The Bunk Debunked

As a lifelong, second-generation radio guy, I think I’ve earned the right sometimes to pick on my aural brethren—like making the observation that sometimes we act like lemmings, following the latest fads to our own destruction.

I don’t know when this proud tradition began, but rumor has it that Guglielmo Marconi complained that Reginald Fessenden stole all of his format ideas. (I read it on the Internet, so it must be true.)

Now that we seem to have purloined about all the radio ideas that we can, our attention now turns to the Internet. For me, who has been toiling in the online vineyard ever since Al Gore invented the darn thing, this is a case of good news-bad news in extremis.

On the one hand, I am delighted that small-market radio is making its online presence a priority. Sure, the motivation is fear—”I’d better do it before someone else does”—but whatever the motivation, small market broadcasters are taking this online stuff seriously, to the point of at least considering the addition of a staff member whose only or primary function is to manage the company’s digital activities.

Now comes the bad news. As we have proved time and time again, we tend to be not that good at filtering the well-intentioned advice given by, and the examples set by, the so-called “bell cows” (opinion leaders). This is where the lemming analogy comes in: too often we blindly follow those bell cows without giving consideration to the differences in the way our respective businesses work.

A lot of it boils down to management style, and disaster can ensue when we attempt to copy what someone else has done if our management styles differ significantly. In general, the people who are Getting It Done well ahead of everyone else are top-down managers who drive innovation through their businesses like Rowdy Yates on a round-up.

If you have a similar management style, you are likely to be successful in driving those ideas through your business as well. But if, on the other hand, your management style is more collaborative and inclusive, the odds are that you will be unsuccessful in introducing brand-new concepts with the expectation that they will be immediately embraced and adopted by your staff.

And then there is the “big talk in the locker room” syndrome. Many years ago I invented the Mitchell BS Factor: Whenever someone tells you how well they are doing, knock off about 25% and you’ll come pretty close to the reality. I think people are a little more real with one another nowadays, so perhaps we can all agree on a factor of 10%—but that can still make a big difference.

In practice, the copiers tend to be far less successful than the innovators. Does that mean we should stop copying?

Not at all. But we need to copy more selectively, taking into account our own corporate culture and staff capacity.

In my web-development work with radio clients, I always know when they have just returned from a conference or even lunch with a radio neighbor: they are bursting at the seams with new ideas, all of which they want to implement yesterday. Unfortunately, they have not thought through whether such a set of ideas can be implemented practically within the structure of their particular operation.

This is where the “bunk” comes in. Broadcast vendors are, by definition, opportunistic. When they smell a trend, they try to get out ahead of it by offering a product or “solution” capitalizing on that trend. It is not their responsibility, in fairness, to judge for a radio station whether it has the ability to integrate that product or solution into its operation.

But that is exactly why our online efforts miss the mark so often.

Sometimes the failing is not staffing at all, but rather the lack of follow-through. Another aspect of our lemming-like behavior is our tendency to grab onto new ideas in the same way a drowning person grabs onto a life preserver. We think that as long as we implement that idea, we will automatically reap the rewards touted by our well-intentioned neighbor.

Nowhere is this more evident than in our online efforts. We forget that “If you build it, they will come” makes for great movie dialogue, but a terrible tactic. We forget that we sit on the most powerful promotional medium the world has ever known—and we fail to use it to bring home those great ideas.

I’ll give you a simple example: online classifieds. My company is not alone in offering a very cool online classifieds “solution,” but too often, if you visit the website of someone who has installed online classifieds, you will find goose eggs in most if not all of the categories. Whenever I see this, I know for certain that there has been little or no on-air support of the feature.

More broadly, here’s the first question I ask when a broadcaster complains that the website traffic count is anemic: “What, specifically, are you doing on the air to promote your website?”

The answer I usually get is “Oh, we promote the website all the time.”

“I mean, specifically,” I press.

Usually, when we break it down, we find that the broadcaster really has no idea of how often the website is promoted, or in what terms, because they have thrown a bunch of promos and liners into the mix but have no idea for certain how often they are coming up.

Free advice: You are not serious about promoting your website and its various features unless you are running an actual scheduled commercial once per hour, 24/7, on all of your radio stations. You should have three versions—all with the same opening and closing copy to preserve frequency, but different innards to provide variety—in play at any given time, and you should entirely change out your copy every three to four weeks.

In addition, you should change your format for all of your information elements so that they end with, “For details on these and other stories, visit us at, where we’re always on [or whatever is your tagline].”

In addition, you should get your sweeper/branding/identity voice to cut a bunch of liners that you put into heavy rotation.

In addition, if you run satellite/syndicated fare, you should have your outsourced personalities cut a bunch of liners.

In addition, you should make sure that there are a bunch of such liners in rotation for your live dayparts.

In addition, you should make mention of your website during your legal IDs.

Once you have done all of the above, then you can come to me and say, “We promote our website all the time.”

Okay, as often happens, this little opinion piece is all over the place, so let’s recap:

  • When you hear a new idea for your online presence—whether from a fellow broadcaster or a vendor—ask yourself, “Does that idea address one of my goals or solve one of my problems?”
  • When you hear a new idea from a fellow broadcaster for your online presence, ask yourself, “Does that broadcaster’s management style match my own?”
  • When you hear a new idea for your online presence, ask yourself, “Do I have the resources necessary to pull it off?”
  • Don’t even think about judging whether an online initiative is a success or a failure unless you are promoting it according to the formula above.

Now there’s a set of online ideas you can take to the bank.