Industry Views

The Power of Live and Unpredictable

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling on Sunday

imThe decision to change WABC from music to talk back in 1982 was not made by corporate, it was made by its then-program directorJay Clark. Corporate was hoping he would approve the change, “they” lobbied for it, but the call was the ultimate responsibility of the program director. The business plan for WABC as a talk station predicted it to be profitable in year 10. (That’s because KABC, Los Angeles took 10 years to turn a profit.) As it turned out, WABC turned a profit in year 11.

At the time of the WABC format change back in the early 80s, the role of a program director was to be a disruptor. They were expected to cause trouble, get headlines, keep the energy coming out of the speakers up-up-up. It was my experience that the best program directors were extremely unpleasant, difficult people. They knew how to stir up their world on and off the air.

They did not get along with sales: “I’ll get you ratings, you go sell them” was the essence of their relationship with sales!

As co-worker relationships within radio stations became more important than results, the industry suffered. The death knell was the first time a program director dismissed a new idea by saying, “It’s not in the budget.” Until that tragic moment, good/great program directors would greet new ideas with, “They will just have to give us the money.”

The primary reason radio is losing younger demos is not technology, it’s the show. Technology attracts no audience. No one goes to a movie theatre to see a blank white screen no matter how good they may find the air conditioning and popcorn. If younger listeners are listening to another audio medium it’s because the show is UNPREDICTABLE, new, energetic, fun or on-demand.

Radio of any genre can be unpredictable, new, energetic, fun and on-demand. (Request lines built top 40. But what happened to them?) The actions of unpredictability are free.

Those unpleasant, autonomous program directors often earned more money than any general manager and more than almost any program director working today. A lot more. Why? Because radio stations attracted cume by acting as a 24/7 barker. The barker sizzle came from the single mind of the program director.

The programming mind that wins by disruption is not limited to top 40. For example, classical music WGMS in Washington featured promos declaring that “WGMS plays real oldies,” “mostly Mozart” and “Celebrate the bicentennial and Beethoven’s birthday.”  Unexpected programming proves that radio is live and “LIVE” is the most powerful word in electronic media.

Walter Sabo was the youngest Executive Vice President in the history of NBC. The youngest VP in the history of ABC. He was a consultant to RKO General longer than Bill Drake. Walter was the in house consultant to Sirius for eight years. He has never written a resume. Contact him at or mobile 646-678-1110. Hear Walter Sterling at www.waltersterlingshow.comMeet Walter Sabo at TALKERS 2023 on Friday, June 2.

Industry Views

Pending Business: How Would Elon Musk Price Radio?

By Steve Lapa
Lapcom Communications Corp

Theory vs. practice is always a fun exercise. What happens when someone is bold enough to step out and break the mold to achieve their goals? Do you stop and learn, or do you simply stay in your comfort zone and take a pass?

The headline was “Tesla Drops Prices Again” and they beat their quarterly sales goal. Do you drop your prices to make your sales goals? We are not talking about summer specials, weekend paid programming, or sports packages. Tesla made flat-out price reductions to roll the dice on volume, confident in the product and the marketplace to drive volume for the second time this year.

Ever visited a Tesla store? You will be shown a price card. Every time I asked a question, they tapped a keyboard. No real selling, just facts. Let us do a deeper Tesla-style analysis.


Why drop prices when you have nearly two-thirds of the EV market? Is it because your competition is gaining on you? Because you will miss your quarterly projections and you don’t like losing? Because an incentive to buy is about to expire (government credit)? Because you are a world class disruptor? Because you know by lowering prices you will own the news cycle? Because there is still room for old school price wars to stimulate demand and distract the competition?

Survey says, all of the above. How about the opposite? What if Tesla’s strategy was like what most of the radio managers and sellers reading this article would do? The “urgency” trigger. “Buy today, because prices will go up on ______.” The radio/audio “urgency” pitch strategy is so predictable – seasonal, political window, a change in management policy, sell-out level. Heck, Teslas are on back order and they still dropped prices. WWED? What would Elon do? Probably fire us via Twitter. Back to earth and our highly competitive radio/audio world. Here are the takeaways.

— Know your competition. My current experience in one of America’s largest radio markets is price strategy IS driving volume and helping a great radio station make goals. The higher-rated competitor is standing still as the business shifts.

— You don’t have to be loud to be a disruptor. Sitting Bull won by knowing how to sell his idea. He organized, collaborated and was patient. He won by quietly disrupting then got loud when the timing was perfect.

— Do your homework. “Urgency” as a price lever has been around since the Mad Men ran Madison Avenue. Have you ever reviewed how your urgency plan can be maximized? Or is the strategy played out?

— Who Cares? If you lower rates today until New Year’s Eve, will the rate reduction create enough local market buzz to drive the volume to beat your goals? You can always raise rates once your foundation is comfortably in place. Oops! Did I just demonstrate real world grid card selling?

Steve Lapa is the president of Lapcom Communications Corp. based in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Lapcom is a media sales, marketing, and development consultancy. Contact Steve Lapa via email at: Steve Lappa will be moderating the “Generating Revenue” panel at TALKERS 2023 on Friday, June 2 at Hofstra University.