Making Radio for People, Not Broadcasters.


So I had insomnia last night and had one of those odd TV accidents. For some reason, while I was surfing for naked pics of the planet Pluto, my TiVo suddenly decided to record the Charlie Rose Show. I haven’t got the foggiest idea who the first guest was. Some feminist with bad hair and unflattering attire I think. But the second guest caught my attention. It was Steve Wozniak. The lesser known of the duo who founded Apple Computer and started the personal PC revolution. Wozniak, or as he’s known among this planets uber-geeks “The Woz,” has long been an icon for plastic pencil pocketed nerds, long before they became hipsters and the ruling class of the world.

Rose was his usual ponderous self, reading his questions and not really paying any attention to the answers of his guest. But at one point Woz said something truly amazing. When asked why he though Steve Jobs has always been able and had the vision to create truly innovative and lusted after products, Woz said: “I think it’s because he’s always had an ability to see into the future. He’s been able to anticipate products that people want to use. He creates things that people use. Things for people.”

I think it’s really that simple. The iPod deliver the goods. It’s easy to use, it’s designed for people. And it delivers on its promise, it allows you to put little plugs in your ears and listen to the music you want. It’s easy to buy music, you click on iTunes, the song is downloaded to to your computer and transferred to your iPod. No geeky jumping though hoops. It just works, and it’s easy to use. It’s designed for people. It’s not designed by a bunch of geeks or engineers or some corporate honchos to outdo a rival. It’s designed for people. It is that simple.

Radio has the advantage of being one of the easiest devices to use on the planet. It’s designed for people. A 5-year-old and your Great Grand Mother can figure out how to use a radio. We have that advantage. But as programmers, we can be the ones making it difficult for the listeners. We’re not designing our formats for people. We’re not making it easy for them. We spend too much time paying attention to what each other are doing, programing our stations and networks for the staff and/or investors, our special interests and likes, and we’ve forgotten, or abandoned the idea that we’re creating a product for people. It’s for them. We have to make it easy for them.

In the last few years we’ve seen quite a few stations and networks in the talk arena that have decided to forge into areas of talk that unfortunately been ignored, like Liberal politics, talk for women, talk for younger men on FM. Some of theme have had amazing success, some haven’t and the jury is still out for some. Why haven’t all of these new and perfectly valid and sometimes obvious radio format ideas panned out the way we have planned or hoped? Truthfully, it is easier to fail at this game than it is to succeed. Sometimes the chips just don’t fall into place. But I’ve gotta believe that Steve Wozniak, without even giving a thought to our little biz, has hit the nail on the head. Most of us are not creating a product for people.

We’ve got to stop thinking about innovation, being clever, the competition, our agenda and all of the minutia that keeps us from the most important goal. We’re creating a product for people. We’ve got to make it easy for them to use. We need to create radio for people. I hate to admit it sometimes, coming out of the extremely cool and self-righteous AOR world, tightly formatted personality driven music radio got this right for years. It was a product that was for people. It gave them what they wanted and reached them at a gut level. They know what they’re gonna’ get, and it delivers. It’s a product for people.

In talk we have a tendency to get wrapped up in our agenda, be it politics or our pet version of the world. It may make you feel like an evangelist or special, but it may not be what the listeners really want. We gotta’ remember, we’re doing this for them, it’s not for us. Sure, it’s our business, but our business is creating a product that people will use, that’s easy for them to use and becomes a part of their life. So what do they want? Let’s make it easy. Go to 50.lycos.com. Here’s the top 50 internet searches for the week. On 1/1/07, it looks something like this: Rosie O’Donnell, The New Year, Auld Lang Syne, Britney Spears, Pam Anderson, Paris Hilton, The kid who got into fisticuffs with Tigger at Disney, YouTube, Pokemon, Lindsay Lohan, NFL, the War in Iraq, PS2, High Stakes Poker, The Sadam execution video. Is it really that easy. Sort of. Let’s face it, you still need a communicator, and that’s another bag of worms. But damn it, it’s all right there. No big research project involved. It’s as simple as listening to what real people are talking about wherever they may be. This is what they want. It’s really that easy. No one gives a damn about that book author or what Charlie Rose said last night.

This radio thing is for people. Give them what they want and make it easy for them to use. Make radio for people. It’s actually really simple. Thank you Steve Wozniak.