A Bad Dancer Won “Dancing With the Stars?!”

Seeing friends and family at Thanksgiving inevitably stirs up questions about what I do for a living and eventually stirs up questions and opinions about radio stations and the radio business. This year the only radio-related question on anyone’s mind was, “Who is Bobby Bones?” Bobby’s name was on the minds of those at the table because he’d won “Dancing With the Stars” just days before.

I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, a market with only one Country station, Beasley’s very fine WXTU. The nearest Bobby Bones affiliate is WDSD, 60 miles to the south in Dover, Delaware. Only one other person at Thanksgiving dinner had ever heard Bobby on the radio and he had the impression that it was a syndicated show for small-town radio stations.

Guilty truth: I’ve watched “Dancing With the Stars” for many seasons. How the show combines the votes of the judges and the viewers is still a black box for me. This season, Bobby Bones was consistently toward the bottom of the judges’ rankings, far behind a number of standout celebrity dancers. Despite those consistently poor scores from the judges, Bobby stayed in the running week after week and ended up as the champion.

So, those at the Thanksgiving table wanted to know “how this ‘bumpkin DJ’ ended up with the Mirrorball trophy?” Simple, I explained, the power of 3 million listeners. Those three million are people with whom Bobby Bones has a daily relationship. I talked about Country radio perceptual studies I’ve conducted and seen that Bobby is more popular than heritage local market Country shows. In short, he’s a thing and his loyal listeners helped him add “Dancing With the Stars champion” to his resume.

The dinner conversation eventually included how radio must be dying – after all their new car has apps for Pandora and Spotify (that they don’t use) along with a SiriusXM app (that they also don’t use). I had to point out that radio listeners propelled a bad dancer to the top of a nationwide dancing competition.

Non-radio folks hear a lot about the additional competition faced by the radio business and rarely hear a word about the sheer scale of the audiences maintained by terrestrial radio. Radio feels old and uncool – even if most of those over age 30 still use radio a lot. Radio’s biggest PR coup this year may be crowning a non-dancer the winner of a dancing competition.

Next week: a new way to play cash contests for bigger ratings.