On the surface, it’s counterintuitive: decrease your station’s income in order to increase it? Look a little deeper, and it makes perfect sense.
It was probably 25 years ago. A group of us were taking a quick tour through a commercial Christian station. I had been looking forward to learning about their mission and as a young broadcaster was taken back by mission statement language that went something like this:
“Our mission is to serve our business advertisers by providing them an audience of listeners to help them sell their products and services.”
The concept took a minute to absorb. I had always worked in non-profit radio where our focus was on serving our listeners directly, but it made sense, it was their business model.
What’s your business model? How does your mission statement direct you?
When coming to WGTS 91.9 a year ago, I remembered that station visit years earlier. It didn’t take long to decide that in the Nation’s Capital, market #7, we would serve our listeners first–putting them above other considerations. We dove into what this would mean, how it would change our on-air content. We studied the demographics of our listening area: audience growth potential, income level of the counties we served and more.
Over a 6-month period we removed for-profit businesses from the on-air product, offering them the opportunity to put their business on our website as a supporter of WGTS 91.9. We would do this when they make a $100 per-month recurring donation.
We also cut the spot opportunities for non-profit entities to 2 per hour and made 30 seconds the standard length. We increased the rate significantly as well, which thinned the number of sponsors and allowed the content of those that remained to really stand out.
Most importantly of all–we run everything that goes on the air through a filter: “Is this in the best interest of our listeners? Would they want to hear about this?”
Of course, there are exceptions, but they are rare, and all exceptions must go up the ladder for approval.
By the end of 2013, our broadcast was significantly cleaner of spot interruptions, which meant more music and more talent connection opportunities.
We had removed all of the for-profit business announcements (traffic sponsors continued until the contract with the provider ended at which time those ceased as well), changed the clocks, allowing only one spot per break; 2 breaks per hour, changed entirely how we wrote and styled the non-profit entity spots that continued so they would be listener-focused and rich with listener-valued content (mostly concerts, churches, Christian schools and special events), evaluated our own “station business,” minimizing it through spots; promoting more through social media, website and talent talk.
The direction we took was affirmed by our listeners in their actual giving when in May of 2014 our Spring Fundraiser ended 39% higher than a year earlier and our Fall Fundraiser in mid-September saw similar impressive results.
Intentionally running every programming and promotion decision through the listener-focus filter has helped us make better decisions—including–killing our business underwriting program.
I encourage all station leaders to get your team together and ask tough questions. Perhaps a change would benefit your listeners–and your station. Perhaps you’ll land on something totally different than we did, but I challenge you–make the tough decisions; it’s why you are entrusted with a leadership position. Pursue strategic, intentional, transformational change.
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