Friday, June 20, 2008

WJMA and the RSS Morning Shows

While we continue our vigil of WJMA's "under construction" website, I'd like to offer up to the folks laboring away at Piedmont Communications another idea (and to any other broadcaster reading this).

Inside Music Media's post today has an incredibly brilliant idea for radio stations. I encourage you to go to Jerry Del Colliano's blog to get all the details, but the essence is simply this:

Create several different morning shows. These programs would not be aired, but would be available through RSS feeds -- in other words, podcasts. These podcasts would be designed for the morning commute, and only run about 45 minutes.

Here's the brilliant part: Each morning program would serve a different niche market.

So why not have a morning show just for 20-somethings? Or one for 34-50 females? Or one for political conservatives? Or -- well, you get the idea.

And as Del Colliano points out, music isn't a problem. Sure, the major labels are being manger dogs (Aesop reference), but there's plenty of independent artists who are glad to let podcasters use their music -- and often for free. And younger audiences like indy music.

Let's go from the general to the specific. In the WJMA listening area, most people have a fairly long commute, to either Fredericksburg or Charlottesville. A 30-45 minute program would be great (case in point: when I drive to Charlottesville, I listen to the "Best of Chris Moyles" podcast -- the BBC Radio 1 morning show).

WJMA's a country station, but there's plenty of underserved demographics they could reach. Many listeners lodged protests when the station killed their bluegrass programming. Why not have a bluegrass morning show, hosted by a local musician?

As Del Colliano says, ads can be placed with each of these programs, and the station can deliver to the client a highly focused demographic. That opens up the pool of potential advertisers from general interest businesses such as car dealerships and fast food chains to beauty parlors, bike shops, children's clothing stores and more.

And because the progam is shorter with lower overhead (no music fees), the ad rates can be lower, and that means more of these specialized businesses can afford to run ads. The full range of morning shows could also be posted on the station's website (giving people a reason to go there -- it's the whole valuable content idea), and ads could be placed around those pages as well.

It can also answer the demand for localism. Why not have a morning show that just talks about Orange County? It's not of interest to everyone int he WJMA listening area, but they're not going to hear it anyway -- only the people who get the RSS feed will. And who's going to sign up for that feed? Why the people who are interested in Orange County, of course (note to sales staff: the Orange Review needs to have ads on this podcast).

Don't have enough staff to produce all this content? Well, Del Colliano suggests not using current air staff, anyway. Draw the host from the demographic so they're in sync with the audience and what the audience wants.

Locally, a good place to start for WJMA might be a third-party producer such as Wordcast Productions. For other markets, Station managers should look around and see if there are personalities with stature in the populations they're trying to reach. And don't worry so much about the cost.

WTJU manages to stay on the air year-round with an all-volunteer air staff. For this kind of morning show podcast, maybe WJMA could start with volunteers to do a run of pilot shows.

If they work, then offer the hosts part-time employment, and a share of the ad revenue. If the talent starts generating serious revenue, then they get more money -- and the hosts have a solid reason to make their morning show podcast as successful as possible.

And remember -- although we're talking about local morning show podcasts, these are going to be on the web. Which means anyone anywhere can start listening. So there's a potential of such a morning show gaining a national or even an international audience. And who wouldn't want to try for that kind of success?

- Ralph

Day 9 of the WJMA Web Watch.

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