The Fortune Cookie

What does your’s say?

It’s obvious that listeners choose music radio stations because of the — duh — music. If you hate Hip-Hop and Rap, chances are you’re not going to listen to the local Hip-Hop station no matter how many incentives they offer you.

I had to get that out of the way before I get to the real point of this post.

Yes, listeners choose your station because they like, or can tolerate, your music. It’s a big deal, and GM’s and EVPs never question how much time you spend scheduling it.

Hours and hours spent staring at a computer screen, manipulating Selector, agonizing over this song following that.

And while music is clearly the largest part of the “entertainment” your station offers its listeners, the paradox is that I don’t know of one music station, anywhere in the world, that’s ranked #1 solely because of its music.

You can call it stationality or personality or any other -ality you want, but it’s the stuff surrounding the music that keeps listeners with you, or drives them away.

All the little non-musical things that make your station “better” than the other choices for your listener, including their iPods and Pandora.

How much time do you get to spend on that stuff?

How much effort and money is spent scripting and producing your liners so that each one speaks personally to someone?

How much thought is put into writing liners that are focused outwards, on your listeners, not inwards on what you think is important.

You get to speak 4-5 times an hour, so how much time are you spending thinking about how you can use each one of those to grab someone’s heart and hold it in your hands for a few seconds? To make a bond that is unbreakable?

How entertaining is your non-musical content, because any station in your city can play exactly the same music you do.

Every listener in every city can now produce their own music machine, personalized to their unique music tastes, with a lot fewer commercials.

The value we place on music should be considered because it can be so easily copied, but the experience we create around those songs, the stories listeners can tell themselves about us — about who they become as they listen — all the non-musical entertainment — that’s where the real value lies.

This used to be commonly understood before Radio became over-researched, obsessed with eliminating all potential negatives, and consolidation excused mass lay-offs of talent.

But we can’t add by subtracting, regardless of pep talks by the top executives in our industry (as they pocket the money saved).


we go to Chinese restaurants when we want Chinese food, and a fortune cookie is part of that experience, a part most of us look forward to, even if we know it’s not really predicting our fortune.

No one cares that the cookie following the meal doesn’t taste all that great. It’s not dessert we’re after.


It’s never been only about the cookie, and we forget that at our peril.