What is a Radio Brand?

PLJ 95.5

Cumulus Media confirmed that New York City’s iconic FM radio station 95.5 PLJ will sign off for the last time on Friday, May 31. Clearly, there was no longer a profitable business to be made using FM radio broadcasting technology to aggregate and monetize the PLJ audience. (It was purchased by Education Media Foundation, the owners of K-LOVE Christian radio, earlier this year.)

Radio stations change ownership all the time and, as you know, media M&A has become a blood sport in the past 24 months. Still, this particular sign-off signals something significant – the end of a brand.

Apples to Apples in the Big Apple

From sign-on to sign-off, promoting tune-in was the central focus of all of PLJ’s on-air and cross-channel advertising. Contests, requests, value-added promotions… if you can think it up, PLJ has tried it over the years. They spent hundreds of millions of dollars promoting tune-in, but they weren’t building a brand; they were simply offering a better choice to people who were already using (or were likely to use) FM radio technology to access musical entertainment. The competition was other radio stations – not the internet, not the web, not the recorded music business – just other radio stations.

The strategy was clear: “If you’re a radio listener and you like to listen to what we play, please remember to tune in.” PLJ’s promotional efforts were laser focused on AQH (average quarter hour) ratings against its radio competitors; they completely ignored other ways that people might be accessing musical entertainment. PLJ was a radio station. Full stop.

What About PLJ, the Brand?

It’s pretty easy to argue that outside of broadcast radio, the PLJ brand has no value. Could you start a streaming service called PLJ and have anyone outside of the NY metro area even recognize it? Was there unique content or a unique delivery mechanism that set PLJ apart from every other radio station that played similar music and had similar DJs?

Since 1983, PLJ has been programmed with Top 40 or Hot AC (Adult Contemporary) content. These musical formats are a commodity. They are available commercial free on Music Choice, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Prime Music, Apple Music, Google Play Music, to name a few. Objectively, PLJ had nothing special to offer.

What fascinates me is that even though PLJ has been promoting itself relentlessly for the better part of 36 years, the best it can hope for as it rides off into the sunset is to sell a few commemorative T-shirts.

Could PLJ have survived as a radio station? Probably not. Could the PLJ brand have been leveraged to build a profitable audience delivery system using the internet or wireless broadband networks? Doubtful. Is there a well-defined PLJ audience that can be leveraged post-sign-off? We’ll never know.

Things to Think About

What business was PLJ in? PLJ was a radio station. It made money by estimating the size of its audience, taking a best guess at the value of each audience segment, and selling advertisers access to those segments at the highest possible price. Take the delivery technology out of the equation and there is nothing left.

How many other content distribution companies are so inextricably linked to their delivery mechanisms that they could not survive a technological transformation? Could, for example, Waze’s display advertising model survive in a world where self-driving cars are programmed to get from place to place with no drivers to look at the screen? How long will printed newspapers be profitable to print? How prepared are newspaper companies to transform into digital competitors? Can they? Will you care how the self-driving car you buy performs? You’re not going to drive it.

There are many brands that transcend specific distribution channels, merchandise, and service form factors, but there are many others that are in significant danger of becoming irrelevant as the technology they have dominated becomes obsolete. So long, PLJ… we hardly knew ya!

Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit shellypalmer.com.



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