Good radio people have always had a sixth sense about what people were going to be doing and what people were going to be talking about. Radio has always found a way to exploit and co-opt pop culture and become part of social fads and trends.
Unfortunately, radio seems to have lost its touch, its ability to tap into what’s happening.
Avatar is the highest grossing movie of all time. Nominated for nine Oscars, and winning three, it has taken in more than $700 Million dollars.
How well did radio tap into the Avatar phenomenon? Were there major radio events using Avatar as a central theme? How many radio stations turned Avatar from a national phenomenon into a local one?
Go to YouTube and watch a video of L.A.R.P., Live Avatar Role Playing. More than one million people have watched it. Where was radio?
If Avatar had come out a decade or two ago, radio’s response might have been very different. A few attentive stations would have quickly sensed the movie’s momentum and created their own LARP. Ultimately stations all across the country would have had major events having people running through forests dressed up like a Na’vi or Omaticaya.
People would have talked about Avatar as a local radio station event, not just a popular movie.
The Twilight Saga has become a huge book and movie franchise. Twilight sold 10 million DVDs in 2009, more than any other movie. New Moon generated $26 million with its midnight debut (a record), made $73 million its first weekend (a record), and $142 million its first weekend, third biggest ever.
Too many radio stations pretend to be plugged into pop culture, but aren’t. They stream, they tweet, have a web site, are on Facebook, but there is a hollowness to the efforts.
Just having a web site isn’t enough. Having a Facebook account isn’t enough. The fact that you tweet isn’t special or significant. It is what radio does with these social networks that matters. Too often what radio does with social networking is follow pop culture, not shape it.
The irony is that radio today should be better equipped to impact trends instead of just watching them from the sidelines. Larger station groups were suppose to give radio stations the resources that smaller groups couldn’t afford. It hasn’t worked out that way.
Larger groups were suppose to better facilitate the pooling of creative ideas. Does anyone think radio is more creative today than before consolidation?
Why hasn’t radio exploited the potential of flash mobbing?
Successful radio stations have always had the ability to turn something in the national consciousness into something local. At least they used to.
In the mid to late 1990s, Beanie Babies were a national phenomenon. Everybody wanted them, but nobody could find the highly sought after ones. A station that could get its hands on a Peanut the elephant, Nana, Quackers, or Chilly had something people would fight for. The buzz was priceless.
What radio station is looking for the next Beanie Baby?
Lady Gaga has sold more than 8 million CDs (those are the round shiny things that people used to listen to music on) and 20 million digital singles. She has nearly 3 million Twitter followers and over 5 million Facebook fans.
Where are the Lady Gaga promotions? Where are the look alike contests? Is radio doing anything to tap into the fascination with Lady Gaga other than play her songs?
Radio can once again become a local market’s fashion arbiter. We have a powerful set of tools to do it. Web sites tell us what people are Googling, blogging, and tweeting. Web sites report the latest Hollywood gossip, the latest gadgets, the latest fashion, and monitor the whereabouts of a-list people. Listeners are awash in information and Web dispensed minutia.
Radio could once again serve as the listener’s aggregator of all things culturally hip, if it tried.
Whatever people are talking about, we need to be the local contact point. Our goal isn’t to out-gossip TMZ, out-exclusive E!, or twitter before Ryan Seacrest. Our goal should be to find a local angle.
Even in an Internet connected world, local connections matter most. Make something happen locally.
This first appeared in FMQB in a longer form.