How to Let People See an Audio Brand

Radio Stations Need to Get out of the Basement and Leave the Towers

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Doug Zanger Doug Zanger
The NBC affiliate here, Northwest Newschannel 8, recently announced that it will be a five-year tenant in Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland. For those of you who haven't visited yet, Pioneer Courthouse Square is our version (to a degree) of Union Square in New York. There is a constant flow of people and it is lovingly called "Portland's Living Room." In an obvious homage to NBC's Today show, KGW will broadcast its morning and noon news product from the space that was vacated by Powell's Travel Bookstore in the square three years ago. It will likely be an instant hit and have a huge impact for KGW.

Radio stations should take a cue. The vast majority of radio broadcast studios are either perched high in towers or buried in the bowels of nondescript buildings. In broadcasters' defense, there are some notable exceptions (Entercom in Portland and Rochester and KBHR in Northern Exposure), and, as a general rule, most studios are really impressive and beautiful despite their challenged accessibility.

Recently, Emmis launched 101.9 RXP (The New York Rock Experience), a rock station with storefront studios in the West Village. So far, the reviews have been favorable. East Village Radio in New York City, an online station with a storefront at 21 First Avenue, has established a solid following. In Cardiff, Wales, Red Dragon Radio has had its studios in a mall for a long time and is just part of the radio culture there.

I understand that there are some fundamental reasons why studios are where they are (safety, cost). I also understand that change is very expensive. But consider some of the practical things that a storefront studio can offer:
  1. Constant traffic. According to the East Village Radio website, in peak travel times, almost 1,800 people pass the sound booth per hour. Assuming that peak travel times are Monday to Friday 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., that's over 10,000 people a day, 50,000 a week and 200,000 per month. Add the off-peak traffic of around 1,000 an hour and one can safely assume another 200,000 people per month pass by the booth for a total of close to 5 million impressions a year. This station is in New York, so there are some economies of scale to consider, but you get the idea.

  2. Constant visibility. It's always there and becomes ubiquitous. Ask people in Cardiff about Red Dragon and they usually respond with, "Oh yeah. The radio station in the mall."

  3. Touch. Listeners get the chance to engage with the station in a unique way. This alone can establish or re-establish a latent love affair with the station and the populist ideal of the medium.
Short of an extremely extensive and expensive overhaul, consider some opportunities to bringing it back to the streets:
  • Pop-up stations. Grab a lease of an open space in a high-traffic area in your market. Rotate stations in the space throughout the year. Add a retail component with a brand/advertiser to offset the cost and make it combo space.

  • Road show. Every week, find a spot to broadcast. Remote broadcasts can be a pain and have some logistical challenges, but they are always good for getting out there to be with the people. Some stations do this already, but it can be a good discipline to develop.

  • Hit the mall. If your company is considering a move, why not post up in the place everyone goes to? Not only will you get a constant flow of traffic and interest, but you will be that much closer to the Orange Julius.
People like to listen, but give them a chance to touch and see it, and you'll have loyalty for life.
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