Steal This Format: News for Gen Y

After penning the post on the lack of radio news full-time or even just in morning drive, it got me to thinking. What should  a “modern sounding” all-news radio format, say for Gen-Y, sound like? One of the best things about pondering such things is that, of course, it’s all conceptual. There’s no need to worry about budgets, available talent and frequency space and the like. Let the fun begin.

The overall sound of the Gen-Y news station/network would have to be fast-paced, with a-lot of production value (without sounding too slick, it should almost be lo-fi), heavy on lifestyle, consumer based tech news and celbutard buzz. Gen-Y gravitates like a moth to the flame to instant communication, so the format would have to cross-pollinate with a strong new media presence.

Would there be “hard” news? Yea, but it shouldn’t be delivered with the typical authoritative voice often attributed to “hard” news. The “voice” of the news should be more like Fark than 1010 WINS. Lots of soft leads with snark and plenty of pre-sell to help drive TSL and keep the listener engaged. What’s the Fark style?

Take this headline from CNN: “Tylenol-loaded mice dropped from air to control snakes”  The Fark headline for the story is: “Somewhere on the planet, it’s raining Tylenol-stuffed mice.” Lots of pre-sell of this kind of crap in and out of story segments to keep the short attention span of Gen-Y from button punching or if they do, keep them coming back.

On the subject of Fark, the Total Fark paid side of the news aggregator (the best 5 dollars a month you’ll ever spend), could almost be the total guide for the newsroom. Story ideas, soft lead ideas and everything from the best kickers, infotainment, geek and celebutard news.

News-style would always be with a Fark-like snarky soft lead and would encourage the “journalist” to interject their own opinions sideways into the writing of the stories (Hiring “real” journalists for this gig would be a huge problem, avoid them like the plague). Newscasters should be hired with a varied background of political and other world views/opinions, so it would be an equal opportunity “fair and balanced” bogus presentation of the news, and hopefully a few “Jane you ignorant slut” moments. The folly of leaning to the left or right would be a huge mistake for the station/network. All political news should be handled with a very large dose of cynicism, that we’re essentially screwed no matter who we elect. Sarcasm and cynicism is the bedrock of Gen Y. (Oh where is John Emm to teach these wacky journo kids how to do this now that we need him the most)

Of course this Gen-Y news radio station/network will have to have a huge web presence. Much of this could be accomplished by a tight integration of the newsroom with already existing web content management system such as WordPress or Dupral. Have the newsroom write all their stories on the content management backend that has access to Twitter, Facebook, Digg, etc API’s so that the content is printed web-wide on the station/networks website, and pings the content to social media at the same time. The content could either be posted immediately as a draft and an on-line editor could check the content before it’s published or, better yet, have the content posted raw (with a disclaimer that it is a raw feed, for fun and profit), so the listener/reader can feel like they are part of the “behind the scenes” station/network community. Commenting should be turned on full-throttle, but it would be necessary to have an editor to edit out “offensive” and/or spam comment. A “technology officer” for this demanding work would be an absolute necessity.

The newscast would look something like this: Really well written and clever headlines promoting upcoming stories/features. 3-5 minute newscast: top stories/tech/celebutard/kickers…

  • You can be gay and take a seat in the senate, but you still can’t be out in Afghanistan.
  • Obama continues to loose his mojo, as the prez is down in the polls again
  • The salmonella egg scandal still stinks, and this is no yoke.
  • American idol’s new judges will be flamboyant and fabulous, even if you hate em.
  • Hollywood is aiming their guns away from movie torrent sites and taking pot-shots at the new streaming pirates.
  • Paris is flying back to the U.S. following her first entry rejection ever, in Japan.
  • Blackberry is working on an iPad killer, and it’s rumored to taking on Apple early next year.
  • The latest twitter internet virus may not invade your privacy after all.
  • Boston is encouraging yoga and parking fines at the same time…

Interspersed within the newscasts should be somewhat well produced vignettes dealing with geek/tech/celebutard/bizarre focused stories. These vignettes could run in all hours, with short, produced and live teases throughout.

Imaging and production should be slick, but as stated before, not too slick. allmost lo-fi. Forget the big, scary voice guy, go for a real feel. Best yet, have the listeners voice the drops for the station. Use the flash plugin available for videochatting on your web presence to encourage listeners to make up their own voiceovers for the station and to record your sell lines. These could be uploaded via the same Dupral/WordPress API’s directly to the stations board, and have the other listeners comment and approve them. Use the real power of social media to the max, not just to spam the listeners/users. Create a community that creates the sound and look of your station/site. Use them for your content, giving them a voice and you an edge up on content creation for both your site and station. This or Apple’s new iPhone/Touch app Facetime could also be utilized to create audio comments for your content.

All of this sound too expensive, insane? Of course there are a million more ideas rattling around in my head with this one. Doubt that this would work for Gen Y? Tell that to Comedy Central’s Stewart and Colbert. Go ahead and let me know your thoughts. But I don’t want to hear: “This won’t work,” “This has never been done before” or anything without some thought. Let’s hear why and why not.

*John Ford is a Broadcast programming professional with nearly three decades of experience in local and network major market radio Programming and Consulting. Including stints as a VP of New Media Sabo Media, Network Programming and Imaging at ABC Radio Networks, Greenstone Media. Programming, Imaging and Morning/Talk positions at WIOD/Miami, WLLZ/Detroit, KZPS/Dallas, The Edge/Dallas, Zeta 4/Miami, WSHE/Miami and others. John’s also an uber-geek who holds numerous Apple Technical Certifications and enjoys breaking and fixing code and kit. Reach him at hiswebsite