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Celebrity Connection Keeps Radio Relevant

Regardless of station format, listeners recognize (and remember) famous voices

How much would you be willing to pay for a cardigan sweater that Kurt Cobain once wore on MTV’s “Unplugged” show? If you’re prepared to cash in part of your 401(k), you’re on the right track. Last month, Kurt’s lycra-blend, too-cool-for-school sweater sold for $140,800.

With this piece of clothing in mind, I’m sure you won’t be shocked that the acoustic guitar on which John Lennon recorded “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Love Me Do” recently sold for $2.4 million to an undisclosed buyer at auction.

These are not isolated instances. Over decades, the market repeatedly has proven that owning a piece of celebrity history has tremendous value in American culture.

Fortunately, radio stations remain in a solid position to capitalize on celebrity.

If you keep a baseball on hand, it’s easy to pull it out when that star pitcher visits the studio. The ball can later be used to raise money for a local cause or given away as part of an on-air contest.
This connection needs greater emphasis in terms of weaving the theme into our foundational elements. Overt awareness of this “celebrity connection” must be integrated into our plans as part of our mission to stay relevant in the overall entertainment industry.

Start simple by making sure that your listeners regularly hear celebrity voices mention your station, your personalities and your city events. Be aware, however, that while it’s not difficult to get stars to mention your call letters, it does take planning to get them to help you plug charity fundraisers, to wish your DJs good luck in upcoming 10k runs or to offer a holiday greeting specific to your town.

And it’s really amazing when you get them to talk about new songs they’ve just released and what these songs mean to them. Of course, these sound bites have to be continually refreshed to remain relevant.

Are the format leaders in your company able to provide some of this opportunity? They may well, but most often this is best driven locally when stars appear in your city or nearby.

And don’t forget local stars! You almost certainly have famous homegrown athletes, musicians and entertainers who will register with your audience.

Next let’s get tangible. Obtain commitments from celebrities to offer something to your listeners that money can’t buy.

Ideas: Breakfast or lunch at the station with a star (while they are there to be interviewed); a few hand-written lyrics to one of their big songs written on a cocktail napkin; an offer to record the answering message on a listener’s mobile phone; play a short acoustic set at an office; send flowers on Valentine’s Day in a celebrity’s name with a hand-written card; visit veterans in a local hospital; be interviewed by a high school newspaper reporter; get paid to be a roadie; or have a celebrity propose marriage from one listener to another. Meet and greets with celebrities never get old and listeners will talk about these experiences for a lifetime — giving your station credit for making it happen.

As to obtaining actual celebrity items for giveaway or to use in an auction to benefit a charity, I’m for it!

As the saying goes, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” The trick is to plan far in advance and have one person take responsibility for obtaining the signature. Truthfully, this can be neglected sometimes with all the excitement going on when a star is around.

Often it’s a matter of having the right item in your possession when a celebrity is being interviewed. I’ve worked at places that kept guitars, baseballs, basketballs and footballs around to be signed. Many celebs have written books and typically are cool about signing them. I’ve asked for and received signed pants, hats, shirts and CDs.

While you’re too late to collect a pair of drumsticks (with a signed drum head) for Thanksgiving this year, they will keep without refrigeration until next year.

The author is president of Lapidus Media. Contact him at[email protected].