Radio: Throwing away 41% of the inventory


Inside baseball: Radio sports ace Les Grobstein delivered a rant yesterday during The Big 89 Rewind on WLS. Les wondered why sports radio stations in Chicago were not offering fans anything worth listening to at night or overnight (pbp excepted). His suggestion being Chicago was not some backwater and fans deserved better than dated (i.e., delayed) syndicated programming. Les made a valid point.

He said out loud what fans must be thinking, he was speaking as an advocate for the listener. Kudos, Les.
The quick, easy and wrong answer would accuse operators of being cheap, too cheap for their own good some would say. My sense is the more honest, pragmatic answer would involve sales making this an issue of risk management. 7pm – 5am inventory is perhaps the most undervalued asset in radio. The problems related to a lack of demand are exacerbated by management’s benign neglect. One could make the case that the majority of stations (of every format) have decided that this 41% of their daily inventory is just not worth the effort, not worth the investment in programming nor the attention and focus of sellers. This serves as an excellent exhibit in self-fulfilling prophecy.

Operators are not willing to invest in product because they are convinced demand will not be there no matter the audience developed.

Being #1 at night too often viewed as a Pyrrhic victory – "So what, we can’t sell it!" This is the same logic frequently used in walking away from renewal of sports rights – "We can no longer make the math work."
While it may indeed be easier to save a dollar than to bring a dollar in, that’s no way to build or grow a business. This is another bad habit developed over the years become accepted practice. As Samuel Johnson reminded "The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken."

The dirty little secret here is nobody likes live sports programming at night or overnight but the listeners. They never got the memo giving them the heads up that all the good stuff happens between 5a and 7p. The cost-benefit calculus ensures management remains averse to any 7pm – 5am investment. The elephant in this room is sales. We have a crisis of confidence when it comes to betting on 7pm – 5am programs because the conventional wisdom tells us that even if we do develop a strong following we won’t be able to monetize it sufficiently. The result is a kind of prior restraint with respect to programming innovation and audience development. Moreover, a market for barter programming is created and sustained. My thought is this is the crucible of Les’ finding, that time and place devoid of acceptable options.

Clearly, the solution set involves creating demand and teaching sellers how to be much more effective. Imagine a day as being one hour, would you throw away almost 25 minutes of that hour? 7pm – 5am, nothing but upside. No matter your format, give it a go. Make something happen. Here’s the biggest single competitive advantage – should you get serious and try this, it’s all yours, no one is likely to follow. 41% of radio’s daily inventory seems a terrible thing to waste. Can I get a witness?