How does Radio attract new listeners and make current listeners engage for longer periods of time?
Three words: “House of Cards.”
Last weekend, Netflix turned loose Season Three of its acclaimed series about a failing US government and the corrupt President of the United States who presides over the whole system.
Netflix released the whole season to its subscribers at one time. Every episode. For $7 a month! Last year, I spent a small college savings account on buying the episodes of the first two seasons because I came to the table after everyone else. But once purchased, I couldn’t stop watching the series. The writing is as sharp as a razor. The plot twists and turns. It makes me feel like a virgin rider on the world’s most notorious rollercoaster.
In other words, I am hooked. When this year’s offering hit Netflix, just as I did at the end of last season, I binge watched all thirteen episodes. It was like escaping to a place where my needs came first. Every nod to the camera (and me) was an expectation met. From costuming to color balancing, the show transformed me from a TV viewer into a starving animal bent on capturing its prey. In other words, nothing short of a heart attack or EMP was going to interrupt me.
** SEASON 3 SPOILER ALERT**
Finally, as credits rolled on the last episode, I felt satisfied, Maybe not satiated, but satisfied. I looked at my watch. Could it be true? Had I forsaken all others to be with Frank and Claire and Doug and the dead girl?
Then it hit me.
I used to feel the same way and act just as fanatically about American Top 40 in 1975. The Eagles were my cast and their lyrics my storyline. And life imitated art, just as it does now on House of Cards. Whether a countdown or a boss jock, I would choose the radio to entertain me, to lull me to sleep, and to provide the water cooler chit chat that my increasingly busy life denied me.
It’s sad. Radio programming just doesn’t make me feel that way anymore. As a guy with programming roots as deep as they can reach, I don’t believe that the fault lies with the young programmers. They are as creative and in touch with their audiences as any of the Old Guard ever were. It’s not even the ownerships. But follow the money and you’ll soon find the people who don’t understand that radio should be about ‘The Show.’
The fact is, I can’t even blame them. There is plenty of blame to go around for this folly. Maybe it started with the first consolidators. Maybe it was on the FCC for loosening the trafficking rule, or on the researchers who kept telling us that radio was number one in the hearts and minds of young people. But I don’t hold any of these people responsible because everybody is entitled to get one wrong once in awhile. Otherwise, there would be no weathermen or A&R guys at labels.
Instead, I blame me. And, maybe, you. I blame the truthful and the insightful among us who saw the tidal wave of disaster coming and did too little to stop it. You may say that there is no way to deter Mother Nature; she’s simply too great a force for any of us to master. Maybe so. Or was our instinct to be strident, our little voice in the backs of our heads that shouted, “Speak up, before there are no voices left!” quelled by our collective need to work and feed our families? We simply chose to let the other guy handle it, as surely as world leaders who pretend not to see atrocities in their own backyards.
Unfortunately, someone else did handle it. Now look at what we have to show for it.
So, as it is when young men and women go into harm’s way to clean up the messes of the old politicians, the new guard of programmers, just as defiant, creative and intelligent as ever, will find new ways to attract attention away from the uncurated to the curated, for they know that curation is the strength of the radio. They will embrace consumer-generated content as boldly as morning radio once did telephone contests, for they understand the power of the audience ego. And they will promote and market and create events because they know the untruth that is the belief that the meek will inherit the listeners.
The moneychangers will go on in their temples, but I like what I see now; the fresh ideas, the new faces, the assertive group of programmers/listener advocates who are more Jimmy Fallon and less Dave Letterman. Letterman had his time and he was creative and loved by his followers, but the torch has been passed on late night television. Radio must find its own Fallons, the brightest and best, and let them do their thing, unencumbered and free.
If we fail to reach this goal as an industry, there simply will be only a footnote in the history books about the short period of time when radio walked the earth like a dinosaur. It will regale us with the legend from before the subscription TV guys, You Tube, Spotify and all the rest came with the talent and the compelling stories to replace Radio, the creativity and entertainment business with the capital ‘R’ that it once was, not the technology in lower case that it has become, used to own.
It’s time. Let’s get our binge back.