Novel Idea: Giving the Listeners Control

Posted on February 18, 2011

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One thing that always mystified me about radio was the abject fear in people’s eyes, mostly programming and management types, whenever the idea of giving the listener’s actual control of the music would come up in a discussion. I’ve known PD’s who insisted on faking requests in the all-request lunch hour. Other’s pre-determined which bands would win in their annual March Madness promotion where 64 bands and put into a bracket and face off against each other in homage to the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament.

I never understood the concern. Could the listeners really drive the station completely off the road in a noon hour with six request slots all surrounded by huge hits? If Metallica and Tool were facing off with listeners voting for their favorite, why should I care who wins. Play a big hit from the winning band, get over yourself and your mastery of Selector.

That’s why I’m such a big fan of two new services that are available to stations: Listener Driven Radio (LDR) and Jelli. Each use social media and listener voting to essentially crowdsource the radio station. Each works slightly differently but the concept is the same: listeners vote en masse for the song they want to hear next. The one with the most votes gets played. It’s that simple.

Jelli incorporates a little more of a game feel arming listeners with rockets and bombs. The former can move a song to the top of the playlist while the latter can be used to bring a song you don’t want to hear crashing down. Listener Driven Radio is a big more in-tune with the radio stations and music scheduling software giving the programming team a more flexible interface for setting parameters on the music listeners can choose from.

I bring this up because two people I think very highly of collided here in Chicago today as WTMX, The Mix, elected to use Listener Driven Radio as the basis of a new night show called  “U Mix It.” The driving force behind LDR is Daniel Anstandig a good friend and colleague while the talent WTMX selected to host the new show is Erin Carman, a very talented woman who has worked for me a couple of different times. Erin’s energy and LDR’s unique premise for the listeners will be a great combination (I was going to say Mix but that would be too cheesy). You can check out all the details from the station’s announcement in this a particularly glowing column from legendary Chicago radio critic Robert Feder.

Give the whole thing a few weeks to settle in then take a listen. Pay attention to how Erin approaches hosting a listener controlled show since someday you may be called on to do the same. Also watch carefully to see  if giving control of the station to the listeners is nearly the tragic mistake so many programming types fear it is.

I personally think not.

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