“Personality is Radio’s Past, Present, and Future”

The following is an excerpt taken from Fred Jacobs from on December 7th, 2015.

But the conference was also a reminder that content and brands are the heart and soul of a radio station’s ability to make their numbers. And in a session where we paired a Millennial personality, Zach Sang -–and a Boomer radio legend, Mark Thompson – we were able to make a little magic.

And in the process, remind this very smart group of managers, programmers, consultants, and researchers that if it’s not happening in the air studio, it’s probably not happening.

The session was modeled after the documentary, “It Might Get Loud,” where the producer put young Jack White (the White Stripes) with the iconic Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) to see what would happen. (Yes, U2’s The Edge was there, too, but the documentary’s most compelling moments involve White and Page.)

Zach and Mark are very different personalities. Zach has a syndicated nighttime show on Westwood One aimed at teens. Mark hosts a morning show Entercom’s KSWD/Los Angeles geared to Classic Rockers. Zach pre-records his biggest interviews, while Mark loves to do them live. Zach is social media driven, while Mark admittedly struggles with how to create content for off-air channels.

And then there’s the obvious generational factor. Zach is 22 years-old and got his start with an Internet radio show in his early teens. Mark just turned 60, and like many radio stars, worked his way up from small markets to Los Angeles – and beyond.

But as our conversation unfolded it was obvious they have more in common than they might have thought – a love of craft, a respect for the audience, and a passion for the personality side of the radio business.

Simply put, the session turned into a clinic for conference attendees about personality radio. Westwood One even put it up on Periscope, evidence of another new tool that radio personalities can use to reach consumers in a unique and compelling way.

I learned a lot about the session’s impact and takeaways by reading the many tweets that spontaneously flew during our fast 40 minutes on stage:

Zach: “Our goal is not just to be in listeners’ ears, but in their eyes and under their thumbs.”

Mark: “You want to hear a human being talking to you.”

Zach: “FM radio is where the ears are. It is the cornerstone of communities all across America.”

Mark: “(For me) the desire to be on the radio was unstoppable.”

Zach: “Our advertisers don’t start and stop (with the show). If you’re part of Zach’s Gang, you’re part of Zach’s Gang.”

Mark: “The key is no matter where you are, is that you are the best content available.”

But there were more than just these gems that came out of this session.  Zach and Mark reminded attendees about the art of creating great radio content, the value of brand building, and the passion it takes to compete in a world where the competition has virtually infinite.

Each took a moment to remind us that their mission is to entertain.  But when tragedy strikes, their shows need to acknowledge these events with genuine feelings and reactions.  For “Zach Sang & The Gang,” they were on the air while the massacre in Paris played out.  And for “Mark In The Morning,” they had to recently deal with the shootings in nearby San Bernardino.

In both cases, it was impossible not to notice that both Zach and Mark each felt the weight of these events, and the difficulty that entertaining shows face when confronting these bigger-than-life tragic moments.

You can’t measure the total impact of these shows with meters, diaries, CPMs, or occasions.  But it’s apparent as time goes that for radio to remain competitive, healthy, and vibrant over the next many years, we’re going need more guys like the ones I shared the stage with last week in D.C.

There are some fascinating differences between “Zach Sang & The Gang” and “Mark in the Morning.”  But not as many as you’d think.

And generation gaps aside, both agree that personality is radio’s past, present, and future.

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