Mike Henry chatted with The Sands Report about his thoughts on how “Alternative” should handle the upcoming election.

Original Story posted in The Sands Report
Date: January 9, 2020
Written by: Richard Sands

Welcome! It’s the first issue of 2020. Which just happens to be an election year! And a very big one at that. As we wrapped things up last year, we had this quote from longtime WBCN PD Oedipus, “The biggest act in the world is Trump; he dominates the conversation yet Alternative has not seized the moment. Alternative should stand as an alternative to Trump.” Well, if that’s true, this year provides a perfect platform. But is it true? How should you handle the election? To find out, I asked just that to some of the “greybeards” who’ve been around the format for a long time.

MIKE HENRY, Paragon Media Strategies

I completely agree with Oedipus. The Alternative format is not simply about “alternative” music, but rather an “alternative” POV of the world around us.  The young target audience for Alternative stations is growing more diverse by the day, and this generation has an acute smell test that sniffs out brands that don’t walk the talk. Rather than focusing on the election though, stations should focus on issues that most young Americans agree with: voting rights and get out the vote campaigns, gun control, climate change, homelessness, the minimum wage and income inequality, equal rights for all persons, etc. Worse than ignoring these issues is talking about them but not doing anything about it. Paragon’s Marketing Tips (sign up here) featured this topic in June with a link to a Fast Company article (here) whose headline says it all—“Why brand purpose marketing isn’t working with young people: ‘Brand purpose’ doesn’t count unless your brand actually has a purpose.”

MIKE STERN, Jacobs Media Strategies

Deciding how to handle the 2020 election cycle comes down to one thing, expectations. What your listeners expect from your show or station should be what drives your strategy. In most cases listeners have no expectation of tuning in to an Alternative station to hear someone dissecting the President’s latest tweets.

What they do (hopefully) expect is for stations to be timely and topical which can mean looking for ways to talk about the election without talking politics or taking sides. That can be as simple as encouraging people to register and exercise their ability to vote or it can be creative, topical promotions like holding an election for the President of Alternative music with primaries, debates and online voting that mirrors the national process.

If it’s within the audience’s expectations there could also be opportunities to put a relatable spin on the odd stories that are inevitable during the upcoming election cycle. When it came to light that President Trump has a button under the oval office desk that he uses to call for a Diet Coke, Dana and Jayson at Alt 94-9 in San Diego asked listeners what they would want their red button to summon. They got some entertaining calls and then spent the afternoon delivering listener’s red button requests. It wasn’t partisan. It was a relatable promotion based on an interesting story from the world of politics.

Finally, most listeners hopefully expect their station to be involved in the local community and that could present opportunities to get involved. There may be a way to champion a particular cause or issue that impacts your audience. But this isn’t something to enter into lightly. Beyond potentially angering listeners who disagree (and most stations don’t have many listeners to spare) there are legal and financial risks as well. So be sure to carefully vet any plan with the appropriate members of your management, corporate and legal teams.


The phrase “This is the most consequential election in our lifetime!” has been bandied about almost every election cycle since Nixon. But I fear this time it may actually be true. Look, there’s no reason radio’s involvement in politics needs to be partisan. EVERY broadcast outlet; radio, TV, internet, satellite, dolphin speak, etc., should be involved up to their eyeballs.

We still need to shame the two-thirds of the population who don’t vote, into voting. It’s just gross. But Eddy Puss is right, of course. Alternative COULD take an alternative position. With tremendous amounts of humor cuz the humorless will always be, well, humorless. And that includes your garden variety General Manager. Stay with me for a sec. If you’re a PD go ask your GM if you can jump into the 2020 election with all sorts of great creative shit, mostly to the left of Karl Marx, but all in the name of RATINGS and RELEVANCE. Your GM will pass that up the chain until it eventually reaches Mr. Pitman’s office. He will immediately go, “Nope! Our shareholders would prefer not to rile up the White House and have to worry about license renewals for a whole bunch of properties.”

Max is the host of the Oddcast podcast with Michael Halloran. Listen to the latest episode here.


Thanks to the greybeards for their insights. My take:

  1.  Be prepared for the election. This is the year’s biggest and most talked about event. Plan accordingly.
  2. You’re looking for some creative ideas.
  3. Ideas needn’t be partisan (but potentially can be).
  4. There are many issues that are likely of interest to your listeners that you can address as Mike Henry pointed out, such as homelessness, voting rights and/or “get out the vote” campaigns.
  5. If you want to cover your butt, make sure you’ve run the election plans up the flagpole!

Read original story here.