The Bizarro World of Radio


The following is absolutely true.  Since September I have been listening to the same major market “News Talk” AM station about 90% of the time. (I like the particular network programming this station airs) This station is automated to a fault.  The station is riddled with commercials being cut off to join the network, network cue tones airing, network music playing  before the network program starts, programs being joined in progress, dead air, etc., all because the automation is not setup correctly.  After waiting for four months, (thinking somebody at this cluster would “hear and fix” the problem) I called the station and asked for the sales manager.  Certainly, I thought the sales manager would want to know if there was a problem with the product he is trying to get the sales staff to sell.  Secondarily, the SM could get this information to the right person able to correct the malfunction.  The sales manager answered the phone, (I thought I would have to settle for a voice mail).  I told him that I had been listening for months and had to call and let him know about the issues described above.  His response to me was?  (Drum roll please)  (This is a direct quote) “Why are you telling me this?  I was speechless.  I did say that I thought he could get this information to the right person so the problem could be fixed. He said, “Oh, I’ll get to so and so and I am sure he’ll look into it” good-bye.  I need to say that his tone was one of “why are you bothering me with this trivial stuff, I’m a busy man.”

In another incident I spoke with the CEO of a “respected” ethnic broadcast company about a station that was having the same issues and worse. Sometimes this station would be off the air for hours at a time with just top of the hour network news airing.  The response from the CEO was? “Well, our company inherited this station in another buy, the station and the format is not really a format or market we’re interested in”.  (The station has been this way for over a year.)

Thirdly, I recently overheard a company conversation about collections.  The bank was bearing down and the top heads of this particular broadcast company needed money and couldn’t understand why clients were not paying and why sales reps couldn’t do a better job of forecasting and collecting.  (The “reps” in on the call had all the usual excuses for the collection issue). A number of reps have come and gone with this company in the last year as well.  On the positive side, the reps have done a great job of selling “packages and spots” for this company.

No wonder radio is in the state of affairs it finds itself.  In the first incident, it is quite obvious that no one on the staff is listening to the product at all.  (This is a continuing casualty of big station clusters). A couple of hours of listening would have hopefully fixed the issues.  But really, the sales manager in a major market doesn’t know and apparently was not that concerned over his stations sloppy radio performance?  This is something that is unacceptable, unprofessional and an insult to the listener and the radio industry. When I was an SM and later a GM it was mandatory that the staff monitor one of the stations at least a couple hours a day.  How else would they know the product that they are suppose to be selling?  If there was something wrong with the station it would get “heard and fixed” immediately as well. 

In the second story, if you’re the CEO of a major broadcast company, wouldn’t you want your “inherited station” to sound and perform as well as your “ethnic brand”? Wouldn’t you at least fix the problems so as to retain a reasonable value and billing?  Not to mention the insult to the local listening public for the lack of interest from the company and the shabby performance of this small market station. 

Finally, collection issues come down to one thing, the “service relationship” that the account rep has with the client.  I can tell you first hand, if you “build” a real relationship with a client and you give Grade A service you will never have a collection problem, save for the occasional “victim of circumstance”.  Even these clients pay their bills in a timely manner if you have built a solid relationship.  If your sales staff is out selling packages and spots they will have collection problems.  This makes them order takers and “getting the job done for the company bottom line” not necessarily for the best interest of the client.  So if you’re selling packages and spots, whether for on air or for your internet channel you’re not building relationships in many cases you’re creating “alienationships”. Believe me radio has created many “alienationships” over the years.  A great sales rep will take the time to bring solid ideas, inspiring creative and “real” help for the client. Plus do appropriate follow-up.  As far as forecasting, that too would be an easier task if you have a robust relationship with the client.  If you’re just selling spots you can’t forecast much.  Sales in Radio is a long term commitment, but management only seems to be interested in short term success.  Maybe radio has picked up bad habits from auto dealers, as dealerships see only for the month as well. 

Ten years ago I was on the road traveling this great country, holding seminars and speaking engagements to help sale reps and managers do a better job of building client relationships.  Ten years have come and gone, and the same basic issues plague radio sales staffs.  It’s not the reps so much as it is the lack of education and training from management coupled with corporate indifference and it’s “all about the bottom line” mentality that is sinking the ship. No wonder sales reps go through the revolving door. There is more and better training at McDonalds!!!  Radio needs to reinvest in itself.  If you’re not going to reinvest in on air talent at least invest time and some money in fully training your sales people.  For the love of God, the days of “here’s the rate card, these are our stations and here is the phonebook now go sell something” have to come to an end.  I love radio and still believe in its power but in some ways radio has become a real bizarro world.  In other ways some things haven’t really changed.  Does anyone at the top real give a crap anymore?  Success, failure and that other stuff all rolls downhill not up.  Go ahead, discuss this revenue stream or that revenue stream, debate PPM, FM now in cell phones is great and oh-h-h that internet site looks cool but none of it means much if the core product is not right and the people that represent it “run with a fast crowd”. That quote came from a prospective advertiser that thought “radio people were not of the best quality” because they come and go like the wind. Bizarro Radio indeed!   

On the bright side, check out what the team at KMVA in Phoenix, AZ. has done.  This stand alone FM is doing it right by delivering the service their clients deserve and need.   Delivering content for the listener and results for their clients, this station has solid management and a team that is accountable.  They have done it the old fashion way with solid grounding of Account Reps and real involvement in the community. 

— Dennis Heinz can be reached at [email protected] .  New sales AE’s are encouraged to make contact and there is no charge.  In station presentations are available at a minimal charge.