To paraphrase Aaron and Linda, I don’t know much. But I do know three things to be a fact:
Great example of the music/college theory? And labels, please take note. You may want to plant people in dorms to break new music.
When I was a Freshman in college, my knowledge of Jimmy Buffett came from the jukebox at the Longbranch Bar in Minong, Wisconsin, where myself and other underage camp counselors with fake ID’s would repair at night to woo drunk local chicks and the hot counselors from Camp Birch Trail. (Note: BT was a camp for girls. Wanted to clear that up)
“Margaritaville” was on the jukebox and when I went off to college, I’d heard it about 20,000 times. All at The ‘Branch. My assigned roommate was from Hialeah, Florida and he had the whole Buffett catalogue on vinyl. Every freaking album and he listened to them about 23 hours a day. No court would have convicted me if I’d ever carried through on my 4 a.m. fantasies.
But…I left in May and returned to Minnesota having gone and bought all the records for my own collection. And I played them whenever a friend was stupid enough to let me near their stereo. I began to have converts. I dragged a bunch of them to Jimmy’s 4th of July concert and and that pretty much sealed the deal. I’ve since gone on to other things but several of them are still Buffett freaks. I’m still waiting for Jimmy to send me a check as a thank you.
Sophomore year in college? Same thing. This time with Springsteen. Entered the year with remedial knowledge of the artist and left in Spring having gone and bought all his records. Four years later, working at a station in Minneapolis, I got a pair of tickets through the station for the opening night of the Born In The USA Tour, which featured a coquettish Courtney Cox stumbling twice while trying to get on the stage to dance in the dark.
It wasn’t a concert. It was almost a religious experience. I went home with a mission: to prosthelytize Springsteen “live” to any who would listen.
Five years after that I was working in Charlotte and Janet Jackson came through on her Rhythm Nation 1814 Tour. I liked the album. I worked at a station that would be taking listeners to meet her. She was a phenom. I attended.
I went home having enjoyed the show but not in a fervent mood to quickly call people in markets that she was on her way to, and implore them to “Go to the show. You have to. It’s amazing and tiring and joyful and all of the above. GO!”
And there-in lies some parallels to what’s happening in Radio.
Janet was tight. It was synchronized and choreographed to the point that there was no room for variation, no wiggle room for her to break from the routine and do anything unscripted, there was no reference or acknowledgement of the audience, no “Hi Charlotte!”; I turned to Jo Jo Wright and said something like “That was the first ever concert done entirely by remote-controlled Fem Bots.”
There was no passion. There was no personality. There was no fun. There was no attitude. That was no emotion. There was no vibe. (“Vibe” is the by-product, the plutonium so-to-speak when attitude and emotion collide. Great radio stations have Vibe.) She could have been in Boston for all she/we knew.
Sound like any radio stations that you may have heard? It was a tightly produced music delivery system that was satisfying if only for the moment. And then we went home.
Springsteen? Well, you can experience that yourself. They re-ran his New York show last night on VH-1. I’m sure you can download it. Here’s what Bruce did.
1. Like Janet, there was no downtime. That’s a good thing. Even when there were mellow moments going into ballads, he kept the banter going, weaving tales, story-telling. You felt that to tune away for even a moment, might cause you to miss something. And there’s always the Bruce countdown to the next song. Great radio stations draw you in and always always have “something happening”. If not happening, teasing that it’s coming.
2. I worked with a really talented DJ who mentored other women in the Promotions and Research Departments. She helped them make airchecks, get a few shifts and hopefully move on to other, bigger opportunities. Lesson #1? She taught them to smile when they talked on the air. Because you can hear it. Bruce? Smiled and laughed and joked and goofed with his bandmates. It was unscripted. It was fun. You looked at the audience and they were having the night of their lives. Great radio stations are an adjective to people’s lives. They listen to you and osmosize cheer from you. You can listen to stations where people are having fun…and it just envelopes everything they do.
3. He referred to the fact that they were in New York City no less then twelve times. By incorporating it into his stories, exhorting people to “Let them hear you in Jersey!” and, if nothing else, chanting “New York City!” like a televangelist. There was NO doubt where this show was. I listened to a station in Portland on Labor Day Weekend in ’03 that could have been in Detroit. Or Ft. Myers. Or Pascagoula. Or the moon. No local references. No acknowledgement to the bacchanalia of activity that was occurring in the community as the market enjoyed the last holiday before it began to rain. Great radio stations sound like the market. No better example then KMEL in the 80’s and early 90’s. The Bay Area poured from the speakers.
4. Bruce acknowledged the audience. He worked the stage, pointing, waving and smiling at people in the crowd. And during “Out In The Street”, he went to the back of the stage (not forgetting the people in back) and when the lyric got to “Out in the street baby I’ve been waiting for you…” he leaned over the railing and gave some woman a kiss. A later shot showed her surrounded by cheering people clapping her on the back as she fought fainting. Great radio stations acknowledge everyone.
5. It wasn’t Bruce. It was Bruce and The E Street Band. There was constant interaction between the group. They moved around the stage, they would all join together for a chorus and go back to their corners to work the crowd. The handoff between shifts used to be a time when we got a glimpse into the behind the scenes relationships of the airstaff. When they stopped being stars and just were people. Some of the best Radio ever were these “real” moments. “But Paige, in a PPM World, no one cares about personality…” Seriously? Quit. Please. Find another industry to go and destroy. If you are a great radio station, people will listen. (Yes, it’s Rocket Science) And great radio stations are tied together by their people.
6. Bruce evoked emotion. After every Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook or natural disaster, I’ll get an email from a PD (usually someone who has been in the business since post-1995) and he/she will be in awe. “I never thought we could do that. People came out. They were crying. They were donating. It was amazing. I never knew we could do that to people.” Great radio stations evoke emotion. Putting a link to the Red Cross on your website does not qualify, by the way. Bruce fires you up, winds you up and sends you on your way. But emotionally, he made a connection with you. You. Can’t. Beat. Stations. That. Elicit. Passion. Period.
I know this ran long, but so does a Springsteen show. Does he care? No. He’s like great imaging. Not :24 or :60. As long as it needs to be to get the job done.
Next? How Timmy T can change your perception of re-branding your digital platform while growing cume in a PPM World.