Swaps Done Right

Things are heating up in the run-up to NAB 2013 in Las Vegas. As expected—and appreciated—the RAB will once again be putting on a number of sales- and management-oriented sessions. Earlier in this issue we present descriptions of all the sessions, and they all appear to be worthwhile additions to your convention schedule.

As always, the standout session for small and medium market broadcasters is the Idea Swap. . .but over the past few years, broadcasters have been critical of the way this session has been conducted. As originally conceived by NAB VP/Radio John David, the Idea Swap (then called “The Small Market Radio Idea Swap”) was just that—an exchange of ideas among the small-market broadcasters who attended the session. I was invited to facilitate those early versions, and I viewed my role as basically staying out of the way, priming the pump when necessary to keep the ideas flowing. (After the manner of Phil Donahue, I ran around the room with a hand-held mic to share with the contributors; it may have been inefficient, but it was good show business.)

Nowadays, the recast “Small and Medium Market Idea Swap”—not only not restricted to small-market radio, but not restricted to radio at all—is more of a top-down affair, where panelists reel off a series of “and then we did—” events, with the traditional brief Q&A at the end as the only opportunity for audience members to contribute.

The result, judging from the comments that I have heard, and not just from those who remember the old ways, is less than satisfying. With respect to the panelists, who generally have good ideas, the volume and variety of ideas suffer in the traditional panelists-get-15-minutes-apiece-and-if-there-is-any-time-left-over-we’ll-do-a-Q&A format. It just might be that the evolution of the Idea Swap is an example of the expression, “It worked so well we quit doing it.”

Memo to the organizers of the RAB sessions at NAB 2014: Give the old Idea Swap format a shot and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised.

In fact, it’s not too late for the panelists of the 2013 Idea Swap: Act as facilitators and let the audience be the stars.