Radio Imaging – Will Networking Kill Creative?

Originally it was an art. In the days of fewer stations on the dial and no networking, you could get away with all sorts of long creative masterpieces. Partly because there was nothing else to lure your audience away, and partly because there were no constraints – let alone focus groups and marketing agency plans.

Then, the 90s arrived. Every sweeper had to be the same length, saying the same words, with possibly a different type of whoosh in the background. Your work would have exciting titles like “A2” or “B3”, and could suddenly be played out remotely, along with 20 other sweepers with the same words for other parts of the country. Woe betide you if it was more than exactly 7.0 seconds, and don’t even suggest sung jingles.

Now, in 2008, we’re about to enter a new phase of radio. More networking than ever before, more competition on the dial, and infinite competition off the dial. More revenue-generating contests, and less time to create the production.

Does this mean it’ll be all theory and no creativity? In my opinion, it means the opposite. It’s because of the new stations on the dial, and the lack of local presenters in the building that great imaging is more important than ever. We know it’s all about brands, so what makes your brand what it is? Less local output means a bigger role for station imaging.

I was chatting to a very skillful producer last week, who now, for the first time, has to make promos that hit exact lengths. It may be daunting, but does this stifle creativity? It doesn’t have to. In fact, the skill of creating a breakfast promo that’s entertaining, compelling, and includes two sponsor mentions within 30” is a good one to have. After all, an awesome 30” promo is better than an awesome 50” one. And if you have 8” for a sweeper, it focuses you on how best to use those 8”.

We’re all about increasing station recall, and thus Rajar ticks. The art of creative imaging will become the science of successful radio. Strong jingles, the right voices, compelling trails, effective sweepers… great content.

So take networking to be an opportunity for your work to shine. In a networked mid-morning show, the news is local (but serious), the ads are local (but selling stuff), which only leaves the stuff you’re making as the local content selling the station name. Imaging is back, and now it really matters.

Chris Stevens is Vice President of Dallas-based jingle company JonesTM, whose jingles and libraries can be heard on over 50 UK stations. He also runs Devaweb, and his recent production for GMG has been nominated for the Sony promo award. He can be contacted at chrisstevens@jonestm.com

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