell the difference, could they?

‘Local’ and ‘relevant’ are key concepts as radio tries to figure out where it fits into the modern communication lifestyle. iStockphoto/pierredesvarre Hey, better yet, let’s not use DJs at all. Who wants to hear them yak?


Okay, we are not entirely to blame.

Facebook, Twitter and the others do create a sense of intimacy that’s impossible to replicate via mass media. And it would be easy to say that radio stations should avoid promoting and using social media, but that would be foolish. In fact, we must continue to develop methods to utilize social media to help broaden our relationship with our listeners. Hello, Mark Zuckerberg: How about a radio tuner as part of a Facebook page? If EVO could finally put an FM radio tuner on my phone, anything is possible.

My concern is really geared toward getting us back on the cool and, more important, relevant side of the tracks.

We will never succeed by playing more music, hiring the cheapest on-air talent we can find and ignoring the cities in which we live. There’s a reason people are turning in droves toward all-news radio stations. These stations are the exception because they have never lost their relevance. Listeners need them for news, traffic, weather and information. What do listeners need music stations for?

We must seek to hire qualified creative program directors who are not afraid to take risks by trying out unconventional, emotive, local personalities. This means paying a living wage and providing a degree of stability for someone who’s going to give you 110 percent effort and attention.

It’s about making stations sound cool again with stars as guests and passionate production. We must do a better job of highlighting and breaking new music because doing so makes us cool. When friends introduce you to new bands, or new songs, it makes a difference in your relationship.

Reinvent again

I’ve also noticed something about production lately: that less has become less, to the extent that segues on many music radio stations rule the day — just like my iPod that has 10,000 songs without interruption. It’s almost as if one or two guys at corporate said, “Okay, you guys… just interrupt less — that’s what works with the People Meter.”

Can your radio station tell me something I didn’t know today and every day? Can it make me laugh, cry or get angry? Does it consistently help my community solve local problems? Do you put people on the air who I know are local and care about me?

Now that ascertainment is a joke, do you even know what your local issues are? Did anyone from your on-air staff grow up in your area? Do you have an accent on the station that sounds like your city?

I know, I know… it’s easy to ask the questions. In fact, that’s one of things I encourage you to do by using your social media tools. Ask your listeners questions and look for trends in the answers they offer you.

Is it too late for radio to be cool and locally relevant? With the rise of TV in the 1950s and ’60s, radio had to reinvent itself and we came back with a vengeance. PDs, consultants and other creative thinkers: Are we up to the challenge?

How should radio respond to social media? Write to [email protected] with “Letter to the Editor” in the subject line.

Mark Lapidus is a longtime contributor to Radio World and president of Lapidus Media. Write to him at [email protected].