Moneyball: Avoid the Anodyne
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “anodyne” as “intended to avoid causing offense or disagreement, especially by not expressing strong feelings or opinions.” That adjective often came up when describing network TV programming in the 1960s and 1970s, programming that was created under the theory of least objectionable programming.
The concept of least objectionable or least offensive programming arose during a time when executives believed that viewers chose to consume television, rather than specific shows. People were going to plop themselves down in front of the tube for a few hours each night, regardless of what was on the TV. When the available options of what to watch were limited to what was airing on one of the three major networks, you didn’t need to please the greatest number of viewers, you needed to offend the fewest.
Broadcast radio went down the same path toward least objectionable programming when the available listening options in a car or at work were defined by what could be received on an AM/FM radio. If they were in the car, it was a matter of which broadcast radio station they were going to listen to – not whether they’d listen to Spotify or a podcast or an audiobook instead. While diary methodology meant radio has long worked to be memorable, that’s not always the same as working to generate strong feelings or opinions among listeners. It meant that some radio bordered on being annoying in pursuit of getting written down in a diary.
Eventually, the least objectionable programming theory became obsolete for television as cable, satellite, time-shifting options (VHS, DVDs, TiVo, DVRs, etc.), and, most recently, streaming disrupted the network-dominated model. While some people say they watch menus on streaming services more than they watch any shows, more of us are now seeking to watch a show with which we feel some stronger connection or appeal or affinity. Gatherings of people today inevitably include a conversation about what you’ve been watching on TV.
Today, with so many available audio entertainment choices and with radio losing its primacy on the dashboard (and availability in the appliance store), we need to reject the anodyne and work to engage listeners. While staffing and budgetary limitations make it harder to do this, smart programmers and managers will find ways to stand apart from the crowd and to better connect with listeners.
Start from the thing your listeners have in common: they live in your market. Tap into the things they’re passionate about, the things that make your burg unique, the causes that unite significant groups of them, the needs (or needy) in your community … and put your station into those conversations. Give the megaphone of your signal in support what’s important.
Ensure your station stands out sonically. With fewer people writing and producing imaging and promos, there’s the risk of everything sounding the same and being far too predictable. Strive for writing that breaks out of the routine and has a better chance of connecting with a listener. In a sea of wall-of-sound imaging, a dry voice cuts through. Listeners know what to expect from radio stations these days. Defying those expectations can be a striking positive.
Of course you need to work to play the most popular music for your intended audience. Of course you need to deliver on the basic expectations of your brand. Of course you need to maintain the station license. But serving your listeners and community doesn’t mean your station should sound bland or uninspired, it means making better radio – which serves to make radio better.