Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Is it really promoting the competition?

It seems that what's left of the CBS Radio empire has gone back to some level of cross-promotion among its cluster of stations. It has been going on in Chicago off and on over the past couple of years. The news station will run a spot for a music station, and occasionally cross promote sports broadcasts with the all-sports station in the cluster.

Yet, in New York, I saw the story that WFAN's Mike Francesa was "annoyed" to hear a promo air during this afternoon drive show for sister FM station WXRK's afternoon show, now hosted by Chris Booker.

Years ago, I felt the same way. There was always the "Why send any listener elsewhere at any time?" vibe felt throughout the station. I remember being stunned back in the 70's when a Chicago "beautiful music" station (oops - showing my age again) traded out with Newsradio 78. Each did a "When you want the news........." or "When you want to hear beautiful music...." type spot. I understood they were not competition, but was still opposed to it because it could send listeners in another direction. What if they can't find their way back? They could stop on another station before they get to yours on the return.

But just as my views on certain things have done a 180 over the years, I would have to say I have done that here. It has nothing to do with clusters doing what is now cross promotion. (The 70's incident I referred to was with different ownership, back in the day when one owner could only have a maximum of one AM and one FM in a single market.)

Now, it is radio competing against the alternatives which have come along. The playing field is way different. The idea is to keep people listening to the radio, moreso than one station vs. the next. I get it.

This is a way to try and combat my point that if radio had maintained a strong level of programming there wouldn't be this much "competition" for my ears.

So if one AM or FM station can point out a program that could be of interest and keep my attention on the radio, I see the purpose. It is no longer "which station?" but a matter of if I, or others, would be willing to turn on the "regular" radio.

Personally, I was born and bred on radio. Back to my days in grammar school of having a 20 foot transmitter kit in my bedroom and putting the microphone up against my turntable speakers to host "my" radio show every weekend. Coming home at lunch to listen to a few songs. The whole story, while knowing at the time I wanted to work in the industry.

But I fast forward 40 years. As I write this, it is mid-afternoon of a typical weekday to my ears.
I woke up this morning to a classic rock FM station, and listened for 15 minutes while I shaved, showered, and got dressed to start my day. I get the weather and a couple of headlines and a set of 3 or 4 songs every morning.

Since then, I listened to satellite radio for 45 minutes on my way in (Howard Stern, if you need to know what), and I have since listened to over 6 hours of an internet music channel online at my desk. When I went out for lunch and to run an errand, I heard about 45 minutes of tunes on my MP3 player.

Stern is gone from over-the-air and successfully taken his show to a better venue. He is the majority of the reason I pay for satellite radio. The songs I heard over the hours online and, of course, on my MP3 player, are mostly songs I don't hear anymore (if at all) on the radio, but did when they first came out.

Years ago those 7 hours of my day would have easily been spent on a couple of radio stations with no questions asked, and back the next day for more. No more. Yet, if radio had maintained the true local personality and more thorough playlists, along with shorter and more reasonable commercial breaks, I wouldn't have thought of spending money on satellite and an MP3 player and music I want to hear on it.

As a result, I understand completely that if I'm listening to WFAN for sports talk, maybe I'd want to hear Chris Booker and his knowledge on K-Rock (or whatever they are calling it with this week's format) when I'm done listening to sports talk. It would keep me away from the "competition", which is no longer AM and FM radio.

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