Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A few tips from the Beeb

While I'm waiting for the WJMA website to come back online, I've been thinking about features they could add to improve the integration of the site into their core business. As Mark Ramsey recently wrote:
The challenge for Radio in general and your station in particular is to create a bona fide digital strategy that allows us to realize the potential value of the zillions of ears (and eyes and clicks) that radio can so effectively move on a moment's notice.
A digital strategy is not a collection of new media toys affixed to your web page with the digital equivalent of masking tape.
So how do you do that? I hold up the BBC as an example. I've listened to a lot of BBC radio thanks to the Internet, and their usage of it just continues to grow their reach. Here are some specific BBC tricks any station can use.

1) Text messaging -- many of the BBC Radio One programs use text messaging as the primary avenue for listeners to talk to the hosts. Questions are thrown out by the presenters (announcers/DJs on this side of the Atlantic), and the audience texts in their responses. The DJs provide a running commentary on how many messages they're receiving, and from where. They also call out the most interesting ones and read them on air.

It's exciting, interesting, and engaging. It is NOT the same as having listeners call the station. When someone calls, someone has to answer the phone -- and that person can't really be doing anything else (like talking on the air). Texting can be done with a minimal staff -- you just need a computer monitor in the control room to display the texts as they come in.

And it's instant gratification for the listener. They can fire off a comment immediately, instead hanging on the phone listening to a busy signal. And note to the radio biz: texting skews young.

2) Repurposing air content for podcasts (quick and dirty) -- BBC's Radio 4 has a daily podcast based on the 8-10 minute interviews they do in the morning. It's timely content, but there's not a lot of time spent in post-production, so the podcast can post as soon as possible. Basically, they have a pre-recorded opening and closer, and they just drop the segment -- warts and all -- into the middle.

This is podcasting anyone can do. WJMA's owners talk about the quality of their local news reporting (really). OK, so make the 8:00 newscast a daily podcast. It's fresh content, and it's a way to get the word out about this feature. Plus, there's an opportunity for ad sales.

Sell the middle of the newscast in two parts: the on-air and the podcast. For a little more money, the ad stays in the podcast, which means the advertiser's message is going out to a potentially bigger audience. The opener and closer of the podcast could also be sponsored (as long as it wasn't too intrusive).

3) Repurposing air content for podcasts (extended production) -- I don't have time to listen to the Chris Moyle's 3-1/2 hour morning program everyday on Radio One. But I do have time to listen to the half-hour "Best of Moyles" podcast once a week. And I'm now a fan of the Moyles program.

Now part of the program is just like the concept outlined above. The best bits of the morning program are pulled out and run basically intact. But the difference is that the Moyles team goes into the studio on Thursday after their show and record new openers, closers and a middle section for the podcast. So even if you've listened all week, there's some original content to sweeten the pot. And because it's not broadcast, the humor can be a little more raunchy than it could on-air.

This obviously requires more work, as you need a producer to decide what bits are going to be used, and the morning team has to come up with some additional material for the podcast. But if a station really thinks their morning team is that good, then this is a great way to get the word out. And again, there's no reason ads can't be sold for the podcast.

And it doesn't have to be a big production. Podcasts can be as long or as short as you like. So if you just want to do a three-minute "Joke of the Week" (as heard on the Morning Zoo) podcast, then do it.

4) Blog about it -- The Chris Moyles Show also has a blog that's worth checking out. The morning team all share writing duties, and goofy pictures and videos of the pranks pulled in the studio get posted to the blog. For smaller stations, a single blog featuring all the air personalities might be appropriate.

One more thing -- when something visual happens during the show, Chris Moyles usually says "we'll have pictures of it on the blog (or website)." So people who listen to the radio have a reason to go online. Now if the BBC was a commercial enterprise (like WJMA), they could sell ads on that destination site.

It's not rocket science. The BBC understands that it's in the content business. Some of it goes over the air, some of it goes over the Interwebtubes. I wonder how many stations understand that over here?

- Ralph

Day 7 of the WJMA Web Watch.


  1. I whole-heartedly agree with all of your ideas, and am stunned that more stations aren't experimenting. If they'd like help getting off the ground, my company Wordcast Productions is always ready to take on new business! :)

  2. Sean:

    Let's hope the folks at WJMA are reading this blog -- I think they need your help!

    BTW - does Wordcast Productions have a website? I'd like to check it out.

    - Ralph