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Radio’s Biggest Mistake

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip August 10, 2006

We’re all unique.

That’s the attraction to the iPod. The very filling of it turns it into myPod, not yourPod.

And when ourPods are different from theirPods, what does it mean to be “average”?

The Decline of “Average”

It’s the “average” we measure to figure out what music to play. It’s the “average” person who votes on our songs. It’s the “average” we reduce our stations to when we’re out to cut expense.

In today’s growing technologically mediated audio entertainment environment, the “average” no longer exists. That’s because music fans no longer need to share common tastes with others in order to find a radio station “they can all agree on.” In fact, the very idea of “agreeing” on a station is antithetical. Who needs to agree when your perfect, ideal station is one set of earbuds away?

“uControl” vs. “iControl”

With the end of the average and the rise of the individual comes the end of “uControl” and the dawn of “iControl.” The power has passed to the listener, my friends. The genie is out of the bottle and there’s nothing the radio industry can do to stick him back in.

“uControl” means if your stations won’t play it, I won’t hear it. “iControl” means I no longer depend on you, the station, to introduce me to songs I haven’t heard before.

“uControl” means the only way for me to hear what sounds like radio is to use the radio. “iControl” means my ability to rotate and schedule songs I like on my iPod is better than yours on your radio station.

“uControl” means radio is in the business of running ads. “iControl” means radio had better get into the business of connecting me with the products and services of advertisers who interest me, no matter where I am: In front of a radio, a computer, or a cell phone.

“uControl” means you can offer more stations in more formats (HD or otherwise) in order to cover a wider spectrum of my tastes, but “iControl” means this doesn’t even come close to serving my tastes: Check out anybody’s iPod and you’ll see a variety broader than the broadest station – all in one place. You’ll see genres obliterated and all but irrelevant. You’ll see playlists labeled by mood, not just category.

Niche to Oblivion

One of the entrenched myths of radio today is that listeners hunger for more choices, and whether those choices are from satellite radio or HD radio or Internet radio, more choices are better than fewer.

Yes, more choices are better than fewer, but more niche stations are not better than fewer broad ones. This is a critical point, and if you don’t understand it you don’t understand your audience at all.

Listeners are complex people with complex tastes, each different from the next. What they really want is not more niche options and more reasons to switch between them. What they really want is to be understood.

Broader, not Narrower

That’s why their iPod playlists cross so many musical boundaries, but why a purely automated mix of music – even the one on your iPod – feels so lifeless and empty. Yes, it’s your iPod. But it’s not you. You have more dimensions than any mix of songs, no matter how deep or how broad.

And that is why everything around the music on your broad-based radio station matters so much. It’s why personalities matter. It’s why connection matters. It’s why promotions and contests and events matter.

Radio’s biggest mistake is that we view our stations as portfolios of songs rather than portfolios of listeners, each with different tastes, converging here and there, but always desiring novelty and change and magic and something between the music that’s as complex and complicated and unique as they are.

Trimming the fat

The “fat” is what we cut out.

And the more “fat” we cut, the more average we become. The more complexity we lose. And the less listeners like us, no matter how many niche channels we serve up.

It is, after all, the fat that gives meat its flavor.

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