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Tapping Into The History of Your Radio Station

When we were kids, we all went to school, and were educated on the history of our country. We didn’t seek out information on the Boston Tea Party, Columbus discovering America, or the Civil War, it was taught to us. There were no fact-check websites back then. Instead, we put our faith in teachers and textbooks, and formed our beliefs from what we read and discussed.

This was important because before we were able to develop as individuals and contribute to shaping a brighter future for our country, we first had to understand how we reached our current destination. By doing so, we were able to right a few wrongs, and celebrate many of the great moments and events of our nation’s past, and develop a respect, admiration, and love for our country’s history.

Today, we acknowledge many different anniversaries during each calendar month. Whether it’s New Year’s Day, Veterans Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Independence Day, we recognize those days, and what they represent, and it helps us in connecting the past to the present.

As great as our nation is at remembering its history, the same unfortunately can’t be said of radio brands. That’s especially true for sports radio stations. Many are so focused on the here and now that they forget where the brand has been, why it’s important, and who played a role in its development.

I was lucky enough to attend a 40-year anniversary in July for one of my former stations WPDH in Poughkeepsie, NY. When I was invited to the event, I was immediately impressed that the radio station found it important enough to recognize its past. I was only a very small part of that rock station’s history, but it didn’t matter if a person worked for the brand for one year or thirty. They were remembered for playing a part in helping the brand reach its current status.

By recognizing those who paved the way for the current staff, it brought all generations together. When listeners see that or hear that, it makes a brand appear larger than life, and makes people feel even more proud to support it. Everyone in attendance that night was excited to be there, and was proud to have played a part in the history of WPDH. By creating an opportunity to reconnect to their past, the current members will understand, appreciate, and respect where the brand has been, and pay it forward to those who follow them in the future.

When you look at the world of sports, one of the areas that makes it special, is that we remember different eras, players, teams, moments, and statistical performances. Without a historical perspective, sports would be less fun. Some of us have an incredible memory bank and can recall every moment that occurred over the years, but whether you remember them or not, each team makes it a point to celebrate their history.

The next time you attend a game, take a look around. You’ll see famous highlights replayed on the the stadium scoreboard. Programs will contain stories and information about former individuals, teams or moments. Walk through the concourse, team store, or some of the unique locations inside each stadium, and you’ll find historic photos and memorabilia on display. Depending on the day, former players, coaches or executives may be in attendance and featured in a pre-game ceremony, and promotional products acknowledging a past accomplishment may be distributed to those in attendance.

Although each team is focused on winning its next game, organizations understand that showcasing their history is important. It makes fans and players feel more attached to the product. It’s why many organizations hire their former players as analysts on television or radio broadcasts.

Just this past weekend, the New York Yankees conducted pre-game ceremonies to honor Alex Rodriguez on Friday night, the 1996 World Series team on Saturday, and Mariano Rivera on Sunday. Every current Yankee and member of the visiting Tampa Bay Rays saw it, as did every Yankee fan young or old. The players who were honored were made to feel important, and that gives them a sense of purpose that the contributions and sacrifices they made for the organization during their careers did not go unnoticed. When an organization treats its present and past with that type of respect, others want to support it or become a part of it.

One media brand recently decided to make a commitment to recognizing its history, and although it’s long overdue, I’m glad they’ve made the adjustment. That brand is MTV.

I grew up with MTV, and used to watch the programming often as a tennager. They’d play music videos all day, and when original programs were created they were cool. Whether it was Remote Control, Headbangers Ball, Yo MTV Raps, TRL, Beavis and Butthead or The Real World, the shows were fun, but MTV understood that they were a music content source first.

Over the past two decades, MTV changed their philosophy. They focused more on adding reality based programming, and disconnected from what put them on the map. I’m sure they had their business reasons for doing so, but I never think it’s smart to ignore the identity of your brand.

MTV became meaningful because it stood for “Music Television”. Those three letters were iconic. Instead of embracing their identity, and adding to it, they tried to create a new brand and distance themselves from what once made them important, and unique. Imagine if ESPN decided tomorrow to tell you that their four letters stood for movies, food and fun, not the world of sports. That’s what MTV did.

When I heard that MTV was launching the Classic channel in late-July I was intrigued. I wondered if they’d program it based on what they once represented, or if it would showcase content from the 90’s and 00’s. Much to my surprise, they found a way to do both, while making the earlier part of their history a key focus.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve turned on the channel to see how it’s being presented. During most days they’ll provide a large number of daytime hours to feature music videos, and at night they’ll offer a movie, and a few original MTV shows such as Punk’d, Jackass, Beavis and Butthead, Behind The Music, Unplugged, etc.

This is smart. The channel is using music to fill its daytime programming hours when less viewing is done, and turning the evenings over to programs which are more likely to draw you in for a longer period of time. That formula helped them enjoy a lot of success twenty years ago. They’re also using MTV1 and MTV2 to cross-promote the channel, which creates an impression that they are firmly behind promoting their past, an issue that has haunted them for years.

What MTV learned, is that you can create new layers of your programming, and introduce new talent and concepts, but you shouldn’t run from who you are, especially when your audience felt connected to it. It’d be like a Hall of Fame in sports deciding not to recognize the accomplishments of athletes anymore. At some point, nobody is going to care to visit your exhibit.

Music is universal, and judging from the way radio, YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora have blossomed over the past decade, there’s no shortage of interest in it. Rather than fighting who you are, embrace it, promote it, and add to it, or in this case, develop a secondary outlet where people can get what they want from your brand, even if you have a different agenda on your main platform. MTV finally made that adjustment, and it will serve them well in reaching all demographics, not just younger fans.

So now let’s spin this forward to how it applies to a sports radio station. Do you know the date of when your radio station launched? Is your brand’s history on display throughout the halls of your operation? Do you celebrate your anniversary with your audience at a public event? Is it developed into a specialty broadcast? Do you prefer promoting it through a series or promotional promos and ten second liners? Are they sponsorable?

How else can you recreate magic from the past? Do you bring back former personalities and have them guest host or participate for a segment or two on those special days? Are former anchors involved in handling one day’s worth of updates? Do you create original programs to keep former personalities connected to the brand? Are they incorporated into the imaging or online branding?

The other aspect of this that we lose sight of is that thousands of hours of programming have occurred on many of our sports radio stations yet how often does the audience get to hear it? These belong to the radio station and when presented properly can have great value. Most of time brands air something once or twice, post it afterwards on their website, but then it’s forgotten. Some of these audio moments can not only generate additional listening in the future, but they can be sponsorable too.

Let’s say for example you were running a historic brand like WFAN, KNBR, WEEI or ESPN Radio. Do you have your archives updated to retain two decades worth of audio? Some may, but most don’t. One reason why ESPN television kicks ass anytime a major historical moment happens, is because they have the footage saved, and know exactly where to go to pull it when that situation develops. Their preparation before the moment happens is a large part of why they succeed.

On the day of your 20-year anniversary are you showcasing what the radio station sounded like on the day you first launched? Do you replay memorable moments that have taken place on your airwaves over the course of time? Do you re-air classic play by play broadcasts or create original programs around those games to allow the audience to reconnect to some of the great moments and play by play calls that took place on your airwaves? How else are you tapping into your most memorable audio to remind your listeners of why your brand is a big part of their lives?

If you’re of the mindset that it doesn’t belong on the air (which I disagree with) then how are you utilizing your stream, audio archives or website and social media pages to attract the audience to these special moments? Do you have some of your former talent contribute a blog on the day of the anniversary and promote it on-air and through social media? Do they take over your Twitter account and conduct a one-hour chat? Do they use Facebook Live and connect that way with the audience? Are they recording a special podcast?

Are you creating a customized t-shirt, poster, calendar, or video and selling it at your events and on your website, with the proceeds benefiting a charitable organization that the radio station works with? Or maybe you’re creating a CD of some of the classic moments from your brand’s history and making those available for purchase.

The bottom line is, everything that happens today on your airwaves becomes a part of your brand’s history. How you connect to your past is a reflection of your own creativity and desire, but doing it shouldn’t be in question. Audience’s spend years listening to your talent and personalities. When you take them down memory lane, and remind them of what made your radio station special, while showing them how you recognize the stars and special moments of yesterday, it helps you develop deeper loyalty. When that type of connection is formed, your competition is going to have a very difficult time breaking it.

You don’t have to be a brand with thirty years of history, to acknowledge your prior contributions. Even expansion teams in pro sports acknowledge their recent past. But where your brand stands today is the result of many special on-air moments created by many special people. Remember them, embrace them, promote them, even monetize them, and you’ll not only feel closer to the brand you represent, but so too will your listeners, advertisers, and staff members.


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