Second Impressions Last

What is it like to walk into your station(s) for the first time?

I have walked into hundreds of radio stations, large and small, and more often than not the impression was not, shall we say, 100% positive.

Especially in this age of downsizing and consolidation, it is possible to operate a radio station, or an entire group of radio stations, with very few people in the building—even in the middle of the day. Think of what it looks like to a visitor who walks into the station, only to find it nearly completely unattended. There is no one to greet him or her warmly—only the possibility that a disheveled, distracted jock hears the door and comes out from the back with a rushed, diffident greeting.

When I was growing up, at least one radio station in nearly every market had a showcase studio at street level, so passers-by would get a little dose of the energy of live radio. You didn’t even have to enter the premises to feel that energy and to know that radio was an exciting place to be.

Nowadays, forget about street level studios. I remember during the big transition from all live to all automated, those showcase studios were bleak and barren places indeed, showing off to the world the cold and heartless machine that had supplanted the live personalities.

But let’s not spend a lot of time on the bygone days, and focus on the very real contemporary challenge of making your station warm and inviting and reflective of the energy of your on-air sound, perhaps involving no staff members at all.

It’s still possible, in this age of paper-thin staffing, to make a good first impression and to reflect the buzz that listeners and advertisers can still feel about their favorite radio stations.

The objective is to overwhelm the visitor with the energy you reflect on the air. Do the colors of your walls match the mood of your station? If you have a CHR or Hot AC, the colors should be bold and energetic. An older-targeting station would warrant more muted tones. Most likely you have a mix of formats, so the objective is to use different wall surfaces to reflect the different values of your stations, but so they go together harmoniously. It’s worth it to retain the services of a good interior designer to make that happen.

So now you have a surface (think “canvas”) for each station. The first thing each one should have is the station logo. Underneath, hang pictures of your personalities.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Some syndicators don’t think about these details and provide bad candids of their personalities, if any at all. You need to press them, explaining what you’re trying to do and making sure they understand that some low-resolution picture barely suitable for your website is not going to cut it.

As for your local personalities, invest the energy in locating a high-quality local photographer to do head shots that can be blown up to dramatic sizes. (Obviously, if you can work a trade, that will be the best.)

Another way to go is to use wall-mounted flat-screen monitors to display the logo and pictures for each of your stations. (Having a slide show of personalities and station events—with the station logo in each shot—is both professional and attention-getting.)

Each “canvas” could also have a small, unobtrusive monitor speaker playing that particular station at low level. How low? Low enough that the visitor is not greeted with a cacophony of dissonant sounds of different radio stations playing all at once, but loud enough so that as someone approaches one of your walls of fame, the station is clearly audible.

If you have someone in the station to staff a reception desk during business hours, by all means have one. But if your staffing doesn’t support a reception desk, don’t have one. An unmanned desk looks far worse than none at all.

In the case of a satellite location, where you may have on-air or sales personnel but not a full staff, typically visitors are by appointment. In that case, the person that the client or listener is there to meet should be waiting in the reception area to greet the visitor. If somebody walks in off the street—which happens, and it could be a potentially good new advertiser—in the absence of a reception person, you need signage that is professionally-done and clearly communicates what the visitor needs to do to get service. (At the very least, have a telephone on a table—wall-mounted is tacky—where merely picking up the handset will cause the device to ring through to a live person, whether within that building or somewhere else.)

Every situation is different, and what you need to do at the outset is brainstorm the scenario where someone walks in the building and encounters your radio station “in person” for the first time. (We could call this the “second impression,” with listening to the radio station being the first.) What you are shooting for is a mix of “showbiz” and good, old-fashioned shop-keeping—you know, where you walk into a store and you are greeted warmly by the proprietor and made to feel welcome.

You don’t need to invest a lot of money in this process, but it’s important that you put your attention on it. Not to be overly dramatic, but you are creating (or reinforcing) an impression not just of your company, but of the radio industry itself.

That first or second impression, whether positive or negative, is going to last, and will color the relationship forever. It’s worth it to make sure that “color” is bright and positive, and by no means a stain.