Former radio market manager Dick Taylor recently wrote a blog, simply put, about cultivating talent, both on-air and in the now defunct copywriting position in radio in an effort to keep audience engaged. My favorite line in the article is the last one in which he quotes former CBS Radio President Dan Mason who said “Without community and companionship, we have nothing.” Clearly how our audience consumes our product is changing and engaging that audience has become more difficult alongside significant competition from multiple sources. So what do we do? I have what I think have one answer.
One has to do with where I am sitting right now. I’m in a communal space at my favorite radio station, KEXP here in Seattle. There’s a coffee shop, interesting art, a band is about to play live, great, boundary pushing music is playing and everyone here is totally into it. They’ve built a community. KEXP is the only local radio station in the world, I, a radio-professional, follow via multiple sources (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) I also listen 2-3 times a day. And get this, if I send a note to one of the DJ’s, they respond right away. Because of all of this, KEXP is the only radio station I listen to that often,
Why? Why don’t I listen to other stations that much? Heck, those “Jack FM” writers are funny! I love sports insight and great sports-talk. I even enjoy some pop-music and classic rock. My first answer is fairly simple; I’m not entertained. I’d also say it’s because most stations in my town (and most towns) have not built a relationship with me, or those like me. You know, their audience.
One note: As I work from home, my radio habits are not based on sitting in my car but when I do drive around town, I find myself mostly on KEXP while also enjoying old friends at 97.3 KIRO FM and 710 ESPN Seattle. I imagine there’s other interesting stuff on my local dial, but those are the ones I already have a relationship with, thus where I go first. So, to be fair, I’m not a P1 radio consumer like those who commute to work.
In regard to KEXP, one never knows what’s going to happen next. The DJ’s are allowed to curate their own shows, thus there’s no predictable playlist. Additionally, the listener (many who support the station financially) get to interact with the station in-person, on-air, and via social-media. The station constantly creates events like the live performance happening feet from me right now. They have a place, open to the public, where fans can interact with the station in some capacity. In comparison, commercial stations hide in buildings where listeners are rarely allowed to enter. Think about it. When was the last time a radio personality replied to an email you sent them or simply thanked you for listening? When was the last time you heard a live performance (that fans can attend for free!) on a commercial music station? Commercial radio lives in an ivory tower, separating itself from its audience in a manner that is mind-boggling. Years ago I asked a market-manager why his group of stations was hidden away in a crummy building instead of a mall. I don’t recall his answer other than the “no” part of it.
If local commercial radio is to survive (and I think it’s in real trouble!) as Dan Mason said, it must build relationships with its’ audience wherever that audience finds it, be that on-air, online, via social-media, or (gasp!) in person. We never talk about the in-person portion, but these events are where local can separate itself from national and online competition to begin to build tangible relationships with their audience.
In searching for like-minded music lovers here in the great NW, I googled “shoegaze Seattle” and stumbled upon two fascinating bands. For those who don’t know, “shoegaze” it’s a musical genre popularized by the amazing band My Bloody Valentine among others. If you haven’t heard them, well, click the damn link. Back to my original point, that search uncovered two bands I think are worth a listen for vastly different reasons. One, Seattle’s criminally under-appreciated Vibragun, is doing the shoegaze thing better than nearly every band in the world. Twisted guitars, great grooves, a singer (Joel Bergstrom) with a tremendous voice, Vibragun is worth your time. Secondarily, the band G.L.O.S.S. from Olympia, Washington has created outrageously intense music rocket-fueled by sexual politics. Groan inducing gender studies language aside (“cis-gaze”) the explosion of energy in their distorted, melodic rock hit me the same way (and made me uncomfortable) like “Holiday in Cambodia” by Dead Kennedy’s did the first time I heard it. I dig it.
If you like my thoughts on radio, or music, maybe you’ll enjoy my new alternative rock, shoegaze album Ghosts.