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The Challenge to CHR

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with a bunch of CHR programmers to talk about developing issues in their format.

Their concerns focused on how emerging technologies were affecting their audience – from cellphones to iPods to social networking websites like MySpace (and, by the way, if you program CHR and don’t know what MySpace is, you should start looking for a new job now).

I talked about CHR’s traditional role as a form of teenage “social currency.” It was a way for teens to connect with each other: Shout-outs, requests, station events, and all the word-of-mouth associated with the favorite station you have in common with all your friends.

Without a doubt, all that’s changing.

Your local CHR no longer provides the type of “social currency” or connection between the average teen and her friends that can be had by many sites online (such as MySpace), IM, TXT, and so on. Radio has, to a degree, been replaced by technologies which have centered on this audience’s keen desire to connect and thrive in a community of their peers.

Suddenly, radio is God-awful at community-building. And until something happens to change this problem CHR will continue to be less relevant in the future than it has been in the past – and ratings will suffer.

It’s not just about podcasting or streaming – this is nursery school stuff to this audience. It’s not about requests and shout-outs – I can hear what I want whenever I want, and if I want to shout-out to a friend it’s only a few keystrokes away.

What the local CHR can provide that all the other communication mechanisms cannot is, in a word, mass. The local CHR is a tiny slice of Hollywood, right in your own backyard. It can speak louder – and to more people – and faster – than any other alternative. It has the potential to do what all the other methods cannot: To make the listeners famous.

At least locally. At least for a while.

Do you see what I mean? This is the same benefit provided by Reality TV and American Idol and “The Real World.” CHR is each market’s conduit to that world. Pick a listener, and make her a star – locally. This gives her “social currency” and will, in turn, give it to you.

Make it a game. Make it a story, unfolding in many chapters. Build drama. Invite audience involvement.

And reap the rewards.

Do CHR stations need to become much more like the means of communication their teen audiences prefer? Unquestionably, yes. But they also need to exploit the natural advantages they have over these competing vehicles for listener attention. Only you can give the listener what she really wants:

Everyone wants to be famous.

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