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Radio Personalities: Obsolete or Not

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I have read an article from a longtime broadcaster stating the lack of radio personalities is killing radio. I'm old enough to remember and participate in the live 24/7 days of radio and once felt personalities were the key to success. I still agree somewhat. I have had to, learn new tricks as an old dog in radio.

Radio is losing audience. Why? It is going online. People are listening to music online, personalized or by format and without the proverbial radio personality. Does this mean people want to just hear their music without the personalities. It would certainly seem so.

It is not a new idea. Some top stations when I was growing up were beautiful music. You heard a liner in and out of the quarter hour breaks. At many stations, the FCC required a warm body in the station (and to change the reels) so the jock got to read the headline news, usually at :58 and maybe the forecast at :30. There was no adlib. People that listened to Beautiful Music wanted no chatter between songs and few commercial breaks.

How does radio respond? Radio reflects trends versus creating them. The trend is toward online, zero personality listening. Stations like Jack are just reflecting what listeners want, music and nothing else.

AM Drive seems to be the only daypart where personalities are important.

I contend the days of radio personalities are gone for the moment, reflecting what listeners want.

Please don't confuse a lack of air personality to mean a lack of local identity. I know the importance of local information but this might be opportunities to be engaged with the greater community to various more subtle localizing with various words or information. At one station, two PSAs (community events) and weather forecast identified as our community's forecast is about all we need outside the 4 a day local newscasts on weekdays to earn the reputation as the station that is local and the only place to go for everything local.

This old dog sees radio doing what the trends tell it to do. As I always tell my clients: don't re-invent the wheel, just make the wheel move a bit faster. By that I mean, don't ignore the trend. Just try to do it better.
 
I have read an article from a longtime broadcaster stating the lack of radio personalities is killing radio. I'm old enough to remember and participate in the live 24/7 days of radio and once felt personalities were the key to success. I still agree somewhat. I have had to, learn new tricks as an old dog in radio.

Radio is losing audience. Why? It is going online. People are listening to music online, personalized or by format and without the proverbial radio personality. Does this mean people want to just hear their music without the personalities. It would certainly seem so.

It is not a new idea. Some top stations when I was growing up were beautiful music. You heard a liner in and out of the quarter hour breaks. At many stations, the FCC required a warm body in the station (and to change the reels) so the jock got to read the headline news, usually at :58 and maybe the forecast at :30. There was no adlib. People that listened to Beautiful Music wanted no chatter between songs and few commercial breaks.

How does radio respond? Radio reflects trends versus creating them. The trend is toward online, zero personality listening. Stations like Jack are just reflecting what listeners want, music and nothing else.

AM Drive seems to be the only daypart where personalities are important.

I contend the days of radio personalities are gone for the moment, reflecting what listeners want.

Please don't confuse a lack of air personality to mean a lack of local identity. I know the importance of local information but this might be opportunities to be engaged with the greater community to various more subtle localizing with various words or information. At one station, two PSAs (community events) and weather forecast identified as our community's forecast is about all we need outside the 4 a day local newscasts on weekdays to earn the reputation as the station that is local and the only place to go for everything local.

This old dog sees radio doing what the trends tell it to do. As I always tell my clients: don't re-invent the wheel, just make the wheel move a bit faster. By that I mean, don't ignore the trend. Just try to do it better.

I mean, this really has been the case for a quarter-century or more. And the audience had been telling us to shut up and play the music for close to 70 years.

Every station that took the ratings away from a competitor who had them before usually was faster, tighter and talked less than the one they beat. There were exceptions, but not many.
 
I contend the days of radio personalities are gone for the moment, reflecting what listeners want.

Please don't confuse a lack of air personality to mean a lack of local identity.

I agree with a lot of what you say. Are they obsolete or not? I say it depends. For all the complaints I read about the lack of live & local personalities, I see a lot of local DJs at station websites. So someone is hiring a lot of people. The next issue is what do those personalities do? It varies. Some are very active on the air, some are less so. Some engage on social media. Some don't.

I often read comments from people wanting the DJs to be more talkative, especially about the music. That's not often what people are interested in. They blame the owners or management for "not allowing" the talent to do more. If that's true, why do I see so many DJs getting fired for saying something offensive? Obviously no one told the DJ to just shut up and play the music.

One key thing in your post is not to confuse lack of local personalities with lack of identity. The mistake some stations with outside talent do is they don't create any station identity, and don't do any local marketing. The talent isn't useful if they stay locked in the studio and don't make appearances at events and do outreach. By the same token, if you don't have any local talent, that doesn't absolve you of doing marketing or outreach. For example, I see billboards for Jack FM. No local personalities, but they spend on promoting the station.

The answer to the question is more about budget than esthetics. If you can afford local talent, then do it. If you can't, then you don't. What I see in station clusters is that a company will diversify the staffing, so they're not all locally staffed, but they're not all syndicated either. That way they give the audience a choice. Certain personalities benefit from personality: Country, Urban, and Classic Hits are the ones I hear that are most often hosted. In fact, country radio is one of the few formats that gives awards to local personalities. The awards come from the CMA and the ACM, not just the radio industry. Imagine if more genres gave awards for radio. Those awards are great for motivation and marketing. To say your morning show is award-winning gives you a leg up on the competition. If the station actually does marketing.

So once again, are they obsolete or not? The answer is both. It depends on how those personalities do their jobs. They can do the bare minimum, or they can do more. It's often not because of management, but of the talent themselves. There are still lots of radio talent conventions around the country, with Morning Show Bootcamp, the Conclave, and Country Radio Seminar being two of the best. I also know a lot of personal talent coaches who work privately with radio personalities. They don't necessarily lead to better jobs or more money, but if you're on the air, it behooves you to invest in yourself. It's what you make it. Part of what has hurt the role of the DJ is that some don't put any time or care into what they do. So the future of the job is on those doing it now. Employers will be motivated to hire personalities if they see it will lead to improved value for them. If DJs are just expenses, and they're looking to cut expenses, the DJs will be the first to go. So the choice is in the DJ: Which do you want to be?
 
When Disk Jockeys and "hosts" were popular and listeners followed the station with most personality was also when calling a friend in the next town over was a toll call and there was no other way to have a feeling of belonging.

Today, besides texting and toll-free calls to nearly anywhere, we have all kinds of social media where we can "belong" and participate. The one-way, them-to-us talking of traditional radio is not needed for a feeling of belonging and a sense of being part of something.

A full-scale morning show is different as that is more like Saturday Night Live or the late-night TV shows with a full objective of presenting a "show" and not just a disk jockey "spinning records".
 
When Disk Jockeys and "hosts" were popular and listeners followed the station with most personality was also when calling a friend in the next town over was a toll call and there was no other way to have a feeling of belonging.

Today, besides texting and toll-free calls to nearly anywhere, we have all kinds of social media where we can "belong" and participate. The one-way, them-to-us talking of traditional radio is not needed for a feeling of belonging and a sense of being part of something.

A full-scale morning show is different as that is more like Saturday Night Live or the late-night TV shows with a full objective of presenting a "show" and not just a disk jockey "spinning records".
All the shows used to be like that ! If they weren't, you didn't get the listeners. Someone else did!
 
When listeners say they want more talking, what they mean is they want to be genuinely entertained. When they say "Shut up and play the music," they're saying they don't want to have to listen to liner card readers and marginally-talented "voices" trying to be funny (or smarmy). Those two statements are not mutually exclusive. Listeners want to listen to people with talent, announcers/hosts/jocks who bring a value-add to their stations in creativity and entertainment value. They will listen to talent like that. But at the same time they don't want to waste their brain cells on limited-talent hacks, because they know they can go to Spotify or a dozen other places and just hear the kind of music they want to hear.

For the life of me, I don't comprehend why you programming mavens can't grasp this concept. Find people with talent, promote them into bigger markets commensurate with the evolution of their talents, and then let them loose to entertain. Not everyone is going to be a hit in every market, not everyone has the potential to be the 2024 version of Dan Ingram or Don Steele or Charlie Tuna, but what you've been doing hasn't exactly been a raging success either. That's why the 20% PUR number has "grown" to 5% in the last couple of decades.

You've trained your audiences to dislike people with minimal talent cracking their mics for longer than the length of a good fart, and the lesson you took away from this is that talent talking is the same as farting. Maybe the correct takeaway should have been that some farts don't smell like rose petals, so find a few that do.

Or keep doing what you've been doing, and sit back to watch the 5% PUR "grow" to become 2% by the end of this decade, and then wonder why the FM band has turned into the 2030 version of 2023's AM radio, the new shortwave.
 
You've trained your audiences to dislike people with minimal talent cracking their mics for longer than the length of a good fart, and the lesson you took away from this is that talent talking is the same as farting. Maybe the correct takeaway should have been that some farts don't smell like rose petals, so find a few that do.
"Coming up in 6 minutes, we'll release the good fart! It will smell like rose petals if you just hang on through the 8-10 minute commercial break! We know the math doesn't work out, but our research has told us that the 'tease/payoff' model works! Tell them that something good will be coming down the road, a fraction of the audience will stay tuned, and we'll get a decimal point of a ratings bump!"

Seriously, the whole "tease/payoff" thing is maddening. Instead of telling the listener to hang on for another fraction of a quarter hour, how about giving them entertainment in every break?
 
Some of the comments here are akin to this statement: Haven't those guys at Chevrolet (Ford, etc.) figured out if they will build a good vehicle people will buy it? The fact is there's some sour grapes here. The industry does have good talent.

What I find amazing is many complain of no personalities entertaining them on radio but complain radio is losing to jockless and faceless music streams void of any bit of personality. So, if there was personality on radio people would stop listening to online streams that never had any personality?
 
When listeners say they want more talking, what they mean is they want to be genuinely entertained. When they say "Shut up and play the music," they're saying they don't want to have to listen to liner card readers and marginally-talented "voices" trying to be funny (or smarmy).

That may be what you mean when you say those things. Some of them genuinely mean they want us to shut up and play the music.

Other than a talk radio station, I don't know that I've ever heard anyone, certainly not in large numbers, say they want more talking, and in that case, it was a complaint that there were too many commercials and not enough talk show content.

Those two statements are not mutually exclusive. Listeners want to listen to people with talent, announcers/hosts/jocks who bring a value-add to their stations in creativity and entertainment value. They will listen to talent like that.

Some will.

For the life of me, I don't comprehend why you programming mavens can't grasp this concept. Find people with talent, promote them into bigger markets commensurate with the evolution of their talents, and then let them loose to entertain. Not everyone is going to be a hit in every market, not everyone has the potential to be the 2024 version of Dan Ingram or Don Steele or Charlie Tuna, but what you've been doing hasn't exactly been a raging success either. That's why the 20% PUR number has "grown" to 5% in the last couple of decades.

You've trained your audiences to dislike people with minimal talent cracking their mics for longer than the length of a good fart, and the lesson you took away from this is that talent talking is the same as farting. Maybe the correct takeaway should have been that some farts don't smell like rose petals, so find a few that do.

Or keep doing what you've been doing, and sit back to watch the 5% PUR "grow" to become 2% by the end of this decade, and then wonder why the FM band has turned into the 2030 version of 2023's AM radio, the new shortwave.

I haven't programmed a station since 1981, so I don't take that especially personally, but I will tell you that nobody trained the audience to dislike content. They responded to what listeners wanted, were successful and forced stations that weren't responding to do so, change format or go out of business.

Every station I can think of that won a format battle was quicker, tighter and cleaner than the previous champ. KFWB could have crushed KRLA, but it didn't. KRLA could have done the same to KHJ, but it didn't....and so on.

What music station listeners wanted from the 1950s on was Spotify. It just didn't exist yet. So they listened to the radio and told us they wanted us to be more like what they had in mind.

The moment a reliable, high-quality service arrived with no commercials, allowing people to hear what they wanted and only what they wanted, that PUR was doomed.
 
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I don't comprehend why you programming mavens can't grasp this concept. Find people with talent, promote them into bigger markets commensurate with the evolution of their talents, and then let them loose to entertain.

Maybe you can be specific. Instead of naming people from 50-60 years ago, name some current people.

Also maybe you can itemize what you consider "entertaining."

What I hear are a lot of people who do the show prep, who know their subject matter, and have a unique style.

I also see that when a particular talent stands out, he gets rewarded with syndication, such as Charlamagne Tha God.
 
I haven't programmed a station since 1981, so I don't take that especially personally, but I will tell you that nobody trained the audience to dislike content.
I haven't ever programmed a station, so I usually stay out of these types of discussions. In this instance, I don't think anyone is intentionally training an audience to dislike content. But sometimes it happens as a consequence of other decisions. Moreover, every field has its dogmata - or "conventional wisdom" - and practioners can get trapped in their own self-belief. Expertise is important; so is the ability to look for curveballs.

I'll give an example from cybersecurity - password complexity requirements. For years, we all suffered through what I call "finger gymnastics" - you know, having to create passwords with at least one uppercase character, one lowercase character, a special character (but only certain ones), and so on. The imposition of such requirements was backed up by auditors, who would ding you if you didn't require such things.

Then, researchers found that having a minimal password length was most important - and the rest was just annoying people with little useful additional benefit. Federal agencies such as NIST validated that research and adopted revised recommendations and standards. So these "finger gymnastics" requirements have gradually been receding.

I admit that the stakes there were much higher than they were for radio programming. Still, who in terrestrial radio is trying to figure out what's still working and what is just so much received wisdom that actually needs to be questioned? Or is radio so mature that there's nothing more to figure out?

What I hear are a lot of people who do the show prep, who know their subject matter, and have a unique style.
A long time ago, I think there was a wider variation in capabilities. Especially in small markets where staffing could be a challenge, there was a surfeit of announcer-school trained people who were in love with their own voices - and who sometimes were just insufferable. The travails of radio, I believe, have squeezed most of those people out. Those remaining have to be good, because they've survived an ongoing and never-ending shakeout. To be fair, the inverse isn't necessarily true: some good people also have been squeezed out. But, at least as far as personalities go, where they are considered a necessary part of the station's programming, those folks seem to be trying to relate to listeners. I've noticed this even in smaller markets. Sure, the attempts to relate don't always succeed, at least in my perception. They may not be aiming to relate to me, though. Those of us who grew up with terrestrial radio will naturally tend to evaluate what we're hearing within the context of the history and limitations of that medium.
 
They may not be aiming to relate to me, though. Those of us who grew up with terrestrial radio will naturally tend to evaluate what we're hearing within the context of the history and limitations of that medium.

I agree. The thing to know is that those who are in the target demo don't know the context. They don't know what was done on the radio in the 60s or 70s, just as most boomers don't know much about radio in the 30s or 40s. I'll sometimes make a comment about a certain song being "derivative" or "based on the changes of..." and others won't know what I'm talking about. People in demo now can only compare it to what's available now. That's how they decide between what suits them and what doesn't. I think that's why a lot of them use multiple devices, including occasionally the traditional radio.

The term "entertaining" is relative. In the country world, George Strait has won the industry's Entertainer of the Year award multiple times. I've seen his show, and he stands on the stage and sings. That's it. No fancy staging, no costume changes, no pyro, no fancy light show or anything else. Garth Brooks has also won that category many times, and HE does ALL the staging tricks. At one time, he even swung around the venue on a rope. Strait would never do that. So some people are entertained by JackFM. Some people are entertained by a talk show host who yells about politicians all day. People's taste in entertaining is as wide as their taste in music. Which is to say that there is no simple guide to what is entertaining. The only thing that matters is that it works.
 
I admit that the stakes there were much higher than they were for radio programming. Still, who in terrestrial radio is trying to figure out what's still working and what is just so much received wisdom that actually needs to be questioned? Or is radio so mature that there's nothing more to figure out?

If you're talking about a rated market where advertising dollars are on the line, every station trying to get a piece of ad buys is trying to figure out what's still working.

"Received wisdom" was a lot more prevalent before research and PPM. Once we were able to learn what the listeners wanted (not just the ones who phoned the request line) and put that up against their actual behavior, a bunch of stuff became clear.

A long time ago, I think there was a wider variation in capabilities. Especially in small markets where staffing could be a challenge, there was a surfeit of announcer-school trained people who were in love with their own voices - and who sometimes were just insufferable.

Absolutely true. When I started in 1971 at KIBS in Bishop, California (population 3,000), we had three full-time jocks and five part-timers who handled evenings and weekends. At KUKI in Ukiah (population 10,000), we had five full-time jocks and three part-timers who did only weekends and fill-ins.

No station in a market that size can afford that kind of investment in salaries (and benefits for the full-timers) today. As a result, the training ground where we learned how to do our jobs has evaporated. I couldn't get the break I got at age 15 today. This was my ladder:

  • Weekends in a market of 3,000
  • Full-time in a market of 3,000
  • Full-time in a market of 30,000
  • Full-time in a market of 3,000 (went back home to help a friend launch an FM)
  • Full-time in a market of 10,000
  • Full-time in a market of 200,000
  • Full-time in a market of 400,000
  • Full-time in a market of 1.6 million
  • Full-time in a market of 2.3 million

Now? Good luck getting live on the air in any market with fewer than 500,000 people---and you still might be the only live jock they have. So much of my learning process came from the people I was fortunate enough to work with at every stop.

The travails of radio, I believe, have squeezed most of those people out. Those remaining have to be good, because they've survived an ongoing and never-ending shakeout. To be fair, the inverse isn't necessarily true: some good people also have been squeezed out. But, at least as far as personalities go, where they are considered a necessary part of the station's programming, those folks seem to be trying to relate to listeners. I've noticed this even in smaller markets. Sure, the attempts to relate don't always succeed, at least in my perception. They may not be aiming to relate to me, though.

Right. Because we've learned, from knowing what the audience says it wants and how it actually behaves, what the audience considers "relatability". And it sounds very different from what we grew up with as "personality".

Those of us who grew up with terrestrial radio will naturally tend to evaluate what we're hearing within the context of the history and limitations of that medium.

What BigA said.

Dr. Don Rose was a wildly entertaining personality who got huge ratings for 10 of his 13 years at KFRC. If you put him on the air today, the audience that matters demographically would have zero context for that kind of radio---and it wouldn't match their concept of relatability.
 
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The other thing to note that's very different today is the amount of local advertising and sponsorships that allowed stations and their jocks to be "live and local" and be out in the community doing remote broadcasts, etc.

Where I grew up and had my first station internship it was a smaller market, but adjacent to a large one and our top 40 station had a bit of clout and was easily #1 in that market. Though a handful of signals there were already automated either full-time or outside of mornings, we still had live jocks 24/7. At least once per month, Jocks were out in the community, broadcasting live from car dealerships, grocery stores, helping to celebrate openings of new businesses, or just driving around to public pools, doing a quick call-in to the station and handing out station swag. People in the community treated them like local celebrities and would come out to meet the folks they heard on the radio each day. That was in the early 90's, so 30 years ago now. Cut to today and that same station has been automated 24/7 for a few decades, it's changed formats and call letters at least twice and last I knew it was running one of the "Jack" or "Bob" formats. Most of the mom and pop businesses that once advertised and where the live broadcasts were done no longer advertise on the radio, or they've been heavily impacted by an influx of big box stores and don't have the budgets they once did. Auto dealerships for the most part no longer have the $$ to spend on local advertising and remote broadcasts, aside from maybe sponsoring weather forecasts or traffic updates. The SWAG they used to have paid for by record reps or via trade with local businesses is for the most part non-existent. Ratings are way down as are revenues. People increasingly turn elsewhere and to other forms of media for music and entertainment. It's just a different time.
 
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This old dog sees radio doing what the trends tell it to do. As I always tell my clients: don't re-invent the wheel, just make the wheel move a bit faster. By that I mean, don't ignore the trend. Just try to do it better.
From the listener side of things, "better" could very well be subjective, based on a host of reasons (market, location, et. al.)

What works in Philly may not work in Phoenix.
 
The other thing to note that's very different today is the amount of local advertising and sponsorships that allowed stations and their jocks to be "live and local" and be out in the community doing remote broadcasts, etc.

Where I grew up and had my first station internship it was a smaller market, but adjacent to a large one and our top 40 station had a bit of clout and was easily #1 in that market. Though a handful of signals there were already automated either full-time or outside of mornings, we still had live jocks 24/7. At least once per month, Jocks were out in the community, broadcasting live from car dealerships, grocery stores, helping to celebrate openings of new businesses, or just driving around to public pools, doing a quick call-in to the station and handing out station swag. People in the community treated them like local celebrities and would come out to meet the folks they heard on the radio each day. That was in the early 90's, so 30 years ago now. Cut to today and that same station has been automated 24/7 for a few decades, it's changed formats and call letters at least twice and last I knew it was running one of the "Jack" or "Bob" formats. Most of the mom and pop businesses that once advertised and where the live broadcasts were done no longer advertise on the radio, or they've been heavily impacted by an influx of big box stores and don't have the budgets they once did. Auto dealerships for the most part no longer have the $$ to spend on local advertising and remote broadcasts, aside from maybe sponsoring weather forecasts or traffic updates. The SWAG they used to have paid for by record reps or via trade with local businesses is for the most part non-existent. Ratings are way down as are revenues. People increasingly turn elsewhere and to other forms of media for music and entertainment. It's just a different time.

Absolutely true.

Case in point: When I was at KUKI in Ukiah (1976-77), we had 40 or 50 local businesses on the air at any given time.

I was away from Ukiah for 36 years until I came home to California.

Ukiah is now double the population it was then. But apart from the car dealers (and there are fewer of those because of consolidation of brands), none of those businesses---not even their next-generation successors---are still there. Walmart ate them sometime in the 80s. Costco has opened there in the last ten years. And then there's Amazon. The local ad base, there and in most smaller towns and cities, has evaporated.
 
All this usual talk of 'when I grew up' or 'when radio was the only thing around', means absolutely zero today.
Radio isn't the only thing around, nor will it be in the future.
Even back in the day when you were growing up, research showed that just as more music listeners wanted yakky jocks to just shut up and play the music, as they found the jocks entertaining. Fast forward to today; and other than popular AM drive shows where not playing music, 90%+ of music listeners below the age of 55 don't want their music interrupted.
As mentioned morning shows with no music intend to be entertaining by topics or banter, not for listeners expecting music. In other words; it's one or the other, not both.
 
All this usual talk of 'when I grew up' or 'when radio was the only thing around', means absolutely zero today.
Radio isn't the only thing around, nor will it be in the future.
Even back in the day when you were growing up, research showed that just as more music listeners wanted yakky jocks to just shut up and play the music, as they found the jocks entertaining. Fast forward to today; and other than popular AM drive shows where not playing music, 90%+ of music listeners below the age of 55 don't want their music interrupted.
As mentioned morning shows with no music intend to be entertaining by topics or banter, not for listeners expecting music. In other words; it's one or the other, not both.
My thirty-something daughters want only music. They have no love for syndicated morning shows. My younger daughter doesn’t listen to terrestrial radio at all. The other one listens primarily to a local college’s classical music and jazz station.
 
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