Hello, Old Friend

The Huffington Post carried a blog that speaks to a problem in radio today so eloquently expressed by Jerry Del Colliano in his blog Inside Music Media. Writing here, former deejay Tara Dublin speaks to the heart of the matter:

What radio programmers fail to realize is that if you localize a station, even a little bit, your listenership will increase. Every city has a diverse music scene worth diving into. Every city has a community of local artists, writers, musicians, small business owners, and others who need support from their media. Even a casual mention on the air can create financial results for any number of locally owned and operated businesses. If your market is big enough to sustain stations that play Top 40, Classic Rock, Oldies, and Adult Contemporary, then, by golly, there’s a place for a station that rocks the local scene like no other. One that will make serious bank, even. If you build it, they will listen. And then they’ll spend their money locally. Everybody wins.

Okay, so you’ve decided to build a radio station that’s going to play a hearty amount of local music. Awesome. Now you have to get local DJs. Yes, you do. And when I say local, I don’t mean you hire someone from another market to come in and front like they own the joint.

Sounds a lot like Austin’s KUT, where carpetbagger suits hired the “best and brightest” from hither and yon — paying them outrageously in comparison to local talent — to come tell the locals about their music. Or in Boston, at WUMB, where the bean counters jettisoned beloved talent like Barnes Newberry in search of the Triple A holy grail.

Once you’ve hired your local DJs (who are: knowledgeable — not just about the city, but about music and pop culture — smart; easygoing; won’t yell and scream at the audience, nor will they insult them; and, above all, enjoyable to listen to), here’s a special tip: DON’T FIRE THEM. The audience develops a relationship with the DJ. They come to depend on that voice, that person, being there every day at the same time. People will actually sit through a song they don’t love if the DJ is compelling enough. The DJ is the face and voice of the station. Once the audience grows attached, they don’t want their relationship to change. There’s enough erratic stuff in the world. It’s nice to know that if all else fails, you can turn on the radio, and the voice you’ve come to know and trust is there to help you get through your day. That’s what I heard from my listeners on a daily basis. I was one of those rare DJs who always answered the phone and replied to every email; I considered it part of my job to be responsive whenever someone would take the time to contact me. It was an honor for me to be a part of their daily lives. Remember when DJs would be on the air for decades? I’m so down with getting back to that tradition. Short of them losing it on the air and screaming obscenities, it’s a good idea to keep your staff once you have them locked in.

Finally, we must tackle the playlist. Oh, the hated playlist, generated by some knob in an office thousands of miles from your town. They insist on endless repetition of songs. You know what I’m talking about. Anyone living in Portland can pretty much set their watches by how many times they hear Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, and Soundgarden on a daily basis. In fact, save for the stations that play classical or are strictly talk, it’s almost as if it were a law here: if you are a radio station in the modern era, you will play those bands all the damn time….

So instead of the playlist being corporately generated, why not let the supercool DJ have a say in what gets played; that’s the perception, after all, so why not make it a reality? Allow for listener requests, because people still love to hear their name when their song gets played. It’s not a terribly difficult thing to do, really, to give the people what they want.

I say it’s time to take a risk and go back to the radio days of the late ’60s, where you’d get this really cool DJ who just loved music so much, (s)he had to share it with you. That was my angle when I was rocking the mike. I loved what I was doing, and what I was hearing (mostly), and that excitement came across over the air. We were hanging out, just us music fans, sharing all this cool stuff together.

That feeling is leaving our airwaves, and I for one want it back.

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