I grew up in Cleveland in the seventies. I was spoiled. I got to experience the greatest radio station ever at its zenith. The station was WMMS 100.7 (when I started listening it was WMMS 101- but someone complained that only 100.9 and 101.1 could call themselves 101 and they changed the tagline). I was clueless at how much they got right then, but now it is so evident. To this day I can tell you the names of the jocks, their shifts and what made them special.
Mornings: Jeff and Flash. Always upbeat, always wry. Never too serious, except the day John Lennon was shot.
Lunch: Matt the Cat. The hipster, with the edge on.
Afternoon drive: Kid Leo – the voice of knowledge- this guy knew everyone in rock.
Evenings: Denny Sanders- Yeah, hang out with your bud, and enjoy the evening.
Night: Betty Korvan
Overnight: The B.L.F bash. John Gorman- the programmer back then told me that “B.L.F.” stood for William (Bill) Lionel Freeman, his real name- and that “Bash” was the name of the show- but most people thought his name was BLF Bash- so he never bothered to correct it.
Weekends- Len “boom-boom Goldberg- Mr. Laid back. His voice was so low that it worked like a massager on your scalp to help with the coming hang over.
I could tell time by hearing the DJ’s voice, at least a 4-hour window. My day progressed by the passing of time with an ever-present friend. By being a WMMS listener, I was part of something bigger than me.
The station had a following that was seemingly everywhere- the “buzzard” logo appeared on cars everywhere. People would cut the bumper stickers up and customize them. I’m pretty sure someone had it tattooed on their body; it was a super brand- before there were superbrands.
‘MMS listeners were like one huge family. The DJ’s were their friends; they talked about music, life, concerts and how music made them feel. When rock stars came into the studio, there was mutual respect. And it all worked. It was rock and roll. If there ever was such a thing as a play list, or some kind of programming, you never felt it- it seemed like the jocks spun what felt right that day.
It was so different than what passes for radio today, no wonder they talk about the iPod economy.
So what can any business learn from WMMS?
You are as strong as the community you build with your customers.
Do people want to associate themselves with your customers? Do they want to be friends with other customers? Do they know they have something in common by being your customers?
Now, with markets becoming more and more fragmented/segmented, you can’t count on existing groups to automatically be your customers, you need to build your own community. Find out what you can share with them that makes their life more meaningful, and then feed them ties to bind themselves to the others.
The web is an amazing tool for this, but so are events for your customers. Hold owners group meetings for anything from motorcycles to sewing machines. Make sure your customers can wear your brand- give or sell t-shirts that proclaim their allegiance. Let them know that you have their best interests at heart, by tipping them off first to the best deals, or the coolest things they can’t live without- even if you don’t sell them.
I used radio as an example, but it extends out to other media as well; The MTV generation, readers of Wired, or the New York Times.
I don’t have much hope of radio finding it’s way back to the old days, but I do have hope for new marketers, from independent restaurants to shoe stores. They are figuring it out, and we will find new communities to belong to.

What do you think?