Saturday, March 12, 2011

You'll Eat It and You'll Like It!

By Frank Absher

What you want…you know I’ve got it.

Thus sang Aretha, and that’s what came to mind when I read a recent article in the New York Times.

It seems there is a growing number of restaurateurs around the country who are taking it upon themselves to decide what their patrons should get instead of letting the patrons decide for themselves.

Want ketchup with those fries? Oh, sorry. The chef doesn’t think his fries should have ketchup put on them, so we don’t have any ketchup.

The Times article tells of a bagel shop that will never serve a bagel that’s toasted. It doesn’t matter if the customer wants a toasted bagel. The owner has decided that what he wants is more important than what the customer wants.

How stupid is this? It’s nothing new, mind you. Think back to the memorable scene in Five Easy Pieces when Jack Nicholson’s character Bobby Dupea tries to get a side order of toast with his breakfast. “No substitutions,” the waitress tells him. “Only what’s on the menu.”

There’s a local restaurant that has thousands of my dollars simply because they strive to give their customers whatever the customers want.

That word “want” is an interesting one. A local radio station has used the slogan “We play whatever we want.” Isn’t that what all radio stations do?

Essentially, the real message in that slogan is “We’re going to play what we want to play, not necessarily what you – the listeners – might want to hear.”

By contrast, the weekly “Big Top 40 Countdown” in the UK gives listeners the very distinct impression that they (listeners) can affect the chart’s ranking while the show is on by downloading songs. In other words, they’re playing what the listeners want.

The recently released Statistical Abstract of the United States tells us that we listen to the radio less now than we did in 2003. Back then, the average listener logged about 16 hours a week paying attention to the radio. By 2009, that same average listener listened 13.7 hours per week.

I’m sure radio owners will come up with all sorts of excuses as to why time spent listening to the radio has dropped by 14 percent during that 6-year period. Some of their excuses might make sense. But what about what the listeners want?

I maintain that radio has turned even more of a deaf ear to the desires of its listeners. Instead of localizing or personalizing their stations, radio has sterilized, homogenized, mechanized and sanitized them. You’ll hear the same announcer playing the same music in Peoria, Waxahachie, Tucumcari and Ocala. Lord help you if there’s a severe weather warning in your market some evening, because you won’t be likely to hear about it on the radio.

Maybe managers think this is what we want.

They’re wrong.