Joel Raab

A great radio station is a living, breathing thing. With a heartbeat. As the PD or brand manager, it’s your responsibility to keep that heart beating by conveying a sense of warmth and humanity and fostering a connection with your listeners.

Having a heartbeat means that your listeners (P-1s in particular) feel a sense of community when they tune in. It starts with music and makes its way through air talent, music promotions and social media. When a great song or a stager comes on that resonates with your audience, the listeners do the “head nod,” meaning they say to themselves, “Yep … I get that.” When you play the wrong song or image with something that doesn’t match listeners’ expectations, you break that bond. The station’s pulse flatlines.

So with all of the restrictions, corporate guidelines, etc. — how do you nurture a heartbeat on your station or stations in 2021?

It starts with learning as much as you can about your audience. What do they think, where do they live, what do they love and what do they hate? What are their concerns today? You don’t have to do an expensive research project (although they are fine and welcome). You can talk to your customers — your listeners — one on one or through listener panels or through Zoom meetings if you can’t see them in person. Once you have a thorough understanding, everything can fall into place. Why? Because everything that goes over your air or into your social feeds must resonate with them. It must make them feel something while being part of a community (“The KXXX Nation”).

In our country format, we know that the audience is generally 25-44 (plus five years either way) and female-leaning. What we need to know is what they care about right now, and that can change rapidly in today’s environment. While the obvious common denominator for our listeners is the love of country music, find out where they like to go in their leisure time and where they like to spend money (music to your sales department’s ears). What TV shows do they binge-watch? What foods do they enjoy? What other experiences are helping them get through these trying times?

The best way to connect is through our air talent. When listeners think of them as friends and not just announcers, you’re halfway there. Think about your real friends. They “get” you. They reveal something about themselves to you and you reveal something about yourself to them.

PS: Don’t use the excuse that some talent may not be in your market. Research shows time and again that connecting and entertaining are not dictated strictly by location. In fact, with today’s audio competition from DSPs, establishing a connection is more critical than ever.

To quote one of my favorite talent coaches, Vallerie Geller, “Never be boring.” That’s actually another topic, for another column. — Joel Raab

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