Lessons to Learn from Radio

Written by on August 5th, 2008

The Akron Beacon Journal, now a part of the Black Press newspaper chain, ran a great article about WKSU-FM, a radio station I worked for when I was in college, oh …so many years ago.

Paula Schleis the reporter zeroed in on how Al Bartholet, WKSU Executive Director used Internet technology, online community and archived content to create a profitable new product.

Bartholet had three issues he knew he had to deal with.  First, fewer young people were listening to classical music and as a result it was increasingly difficult to grow their listenership.  Second government support for public radio is continuing to decline and finally, maybe the worst of all,  the behavior of his listeners was changing rapidly.  They were becoming much more net centered!

A little brainstorming produces results!

Al had a very successful program produced by Jim Blum that aired on Friday nights.  Every program was recorded and over a couple years the station had develop a huge number of hours “in the can”.  As their team brainstormed about how they could embrace the Internet instead of worry about it, the idea floated up that they create an Internet radio station built around folk music.  For Public Radio,  this idea was not evolutionary, it was revolutionary!

There was no path to follow, case studies to copy.   The team together followed their gut and convinced their board this was the right step to take.  Bartholet put a team together to develop the website, analyze the audience and begin to offer the content that was sitting on the shelf to listeners at no cost on the Internet.  The NET effect?  (pun intended)  In a recent online fundraising effort of ONLY Folk Alley listeners, the station raised $225,000!  Folk Alley and Jim Blum are now famous around the world.

There are two things I’d like you to take away from the WKSU story!

First, a number of radio stations or music stores lost mindshare of 83,000 customers while Al and his Folk Alley gained 83,000 listeners.  Al understands the Internet is all about the first mover advantage.  Instead of sitting back and waiting for someone else to do it, he put his name and reputation on the line and creating an entirely new media channel for his organization. Today at a flick of keyboard his team can communicate with 83,000 people around the world. He can promote members of his audience, build community and sell merchandise as well as fundraise.   His station is a new power house in breaking folk music, show casing performers and spreading the name of Kent State University globally.   The University brand benefits, the staff love their new responsibilities and WKSU is recognized as a leader among the thousands of NPR stations nationwide.

What are you doing to prevent the Internet savvy Al’s of the world from “kicking your virtual butt” and stealing your customers?

The second thing I’d like you to take away from this is this….

None of this would have happened if WKSU did not have content sitting on the shelf doing nothing.  I’d like you to think about what kind of content you have that could be repurposed on the web and delivered in a new format to a new audience.  The web opens opportunities for you to take what others thought was worthless and turn it into gold.  Al and WKSU did just that, you could too!

What do you think?

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