Beyond Yesterday

Dear Christian Radio,

I can still see it…that green-faced hybrid freak show of a device. Its cumbersome bulk slowly emerged from behind the modestly adorned Christmas tree of my girlfriend’s home. With a dead thunk, it soon rested at her feet. Bemused, she carefully removed the wrapping paper to reveal a brand new Brother WP – 1400D—a top-of-the-line word processor. Her parents—my future in laws—had dropped a hefty dime on this beast. Their beloved daughter was nine months away from entering college on full scholarship, and they were determined to provide her with tools that would help her succeed.

Oh Brother
To them, the device represented the best of what they knew. This was no ordinary typewriter, it was a word processor. “It has a place for a floppy disk,” her mom proclaimed proudly. “There’s also a digital display,” added her father. It was an extremely nice typewriter. It had all the bells and whistles, but it was not a desktop computer. I was four months into my freshman year of college. In that short amount of time I had already been baptized in the fires of college reports and term papers. Computers were everywhere and they were everything! My dorm had a computer lab. The library had a computer lab and nearly every department on campus had some kind of computer-centric interface that offered access to a strange new experience called the World Wide Web.

Living on campus was like living in the future. Life and technology were moving forward at a breakneck pace. On the contrary, my girlfriend was about to start her college career with the perfect symbol of technological obsolescence. Much like the awkwardness of an amphibious automobile, the word processor represented a piece of technology that couldn’t let go of the past to fully embrace the future. Instead, Brother produced a product that might appeal to late adopters of the computer age, without offending those who had grown comfortable with the familiarity of a typewriter. *Sigh.*

Test 1, 2
Radio has a problem; it’s familiar. As an industry we’ve grown accustomed to its process, history and hype. Our salespeople and underwriters go out into the world touting the advantages of radio. They talk about how fast their station can turn around a message and how radio reaches X number of ears each day in a way other mediums can’t. All of this is true, but it is also the same type of drivel that failing newspaper companies, expensive television stations, and one-dimensional out-of-home advertisers use to make their case. What each fails to realize is that they are not competing with one another as much as they are fighting a future that is already passing them by. Video didn’t kill the radio stars, but failing to embrace its relevance in the era of social media certainly could.

Brave New World
One of the first books I read out of college was Spencer Johnson’s “Who Moved My Cheese?” Johnson’s artful allegory on the topic of change helped illustrate for me that nothing earthly lasts forever. The short and easily digestible story is built around four characters: Hem and Haw, who—oddly enough—are ‘little people’; and Scurry and Sniff, who—equally odd—are mice. Each day the foursome run a maze in search of cheese until one day they find a station full of it. For the two little people, the cheese becomes the center of their lives. All is well with their world until the cheese runs out. Scurry and Sniff (the mice) quickly recognize it’s time to move on and search out new cheese. Hem and Haw, on the other hand, have a difficult time accepting that the cheese they had is gone and never coming back. Of the two, Hem struggles the most, refusing to accept that his old world of endless cheese had changed. Haw, however, eventually begins to adapt to the situation, most notably penning these simple but nonetheless important words, “If you do not change, you can become extinct.”

Find Your Future
Sci-Fi movies often paint a bleak image of the future, but the future is always what we make it. While we may not be fighting evil apocalyptic robots twenty years from now, radio is on the precipice of a cultural shift in reality. The internet and other technologies have changed radio. Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, iHeart Radio, Instagram, Pandora, Twitter, SiriusXM, Spotify, TuneIn, YouTube and countless others have all changed radio. The term radio is yesterday’s terminology. The new age of radio is here; and we must embrace multimedia for good. Even so, this doesn’t mean we must abandon what we know. Instead, we must rethink what we know and relearn how to apply it over the next couple of decades.

Just like Haw eventually learned, “If you do not change, you can become extinct.” Only the nimble will survive beyond tomorrow. For the entrenched radio traditionalist the first step is always the hardest. It is also the most important: accepting that leaving radio’s comfort zone doesn’t mean abandoning radio’s rich heritage. Radio’s future superstars will be the ones pioneering its future, today. They will be the ones who chose to expand radio’s powerful reach beyond its self-prescribed definition.

It’s time to start thinking beyond yesterday. Here are seven things future-thinking stations will need to succeed:

    • App – If your station doesn’t have its own app…get one! Don’t be limited in your thinking either…apps are more than just a means of mobile access to your audio stream, they are quickly becoming the primary access point for all of your best content, including; your website, donation page, products page, and social media. What’s more, app-driven devices like Amazon’s Echo Dot and Google’s Home Mini are quickly replacing what’s left of in-home radios.

 

    • E-Mail Marketing – E-mail itself may one day give way to text or video messaging. However, in the present, e-mail marketing is still relevant because it allows late adopters of new technologies direct access to your station’s messaging, promotions, social media and videos. E-mail marketing also doubles as a tool that can help you build and stay in touch with your donor database. Constant Contact and Emma are two affordable services worth considering.

 

    • Social Media – Social media pages are not junior versions of your website. In reality, Facebook is probably more valuable in marketing dollars than your website alone. Chances are your station has a Facebook account. What is often missing is a social media strategy and a staff person dedicated to fulfilling it. Social media communication and marketing is a true and valuable art. If you don’t have someone in your building who understands this, it’s time to hire someone who does.

 

    • Video – Only having a face for radio is cliché. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? Facebook is moving toward heavier video content. YouTube is video content. Both can help you expand your radio brand. If you’re great on the air, you can be amazing on camera. A $1000 investment can buy your station a Canon EOS Rebel T6i, lights, and a green screen. Voilà…you now have a first-rate video production studio! If that sounds like too much too fast, start slow by shooting video with your smart phone. Consider investing in some intuitive editing software once you get the hang of things.

 

    • Smart Phone – If you are going to do the first four things on this list, you will need a phone that can interface with each one. You can be all in for Apple or sing the praises of Samsung; either way, your flip phone is obsolete. Phones in general are a thing of the past, so stop thinking of them as phones and start considering them for what they really are—a pocket computer with a built-in phone app.

 

    • Digital Marketing Plan – Your underwriting representatives are hungry—and I don’t mean hardworking—it’s getting harder for them to put food on the table each month. A station that offers a digital media package has a leg up on those that don’t. Apps, e-mails, videos, and social media platforms all have value. Figure out what each is worth and let your team sell them until they’re fat and happy.

 

    • Project Management Tools – More technology and more sales means more to manage. This is where project management tools like Asana and Basecamp come into play. If you are still trying to manage your station through e-mail alone, it’s time to learn what project management software can mean to your company. This will be a hard learning curve for many, but once the transition is made you will never look back again.

Dear Christian Radio…

     1. Let go of the past. Yesterday is gone. It is time to move on to the present.
     2. Embrace the future. Radio has a place in the present; harness the possibilities this new era offers.
     3. Change. Time picks tomorrow’s winners and losers. Take action before it’s too late.

#ENCW –

John S. Long III
Editor, Dear Christian Radio
Positive Alternative Radio
Operations Manager, Joy FM

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