One of my fond memories of growing up in Chicago is the hot dog joints. You can’t go more than a block or two in Chi-town without seeing the Vienna brand hot dog sign. Chicago’s hot dog joints are one of things that make it unique…Since leaving my hometown, I lived in K.C., San Antonio, and Minneapolis (among other places) and never saw anything even remotely like them.
So, when we moved to Ann Arbor, I was thrilled to discover the “Chicago Dog House”…a run down shack with the Vienna sign proudly displayed. As soon as I walked in, the smell of greasy fries hit me and I felt right at home.
The Dog House was a dump. It was crowded, noisy and had questionable cleanliness. Its counters were worn. Its tables were warped and carved up. It had a street sign “borrowed” from one of Chicago’s North Side corners. It blasted an eclectic music mix — anything from classic rock to Etta James and Leon Redbone. Behind the counter was a wall of bizarre headlines from tattered tabloids, yellowed by age and the grease in the air.
The Dog House closed last year when the city shut down its street for a major construction project. I grieved.
But recently, the shack reopened as “Ray’s Red Hots.” Of course, I had to check it out…
Ray’s Red Hots is clean and bright. Everything’s freshly painted and fixed up. The counter is new and the tables have been refinished. The street sign is gone. The tabloids are gone. They’re not serving Vienna brand, but something called “Red Hot Chicago.” They don’t taste quite like Viennas.
Ray’s dogs don’t have the flavor of the Chicago Dog House. Neither does the place.
So what’s the point???
Too many radio stations are like Ray’s Red Hots. There’s nothing wrong with them. They’re technically competent. They’re clean. They’re professional.
But something is missing…call it charisma, the “X-factor,” a certain specialness or even quirkiness.
For example, as a Chicagoan, I grew up listening to Larry Lujack. He wasn’t the most smooth and professional announcer. He screwed up sometimes. He had dead air sometimes. I think that made listeners pay more attention. They knew they weren’t listening to a machine.
Lujack was a star on WLS. Its smooth-as-silk midday jock Bernie Allen was a personality that only I would remember.
This isn’t unusual. One of the things I’ve learned doing research is that some of the most compelling personalities are ones that most “radio professionals” would think flat out suck! But they’ve made a personal connection to listeners in their communities.
Think about your friends. Are they perfect? Or do they have certain “schticks” that make them interesting, amusing or endearing?
Ideally, a radio station is like a friend to the listener. There’s a personal connection, and a hometown connection. But too many stations today sound like they’re from a cookie cutter and could literally be from anywhere.
What about your stations? Are they like Chicago Dog House, or Ray’s? Are they merely professional, or do they have flavor ?