Class reunion

September 1, 2001

Radio is the only truly “personal” medium, nearly always experienced by many separate, simultaneous audiences of one.

One of the most powerful personal impacts that the new age of connectivity has brought us is the ability to reconnect with long lost friends.

This kind of seeking and connecting power is, on balance, a valuable benefit of today's computer networking and database technology and is probably only beginning to make its presence felt. It will eventually allow families to know more about their ancestry than the limits of spoken memories and family documents can tell us today. The ultimate impact will make tomorrow's human race more connected, and perhaps even make the world a safer place for future generations. Such lofty visions aside, the value of these person-to-person contacts can have some direct, business-related impacts for broadcasters today.

Private enterprise

Radio has always worked on the premise of mass appeal, with emphasis on programming style (and more recently, on formatics) to maximize its audience potential. But over time, as the size of the overall radio audience increased, the average size of the group listening to each radio has decreased. Radio began as a group-listening exercise. It has largely evolved into a solitary listening experience. Radio was the first, and perhaps is still the only, truly “personal” medium, nearly always experienced by many separate, simultaneous audiences of one. Unlike television, radio is rarely time-shifted, so these individuals are almost always sharing a uniquely communal, yet isolated, event.

This argues that radio, perhaps above all other media, should exploit the new opportunities to make (or renew) personal contacts with audiences. The attachments are often already there, and new connection methods can allow these relationships to be mightily strengthened.

The power of such personalized communication can be easily abused. These levels of access to individuals must be managed carefully. Consumer privacy has never been more threatened, and people take this extremely seriously. Here's where radio broadcasters have an advantage: They can encourage their listeners to initiate the conversation, rather than risking the intrusiveness of the opposite approach. The latter method, used on the Internet by non-broadcasters, can result in consumer annoyance and worse.

Building a bridge

Broadcasters who understand this process make frequent on-air references to their website, driving as much traffic as possible there. The attraction of special content is generally more effective than just a simple announcement of the station's website's existence, however. Contests or further information about artists and the like are proving most effective in this respect. This is not as simple as clicking an on-screen link. For the typical (over-the-air) listener, there must be sufficient motivation to go to the computer, log on and manually enter the station's URL — or, at best, click an existing favorite/bookmark — before this communication channel can be opened.

Once this has happened, adding personalized content for listeners using automated server processes can tap into the real power of the connection. This can be done by using scripts and cookies, after inviting listeners to enter a profile of personal preferences. For example, if a listener enters “Dave Matthews Band” as a favorite music group, and the station's concert calendar shows an upcoming appearance by the band in the market, the station's Web server can send an e-mail message to that listener with the concert details. Favorite sports teams and their appearances can be handled in the same way. URL links for ticket purchases can also be inserted in these messages. Similar notifications could be issued for new album release dates, book signings and other events, with links to the appropriate stores or on-line retailers.

Much of the information on the station's website can come from third-party dynamic sources (weather, stock quotes, etc.), but it can be seamlessly integrated on a page, and made to appear as if originally generated by the station. Once the listener is browsing the site, chats and collateral sales offerings might also be explored. Of course, plenty of opt-out opportunities should be offered whenever follow-up e-mail notification is involved.

Uniting the listener with the identity of the station in this way creates a strong brand impression and good will, while also expanding market reach. This can keep the listener coming back, even while out of town, or as an expatriate after moving out of market. Like a close schoolmate, it's a relationship that can withstand the test of time — with a little help from our new connectivity.

Receive regular news and technology updates. Sign up for our free newsletter here.