Friday, July 10, 2015

"Back When Radio Was Good" - A Week with Beats 1

Initial reviews of Beats 1 have ranged from “brilliant” to “meh,” but many who’ve written about it – pro Beats 1 or not – have taken the opportunity to snipe at radio: “Beats 1 sounds like radio used to sound when it was good.” Or, "will Beats 1 make radio cool again?”

There are a lot of places to start a discussion about Beats 1. But setting music, (lack of) commercials, and expectations aside for the moment, Beats 1 does have an excitement about it that’s driven in large part by the talent.

You don’t have to listen long to realize the Beats 1 talent have significant mic presence. The “song-sweeper-song-talent” sequence has been replaced by stretches of “song-talent-song-talent.”  

And for the most part, the talent (especially the three "anchors") - pull it off.

It seems that the rule of thumb might be, “you can always talk about the music,” except that there were instances of excellent picture painting too. 

London-based Julie Adanuga delivered an interesting tease/pay-off on Beats 1’s first day with the tease (“Grab your ID - you’ll need it in a bit”) and then a song later began a club music set by delivering the radio version of a Vine clip as she told us of our arrival at “the club,” that we were all on the guest list, and told first-time club-goers, “this is what it feels like” to be in the club.

It could have been terribly hokey; instead it was visual and fun - and quick.

If you buy into the “throwback criticism,” Cousin Brucie describing the elevator ride to the top of the CBS building and the 113th floor as he opened the “Love Hour Half Hour” on CBS-FM might come to mind.

Similarly when Beats 1 NY talent Ebro Darden did his gritty “we’re on the streets” segment and “took us through the Boroughs,” New Yorkers might have channeled the 60s spirit of WWRL-AM.

Also apparent was the talent demonstrating their interest, knowledge and passion for the music.  

Talent as advocate-cheerleader-champion of their station's music and artists is a frequent coaching point today.

Check out Kid Leo “back when radio was good” as a critic might say, selling the music.

Audience acknowledgement was a significant part of the launch. I was repeatedly recognized as a member of the Day One Crew and told that we were on a Day One Journey together. Phrases like “thank you for being a part of history” and “if I had kids I’d tell them about this” might have come off like hype except the talent seemed genuine about it all. 

In aggregate I was made to feel like I was part of a movement. “Beats 1 Worldwide” and “Broadcasting around the world” along with the requisite personal and geographical acknowledgements added to the feeling that we were part of something akin to a new counter-culture where the whole was more than the sum of its parts.

A footprint so big that anyone in the world might be listening along with you undoubtedly contributes to this feeling. But local radio has a long history of creating in-market communities too. Howard Stern’s audience would probably agree.

That’s not to say that the Beats 1 talent doesn’t get off the track; there's inside talk that can be tedious and irrelevant, talking over music to the point of being annoying, repeatedly shouting a word or phrase that comes off like a failed effort at creating excitement, occasions of too much self-indulgence, and breaks that sound undisciplined and unprepared. These were disappointments.

Still, comments like “when radio used to be good” - at least in terms of the talent-generated excitement - remind us that an air staff of passionate, creative, music-loving, listener and format advocates, who are uniquely entertaining and integral to the overall programming, help define a station in a non-duplicable, extremely positive way.

The payoff from the time and effort spent on finding, valuing, coaching, and encouraging genuine talent, is a more entertaining radio station with a passionate audience that feels connected.

And that's hard to “beat.” 

1 comment:

Scott Carpenter said...

Establish rapport, create community. It aint brain surgery, you only have to put yourself in the listener's shoes