We’re an odd bunch of radio people that got mixed up with a bunch of really talented geeks. We took on a challenge a little over a year ago that we thought would put everyone’s talents, experience, and ideas to the test. The result: We built the fastest growing ag information network. Here’s how we did it.
The media, the producers, the audience
Radio has been the primary source of ag information for 60 years. With few alternative sources and a far more rural population, radio stations delivered ag information that included minute after minute of futures prices and weather. Fast forward to today, and basically everything has changed.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with a professional coach for more than two years. Robert Stuberg is a fascinating guy to talk with. In his ‘Life Handbook,’ he has a chapter called ‘Your Model of the World.’ I’d like to refer to the first two paragraphs:
"Have you ever had a conversation with someone who obviously wasn’t seeing things correctly? The more you tried to convince them of the reality of the situation, they just wouldn’t budge in their thinking? What happened is that you bumped into their model of the world. And as long as that filter stays in place, you don’t have a chance of getting them to see things the way you do.
But what about your model of the world? Is the filter through which you experience life 100% accurate? It is easy to believe that only we have the power to see the world correctly but that just isn’t true. In fact, it would probably be closest to the truth to say that none of us can see the world correctly. We all have a point of view complete with numerous preconceived notions about what is really true. Unfortunately, our preconceived notions are probably preventing us from seeing what is really going on."
— Robert Stuberg
Once we accept that the world has changed, we can start thinking about how to produce the kind of content that a bigger variety of stations can use to serve the shrinking ag audience.
Having come to terms with that fact ourselves, we then had to find or create a better reality. Broadcast interests want a bigger audience. The ag audience is shrinking in numbers, but the value of the ag listener has grown. Technology has made the old primary content (e.g. markets and weather) instantly available on any device. To us, that makes it fairly useless… So, let’s provide the information not as readily available and provide it in formats useful and worthwhile – then make that available to broadcasters and to ag interests.
Our first six months were pretty slow, but we learned a lot. Our first (the traditional) approach included a more limited set of audio options and we asked for barter in exchange for programming. Over time, we learned that some station groups wanted an option for shorter reports that aired more often, and some wanted a cash option so they could simply pay for the program. In every case, stations want an interactive component for their websites, which is its own unique challenge.
The content, the delivery, the timing
We simplify what most people complicate, while tailoring content, delivery, and timing of our programs to fit a huge variety of radio station preferences. The key to our growth is that we’re offering options and delivering content where nobody else can.
The content must be…
- timely and useful. There’s a fine line between being “breaking news” and being relevant, timely, and useful.
- appropriate for any format. The ag audience is full of normal people who listen to classic rock, talk, country, alt rock, and every other format. The on-air and online content we provide has to blend in without alienating the rest of the audience.
- brief and interesting. A diverse audience requires that we produce content that is quick, piques interest or provides insight, and moves on. If people want deeper info, they know they we have more on the stations’ websites.
- delivered on time, every time. If we miss one delivery, radio stations’ sponsors can get very irritated. Once a station has put their trust in us, we have to deliver on time, every time.
Platforms, barriers, and the beginning of success
Once we got over our collective history and looked at the real world, we rolled out the AgView.net and Powered by AgView.net services. We’re producing dynamic new content for traditional media, using more modern methods than some are used to. This… is not a comfortable proposition for many stations, and we have to discover and remove barriers quickly to earn trust and commitments.
Removing barriers is what our team does best. We have to fight against the perception that this type of content “doesn’t belong” on classic rock stations, for example. We have to show that the experience from the station IT, automation, programming, traffic, and sales departments will be a positive one, and we have to push ahead knowing that the product and needs of our clients will change quickly. In our case, we can do all of this because of the platform we built and the way we distribute content.
Our platform includes web functionality to create content and distribute the effort across the entire team, as well as several automated tools that integrate with local station IT systems. Radio IT is not a very fun place – every environment is dramatically different and our tools can’t make assumptions about what might or might not be available. For this reason, we’ve come up with a distribution method that uses tiny computers (the Raspberry Pi) to silently keep affiliates in sync. The Pi sits on their network and creates its own secure file server space. All automation systems support at least some automated mechanism for picking up files from file servers, so we take advantage of that to simplify the whole bit. Our media downloads to the pi, where it takes on the file naming scheme and format compatible with their system.
The beauty of this system is that we can upload a few versions of the media into one folder and it automatically converts, renames, and uploads the audio directly to the stations. In addition, we have customized monitoring that tells us exactly when the stations pull the audio into their system, so there’s never a situation where they end up running the same stale report twice in a row.
Lessons learned, and where we are today
The most important thing we’ve learned is to be flexible, fast, and to tear down barriers as quickly as possible. From the audio to the web components, we have to refuse to acquiesce to every affiliate’s request, we have to try to understand what they actually need and how it might be turned into an opportunity to improve the entire product. This often leads to some intense debate, as our collective experience is so wildly different. By the end, however, we almost always end up at a solution that everyone is happy with and that gives us another reason to reach out to new affiliates.
As of today, our network has 18 radio affiliates carrying programming, one TV station getting daily video summary, nearly a dozen web affiliates and several more coming online and on-air. Our burst of growth has come primarily in the last 3-4 months and we’re picking up speed every day. We’ll let the numbers drive the ever-changing model of our world.
Article posted on July 29, 2015
Top image by: Market Interactive