Episode 30: Exploring Radio’s Future with Kipper McGee
In this episode of Brandstorm, we welcome Kipper McGee, author of the book Brandwidth: How Big Broadcasting is Missing the Mediamorphosis. Kipper discusses how terrestrial radio is grappling with its relevancy, and what stations need to embrace for the future.
A radio fan from the start, Kipper grew up listening to stations like Chicago’s 890 WLS AM, as well as Milwaukee’s 920 WOKY AM and 620 WTMJ AM. In the early 1980’s, Kipper and a talented staff that included Brandstorm co-host Dan Trzinski helped put Milwaukee’s 94.5 WKTI FM on the map. They took an automated music station with low ratings and no personalities and built it into the #1 station in the market during pop music’s renaissance. Back then, it was unheard of to have a discussion-fueled morning show with little-to-no music, but this revolutionary idea worked. The morning team of Reitman & Mueller was a ratings sensation at WKTI for over 25 years, and the morning talk show format is still being used on stations all over the country.
Kipper started as on-air talent, but has worked in virtually every radio position available in different cities across the United States, including Des Moines, Orlando, St. Louis and New Orleans. Eventually, Kipper joined WLS and ran that station in the mid-to-late 2000’s.
Currently, Kipper is a digital marketing consultant, whose clients include Internet start-ups, broadcast networks and Fortune 500 companies such as Delta Airlines and Nokia. He is a frequent speaker, panelist and presenter at national broadcasting conventions, and is chief strategist at Kipper McGee, LLC.
Brandwidth: How Big Broadcasting is Missing the Mediamorphosis
Kipper’s book recently had a second press run, as his message remains as applicable today as it was when the book was published in 2015. He feels that broadcast media, specifically radio, is not evolving enough to stay relevant in today’s digital age. He goes as far to say in his book that if the broadcast industry dies, it will be ruled a suicide. Whether it’s due to fear of change, too much downsizing, inertia or comfort in the status quo, many in the radio industry have avoided using social media, podcasting, video and other potential extensions of their brand to promote and interact with audiences.
With podcasting specifically, Kipper says the radio mentality thus far has been to treat this marketing tool as a glorified DVR, relying on rerunning previously-aired content. He believes that the smart way to go with a radio station’s podcasting arm is to create unique and preferably shorter content. Kipper also recommends that stations create a second stream online, where listeners can get the same music that is aired on terrestrial radio, with less interruptions.
The Current State of Radio
While recent studies show that 95% of people still listen to the radio at least once a week, it’s clear that those same listeners are not spending the same amount of time with it as they once did. About 35% of homes no longer have a radio, and Kipper believes more stations should be taking advantage of the uptick in homes that have invested in home-listening devices like the Amazon Echo, Google Home or Apple’s HomePod. It may disrupt an advertiser’s standard way of thinking, but it’s important to realize the potential difference between 30,000 people who simply hear your ad and the 6,000 legitimate prospects you can create with this new approach that targets individual listening habits. Kipper explains that radio is one of the few mediums left that still airs 60-second, linear, one-dimensional audio ad messages. Television now offers 30-, 15-, 10-, and even 5-second ads. Why couldn’t radio explore ads that simply refer listeners to an icon on their touchscreen? While the technology does not yet exist for such segmented advertising on in-home devices, it will soon. In the meantime, advertisers can still create a database or track listeners if they use an app or have an account with a radio station that requires a log-in or email address.
Why Radio Hasn’t Mastered Social Media
To Kipper, the fact that the radio industry has yet to fully embrace social media is mainly due to budgets and the bandwidth of each station’s shrinking staff. These days, each person on the team usually does multiple jobs, including on-air talent. When an intern must juggle social media posts for an entire radio group, or a D.J. is expected to record his or her own show and write multiple blogs, in addition to creating social media posts before clocking out for the day, it’s no wonder that true interactivity through social media isn’t being explored.
Why Facts Have Become Less Important
The facts of who, what, when, where, why and how have become less important to consumers than how quickly we get that information. In the past, we would go to the morning or evening paper for facts, but today, we are barraged with facts 24/7 via our mobile phones and television’s news cycle. The question is no longer “what has happened,” but more so, “what is happening now, what’s in it for me and what’s next?” Using Kipper’s example, the results of an election do not matter to people as much as how the winner’s platform will affect their day-to-day lives. Kipper says that broadcast news needs to be forward-thinking, and not prone to regurgitating news that has already been broadcast several times during the day or night.
How Radio Advertising Needs to Change
As programming becomes more segmented, in response to streaming services like Spotify or satellite radio, there will soon be no need for people to hear the same advertisements. More and more, ads will be targeted to listeners based on individual interests and habits, much like how Amazon and Google can recommend different products or websites to different users, based on their individual search histories.
Survival Tips for Radio Stations
Radio stations need to think bigger, better and brighter, according to Kipper. They need to take time to step back and be innovative. Terrestial radio needs to be technologically in sync with the current culture. Apps like iHeartRadio are great for people who like to listen to music, but they are too generalized and could stand to be more local. Ad agencies, like Platypus, need to take a leadership role in helping radio stations embrace new media to not only bring added value to radio clients, but also to create new revenue streams.