What Radio Needs is “Soul”

This is from my friend Beau Phillips, the EVP of Programming at Dial Global, a major radio industry content syndicator.

Dear DG programmers and personalities;

Last year, a research company asked 12,000 listeners “What do you like most about radio?”

Their #1 response was “it’s convenient”. Sadly, we have become a commodity to people. Like a foot stool, radio is there when you need it.

Over the years, radio settled into a comfort zone. We hired jocks for their deep voices and witty chatter. As long as you owned the radio tower, you could dictate what people heard. And we convinced ourselves that this would last forever.

So, what happened? I believe that radio has lost its soul.

Adele has soul – the Black Eyed Peas don’t. Howard Stern has soul – Ryan Seacrest doesn’t. George Strait has soul – Rascal Flatts don’t. Apple has soul – Microsoft doesn’t. Blame consolidation, voice-tracking-liner-readers or the dearth of great PDs to develop personalities. But with competition surrounding us, radio lost its soul at the wrong time.

You’ve heard me say that jukeboxes are fine for diners, but they make lousy radio stations. That’s why our programming team works so hard to work with our jocks. Great personalities connect with their audience in a genuine, relatable way. Adele, Howard and Strait resonate because they sound authentic – and their fans feel it. For radio to thrive, personalities better find some soul again, and fast.

So how can you have soul?

  1. Embrace change. Challenge yourself. It’s like breaking in a new pair of shoes – awkward at first. But you’ll be better for it.
  2. Have courage. DG may be the only company in America who’s not squeezing you into a 7 second box. We want you to relate to your listeners and engage them. So take advantage of it!
  3. Break out of the formula. The days of cliché-filled breaks are over. So, ditch the corny, catch phrases that gunk up your show. Break up the predictable pattern. Try doing a show without saying your name. Or stop the “that was (artist), this is (artist), I am (name) routine”.
  4. Make an emotional connection. Make your listeners think, or laugh, or cry or feel inspired…every hour.
  5. Be relevant. Every format must sound contemporary, in the moment…even the gold-based formats. They may see an old face in the mirror, but want to stay connected with today.

Radio operators are scrambling to be heard on-air, online and via cellphones. But unless your station has soul, it really doesn’t matter.

(Posted with permission of the author)

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  • “The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius

  • Ouch, Tom! 🙂

  • I’ve always believed that self-deprecation is the key to acceptance.  Show people that you have faults and they will see you as a human being.  That is the difference of being on the air and being a personality.

  • Nice, Danny! (And Danny knows what he’s talking about here)

  • Great look at what Soul is…

    As a young broadcaster  I gotta say it’s hard to be a young person in radio and have soul…I can see hesitance from some vets to take a future broadcaster under their wing to really help them mature…(Their hesitance is warranted when they know that young person who works for less, could take their job…or could potentially be board op-ing as they “Depart ways” with X company.) Soul is sucked from young broadcasters as they face rejection and  Catch 22’s in hiring processes..worthless internships, staggering education fees which leads to some of the most talented, passionate future impact players to give up, losing their dream and potentially radio losing  

    Not everyone can be in broadcasting I know this …by nature its competitive, it’s selective it’s hostile . But it’s an amazing tradition…just worried one day we’ll kill ourselves…We gotta pass the soul on, not just maintain or regain it in the here and now.  

  • Carl Magnuson

    Radio needs bold statements like this from it’s leaders. Thank you for standing up Beau!

  • Anonymous

    Soul puts RELATIONSHIP before everything else.  It knows that transparency is the key to trust and trust is the key to connection. Soul would rather sit with you and linger over a latte than chug bad coffee on the run.

    It’s such a delicate balance being a compelling personality today.  Years ago, in a diary world, we thought we had time to be creative, compelling and connective while still managing to take care of the fundamentals (time/temp/calls/promos, etc.) within a break.  However, PPM has convinced programmers that brevity rules.  I fully agree that there is nothing worse than a boring, self-absorbed jock rambling on and on about something nobody cares about.  However, the generic radio being spewed out of speakers today is no better.  There’s got to be a balance somewhere!  I’d love to hear from others who believe they’ve succeded in finding that “sweet spot”.

  • A primer for injecting some soul back into the product. Now who other than DG will blast open that “7 second box” and allow the talent to work the instructions?

  • This is more on point than most radio people know I suspect. It is also the biggest reason why most radio is not converting the audience in the digital/social space. It is also why radio doesn’t need to fear Pandora, yet. Radio has failed to recognize that their brand equity is NOT the station logos associated with images of the artists. It is the relationship that they own with the audience. When executed well, it is a highly cognitive, deep engagement. Audiences could be motivated to action when prompted by a trusted personality.  Revenue in the digital space is premised on conversion ACTIONS, radio continues to sell impressions. PD/Brand Managers/Talent needs to understand this and develop content that is appropriate for the user driven ethos of the digital space. Simply re-purposing your radio show online is NOT a strategy. Ongoing, low content posting on Facebook is NOT a digital strategy. Leveraging the primary engagement of the broadcast in meaningful ways on the digital platform allows radio downstream opportunities to activate the audience in measurable conversions and provides radio with a sustainable extension of the core business and future revenue opportunities. 

  • Right on every singly point. Thanks Patrick!

  • Rwt

    Stale, pre-programmed same, ol.. I agree!
    ps…NEW MUSIC can bring the SOUL back!!!

  • Odd, because the last time I talked to someone at dial global and a few other radio companies that focused on “finding the best content” about doing a syndicated show, they said SURE you have a unique delivery and you connect in a way that we have never seen, but it’s about image and making money. Go get yourself a top 10 market job (keep in mind I just came out of market 24) and THEN you can get a syndicated show.

    I have never lacked soul, I just lacked the approval of OTHER radio people who held the keys to the kingdom. But keep in mind, the minute I bring this fact to light, I must have an ego. Keep in mind the new buzz or “thing to look for in radio” is NO EGO. Which is also interesting to read ads that say:afternoon star wanted. NO Ego. I have never seen someone who is a star, who doesn’t have an ego..AND anyone who would answer an ad asking for a star..has to have an ego. Radio needs to make up their mind… 

  • This has always been the key to engaging content…uh, I mean great radio. i applaud DG for making the effort! If only it was the beginning of a trend….

  • M D Haden

    Having worked in the radio network business for nearly 24 years, I experienced many changes in philosophy about presentation and style. You need to talk more…you need to talk less…identify the music and artist…don’t identify the music and artist…be timely and compelling…now, be timely and compelling by voice tracking days ahead of time (make it, relatively, timely)…do time checks…don’t do time checks…make it seem personal to the listeners on the affiliate end, but don’t give away that you aren’t really there…and on, and on, and on. It all depends on what ‘research’ dictates at the time. Sometimes, I believe, one must can the research and go with the gut. One can only play it safe up to a point. Research and the unwavering allegiance to research is what has ruined the product. Personalities have had their hands tied. All one can do is smile and nod, if one expects to keep one’s job. And, then, after following the directives given by the suits based on research, one is told, “We are going in a different direction. It has nothing to do with your talent”. It is a no win situation. No matter what one does, even following directives, the blame tends to fall on the personality and not the one giving the directives. I don’t agree with all of the comparisons given by Mr. Phillips. I believe personal preference might have played a role, but I was not a fan of ‘Pop-Up Video’ either. 

  • Jbob

    Overturn the Telecommunications Act of 1996; you’d be amazed at what a little competition would do.

  • A) Don’t hold your breath on that one
    B) The Internet has made such a move moot, I believe

  • Dick Taylor

    Remember when more people in NYC would rather hear Dan Ingram talk than the Beatles sing on WABC? That was soul. And anytime I was near earshot of CBS-FM and it was Ron Lundy time, I was tuned in. Ron Lundy always picked me up, put a smile on my face and made me feel good. And there were so many more personalities that owned my ears whenever I could pick up their signal. Yes – Radio needs “soul.”

  • Fortriver

    Not sure about this “soul” talk. Not to take anything away from the author but I glaze over when people use the word “relatable” in discussing what radio people should be doing. Yes, its what we all aspire to do these days…but I doubt whether any of the major talents of the past or the very few of the present in our business give relatability much of a second thought. And I chuckled when I saw Stern on his list. I have great respect for Stern…but anybody who has seen his movie knows that ‘relatability” was not on his radar. To truly entertain and ultimately excel, its more about what Steve Jobs did at Apple with his product successes (and what he didn’t do but learned with his product failures along the way)…he figured out what people wanted (IPODS and IPADS) before they even knew they wanted it…and then made them crave it with great marketing. Stern ultimately did the same thing…Radio’s ultimate roadblock turns out to be what it craved to be in the late 80’s – to be the exact commodity that the author laments that we now are. Being that commodity was seen as a benefit before broadband, pandora,  the IPOD, etc. We wanted to be (Remember?) that warm and fuzzy box people could always turn too for the liner card reading jocks and tested music lists. Now, it makes you a foot stool, or just another source of “relatable” entertainment. If by “soul” he means a magical infusion of talented, offbeat individuals – sort of what Lady Gaga has been to pop music over the last couple of years…then count me in.

  • Nice points Patrick!!

    You said “Audiences could be motivated to action when prompted by a trusted personality” Right, but how can your audience trust your talent when they are:

    1) doing fake prank phone calls and or Scams.
    2) Doing fake bits, (like war of the roses)
    3) lying about their names, and who they really are.(Nobody believes your afternoon guy’s name is really Ricky the Hammer B Bad-Nasty!
    4) Using fake callers.

    It’s impossible for radio talent to connect in an honest way….because for the most case radio hasn’t EVER honest. (that’s why when you tell someone they  won something…they say ” Are you serious??)”

    It’s time for radio…..

  • Ghulkman

    Try finding someone with “Soul” at $10 an hour :((  Radio used to pay TOP $$$$$$ in EVERY MARKET  (I worked in Santa Maria, CA Market #202 back 1996-1998 in mornings and made almost $40,000 a year).  Corporate consolidation lead to the elimination of countless jobs and the lowering of salaries and of bona-fide competent air talent.

  • No letters, please

    Interesting article.  Especially the 5 ways to “have soul”.  The writer is correct, but the point being missed is today’s announcers are not allowed to “have soul” because today’s programmers stiffle it!  A PD called me on the hotline once (from his office in another state) and said, “That last break… that was F**KING GREAT!”  I gave the call letters!  That’s it!  That’s all he wanted!  Never once did he aircheck me, even after I asked him to do it, 2 years before he let me go and after I had given him the highest numbers that station ever had!  I trippled what they get now.  Radio has changed over the years, granted.  But I don’t believe anyone is a position of authority today has any idea of how to run a radio station.

  • ChrisMillerDigital.com

    I love Oreos more than any other cookie, but I don’t have an opinion about the trucks that drive them to the store.  When we ask real listeners about “radio,” isn’t that what we’re asking?  If we had asked them about the brand(s) they love, it might be a very different answer.  I agree with the five points above, but I think we might want to dial back the drama about radio in general, and keep working on our brands … across whatever platforms make sense for us and our fans.

  • …and that requires an uncommon degree of vision, Chris.

    I have a Q&A with the GM of KCRW on that very point – and it posts next week. Stay tuned. She is just that kind of visionary.

  • JBfromTX

    I strongly disagree with your opinion.  I agree it won’t ever happen, because the networks are the ones with the voice in DC.  Money=Power

    The internet is dribble.  It’s a jukebox with a voice.  It has to be so broad that it’s, at best, barely relevant to the person in Matador, Tx; pop. 500.  How do you sell that?  It’s the same with satellite radio.  Radio has changed because of the networks being allowed to own their entire markets.  There are no jobs for aspiring disc jockey’s, news anchors, PD’s, engineers, traffic personnel, GM’s, or even salesmen in some cases!  They can get one guy to do the job of 5 or 10 people, so what’s the point of creating more jobs?  Hire 1 manager, 1 engineer, 5 salespeople, 4 DJ’s, 1 traffic person, and you’re set to run 5 radio stations in a major market.  Burn those guys out, and replace them.  Rinse and repeat.

    Terrestrial radio has lost it’s soul.  I agree with you there, but nothing will change as long as radio stations continue to compete with themselves.  Put the rules back in place, and make way for some new and excited broadcasters!  They’ll have soul.

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