Set aside what you or I might think of what Rush Limbaugh offered his 15-million listeners each week, we should laud him for what he taught us the last three decades: that our win comes from compelling talent and the content they offer fans.
When radio was investing millions of dollars in “AM stereo” (remember that nonsense?), Rush resurrected radio stations left for dead because he was bold, different, irreverent, relevant, and fun. They didn’t care that he was on AM! While I’ll leave any reflection for another blog on where we’d be had we invested that money in developing talent, Rush was connective in a way few have, and reminds us that it’s not just your music mix of Today’s-Best-Variety-Hot-County-Relaxing-Favorites that gives you a lift to #1, it’s your people.
Peggy Noonan said in the Wall Street Journal this week that Rush “created a community – an actual community of, at his height, tens of millions of people who thought along with him every day and through that thinking came to feel less like outsiders in their views.”
That’s what we do each day with our talent. They are the face of your brand. In a world of loneliness that few will admit, made even more challenging by the pandemic, talent (real human beings on your radio station) reach out and touch listeners’ hearts and souls, and make them feel less lonely.
This should be the slogan the NAB uses when extolling the benefits of radio to listeners and advertisers: Radio – We Make You Feel Less Lonely.
Our greatest strength is that intimacy. It’s our ability to have a presence on-air and do content that is the ultimate #metoo for people who think they are by themselves. One listener tunes in and understands they do have a friend, the person they’re listening to on the radio. That’s the Power of Personalities.
This is why I coach the talent I work with to share those parts of their life that prove to the audience they are just like them – to be honest, genuine, and real – because that’s what works. From their sense of humor or a shared sense of compassion, the audience wants to know they aren’t alone, and that the people on the radio will always root for them – then they will root for us back with their continued listening.
We do this by understanding the audience, their life and lifestyle, but also with what is going on emotionally in their world, then connecting that to what is going on emotionally in ours.
A shared vulnerability allows for a terrific relationship, much like you or I have in our personal lives, where we want to be around each other more often. If we develop and nurture a relationship with listeners this way, they’ll become fans.
I never really connected with Rush’s content, but I was always aware of him because of it. There were millions who left saying, “this guy speaks for me”.
Listen to your talent through this prism for a few days. How can you coach them to level up so they, too, create bigger communities of fans that feel less like outsiders in a world where so many feel as though they are on an island?
We burned millions of dollars trying to make AM radio have parity with the sound of FM many years ago. Rush proved we were focused on the wrong thing. The answer to our ills was staring us in the face all along: have great people on-the-air, who do the right content, and listeners will get addicted.
Can we make investments moving forward to help our personalities get even better so they get even bigger? So listeners won’t feel alone? Our talent are our boldest point-of-differentiation. Do that, and our ratings and revenue issues will fix themselves.