Radio: Less Talk? How About Just The Right Amount?

A radio station plays a song. As the song fades, the listener awaits a station identifier, maybe a jingle, perhaps even a warm friendly voice to inform as to who sang the song, its title and what might be coming up next. Instead, from music, the station goes directly into commercials and from commercials, into a recorded promo where an air personality tells the listener that they will be appearing live that weekend at a furniture store. Then, once again, we are into music. A mistake? Is this a smaller market where, perhaps, a rookie board operator is training? No, this was heard just last week here in Detroit – and it’s a shame.

There is a movement afoot, it seems, where “less talk” is supposed to translate into less button pushing or “tune out” and, it follows, stronger ratings. Yet, I would argue that there is a vast difference between “less” and none at all. Going from music directly into commercials with no station identifier whatsoever? That’s a cardinal sin in radio and something I learned as a training disk jockey neophyte way back in my first year of college radio in 1981.

Now, some smart radio consultant out of New York might argue that the Portable People Meter (which measures station listening via the unique sound waves emitted from a particular radio station’s transmitter) makes stating the station’s “call letters” a moot point. I would counter that without branding and live, local personalities, you are, as my partner Matt Friedman so aptly said in recent days: “An iPod that is playing someone else’s songs.”

Instead, there is a happy medium that exists – an approach too often lacking today that truly connects listeners and their radio stations. Google WLS Radio in Chicago and John “Records” Landecker, my radio idol in the 70s that is still on-the-air today. Seek out one of his video airchecks on YouTube. There, you will hear (and see) a time when the medium came across truly larger than life through a fast-paced melding of voice, music and jingles that achieved an almost other-worldly theater of the mind.

“Less talk”? How about just the right amount? How about smart programming with the right combination of live personality, information and diverse music that is well produced and engages, connects and gives us a reason to set the MP3 players aside. How about disk jockeys appearing at more than just sponsor-paid remotes? C’mon radio. You’re better than this.