Radio Daze

Dumb It Down

I have always maintained that those who can, do, and those who can’t become management. That maxim is especially true in radio broadcasting.

In the 1980s hundreds of American radio stations made use of consultants, either because the station owners were stupid or the people they had programming their stations were incompetent, or a combination of the two.

Most consultants I’ve encountered in my 40 years on the radio were guys who couldn’t cut the mustard as disc jockeys or newscasters (Dave Rickards of 100.7 Jack-FM’s DSC morning show has a hilarious character named Dave Steve, a radio consultant whose claim to fame was that he was once in the top ten in the ratings in Buffalo.) Maybe they had middling success as programmers in smaller markets, so they decided to offer their “genius” to other stations for a price.

And there were thousands of stations willing to pay for that outside opinion! One consultant I knew had just a handful of clients and he was making $300,000 a year. Another one didn’t just consult, he’d actually dictate what music was to be played and who the program directors would be. He had hundreds of clients and made millions every year!

The key to successful consulting in radio is to always dumb it down. Let’s say your favorite rock station is playing 10,000 songs, by everyone from Bob Dylan to Motorhead. They have a staff of disk jockeys who love and respect the music as well as each other, the city, and the listeners. Let’s also say that this station is loved by a loyal and vocal audience, and is garnering okay ratings. Let’s also assume that the GM of the station knows nothing about broadcasting (don’t laugh, it’s the norm!). All the GM thinks about is money, and he calls in a consultant to help his station make more dough.

So the consultant comes in, often from hundreds or thousands of miles away, and spends a week or two listening to the station. He prepares a presentation for the GM in which he tells him that the station must:

  1. Stop playing Bob Dylan and Motorhead and everything else that wasn’t recorded by million-selling artists…in fact, gut the music library to a few hundred tried and true tunes;
  2. Fire the longest-tenured disc jockeys and bring in rookies who’ll do what the consultant says and don’t mind the crappy pay;
  3. Give the station a snappy slogan like, “All the hits, all the time,” and have the jocks say it after every song;
  4. Make the jocks read from cards, so they don’t say anything but what the consultant wants said;
  5. Convince the station owner to free up a few grand to give away in on-air contests;
  6. So listeners won’t complain about the lack of variety, give them something like “Two-fer Tuesday;”
  7. And dress up an intern in a giraffe suit with the call letters on it and send him/her out in public.

Voila! Now the consultant has created a new station that now sounds just like every other radio station in the country! If the ratings don’t go down, the consultant has been successful.

Things really haven’t changed much, have they?

  • July 2011

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