Urban Radio: The Original Interactive Medium

Talk Radio Drives Water-Cooler, Online Conversations

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Carol Watson Carol Watson
The media-industry conference season kicked off last week in New York as cable, radio and digital media fought for attention, particularly in the multicultural space. One stop was the Power of Urban Radio Symposium. Among other topics covered was the value of the Portable People Meter and its value in presenting urban radio as the best way to reach African Americans.

While that is quite true I was wondering if there was something missing from the dialogue. I left the Urban Radio summit and went to a Blacks in Digital informal monthly gathering in New York City. The digital medium is everyone's favorite, the medium marketers love and invest in enthusiastically. Blacks in the digital space are definitely rare and have different topics on their minds than those discussed at the Urban Radio event to be sure. Why do blacks in digital get together? If nothing else, to show that they are not alone in the digital space and to provide much needed community and support. What struck me the most was how radio and digital can work in concert to build momentum around important issues for African Americans. Together, they can also be used as a powerful tool for marketers.

These days, digital spending consistently overshadows any talk about the value of the radio medium -- particularly urban radio. As it is, marketers have traditionally undervalued the urban radio medium's ability to build an interactive consumer relationship that offers viral marketing power to move brands ahead.

That power can directly connect in a variety of ways with consumers to push them to fully access the power of digital marketing, viral marketing, e-mail marketing, thus galvanizing a response from the African American community.

Andrea Brown, director-strategic media planning at Coca-Cola Co., said it best. "Radio is the original 'interactive' medium, from call-in listeners, to remotes and community connections. Now is the time for the radio medium to apply consumer trends and cutting edge technology to take the opportunity to the next level."

What marketers don't seem to get is the power of urban radio is quite different from other radio formats due to the relationship that listeners have with the medium. The power has everything to do with black culture and how African Americans interact with the movies, church and music that move us. The power of urban radio has less to do with simply targeting African American consumers alone and tapping multicultural budgets. The power lies in simply building business and moving products off the shelves.

Listeners tune into the nationally syndicated programs of Steve Harvey or Tom Joyner in the morning and The Wendy Williams Experience in the afternoon, not only for the entertainment but also for the commentary, debate and controversy around issues important to African American culture. These are the topics that become water-cooler conversation throughout the day. And the water-cooler conversation these days occurs in a vast online community via e-mail chains, blogs and online discussion boards. There, the hot topics from the radio shows draw attention all day and into the evening.

Fellow Tent blogger Karl Carter provided the Jena 6 story as an example of the power of the integration of radio and the Internet. This week's topic is the debate about Glamour magazine calling natural hair styles inappropriate for the office -- and the resulting discussions of boycott and outrage in the tons of e-mails that fill my inbox. The hot topics start in urban radio and consumers are galvanized to build steam and respond online.

How do you take advantage of the power of the medium? If you want to get consumers to respond and move them to action quickly, profoundly and nationally, nothing does it better than the use of urban radio. To move 13% of the population and 13% of a brand's sales that you cannot afford to lose, integrate the original interactive medium with the new interactive medium.
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