By Holland Cooke
BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Baseball stations: Exhale. WE HAVE A DEAL. As you read this, Spring Training is underway, and Opening Day is April 7.
We need it. Pandemic-weary and weathering climate change, we’ve been tested. Now, the Ukraine crisis breaks our hearts and inflation busts family budgets. And one of baseball’s best showed me a simple trick that suggests how radio can matter more to listeners in these challenging times.
1984: I’m the new operations manager at WTOP, Washington, then your Orioles baseball station (before the Montreal Expos morphed into the Washington Nationals). Visiting the broadcast booth in Baltimore, I met witty Jon Miller, best-known since as longtime voice of ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” games.
On the counter in front of him: One of those little hourglass egg-timers. When I asked, he explained that when the sand fills the bottom half, he announces the score and then flips it over. So as fans tune-in, they’re up-to-speed ASAP.
Ukraine and inflation are like a World Series for news/talk stations. Regrettably, many hosts simply exploit these grueling situations to leverage the discord that dominates our divisive national dialogue. But with Ukraine developments SO shocking, and inflation SO impactful – and both stories interconnected – there’s greater value in the “news” half of the format franchise.
For instance: Times like these slam-dunk the value of your ABC or CBS or FOX News affiliation, an asset you should have been promoting all-along, inviting what the ratings people call the “occasions of listening.” Adding occasions is, mathematically, the quickest way to grow AQH Share. “Stay close to the news, with a quick [network brand] news update, every hour, on-the-hour, throughout your busy day.”
And if you don’t already take your network’s on-the-half-hour headlines, start. Then, think egg-timer. Around :15 and :45, tease-ahead to “a [network brand] update, coming up on the [hour/half-hour], here on [dial position].” When possible, freshen those teases with a specific, breaking aspect of either or both stories. As I write this, “Russians bomb maternity hospital” immediately hushed a conversation I overheard. Record-high gas prices will too.
If you name the gas station where the price just spiked, or if you’re talking to shoppers as they leave a supermarket you name, you localize the story in a way that Spotify, Pandora, or your robotic AM/FM competitors cannot. Stations I work with have been impressed hearing from listeners when asking, “Do you have family or friends in Ukraine? Or Poland?”
A major retail advertiser in the Providence radio market is accepting clothing, over-the-counter meds, and other donations they’ll send. If there are similar efforts where you are, share your air. If not, organize a station effort with drop-off locations at participating clients. You won’t have to send what’s donated. Google relief organizations.
Own these stories, and you will matter lots more to listeners. They’ll pay more attention generally, like when snow looms and you say, “Stay ahead of the storm.”
Pray for peace. And, “Play ball!”
Holland Cooke is author of the E-book “Multiply Your Podcast Subscribers, Without Buying Clicks,” available exclusively from Talkers books and “Spot-On: Commercial Copy Points That Earned The Benjamins,” a FREE download here. HC is a consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke