Making Radio “Cool Again”


Charlie FergusonWhen he appointed himself “the keeper of Cool for Radio,” Bob Pittman showed more hubris than most of us could take.  Bob seems to think he’s the only one in the world with a jar of “Cool” hidden next to the big can of Whup Ass under his desk.  It also sounds like he, alone, has access to what’s inside.  What’s bothering me about all this self promotion is it has nothing to do with what we do on free, over-the-air Radio!  You can’t make Radio “Cool” again by putting a Pandora copycat service on the internet.  They don’t call TV on the internet TV, they call it Video.  Radio on the internet isn’t Radio, it’s audio.  Only terrestrial Radio is Radio, and it doesn’t get cooler because you put another program stream on iHeartRadio.  Clear Channel isn’t getting “Cooler” because you got rid of the entire species known as “Program Director” in the local markets.  It isn’t “Cooler” to run the same program on 300 stations at the same time when 299 of those audiences won’t ever even see a picture of the personality, let alone meet them and shake their hand.

While CC is able to aggregate their online audience and cross-promote national things (i.e. – Taylor Swift’s “Red” launch) it’s the power of the terrestrial signals that make it all happen.  A lot of local broadcasters were stunned to find out the world wasn’t holding their breath waiting to listen to their Radio stations as soon as they went online.  But we’re not “un-cool” because our streaming doesn’t generate vast numbers of listeners.  We’re taking a cautious approach because the revenue model just doesn’t work – and we know we’re not alone.  Our station websites are contest entry portals, information delivery outlets and fun places for our audience community to communicate with us and each other – so we’re “Cool” there too.  The road to success for Radio isn’t moving our audience online.  It’s serving them with live, local content they like – over the air.

Our little group of Radio stations makes Radio “Cool” every single day.  We’re on the air live and local, interacting with the audiences and having fun!  Two of our FM stations racked up a total of over 200 live remote broadcasts and appearances over the past 12 months.  We’re “Cool” because we take part in every charity fundraising event we possibly can – and we sell third-party sponsorships to help our area businesses “wear the white hat” and be a part of successful events.  We’re also “Cool” because we take an entirely different approach to covering local high school sports on our ESPN Radio affiliates – and there are 56 high schools spread out across our 17 county coverage area.  The audience is responding and it’s profitable.

If you’re not doing it on the air using your Radio transmitters, stop saying you’re making Radio “Cool” again.  Bob didn’t ask me, but if he did I’d say that if you want to make Radio “Cool” again, bring back real, local personalities.  Get them out doing live remote broadcasts and appearances.  Meet the audience face to face, thank them for listening to your Radio stations, ask how they’re doing, entertain them, make them smile and shake their hands.  Then last but not least, sell Radio advertising on a “dollar for dollar – time for time” basis – because if the dollars spent and the time frame are equal, Radio will get results equal to – or better than – any other media.  We reach 93% of Americans every week on free, over-the-air Radio and have the ability to fill the stores, shops and showrooms of our advertisers with customers every day.  We don’t need Bob Pittman telling everyone that Radio sucks and only he can make us “Cool” again.  Radio broadcasters need to stop worshiping at the digital alter and keep pounding on what Radio does – and can do – every day for both our listeners and clients.


Charlie Ferguson

Northern Broadcast, Inc.


Traverse City, Michigan

General Manager and


  1. So Mr. Ferguson believes he has made his stations “cool” in Traverse City. So perhaps he can explain why year over year the 12+ Cume on his “cool” stations is down significantly. WKLT-FM -21%, WFCX-FM -16%, WKLZ-FM -23%, WSRT-FM -8%, WFDX-FM -15% and WSRJ-FM -40%.

    A year ago his stations delivered a 3.0 12+ AQH Rating and now they deliver a 2.6.

    Great job keeping your stations “cool” Charlie!

    There is a reason Bob Pittman is on Wall Street and you are in Traverse City!

  2. We all know Charlie is right. We had the pleasure of being entertained by Charlie’s excellent stations while traveling in his beautiful market area and exploring the U.P. He speaks the truth about radio, and about his group. He’s doing the best radio I’ve heard in this millenium.

    We indies can take the extra care required to focus on continuing to do great radio, But in soulless media conglomerates where everyone from the corporate CEO to the regional manager to the platform manager to the SM, salesmen, and group PD is under tremendous pressure to focus only on feeding the beast created by avarice at the top, it ain’t going to happen no matter how times we see the picture of the smiling, self-satisfied golden boy du jour.

  3. The operative word in Charlie’s piece is “fun”… Fun is evocative. Cool is about image. Provide the audience with a fun experience and success (and profits) will follow.

  4. How are your ratings in Traverse City, Charlie? There is a reason you’re jocks have been talking to themselves for months.

  5. We don’t subscribe to the ratings. They are under-sampled, overpriced and have no prove-able relationship to our clients results. Those who point at ratings are missing the mark. Clients aren’t buying ratings – they’re buying ads to get results from stations who are involved with their audience and deliver local success – ours. According to Hungerford, we still over-index between 60% and 100% compared to our “fair share.” That’s the “rating” by which we’re actually measured.

  6. So buyers are buying the virtual tied for 3rd Broadcast Company in Traverse because of the results (who claims he is out indexing his fair share by 60% to 100% but somehow he is battling to stay out of 4th place in market revenue. Sounds like Voodoo Economics, but I digress.)

    Interesting that Charlie’s share of market revenue is down 2009-2011.WKLT
    down 9.2% to 8.9%. WFCX down 4.6% to 4.0%. WKLZ down 2.3% to 1.9%. WSRT down 1.8% to 1.7%.

    So market share down, ratings down, cume down – but according to Charlie, its working.

    That’s cool.

    However, most in Broadcasting realize that is NOT working.

    The only thing “cool”ing is his ratings and market share – yet he is in denial.

  7. We found Charlie’s story inspiring, as were his stations when we heard them. It sounds like it IS working, so I don’t understand the point of denigrating a passionate and successful broadcast team that proves every day how there’s much more to the achievement of greatness in radio than the superficial as measured by Arbitron BIA.

    These broadcasters are important to the people of their communities. They actually stand for something beyond taking money out of the local economy and sending it away to corporate headquarters.

  8. It sounds like its working just like Newspapers worked in 2000. Owners in denial.

    Charlie says “Hey owners, ratings down, market share of revenue down, but I was published in RBR and Radio Ink attacking Bob Pittman!”

    Bob Pittman is Radio’s Best Advocate right now and every broadcaster owes him thanks for it.

  9. Hey Andy Travis — what’s your problem? I mean other than the fact that you work for Bob Pittman and have obviously drunk the CC Cool-Aid. I mean really dude, it’s pretty clear to me that either your corporate radio overlords put you up bashing Mr. Ferguson or you think you can buy job security from CC by your annoying posts.

  10. The only annoying posts are those who

    1) ignore revenue and ratings
    2) have their head in the sand thinking its still 1950
    3) washed out of the Industry because they could not accept change.

    Just like Newspapers who failed to stay up with the times, at least Pittman is trying to move the Industry forward. I for one am glad to have him in the Industry preaching what Radio can do.

    And if anyone bothered to read what he’s preaching, he’s also preaching a human connection on air.

  11. “Andy Travis is a fictional character on the television situation comedy WKRP…”

    The troll is baiting.

    As an aside, about AT’s third point – “washed out of the industry because they could not accept change” – there is little change in radio. That’s one reason why we see such high-end demos in the audience. Those remaining in the business may also be described as people who do the most for the least amount of money. Many making serious salaries were pushed out in consolidation’s early days.

    Congrats to Charlie Ferguson. Small communities still depend on radio. Though, how long folks like him will continue to succeed is a bona fide question. Habits are changing for audience and advertisers everywhere.

    And we have Mr. Pittman; a true pioneer in radio, cable, and the internet (AOL), who put %5 million of his own money into Clear Channel. Of course he’s going to push radio. His downside is not giving youth in his organization the freedom to create and execute to the same degree he was given it in the 1970s. The vitality of youthful programming grew audience back then. It’s (part of) what’s missing in radio today.

  12. Reading the comments from some of you remind me of the last time Radio reinvented itself. There were those who failed to recognize how TV changed the landscape, and then there was Gordon McClendon and Todd Storz.

    The internet is a real game-changer, and someone who insists that “only terrestrial Radio is Radio” is incredibly short-sighted. “We don’t need no stinkin’ ratings” may work in city of 14,000, but that won’t fly in a more competitive marketplace.

    • Our attitude towards ratings isn’t a head in the sand approach – and we’re not alone. Notable groups who pass up the ratings in larger markets include Saga – and they’re paying out a special dividend to stockholders in a month or so. I also want to point out that we’re not refusing to make changes, but we’re not making them until we can make money doing it.

      • Loved your comments…..both on Pittman and ratings…used to live in TC and loved your stations….used to sit on the MAB Board and got to know most people in your market….say hello to Ross Biederman should you see him….and stay cool……

        Rob Striker

  13. ” Radio on the internet isn’t Radio, it’s audio. Only terrestrial Radio is Radio…”

    This to me is the essential question. If it is as Charlie say, audio entertainment over terrestrial transmitters, then I don’t see how radio stems its decline. It still has a good present, but the decline in Time-Spent-Listening will continue its downward slope. If radio is audio-only entertainment no matter the delivery system, then I see no reason it should not have a bright future.

    I foresee in just a few years, local radio stations with local personalities, meeting and greeting just like terrestrial radio stations, but delivered entirely via mobile Internet. By freeing up money from terrestrial transmitters, a local Internet-only station could buy the kind of outside promotion such as billboards, that it would take to get an audience of sufficient mass to make it a viable advertising entity.

  14. Charlie what a heartfelt article. I wish it were true. Your opinion comes as someone heavily invested in their transmitters and maybe a less so in their content. Unfortunately your listeners don’t care where/how they get your content,they just (hopefully for you) want it. Consumers don’t think about whether or not they are getting broadcast radio or internet audio, to the vast, vast majority, radio is just radio no matter how it is delivered.

    This is actually a great thing for you. It means you can provide “radio” to your audience no matter where they are. And that’s cool.

  15. wow…whats with the haters?? first off ratings never walked into a store or bought anything online…people do! Dont know Charlie, but like what he has to say! Be Cool the rest of you…there are others you might want to consider “enemies”

  16. Reading all these posts is great. It proves radio is full of passionate people who are invested in the medium. I met Bob at this years Havard Club Radio Inc. forcast and I assure you he is a champion of local relevant radio. He also has a debt that most of us small market guys can not even write on a ledger. We all are struggling with changing perceptions, habits and the ticking clock on the bottom line. All the wisdom I have says keep doing your very best, stay passionate and stay extremely active in your market.

  17. Great comments, folks! And I have to agree, Charlie, that ‘local’ is cool!’ Market size and geography dictates our approaches, sure. But, wouldn’t it be nice for radio to realize finally that we’re kicking our own butts by ignoring the listeners; syndicated morning shows, voice-tracking, out-of-tune music lists. Maybe it’s time we got back to the basics with a push for believability in both our internet and terrestrial efforts.

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