By: Larry Rosin
I had the opportunity to deeply consider the role of radio broadcasters over this past weekend. That’s because I had the privilege to attend the annual “Country Cares” conference for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Each year, representatives of the radio stations which run the “Country Cares” Radiothon come together to learn about the work of St. Jude Hospital and to discuss best practices for raising money in this manner.
Edison’s involvement with St. Jude came when we were approached to perform research on listeners and radio managers about the Radiothon (and for what it’s worth – we performed this work pro bono). Since the advent of PPM, some stations had dropped the Radiothon when they saw that (naturally) their listening levels dropped during the days this effort ran. And on one level I get that – programmers are hired, fired, and bonused based on ratings, with no proviso for “two lower days while we help save the lives of kids with cancer.” And we know that the managers of today’s radio stations are under brutal pressure to produce based on ratings. Disturbingly, some stations in diary markets were considering dropping the Radiothon as well, even though any slippage is largely washed out and ‘unfindable’ in those markets.
Our research showed that while yes, listening dropped during those days, the levels recovered rapidly and in fact within a few days listening had pretty much reverted to the pre-Radiothon levels. And two weeks after the event, listening was actually a bit higher than before. So there is evidence of compensating goodwill that balances any lost listening for those two days.
But more to the point –if anyone actually were to go to Memphis, tour the hospital (which cares for all kids with no restrictions –and without accepting payment), learn about the research they are doing to find cures and how that ripples back to one’s own community, and chat with parents of these kids – it is nearly impossible to believe they would not immediately say “how can we not get involved?”
St. Jude is not the only worthy recipient of radio’s fund-raising time, of course. There are countless charitable causes who need and can use our help. But if one of the conclusions of PPM data is: “Taking any time from our broadcast year to help our communities and people in need is hurting my station”, then we need to come up with a new standard of interpretation. If radio can’t find even a few days a year to appeal to, as Lincoln described them “the better angels of our nature,” then we may as well turn the transmitters off. A business with no heart at all will eventually find that their customers will stop ‘hearting’ them back.