Having observed and participated in the entertainment business for decades, I have come to believe one thing very strongly:
No one makes it to #1 by imitating someone else.
In a 2019 interview, Billie Eilish said that to achieve her unique style, she looks at the current fashion trend... and wears the exact opposite. You may not like her look, but you can't question her success. And her fashion goes hand-in-hand with her music, which doesn't sound like anything else.
Billie Eilish is headed opposite the herd––and her audience is following:
40 million Instagram followers and Billboard Chart dominance at the age of 17.
For the radio programmer, going with the flow or against it depends on where your radio station ranks. If you're No. 1, then keep doing what you are doing. OTOH, if you want to get some needed traction––stop––and start to think differently.
Playing it safe means a weak identity
Like programmers, we imaging creators think we know "the sound that's the sound that everybody knows is how it should sound." In other words: Programmers and imaging services are listening to what's already out there to generate new content.
The result is that most radio sounds the same from city-to-city––especially the imaging.
On the other hand, the wave of new podcasts and internet radio is often imaged and branded very differently than mainstream radio. And they're gaining explosive traction: According to a 2019 Dial study from Edison Research and Triton Digital, Podcast listening alone was up 48 percent among people aged 12-24.
This new breed is willing to take chances traditional broadcasters are often afraid to take.
A case study in rule-breaking radio imaging
Coast 102, Biloxi/Gulfport is a Greatest Hits format. The morning show host is Supey. What I receive to produce are quirky, funny but basic liners that promote his show. And there is a caveat: "Do whatever you want." I initially considered this grant of near total freedom highly unusual. But Coast 102 needed a change. And there is one important thing to consider: Supey does the morning show by himself. He has no sidekick, so I realized that I needed to produce in-show sweepers that are not only counter-mainstream, but a bit longer than usual: borderline "bits".
I create imaging that is part of Supey's show.
I sometimes ad lib, and in general aim to be an UN-nouncer when doing the voiceover. I often break the 4th wall and sometimes use character voices. But I never forget that as irreverent as the imaging is, it still must function as branding.
My goal was to be as unique as possible, because Supey in the Morning had one goal:
to rise in rankings. So far, his show has risen to and remained at #1 or #2 since we've been working together. I cannot take credit for rising ratings, but I can and do take credit for doing something unique and identifiable for Supey in the Morning.
And I thank Billie Eilish for reminding me how important it is to risk being different.
Stay weird, my friends.