(By Tom Langmeyer) The unfortunate conventional wisdom that has prevailed in radio over the past 20 years is “We are a music station. We don’t make news.” Sadly, this sentiment represents many who set the tone for the industry and proudly make these proclamations, as the radio business becomes increasingly irrelevant.
There is some truth in the statement that “a music station shouldn’t cover the news” by those who think in a completely linear way. However, this culturally process-oriented approach has nothing to do with results.
A music-intensive radio station is not expected to do news in the traditional sense, nor to compete with news stations. This is not the role of a music station.
However, all radio stations must have a “news” component. Now, before you cross your arms over your chest, think about it this way.
“News” is really what your listeners need and want in the radio experience. What does “news” mean for your station? What is that? How is it delivered? How much? How to activate our earpiece? This is where things are different and need to be defined.
Think of a great country station that talks about a concert happening in town and creates an experience around it. This is NEWS.
Nobody says a music station should be WINS, WBBM, KNX or KCBS.
Whatever the format of the music, there must be a manual explaining how and what information (the relevant “news”) is presented.
On the consulting side of Great Lakes Media, we create custom plans for stations committed to localism and winning on the revenue hill. Of course it’s different – and that’s why it works.
It’s called the “Great Lakes Media Way”.
Frankly, in the places where we work, there is always an initial level of pushback, and then a cultural shift occurs followed by noticeable success. It takes courage to lead and win, because “it’s different.
The overused statement, “That’s not the way we’ve done things here in the past,” is killing the industry. This is because the second part of the statement is missing: “We have a lack of listener passion for the station, watch the revenue evaporate.” Our excuse is that no one cares and everyone has a smart phone anyway. The company didn’t tell us what to do. An irrelevant jukebox is the way we’ve always done things here in the past.
In the case of WECK, it is not an “old-fashioned jukebox”. The BIG WECK is a “LOCAL EXPERIENCE” that includes many great classics.
That’s the difference.
When this horrible event happened, we immediately activated and set out to activate our plan for our type of station.
It means, telling people what happened. Give them basic information so they know you can be trusted and supported.
If the station is relevant, it means that when something of this magnitude happens, you say something right away. You tell people what happened.
At this point, you have really done your listeners a favor. It’s surprising how many people went through the day with no idea this had happened.
Here’s the part that may seem counterintuitive, but it isn’t: listeners will go elsewhere to seek more detailed information from the sources. They should and we must tell them.
In this industry, some stations run 20 minutes of commercials an hour telling people to do something that has nothing to do with listening to our station. If anyone needs information on something of this magnitude, we need to make sure we send it to our media partner who provides in-depth coverage if they want it.
A responsible music station as a broadcaster will win those listeners back and they will be more loyal knowing that if something happens the station won’t hide it and pretend nothing happened for anyone to hear one more song. Music radio can be a great escape and a great experience for people, but sometimes that means just telling them, “This just happened and you need to know about it.”
After initially letting people know that something horrible has happened, a great local radio station in the music format will switch to a different mode of “news coverage” after the initial communication.
The second part is in what ways could we lead by example to help people? Can we activate, engage and activate the community through a fundraiser or community vigil? Can we tell stories of people who have done heroic and good things? Can we be a place of comfort? Can we help the families of the victims?
This is how a station advised by Great Lakes Media approaches “news” on a music station. This is what is happening and has happened at WECK, owned by Buddy Shula. He is a great broadcaster who believes in localism. Here is what we do and suggest others do:
1. Have a “manager on call” and rotate this task. This means ALWAYS having someone plugged in, especially during ‘spare time’, so others can benefit from being unplugged. Whether it’s WGN in Chicago, an FM music station in Milwaukee, or a small town radio station, I’ve always had someone “on call” to make important decisions in real time, when things happen. pass. The on-call person can live their life like anyone else, but just needs to be plugged into the world during that time.
2. In a critical situation, this is when a group text from the manager informs all team members and provides guidance and direction. I immediately did it for WECK – and Glenn Topolski, the station’s program director, put the first news on the air. We also worked with our partner station, WGRZ (TV) to get live feeds of the initial story.
3. There are also things to decide by those responsible for programming, sales and engineering, whether the station is tracked or not. The entire management team must be informed immediately, as well as the staff.
4. The level and amount of coverage is directed by the designated manager.
5. If the station is followed at the time, there should always be someone who has a way to get on the air from anywhere. The WECK crew, myself included, have a way to get on the air anytime, anywhere. Glenn Topolski and I spoke immediately after this event. Glenn was at home and was able to immediately get on-air information for station listeners. With the tools we have today, including smart phones, we can get this information from anywhere and it doesn’t have to come from a home studio or in the building.
6. We discussed the actual “tone” and station imagery and tactical things that we needed to do and adjust, right away. Are there any spots that need to be taken off the air as directed by the sales manager? What changes should the traffic manager make immediately? What songs do we need to get off the air? How are we going to inform our listeners? How do we direct people to additional information? Do our digital elements inform and direct like the resources they need?
7. What is our plan, since we are not a news station, to be able to better serve the community?
The radio has unfortunately been misled into doing everything about “public services that we can no longer talk about or discuss. The radio is a companion and a friend. Radio is personal. In an unfortunate “world of no” by the people running the company, anything available via the smart phone has become off-limits on the radio. It’s wrong:
Don’t talk about the weather, because you can get it on your phone. Don’t update a live baseball score because you can get it on your phone or someone will turn away from you. Never give the time, because you can get it on your phone. Don’t talk about things in the community because you can get that on your phone. Don’t give traffic information, talk or mention a big traffic jam because you can get it on your phone. Don’t talk about the artist, because you can get it on your phone. Don’t be topical or mention anything in your community because then the vocal track you made to broadcast on 50 other stations won’t work.
This took the company out of radio. We need to reinstall real camaraderie. The radio should be more than a jukebox. There are better music utilities out there. Radio is fundamentally a local business. It is that of camaraderie.
At this point in our world, there is a stronger need for better personal connection and better companionship. Radio can and must provide it to survive. We can do it, but we need new thinking and leaders who have a vision and can understand how we can regain our position as an essential friend in people’s lives. We lost it, but we can get it back.
This is the greatest strength of radio, whatever the format. Unfortunately, literal thinking has created an industry full of tactical and literal thinkers about our role.
However, radio is fundamentally a local business. If not, it’s completely useless because there are other distribution platforms out there that are meant to receive a better utility playlist without a bunch of ads or anything in between. The same goes for discussions and news.
For WECK or any station advised by Great Lakes Media, it’s all about localism. Localism is dressed in different ways, depending on the format, but make no mistake, it’s all localism.
WECK is a 1,000 watt AM radio station on a graveyard frequency, with three translators, licensed in Cheektowaga, NY. Localism is what brought a former bottom-tier station and moved it into the top 10 of a good-sized radio market. Incidentally, this independent station beats out a number of commercial FM stations in the 50,000 and 100,000 watt band.
President and CEO
Great Lakes Media Acquisition and Advisory Group