Six Steps to Successful Radio Syndication
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Create Your Show
You probably have ideas for your new show. The first thing to do is to focus and clarify those ideas.
First, what qualifies YOU to host a syndicated radio show? Are you an expert in something? Do friends say you’ve got the “gift of gab”? Is there a subject you feel passionate about? Do you like discussing ideas and sharing opinions with others? Do you enjoy entertaining people? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you can host a syndicated radio show.
There are syndicated radio shows on topics as diverse as alternative medicine, scuba diving, healthy herbs, politics, spirituality, computers and the Internet, small business, pets, law, dating, and many more. Shows on specific music genres are also popular in syndication. There are successful hosts who never hosted a radio show before getting into syndication.
What’s the theme and concept of your show? Check out the competition using your favorite search engine, and see what other shows are out there. Try to find a unique niche for your show. Be as original as possible. For example, if you want to do a health talk show, decide what might make your show different from other health talk shows.
How can you best apply your special knowledge, talents, and qualities on the air? In other words, play to your strengths and decide whether your show should include guest interviews, two-way telephone talk, or something else. Will you have a co-host? Will you script everything, or host a stream-of-consciousness monologue? Will the show be funny, serious, or a little of both? And so on.
Will your show be broadcast daily or weekly? Consider your time, your resources, and your budget. A daily show will obviously require more of each than a weekly show, especially at the beginning.
Will your show be a one or two minute vignette, or a program that runs one, two, or three hours—or longer? Think about your goals in doing the show, and don’t assume you need to do a long show in order to achieve them. If you do decide on a long show, consider starting with just one or two hours, and build from there.
Will your show be live via satellite, pre-produced and distributed digitally, streamed on the Internet, or some combination of these? Aside from the logistics, content, and expense, this decision can affect your lifestyle. A pre-produced show makes it easy for you to work where and when you want. A live show requires you to be someplace every day or week, at a scheduled time.
However, thanks to technology, you can do a live show from just about anywhere. Internet radio is growing at exponential rates. It now reaches large audiences and commands substantial ad revenue.
What will you name your show? Here you might want to consider spending a few bucks on a copyright search (there are also free websites that make this easy) to be sure your show’s name isn’t already in use.
A common approach in syndication is to give short-feature vignettes somewhat unique names, while long talk or music shows are named for the host or hosts, as in “The Harry Smith Show.” But a more creative name for a long show works well, too, as long as it explains the theme of the show to listeners.
How will you make money from your show? In addition to advertising revenue from selling commercials within your show, you’ll want to explore other cash streams. You might find an affinity advertiser who wants to be an umbrella supporter of your show and of your related activities, such as your speaking appearances.
For example, if you do a show on health, a vitamin company might want to be an affinity advertiser. You can also make money by selling past copies of your shows, by publishing a listener newsletter, by writing a book, by doing a related TV show, and so on.
Get On Air, Anywhere
You have to start somewhere. It's just like planting a seed in order to grow something. Your show should be on at least ONE radio station before you try syndicating it nationally.
Program directors who consider your syndicated show will naturally want to know if it has a track record. Their first question will be, “Where is the show heard—what station or stations already carry the show?”
If you answer, “We’re not on anywhere. We were hoping to start with your station,” the next sound you hear will be a loud click as the phone call terminates.
So, how do you find that first station or high-quality streaming website and get your show heard by an audience? You have several choices.
One option is to buy time on your first station. There’s probably a local station that will happily sell you a daily or weekly time slot. Prices are usually negotiable. You can buy an hour of weekend airtime in most medium and large markets for several hundred dollars. Top-rated stations rarely sell hours of airtime, so you should probably focus on a lesser station. Your goal is simply to get on the air, anywhere. Since you paid for the time, you own it. You can sell commercials in your show and pocket any profits.
Another option is to put your show on a professional and high-quality Internet radio network. But you’ll want to avoid hosting an online radio show on a mass consumer website, a vanity talk-radio website, a personal website, or cable radio. None of these approaches has much credibility with radio executives. For example, vanity websites have amateur hosts who literally phone in their shows. Vanity sites may have a nice look, but the audio quality is often poor.
Keep in mind that if you decide to buy your airtime, you won’t have to pay for it forever. Your first station or your first high-quality Internet show is a stepping-stone toward building a list of affiliate stations that carry your show at no charge. Once you get affiliates and ad revenue, you can cut loose from the paid situation. This approach also lets you polish your skills before rolling out to broadcast stations across the country. Again, you need that first station because other stations will hesitate to pick up a syndicated show that isn’t heard anywhere.
Another way to get on the air is to convince a radio station to give you a show. If you already have a show on a local station, you’re ahead of the game! Just make sure the station agrees to let you syndicate your show—and is willing to say so in writing, to avoid legal hassles down the road.
If you’re not working in radio, you may still be able to get a station to give you airtime. This mission requires a little time and commitment. Since radio is a people business, it helps to know someone.
Try working your way in by offering to be a guest at the local station, and make yourself available for in-studio interviews. While you’re at the station, see if you can to visit with the program director. Get to know the staff. Offer to fill in for the regular on-air folks during vacation time. It never hurts to ask! Some of the biggest names in radio got started by persistently asking, and this strategy can work for you, too.
If you want to syndicate a short-feature vignette (such as a daily how-to minute), the above strategies also apply. You can buy your time to air the short feature on a station. Your local station may even agree to air your feature free of charge, if it’s entertaining, informative, and saleable to advertisers. They may accept your short-form show as “interstitial” programming (meaning, it runs in between their longer shows).
Create Marketing Materials and Demo
Radio is the “invisible” medium. Other media, such as TV, print, and the Internet, have visual aspects, but not radio. So, you may not have given much thought as to how your show will look to the outside world. We're talking about your marketing materials.
Most of the people in your audience will never get to see your face, let alone your show’s marketing material. However, the PDs and GMs will want to see your marketing and a photo of you, before they put your show on the air. Since you can’t travel to every station in the country, your marketing kit has to be your ambassador.
Research has shown that people gather most of their information visually. Yes, this is even true of radio managers—perhaps even more so, since they deal with so much non-visual material. It’s important to make a good visual first impression with potential affiliates. Remember what your mom used to say: You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
To put it another way, you don’t want to look like an amateur. You want to make sure your marketing material looks professional. You’ll need several nicely designed pages that promote your show and describe you, the host. At the very least, you need some slick looking Web pages, which can also be downloaded as PDF files.
We strongly suggest that your art, graphics, and photos be of the highest possible resolution and quality. Rather than attempt graphic design on your own, invest in a professional designer who can create a show logo and lay out these pages for you. This is critical. You should not design this important marketing material on your home computer, unless you want to look like a rank amateur to radio executives.
You should always include a high-quality photo of yourself in your marketing. You’ll want a picture that you will be proud to use in your marketing—and everywhere else, too. So forget about using a selfie or old snapshot. Find a talented photographer who can capture just the right image of you — one that looks professional.
Of course, your radio station marketing must include a quality audio demo of your show. In our experience, the best demos are fast-paced, full of energy, and not too long. Five minutes is a good length. Even if your show is three hours long, you need a short demo that presents your best stuff. Your best bits should go at the top, because if you don’t grab the ear right away, you’ve lost them. Many program directors will also want to hear a full hour of content, so start with the highly produced short demo and follow it with the full hour presentation.
Your marketing material should also contain a short bio about you and details about your show. You can include press clippings and testimonials, too. But be careful not to put too much in there. You don’t want to lose them or confuse them with reams of reading material. A final tip: If you already have a good-looking marketing kit that you use in your business, it can probably be modified inexpensively for marketing your syndicated show.
Last but not least, create a website for your show and submit the Web address to online databases to help generate traffic.
Market Your Shows to Stations
Marketing’s just another word for promotion, and few syndicated shows succeed without it.
If radio stations have never heard of your show, they may be reluctant to add it. Think about your own purchasing decisions. How often do you choose a product you’ve never heard of? People are much more comfortable buying something that is familiar to them.
You can certainly try telephoning all 10,000 commercial U.S. radio stations. You’ll quickly discover how tough it is to convince program directors to add your unknown show. You can also try shipping a physical marketing kit and demo CD to every station. But that will cost you a small fortune and be very wasteful, since most stations will simply toss your valuable marketing material in the trash.
What’s the answer? You must find ways to affordably market your show to the entire radio industry, on an ongoing basis. That’s right: You want to get your message to all stations, not just some stations in certain formats. We believe it’s important to make EVERYONE in the industry aware of your show. With the many ownership changes, format flips, and personnel moves happening in radio today, you simply cannot predict which decision-makers will be the ones to add your show. If you do things right, it can be fairly affordable to reach the entire radio universe.
This strategy is used by the most successful syndicators, and it works for you in two important ways.
First, it pre-sells all radio stations on your show, and makes you and your show familiar to them. Many stations may not be ready to add your show today. They may be considering a format change and quietly scouting around for syndicated programs. An FM music program director who suddenly gets handed the reins to a news/talk station may be on the lookout for fresh shows.
Sudden changes like these happen daily, and they mean opportunities for you. If you’ve marketed your show well, stations will add your show because they know about it. Remember, people choose products that are familiar to them.
Second, your marketing will provide you with warm leads—radio people who are actively seeking syndication for their station. When these people see your marketing, they’ll email you and request your demo and details. Now your valuable marketing materials can go directly to interested decision-makers, saving you time, effort and money. If you don’t keep up your marketing, you’ll never hear from these active seekers and you’ll miss many opportunities.
You’ll also want to take steps to optimize your promotional website for the search engines, so station executives seeking a show like yours can easily find it.
For best results, maintain an ongoing marketing effort that targets every radio station in America. Some affordable ways are email, direct mail, highly targeted print, and the Web. These are the most cost-efficient, direct, and effective approaches, and they’re the ones we use with our clients and our own shows.
Somebody once said, “Nothing happens until you advertise.” This statement is especially true when it comes to radio syndication. Get the word out and your show will grow.
Sign Up Stations
A syndicated show is only as good as its list of affiliates.
If your marketing has been effective, stations may be contacting you for your demo. You then follow up by phone or email with these warm leads.
Major market stations may be initially reluctant to sign up. They require persistence and a personal touch on your part. Your calls to larger stations might end up in voice mail jail, but some will call you back. Be positive and friendly, but persistent. Don’t be afraid to ask them to consider your show for their next opening.
Affiliate relations is by far the most difficult part of syndication. If you decide to try it on your own, be prepared for a challenge. A few may sign up without a moment’s hesitation. Others will seem to take forever to decide, and just when you’re about to give up on them, they’ll surprise you by signing up. Still others will tell you they have absolutely no interest in your show, or refuse to take your calls.
In affiliate relations, rejection is part of the game. Logic says not every station will want your show. With 10,000 commercial stations in America, you must get past the uninterested stations and find the ones that want your show. For example, our staff places calls to literally hundreds of station executives every week. After trying several dozen calls on your own, you may decide a professional firm would get better results for you.
Here are several reasons to consider using a syndication company for your affiliate relations. First, knowing it’s your show, program directors might hesitate to be candid with you. They may not feel comfortable wheeling and dealing directly with the host of the show. Second, syndication companies have extensive industry contacts and station relationships to draw upon for fast results. Third, professional syndication companies have proprietary syndication and marketing tools, developed through years of trial and error.
These factors give an established syndication company a tremendous edge over those who attempt affiliate relations on their own.
We advise you to shop carefully before choosing such a company. Among the limited number of independent U.S. syndication firms are some “one-man bands.” What’s the risk of using a one-man band? Your show may come across as small-time or unprofessional to the radio industry—and such impressions tend to be remembered by station executives.
Some syndication companies use student interns to call radio stations on your behalf, which can sound amateurish at best. Be sure the company has a full-time, in-house affiliate relations staff, and a toll-free number to encourage station callbacks.
Some syndication companies may insist upon owning a piece of your show before they will work with you. They will tell you this gives them an incentive, but you end up losing a valuable chunk of equity in your show, with little to show for it.
Still others may require you to sign an ironclad deal with them for affiliate relations—often for two years at a time, and up to five years. If things don’t work out, you can be locked in for a long time. You should stay with a company because you want to, not because you have to!
If you do try handling station affiliate relations by yourself, make it fun. Celebrate every new station you get. Put a graph on the wall and chart your upward progress. Mail a press release when you are lucky enough to sign an important affiliate.
As you keep adding stations, your show can grow into a real winner.
Take Care of Business
Once your show is up and running, there are things to do! Commercials need to be sold, clients need to be billed, the show has to be produced and distributed, and you have to get paid. How does it all get done? You systematize it.
You want all the important things to happen automatically, without lots of time or effort on your part. You need a system to handle the sale of commercials in your show, along with invoicing, production, and distribution of the show to stations, and other tasks. This gives you the freedom to do a great show and to build more revenue streams. Of course, if you are working with a full-service company, most or all of these tasks will be taken care of for you.
Syndicated radio shows have details that must be handled for ongoing success and profits. At the beginning, you may wish to handle all of the production, sales, affiliate relations, and other details involved in your show. This is not only the most affordable approach; it also lets you learn firsthand how syndicated radio works. You can learn to handle things with the advice and information available from professionals in the business.
If you’re like most syndicators, you’ll eventually find that your time could be better spent on other things. For example, if your show is a recorded feature, you might want to begin by producing and distributing the shows by yourself. After a while, as your list of stations grows, these tasks will become routine. At that point, you’re better off letting someone else do these things, so you can use your time more productively.
If you’re smart, you will eventually systematize all routine matters of your show. Systems should take care of selling commercials, billing, commercial affidavits, and weekly or monthly payments to you. Systems can handle the production and duplication of your show, and its delivery to stations. Set up a system for ongoing marketing of your show, and for signing up new affiliates. This will free you to create more cash streams.
Once your show is underway, you’ll want to expand your empire with an array of projects. Examples include writing a book, selling physical products, taking on paid speaking and television appearances, offering a newsletter, starting a membership website, presenting seminars, being a product spokesperson, and so on. (If you already do a few of these, be sure to tie them all into your show.) Every new project will take time to set up properly. Once each is in place, you want to systematize it, so your time and effort can be focused on the next project.
Your rewards for following this strategy can be remarkable, adding up to multiple, reliable streams of income. Your income multiplies and your influence grows.
All these added ventures can help build your syndicated show through the synergy that results when individual parts add up to a greater whole. You’ve probably seen this same strategy used by superstar performers in other fields, such as sports, the media, and entertainment. With a successful syndicated show, you can follow the same rewarding path.
If you’ve followed the Six Steps to Successful Syndication, congratulations! You now know just how rewarding it can be to have your own syndicated radio show. With a nationwide audience of radio listeners, your message can reach millions. Your show can provide valuable information, entertainment, and/or resources to your listeners, while providing you with revenue and a platform on which to build a wide array of new ventures.
If you’re new to radio syndication, take this formula to heart. We know it works, because we have used it successfully ourselves. It’s the same strategy we encourage our clients to follow. These Six Steps can help you launch and build your own syndicated radio show.