Part two in a series: “How to prepare your station to appeal to a new generation.”
I don’t know how to tell you, but your radio station needs new décor.
Not that mystery stain couch in the lobby—but yeah, gross. Deal with that.
It’s your imaging.
Look, I know radio went a little overboard on the short and sweet when PPM hit. And spicing things up with production elements sounded good a decade ago between Calvin Harris and LMFAO. Between cutbacks and COVID lockdowns, we’re relying on those imaging elements more than ever to reenforce our brand identity and establish the station’s vibe.
But music is changing. Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo are bringing a more intimate sound. They call it Bedroom Pop minimalism. It’s a style geared more towards headphone listening than blasting on dance floors. It speaks with listeners one on one, not en masse.
This trend is exactly what you’d expect as the kids that were The Minecraft Generation a few years ago become the tastemakers of tomorrow’s pop music.
But sadly, the sound of what’s between the hits isn’t keeping up with the hits.
It’s not the first-time radio needed a fashion makeover:
- The fast-based energy of 1960s Top 40 giving way to the laid-back stoner sound of 70s AOR
- Then, “Flame-throwing” high energy CHR returned on FM in the early 80s on stations like Hot Hits 98 WCAU-FM and Z-100.
- In the 90s, 80s style CHR sounded cheesy and fake, replaced by the “get real” grit of Alternative stations and early Hip Hop outlets became in vogue.
But isn’t imaging just there to spout the slogan? Hardly.
Great radio stations are restaurants with music instead of meals. Playing songs your listeners love and expect from your station is the bare minimum, just as tasty food is only the beginning in the restaurant business. How you surround those songs creates the experience that makes listeners feel at home.
The same food in your office break room won’t taste as good.
Here are three things you need to change to redecorate your CHR’s imaging:
1) Replace over-produced sweepers with simpler sounding ones. The most compelling new artists among younger listeners are streamlining the instrumentation, with fewer sounds competing with the vocals for listeners’ attention. Think the solo piano on Driver’s License. Think the singular base line and finger snaps of Bad Guy. These songs simply don’t mesh with laser-zap laden sweepers. Encourage your imaging producer to find simple musical accompaniment that stands out without adornment to add impact to your positioning statements.
2) Convey your brand in an authentic voice. Does your station imaging voice sound distant, robotic, or get processed through lots of sound effects filters? That style matched the music in the Autotune era. Nowadays, music vocals are moving away from those vocal effects that distort the voice, Instead, they’re using effects that bring the voice closer. Your station voice should talk like a normal person would talk with a friend and you should present their voice in a way that maintains that close connection.
3) Write positioning statements with language listeners actually use: Convey what makes your radio station unique by talking in a way your listener actually talks. Speak to her directly. Be authentic. Be a little self-deprecating when she’s not expecting it. Be real. Ultimately, your voiceover talent shouldn’t simply slam a slogan, it should make your listener feel like you’re the club where she belongs. As radio relies even more heavily on sweepers to handle what live personalities once did, rethinking our positioning language is more important than ever.
To your ears, these changes will sound weird. No one else is doing imaging this way.
But that fact is exactly why you need to implement these changes. To your listeners, these changes will make your station stand out from the sound of every other station in town. Your changes will also re-position your competitors as stale and out of touch. Most importantly, these changes will prepare your station to resonate with the changing mindset of the generation soon taking over from Millennials.
Do you have specific ideas on how to makeover CHR radio imagining? Share your creativity in the comments below!
Please don’t share the story of that stain on the station sofa, however.
Seriously, just no.