Why college radio should inspire you to be innovative

Preoccupied with passionate thoughts (about my business, not THAT), I listened to local Boston-area college radio WERS while driving the famous Automile south of Boston.  “Only You Know And I Know” by Dave Mason came on, and two things struck me.  The first was that I had not heard this song in something like 20 years.  And the next thought was that I had no idea that Dave Mason sang this song, or at least I couldn’t recall that he did.

There is something about the freeform, semi-structured format of college radio that appeals to me.  One day a song from the 70’s or 80’s reminds me of a very discrete place in time, a memory forever tied to that song.  Subsequent days I listen at the same time and hear a brand-new song that inspires me to discover more about the musician, or at least download the song to my ever-expanding playlist.

Their ability to play various artists and various genres, unencumbered by sponsors or ‘formulas’ that rule the airwaves, are why college radio remains as enjoyable for me as when I first came to Boston in 1981.  On most days and nights, I listened to WBCN, 104.1, with Charles Laquidara, Ken Shelton, Mark Parenteau, and Carter Allan (still on WZLX 100.7).  Talking Heads, The Pretenders, U2, The English Beat, Jon Butcher Axis – national and local groups that I first heard while in college.

As my passionate thoughts continued, I realized that college radio has the freedom to play whatever songs the DJs want.  Sure, there is some structure involved, like Blues at Midnight, or A Capella Saturday mornings.  But generally, the DJs use those guidelines to inspire what they play, not limit what they play.

Companies need to adopt the college radio format to be innovative.

Running your company like college radio might work, but we need structure in the business world.  Legal and compliance rules force companies to follow strict procedures to protect their customers.  Auditors ensure that we follow the rules. Nevertheless, companies should consider how they can capture the innovative aspects of college radio.

Energize your employees by respecting the classic processes while introducing a new, fresh approach.

Innovate within the guardrails, but don’t be afraid to consider if the guardrails can be repositioned.  In the recent book XLR8 / Accelerate, John Kotter describes how companies should organize to encourage innovation.  He pays tribute to the need for organized back office functions and governance roles, while having a separate-but-equal innovation structure.  This independence from the more classic organizational systems permits faster responses to market changes and enables companies to meet their customers’ requirements more rapidly.

Blues artist Muddy Waters said, “the blues had a baby, and they named it rock and roll”.  Just as college radio provides the opportunity to evolve your tastes, your company can innovatively use the same notes in a new tune that is fresh and inspiring.

Photo by Nick Walker under Creative Commons license

Discussion questions – Reply below

  1. What’s your favorite radio station?
  2. What was your favorite concert in college?
  3. How do you or your company promote innovation?






3 responses to “Why college radio should inspire you to be innovative”

  1. Tassey Russo Avatar

    This is a good perspective on how to approach organizational structure and management. I don’t really have a favorite radio station any more though I bounce between news radio and pop rock. My favorite concert in college was when Billy Joel came to campus. He was not yet really known except by Long Island and NYC people. As I was from Upstate NY, I had never heard of him but when he came out in a baby blue 3-piece suit and sang Piano Man, I was smitten.

    As a business consultant helping small businesses to evolve their vision, narrative, structure, or revenue streams I think that the innovation I promote is to be completely open to possibility and to try new and different means to achieve a goal. This could mean specific technology applications or models of business, funding or marketing in new or different ways.

  2. Harold Waisel Avatar

    Thanks for reading and commenting Tassey. I’ve never seen Billy Joel in concert. So many great songs in his career.

    One of the key words you note is ‘evolve’. If a company is open to possibility and willing to try different methods to achieve its goals, then I think that evolution becomes very natural and creates that innovative, fresh, and inspiring culture that companies strive to maintain.

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