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The Howard Stern Wake-Up Call

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip October 7, 2004

Yes, Howard Stern will be leaving terrestrial Radio for Satellite. This is an enormous wake-up call for those of us in the terrestrial Radio trenches: If we can lose one of our biggest stars, why not all of them? It’s a call we had better heed. As an industry – an entertainment industry – we need talented people on-air. We need to attract and keep them. And we need to do it now. Or else. This essay is a manifesto, a call to action. I humbly ask you to pass this on and spread the word.

Manifesto Point 1: We must make Radio an attractive place for funny, creative entertainers to work

Compared to most Radio Stations, an iPod is more interesting, designing websites is more exciting, open-mic night is more rewarding, and auditioning for The Real World is cooler. Not only don’t we generally have an eye for talent we don’t have an ear for it either. Remember, it is against all odds that Howard Stern’s career even survived his disasterous early years with the Radio establishment.

Even now, where is Radio’s Ali G? Where is our Conan O’Brien? Where are all our funnymen and funnywomen? Are we on their radar? Are they on ours? What are we doing to attract talent? We must seek out these people. We must take a chance on them. In every market, large and small. And we must do it now.

Manifesto Point 2: We need to keep the talent happy when we have it

Is the average Radio Station an environment which nurtures talent? If you think that you’re one word away from an FCC fine, one word away from being fired under a “no tolerance” policy, what kind of nurturing is that? Watching your peers get replaced by a computer is not nurturing. Voice tracking may be easy, safe, and cheap, but retaining great talent and providing great entertainment is none of those things.

To be sure, Infinity did an outstanding and heroic job of defending and supporting Stern during his darkest hours (and Morning Shows everywhere noticed), but not all talent is so lucky. Why should any talent work for a station or company that doesn’t support, encourage, protect, and reward them? There’s a reason HBO won 32 Emmy’s and ABC won 7.

Manifesto Point 3: Remember, we’re in the entertainment business

Whether our emphasis is on music, on talk, on information, or whatever, we’re still in the entertainment business. And central to the entertainment business are the creative forces which drive it. Often unwieldy, sometimes uncooperative, occasionally temperamental, usually gifted and once in a while brilliant. Holding a tornado by its tail creates a lot of ratings leverage when that tornado swirls with talent.

There would be no Soprano’s without David Chase. There would be no Sex and the City without Darren Star. There would be no Jerry Seinfeld Show without Jerry Seinfeld. If we as an industry don’t open the doors to talent, recognize talent, nurture, respect, support, protect, and reward talent, then Radio will have left its best days behind. We will become The History Channel and some other medium will be HBO.

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