Industry Views

Stop Throwing Away Weekends

By Walter Sabo
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host

Face - GlassesEvery radio sales presentation should start with one powerful number. This number – often found under the Sphinx – will dazzle any buyer, but is rarely revealed. The number is Homes Using Radio (HUR). Once upon a time it was part of the conversation. HUR shows how many people are using radio at any given time, a total number.

Studying hour-by-hour HUR reveals the most surprising fact: Saturday 10:00 am – 3:00 pm is the second-most, listening-to-radio daypart after Monday – Friday morning drive. If a station suffers in total weekly audience, the first culprit is often squandering Saturday 10-3!

John Catisimatidis, owner of WABC, New York has taken the station from the depths of despair and turned it into a strong contender. His first act as owner was to dump the paid-for weekend programming and replace it with live, local shows. You could trace the ratings jump on WABC to the moment he placed live shows on Saturday midday.

Bart Walsh, a very successful Washington, DC general manager taught me the secret of Saturday midday. He explained that if Saturday midday’s share is higher than the station’s overall total week share, the next book will go up. If it is lower than the total share, the next book will go down. Amazingly this phenomenon has always proven to be true. I always paid attention to Bart because when he ran WKYS it had a higher percentage of profit than anything else owned by RCA and when he and Donnie Simpson ran it, the station was always #1, 12+.  Bart never expensed lunch – or anything else.

The puzzler is that weekends on radio are a built-in win. Americans love weekends. Weekends conjure good feelings and offer discretionary time. Smart stations tap the positive imagery of weekends. Imagine how easy and cheap it would be for a talk station to talk up weekends!

Become the go-to source of weekend activity information. Give away fun prizes that are all weekend related. Go shopping. Share information about local sales and retailer events. The result will be – guaranteed – a significant jump in Monday AM drive cume.

Walter Sabo is a long-time radio industry consultant and thought leader.  He hosts and produces a network radio show titled “Sterling on Sunday” 10:00 pm-1:00 am ET.  www.waltersterlingshow.com.   walter@sabomedia.com

Industry Views

Remaining Optimistic About Radio

By Walter Sabo
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host

An article in the Los Angeles Times shows a picture of a radio DJ next to a control board boasting the headline, THE RESURGENCE OF RADIO. Dateline: 1982.  This headline appears in various forms every few months in articles and blogs throughout the country. Writers discover radio! The power of radio! The popularity of radio! Why is radio either dying or being rediscovered when neither is true?

Recent artifacts: Every single press release from Nielsen reveals that radio is doing fine thank you. After decades of promoting its television clients and bashing radio, now that Nielsen measures radio – son of a gun – radio is thriving, it’s alive, it’s growing, it’s a success. Nielsen’s tone is one of surprise that radio attracts large, loyal audiences.

Why is radio’s 100 years of success a revelation rather an assumption? First it is because radio is ubiquitous. Walk into a store, radio. Turn on the car, radio. Wake up, radio. The sound of radio has always been everywhere and continues to be everywhere. Maybe once a year I go to a gym and hear Spotify, but I have to ask an employee where that music is coming from and they are never sure! Television is not everywhere; it has to be turned on. Magazines, websites, books, direct mail have to be considered and then opened. Not ubiquitous. Radio’s ubiquity renders it invisible on the media landscape. Radio wins by losing.

Radio salespeople sell radio to negotiators, time buyers. The job of a negotiator is to criticize and devalue the product being pitched. That’s their job. A salesperson spends nine hours a day with negotiators telling them that their product is at death’s door. To a radio salesperson, every day is a bad day. They become immersed in the pessimism of radio’s future.

“Do you realize that most 19-year-olds discover new music from the Internet?” declares a time buyer to a radio salesperson. Oddly, the fact that 19-year-olds occasionally find new music on other audio media is a dark mark against proven radio. Until this moment, the location of new music discovery had never been a deal point for the Honda dealer time buyer. But, boy this “discovery” business is charts-and-graphs serious!

To perform as a programmer or talent in radio one must be an optimist about its future. A programmer or host is intimate with listener response to their work. Radio stars see the millions and millions, and millions of dollars raised for quality charities every single year by their words, their appeal — their credibility. TV stations and newspapers rarely conduct fund drives. Have you ever heard a local TV anchor ask for donations for – anything? No, probably because it wouldn’t work as well as a pitch from the morning host on your station. A powerful, yet unseen, spokesperson can be quite persuasive to a listener to donate their money to a charity.

SiriusXM satellite radio’s lead investors, Apollo and Blackstone jointly engaged me to consult the company on site for many years. During that time, I became well-acquainted with the initiatives of all-digital audio platforms: AudibleAmazonPandoraSpotifyGoogle and many others.

At digital media conferences spokespeople for those companies would sit on panels and bash the dinosaurs called AM and FM. However, those same companies insisted on branding themselves as… radio! Spotify RADIO. Pandora RADIO!

Walter Sabo is a long-time radio industry consultant and thought leader.  He hosts and produces a network radio show titled “Sterling on Sunday” 10:00 pm-1:00 am ET.  www.waltersterlingshow.com.   walter@sabomedia.com

Industry Views

Stars and Their Platforms

By Walter Sabo
Host/Producer, Sterling on Sunday
Media Consultant

Lucille Ball earned 50 shares with her classic TV series, “I Love Lucy.” Every year during her summer hiatus she would make a movie. Name a Lucille Ball movie.

Lucy was the all-time star of television but couldn’t open a movie. Each medium creates its own stars and rarely does a star transfer from one medium to another.

Some examples: “NYPD Blue” first season star David Caruso couldn’t wait to break out from TV and become a movie star. He recently retired from 10 years of work on the TV show “CSI Miami.” Exceptions? Maybe three: Michael J FoxWill SmithSteve McQueen.

The phenomenon of single medium stardom is true throughout all crafts. Great magazine writers struggle to turn in a publishable book. Book authors are challenged to condense their thoughts to 1,000 words. Megyn Kelly is a cable star but couldn’t cross the golden bridge to broadcast TV.

Every year a local TV weather person bugs the local talk station to fill-in on a talk show over a holiday. How does it go? Beware the fifth minute. After five minutes all of the passionate feelings the TV talent has about their pet topic have been expressed. With two hours and 55 minutes to go, the local weatherman is in trouble hosting an unscripted radio show. Where is the prompter? Where are the phone calls? But put a radio morning host on TV and the results are just as awful. The radio host looks fat because they have no idea how to dress for TV, they don’t understand the cue lights on the cameras and the prompter is confusing.

Which brings us to the relationship between radio and podcasting

One of the burdensome falsehoods of the moment is that radio talent should be churning out original content podcasts. It’s just audio right? Radio is good at talking! Podcasting has fostered its own stable of stars including Joe RoganAdam CarollaAnna Farris and Ben Shapiro (I know he’s a radio guy, but he’s a better podcaster). To a listener, the production styles of a podcast and live radio are strikingly similar, but you know that the production environments are completely different. Talent who intuitively understand on-demand audience preferences thrive hosting commercial-free podcasts. Radio talent excel within the disposable, often-interrupted flow of a live broadcast. Podcasts allow for thinking time, pausing, editing, correcting and fancy production beds. Live radio? You just better get to the next thing. The mindset of a podcast star versus a radio star must of necessity be appropriate to their unique performance stage.

Most radio managers have met with resistance when asking their talent to make original content podcasts. (Not air checks.) Radio talent is right to resist! Creating a very good radio show is demanding and often exhausting. After three or more hours on the air, no performer has the energy to hop into a production chair and attract a million downloads. Tragically mandatory podcast dictates leave little opportunity for talent to say, “I can’t do a podcast well. I’m a radio performer and isn’t that what you hired me for?” My goodness – such a radio talent would be labelled insubordinate, not a team player, and not part of the future!!!

To be productive and on-brand podcasts offered by a radio station should be hosted by podcast stars. The odds of a radio star creating a winning podcast are about the same as finding a Lucille Ball hit movie.

Walter Sabo is a long-time radio industry consultant and thought leader.  He hosts and produces a network radio show titled “Sterling on Sunday” 10:00 pm-1:00 am ET.  www.waltersterlingshow.com.   walter@sabomedia.com