Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Value of Air Talent

The value of air talent is sinking faster than the cost of a gallon of gas ($1.94 here in Minneapolis as of this writing). Whether the solution is extended shifts, voice tracks, or a non-stop segue serenade the next chapter in operating radio stations has been written. We still need to be a personal medium, but there will be less persons being personable in the personnel pool.

I have been very consistent in my opinion that it is NOT voice tracking that is the problem. It is bad voice tracking that stinks. I have always used a Tonight Show analogy—nobody cares that Jay Leno is recorded, all people care about is that he is funny. Nobody thinks twice about time shifting a program on their DVR or iPod. All they care about is that it is good. Pre-recorded programming may in fact be desirable!

Just as the radio industry poisoned listeners to the idea of commercials years ago—and then gave them double the amount, we are training people that outside of morning drive all we are is a jukebox with two or three long commercial interruptions per hour. Outside of talk radio and a small group of stations this is the truth. The days of radio making personal connections, providing companionship, and prompting appointment listening are over.

That would be OK if we had moved on to the next great thing. Nope, stay tuned folks 10 songs will be played next—there will be 2 dead roll segues, 2 six second voice tracks, and a bunch of short produced liners with forgettable positioning statements. All that will lead up to a short passion free :30 break informing listeners that a fun time will be had this Saturday at the tire store where you could win a free alignment. WooHoo! We could get away with this half-assed version of radio when music was mostly exclusive to radio.

OK, OK I am overstating things a bit. But, admit it—radio as I have described is being broadcast every day in too many places.

I have an idea. Block Programming. All voice tracked. This is where you are supposed to think I have lost it. I’m not suggesting a program of Chamber Music, followed by an hour of news, with Polka’s coming up next. Not even close. I am talking about producing great content in a shorter program context—an hour, maybe two at the most. Programming that will keep music central but far more interesting and compelling. Unique.

At the very least I hope I have sparked some thought.

2009 may be a more challenging year than 2008. We must not only think about who’s getting cut and how are we going to get by, but how can we broadcast programming that’s not watered down but actually new, different, and enriched.

We have two choices. We can either “Cut, Cover, Coast” or “Cut, Cultivate, Create”.