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Best Buy’s social media guru gets personal with radio

I’ve written before about my involvement with the Conclave, an organization that seeks to educate radio broadcasters. I had the pleasure of heading up the planning of the Tech/Interactive Track at this year’s Learning Conference (#clave09), held July 16-18 in Minneapolis. I’m thrilled that I was able to include many of Minnesota’s tech, interactive and social media “stars” as part of the agenda.

Gary Koelling
Gary Koelling

One of those “stars” is Gary Koelling, Best Buy’s social media guru and founder of Blueshirt Nation, Giftag and IdeaX. I asked Gary to talk with my broadcast brethren about increasing radio’s “signal strength,” a phrase Gary coined during a conversation we had some time back that refers to reaching customers through social media.

I met with Gary about an hour before his presentation because he wanted to show me what he came up with. I trust Gary implicitly to put together a great presentation on this topic … and he did. No surprise! I had expected to politely preview his slides, say “Cool!” and move on.

What I experienced, and what the attendees saw was a deeply personal story reflecting Gary’s passion for this medium and what it has meant to him over the years. He told me that every time he sat down to build his presentation, he found himself “yelling” at radio for what it has become. He told me, “That’s not helpful to anyone.”

So what he did was take everyone through the emotional relationship he has, and I bet all of have had, with radio.

“Other stations can steal your listeners,
they can’t steal your friends.”

What Gary did at the Conclave Learning Conference was remind broadcasters about the personal connection that they must maintain with their listeners to survive. A connection, or as Gary noted, a “friendship” that has become less important in a world where making their quarterly numbers is a priority.

Gary, thank you for taking an hour of your day to empower broadcasters by sharing your knowledge in such a personal and emotional way. They’re still talking about it … the next step is to act.

Here is Gary’s opening “story”. See the slide deck (though I think the picture you see in your mind will be better) on Gary’s blog.

I remember as a kid growing up in the ’70s in the middle of a corn field in Iowa feeling radio was the one thing that reliably connected me to the broader world. Locally as in the world, “in town” but also the world beyond. Listening during the long summer breaks to KWAY and the daily “Swap and Shop” and lives coming together, lives falling apart. Revealed to me in the items that people needed or needed to get rid of. The stories of lives beginning and lives ending and unexpected twists and detours in otherwise normal, boring lives were told in elaborate and veiled detail from 11 to 1 every day.

Later, as a car-less young teenager, I got around on tractors and bicycles and dirt bikes up and down gravel roads and through the fields of corn and soybeans listening to radios, discovering popular music, music that was not my parents’ and feeling connected to that agitated, rebellious, horny angst of .38 Special, and Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers and Steve Miller. Then feeling so desperate to be part of it and for it to be part of what I was trying to be.

I called the KFMW request line — long distance. A human answered the phone. Older. Male. Deep and busy sounding.

I stepped up and said, “Could you play ‘Refugee’ for Christie.”

“What song you want played?”

“Uh, ‘Refugee’ by Tom Petty and the – .”

” ‘Refugee?’ All right, I’ll get it right on, kid.”


And my chest felt full of hot blood and breath and my face was hot red and I got on my 10-speed and pedaled hard up the road with a radio hanging over the ram horn handlebar of my bike. I prayed I could get to Christie before the DJ played the song.

I wanted to see her face. Take credit. Get laid. But Christie wasn’t home. I hung out under the tree across from her driveway, heart beating frantically, hoping that the song wouldn’t come on. Then her mom’s car crawled up the road and slowed as it passed me and pulled into the driveway. I played it cool as her mom squinted over the wheel at me, the radio playing as it hung from my handlebars.

I practiced in my mind how I would tell her that I requested the song for her. Her favorite. That I thought I was falling in love with her. And we’d kiss.

That afternoon, we talked for hours and hours feeling half-drunk from the smell of sun and pool water and sweat and faint cigarette smoke that only a 15-year-old girl can twirl together into the sweetest perfume a 15-year-Old boy would ever smell.

Then, as the fireflies came out and the sun got low, she had to go in for dinner. I rode home slow. And the song came on. And that heavy, hot blood and breath came back into my chest. And then I was a teenager. A teenager as free and angry and in deep and desperate as any had ever been and protected only by a transistor FM radio.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Tim McCaulley on 07/28/2009 - 10:15 am.

    Well, Gary Koeling is certainly not the first teen who discovered his libido through radio, but I believe there are two more fundamental things wrong with radio that have made it the sterile waste of time that it has become.

    The first problem is group ownership whose only interest is in making lotsa lotsa money. Even commerical broadcasters were licensed once upon a time for the purpose of serving the public in the area their signal covers. This meant more than just doing “public service” programs that were run between 4 and 6 AM on Sunday morning.

    It meant news and sports coverage, election forums where candidates for office were confronted with questions about their positions on this or that issue, and it meant personalities who lived where their voice was heard and were an active part of that community.

    Today radio is mostly filled with satellite programming services, more music, more music, more music-or inflamatory talk designed to provoke some strong emotional response on the part of the listener.

    The second problem with radio today is the lack of a local retail business community to support stations through advertising. They have all been replaced by big box retailers and franchises whose advertising comes from national corporate sponsers and is placed by national or regional advertising agencies whose rule of thumb is to buy the top two stations and ignore the rest.

    There goes diversity of choice! You get a rock, country, talk, or public radio station and that’s it. They all have announcers who read the same tired slogans printed on some rolodex flip cards (because that’s what the consultant said would “work”), and they all play the top 100
    “safest songs” or the top three or four most popular nationally syndicated talk shows.

  2. Submitted by Richard Molby on 07/28/2009 - 03:03 pm.

    It is truly sad that this summer’s 15-year-olds won’t be telling similar stories of passion and connection through radio. When radio, like all other forms of mass communication it seems, became just another debt-leveraged industry hell-bent on acquisition and consolidation, the true soul of it died.

    After ten years working in small midwest radio markets and in Minneapolis and seeing just about everyone I worked with leave the industry they loved, I can’t even bring myself to listen to what radio has become: shouting, empty, repetitive, polarizing, ugly, dumb.

    RIP Radio, you’re missed.

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