With DJs about to change on SABC radio stations, Justine Cullinan looks at why we get upset when radio stations change their line-ups.
On 1 April 2015, 19 South African radio stations will implement changes to their on-air presenter line-ups. This is an annual occurrence at the SABC which as a whole commands a radio listening market of almost 70% of the country. It has always felt rather ironic that April Fool’s Day is the auspicious day on which stations launch their new on-air formats to the country. A change may be as good as a holiday but it certainly doesn’t feel that way when your favourite DJs have shuffled time slots or departed the station you are tuned in to.
Inevitably these changes leave many listeners and clients in anxious trepidation as we approach the date. If you’re trying to book a campaign with an SABC radio station based on a specific radio personality or even just a particular time channel, you aren’t going to be happy when that presenter moves slots or show times shift. This might be information that the station is unable to release when you are constructing your media briefs and of course rates also go up on 1 April, so there is even more at stake.
When it comes to listeners, who have developed habitual listening patterns or respond to appointment listening, so that they don’t miss their favourite shows and features, tuning in on 1 April or the weekend thereof might leave you out of the circle of trust when you hear a completely different voice attending to your listening needs.
Like all products, radio stations need to innovate and improve their offerings so it’s natural that changes are going to be made but why is it that we feel so deeply attached in the case of the radio medium? Both listeners and clients in the radio space make very far-reaching decisions when changes have affected line-ups. Media spend has been pulled off-air, sponsorships have been cancelled, audiences have switched stations and have signed petitions requesting that a station reinstate a specific DJ after he/she departed. But when Coke changes its packaging or MAC decides to harvest a specific colour of lipstick, or Apple changes the connection cable widget thingy that charged one model iPhone and now doesn’t charge the newer model, there doesn’t seem to be as much of a fuss kicked up. So what is it about radio that makes change feel so personal?
I’ve been looking at some literature about the concept of ‘self’ and how the brand and product choices we make are extensions of our selves. There is a lot of theoretical and popular marketing literature that speaks to the notion of possessions as extensions of identity. In short, how we see ourselves has a lot to do with the things we believe belong to us. When I look at my own Twitter handle, I’ve made mention of two specific brands within 140 characters to give meaning to who I am. I have made brand selections as a descriptor of how I see myself.
In the case of radio, what we choose to listen to and associate ourselves with, says a lot about who we are and how we see ourselves. So when my favourite DJ departs the breakfast slot and I can’t listen to him/her on my drive to work in the morning, I feel like a possession of mine, and therefore an extension of who I am, has been taken away from me. That feeling of deprivation and abandonment causes a severe backlash, much more of a backlash than our popular and much loved FMCG, luxury and experiential brand counterparts might feel when they make changes to their products and services.
In truth though, this reveals the double-edged sword of media brands. The deep personal connection that people feel to radio personalities is something many stations trade on. On-air personalities feel like our friends, people whose opinions and ideas matter, people who introduce us to the music we like, talk about the issues affecting us, reward us with prizes and tickets to our favourite events and who fight for better on our behalf. And they are the friends with the loudest voices.
This is the kind of emotive connection on-shelf and online brands dream of. To have that honest and open relationship with the customer you are serving is the barrier so many brands fight and spend on to overcome. Radio has that naturally just by virtue of what it is as a medium. But the double-edge comes into play when that radio station does something that changes your routine and takes away that loud-voiced friend you hear on your way to work everyday. That emotive connection doesn’t go away, it just stops smiling and starts frowning… and shouting.
Media is an emotional rollercoaster packed with listeners, clients and personalities. But it’s one superb ride, with highs and lows that change lives. And brands that can ride those waves out, benefit from the new level bonding that starts to happen once everyone starts growing accustomed to that change.
Justine Cullinan is station manager for 5FM
IMAGE: 5FM Facebook