The Music DJ Is in Peril

 In Blog

There are some amazing personalities generating compelling radio and creating fans, but if you drive coast to coast you will find that they are the exception — at a time when FM needs to be on innovation steroids.

In every challenging environment, there are opportunities. The key is understanding the situation and liberating your brainpower to embrace the possibilities. Radio is faced with extraordinary audio competition and inherent problems, including innovation-fearing big media. It is self-defeating to whine. Now is the perfect time to step forward with new ideas that are in sync with 2021 and beyond.

As long as there are commercial ads, FM can’t compete with the all-music streaming services. But that jukebox effect will never beat a 360-degree radio experience if it’s, well, brilliant.  Right now, it’s not…but it can be with some radically new ideas.

First, face reality and cleanse yourself of denial — then take a peek over the horizon. The biggest denial is that FM radio is king.  It’s not. It’s a utility that generates users, not fans – a vulnerable position.

The current function of the air personality is dated. Voice tracking makes sense in the age of the liner reading DJ. The “air talent “is a placeholder rather than a component to winning in Nielsen.

The morning show has, in many cases, become a parody of itself. Other dayparts are often on autopilot. The opportunity is in reinvention. That is what Todd Storz, Bill Drake, and even Howard Stern did. They updated the playbook and created a sound perfectly in sync with their era. Personally, I think most stations and their air talent sound locked in the 80’s focus group hell. We are in a historic period of change, and the sound and voice of FM must adapt or decline.

We need revolutionaries that radio executives and listeners will embrace.

Many who try radical new approaches will fail…but others will drive the medium forward. No one said this is easy. Positive change isn’t for the creatively meek.

There are challenges to being a revolutionary. I don’t think you can wing it. Have a plan. If you’re employed and not #1, present the plan to your bosses in a professional and organized way. If you’re not employed, generate a personal marketing plan. Think like a media artist creating a show, not a shift.

And remember, there’s more to life than mornings. There was once a time when talent was daypart specific. Key yourself to a daypart, not unlike the old days of the nighttime screamer.

Produce music sweeps that create magic between the songs. This doesn’t mean endless talk that decimates the music, but rather creates an experience that enhances the music. Earn the ability to be foreground rather than being heard endlessly mumbling to a background listener. Radio can be theater, but that doesn’t mean drama. Take advantage of radio’s rare ability to transport people through sound.

It’s complicated to click on the right balance.

These points may seem undoable with today’s ownership and management structures. Revolutionizing isn’t for everyone. Be prepared to face roadblocks and failures, but if you create “it,” the rewards can be game-changing.

I’d love to go on in more detail,  so please feel free to reach out by email with any thoughts, and please check my website for deeper discussions on the radio revolution.

Lee Abrams

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