Along For The Ride

When failure = success


“…political ideas become movements for just one reason: they develop a group of people who are changed by what they do.

That’s Seth Godin speaking and it helped me think about the way work fits into our lives.

Can you think of a radio station that’s trying to impact listeners lives so powerfully that it changes them, transforms them forever?

Content so unique and emotional that listeners actually become acolytes, missionaries who feel they must share what they’ve found with everyone they know?

That’s one reason why it’s so important to identify your smallest viable audience. The smallest group of customers that will enable you to thrive. By seeing them, obsessing about them and serving them, you can refine your product at the very same time that you establish the conditions for growth.”

Seth, again. Apple and Steve Jobs immediately came to mind. Crowds waiting in line overnight to buy the newest Apple product.

Failure is a way of discovering one more thing that customers didn’t want, and perhaps, learning a bit about what they might want.

How about creating a product listeners don’t even know they need until they hear it? Remember Rush Limbaugh?

When’s the last time you heard a station trying to do that?

Of course, failure is part of creation. How many times did da Vinci try to paint the Mona Lisa before he created the one we now venerate?

But failure is no longer acceptable in consolidated radio groups. Local staffs can’t create something so unique to their town, their market, that it sounds totally different from every other station in the world.

Makes me think of KBCO in Boulder, KINK in Portland, KVIL in Dallas and NRJ in Paris, France. Reminds me of how much fun it was to listen to WLS and KLIF, to WBIG and B-100, when we all wanted to work there too.

I mean that it reminds me of those stations at their peak, before they became part of the mush of consolidated radio.

Look, I’m not saying there aren’t good radio stations today.

But I don’t hear anything so different, so amazing that I can’t wait to share my find with others in our business.

I don’t hear stories from listeners in love with their stations, as we did when Z100 absolutely whacked New York City in the side of the head and literally went from “worst to first.”

To have that sort of effect on listeners, you have to offer something they’re not already hearing, something they may have never heard in their lives.

You have to put entertainers on the air unlike any they can already hear. Performers who don’t follow “radio’s rules” about content and style and time restrictions.

Can you even imagine that?

Can you imagine the disdain that will rain upon you from Radio’s “experts”?

Your first attempts will probably fail. Make that certainly.

But if you were allowed to try, if you were given time to fail, possibly several times as you refine the sound you hear in your head, you might just create something that starts a movement.

Kind of like Todd Storz and Gordon McLendon and Scott Shannon (who I first heard – doing nights on WMAK-AM – as a freshman at Vanderbilt University), Bobby Rich, Steve Allan and George Johns.

Every one of those guys broke the rules. They created content so powerful it caused passionate engagement with the earliest listeners, who then spread the word and helped take their stations to #1.

And then they were wise enough, perhaps changed enough themselves, to not water down the product they were hoping to grow.

They remained committed to the sound they heard in their heads, to the core group of listeners who absolutely loved what they had created.

They understood that passion creates growth.

If I could change only one thing about Radio today, I would use one of the many signals that consolidated radio groups now own in every market, to try creating something totally different.

I’m talking transformation, forever changing the lives of those with whom you work inside the station, and also the lives of those who choose to listen.

And I already know the people I’d choose to run the very first one.

If you don’t, if you can’t think of a team of talented mavericks with the cojones and creative juice to run wild, you need to get out of your office and take a long walk…and remember why you got into this business in the first place.

It was to set someone’s world on fire!

It wasn’t hoping to stay out of trouble. No one aspires to mediocrity!

It wasn’t being satisfied with not being hated, being tolerated as background blah.

And if it was, you probably don’t want to hear my thoughts anyway.