December 16, 2008 is the day many folks will remember as “the day traffic stood still” for upwards of 4 hours. Upwards of 4 hours. Now try as you might, you’d be hard pressed to gab on the phone to friends and loved ones for 4 hours.
You can’t watch TV in a car for 4 hours….safely.
You can’t read the newspaper for 4 hours in your car….safely.
But there’s always the good old RADIO.
So as radio faces the toughest times in radio HISTORY, you’d think radio would have seized this opportunity right!? I mean we all knew this storm was coming hours ahead of time.
I am happy to report that radio sprung into action.
The Mix in Chicago (WTMX) had a team of producers cutting up best of audio from Eric & Kathy’s show. They packaged it perfectly with voice overs from station voice John Pleisee and billed this special 4+ hours of Eric and Kathy in the afternoon as The Mix Presents Eric & Kathy’s Polar Express! It was great! Instead of listening to 14 songs an hour and traffic updates that helped not, we were entertained in our cars and 4 hours felt like 45 minutes!
The Loop in Chicago (WLUP) went so far as to bring Jonathon Brandmeier back for a live afternoon show! I was flabbergasted when I heard Johnny B. taking phone calls and talking with listeners about the worst pot holes in Chicago, the BEST place to stop off for a beer, and the ultimate beef joints. Johnny could have told Loop management to piss off and he’s the MORNING guy, but he gets it. He knows radio and The Loop specifically are having a tough time and he’s their star. All they had to do was ask and Johnny B. was on the scene proving why he’s been a Chicago institution for decades, and why he’ll continue to be worth every penny of his big radio salary down the road, if he’s utilized properly.
Jack FM (WJMK) in Chicago was the real shocker though. I about flipped my car over when I heard Steve Dahl and Buzz Killman on in the afternoon! The ink wasn’t even dry on their pink slips and here they were, doing what they do best….entertaining Chicago in afternoon drive. It was an out-of-the box move by CBS Chicago management, but brilliant. If AC stations can flip to Christmas music and see a boost surely the PPMs will reflect this risk….and it’s really not a risk since they were already paying Steve anyway. What a great way to do some R&D! Steve was smart for making it happen even though he had to secure studio time in Florida to make it work. It’s times like these when you remember what you love about radio in Chicago.
Kiss FM (WKSC) in Chicago took an entirely different approach. They had their morning star Drex piped in from his apartment via the web while co-host Mel T. was in studio. It was another creative way of taking advantage of an opportunity to entertain to a captive audience during a unique time when the same old songs just wouldn’t do, and it worked brilliantly. The best part was they had chances to txt your snails pace time to the station to win secret santa prizes and they even qualified 12 listeners for a trip to Mexico! On my end of the speakers, a trip to someplace warm with NO SNOW sounded great! They said they had over 10,000 people register via text in 15 minutes! I bet their database exploded from this experiment.
Sadly, none of this actually happened. The talk stations talked. The music stations played music. To make matters worse, the music stations did lots of traffic updates which really didn’t help.
Wake up radio. If you’re just playing music when something big is happening in your audience’s life, you’re not connecting. Someone will, and there’s going to be a line of sponsors waiting to reward the mavericks who make an effort. There will also be plenty of room in the old media graveyard for those who try to keep on trucking with the same boring approach.