Voice Cloning Technology

While I was traveling through Atlantic Canada in July, this news story broke in Radio World:

iHeartMedia’s plan to use Veritone’s voice-cloning technology for its podcast platform has some radio industry observers asking the obvious questions: How good does it sound and is broadcast radio far behind? 

The largest radio company in the United States says that for now, the synthetic voice solution will only be used to translate podcasts from English to other languages for use on the iHeartPodcast Network, first for Spanish-speaking audiences. But Veritone officials confirm its technology could someday be used for advertising to reduce time-to-market and production costs for radio.”

You can read the complete article here: https://www.radioworld.com/news-and-business/headlines/veritone-synthetic-voice-gets-an-audition

It reminded me of an article I wrote on this very subject in December 2021. I thought readers might find my article of more interest now that the deployment of this technology is happening at warp speed.

Is it Live, or is it Memorex?

I remember when the audio quality of tape recorders became so improved with audio reproduction, that the question of the day was, “Is it live or is it Memorex?” Memorex was a company established in 1961 for selling magnetic computer tapes. In the 70s Memorex moved into producing quality audio tape for recording music and voice.

TV commercials at that time featured Ella Fitzgerald singing a note that shattered a glass, while simultaneously being recorded on an audio cassette. The recorded audio would then be played back and the recording would also shatter a glass, to which the announcer would ask, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?”

Is AI Going to Replace Voicetracking?

Then Radio Ink published a story that got many of the people in my radio, podcasting and other social media groups talking about, titled “Is AI going to replace voicetracking?”

Voicetracking technology has been used to replace live radio personalities for decades, but what AI presents the industry with is the possible ability to bring back the big name radio personalities.

Dan Ingram, Larry Lujack, Robert W. Morgan, The Real Don Steele…

Imagine your radio market’s favorite radio personality returning to the airwaves. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

A company called WellSaid Labs has created dozens of human voice avatars where all one needs to do to get them to talk, is type text into a computer and the voice will say it.

Imagine how having a creative person, who has studied the style of an iconic personality, and then creating new, contemporary material to be delivered in that personality’s voice might sound.

Netflix Research

Now you might be wondering why anyone would want this type of technology. Well, Netflix now streams content worldwide and buys new content from producers all over the world. Much of that content is produced in the country’s native language and so Netflix has to show that content with either subtitles or voice-dubbing the dialog with voice actors speaking in the language of the country the material will air in.

It might not surprise you to learn that when Netflix has offered viewers two ways of viewing  a program, Americans in particular, prefer voice-dubbing to subtitles. (I know I do.)

To speed up the process of voice-dubbing and to have voices that sound the same as the original actors, companies like WellSaid are developing artificial intelligence technology that by voice sampling can then re-create the voice automatically.

ALEXA

I already have conversations with Alexa and have wondered what she might sound like as a DJ on a radio station, haven’t you?

The afternoon DJ on KCSN, Andy Chanley, has been on-the-air there for over 32 years. Now using a robot DJ named ANDY (Artificial Neural Disk-Jockey), Chanley’s voice will continue to be heard in many places throughout Southern California. During a demonstration for Reuters, reporters say that Chanley’s AI voice was hard to distinguish from his human voice.

You can listen to these computer generated voices WellSaid has created for yourself by clicking on this link: https://wellsaidlabs.com/?#actors-preview-list

Is Your Favorite DJ Already a Robot?

WellSaid says its voice avatars are doing more than just DJ work, they are being used extensively in corporate training material and the creation of audio books.

Do I think I will live to see radio’s great personalities coming back to life? No, because I think there will be too many legal issues that might complicate that from happening anytime soon.

But I do think that original voice avatars, teamed up with creative content developers, might just come into existence sooner than we imagine and provide us with an entirely new form of radio entertainment.

(This article was originally published on December 19, 2021)

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Does Radio Sound Choppy to You?

What I mean by that “choppy” observation is that radio has lost its flow. Today’s radio for the most part is herky-jerky. On-air production is constantly starting and stopping with every programming element and to a life-long radio guy, poor on-air production grates on my ears.

Where’s the Flow?

What I loved about listening to radio growing up was each station’s on-air production. The flow of programming elements was exciting. A radio station’s jingles flowing into the next record with the air personality working their magic in the mix.

But today, we hear a commercial end – a jingle plays and ends – a record begins – and then maybe an announcer (I dare not call them a “personality”) read a liner card. It’s all so disjointed and it’s anything but smooth.

Moreover, every programming element is generic. The station has no local feel about it.

Great On-Air Radio Production is Hard to Find

One of the stations I enjoy listening to for great on-air production is WETA-FM out of Washington, DC. WETA-FM is a classical music station, but its flow is seamless. Its personalities are personable and, for me, they are the #1 reason I so enjoy the station, along with the fact that WETA-FM brings this same detailed attention to every programming element.

Another Washington, DC radio station that delivers flow, personality and is a pleasure to listening to is News Radio WTOP. This radio station is usually the nation’s top billing radio station and has won every radio award; more than once.

You can’t transplant either of the stations, as they are fully programmed to serve their marketplace and no place else.

Syndication & Voice Tracking

The reason most radio stations don’t have great on-air production and flow can be attributed primarily to syndication and voice tracking.

With syndication, stations on the network need to all wait for network cue tones to fire their programming elements. Also, if their local production isn’t perfectly timed out, there will be gaps between the programming elements or a programming element will be cut-off.

The other problem with syndication is that it’s not unusual to hear a radio commercial repeated more than once in the same break. I’ve heard the same commercial play three times in a single break, sometimes this occurs with the same spot playing back-to-back.

With voice tracking, an announcer is tracking for multiple stations and never is really able to focus on a single station or radio market. It sounds like they’re talking at me and not to me. Often, they seek out generic content that can be tracked in multiple markets. I don’t need Facebook content read to me, I’m on Facebook.

The Listener Experience

Great radio is all about creating a fabulous listener experience, unfortunately that is rare on today’s radio dial.

Sadly, I understand how under-staffing means that today’s radio talent is wearing multiple hats (often more than four, according to the latest research from Fred Jacobs) and has little opportunity to give any one of their responsibilities more than a moment’s focus.

I often think what your favorite NFL team would look like if the quarterback also was the team’s coach, punter and played defense.

Or how would football fans feels if their team was under the same ownership as three other NFL teams and their quarterback also played for one or more of those other teams.? My thinking is that this would spell the beginning of the end of raving football fans.

Well, as I travel around America, I hear the same announcers on multiple radio stations.

How can any radio station expect to have listener loyalty when their on-air announcers don’t even have station loyalty? Listeners know great radio when they hear it. They will continue to listen to your station only until something better comes along, and we all know it’s easier to retain a listener than to acquire a new one.

Until the listener experience is Job One, today’s radio will be contributing to its own undoing.

(This article was originally published on October 3, 2021)

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Radio in Mayberry, USA

Like many people my age, we grew up watching television shows like The Andy Griffith Show. My wife and I have been watching every episode on Netflix before turning off the lights and going to sleep. We’re currently in season seven.

Mayberry, NC

While there never was a town in North Carolina named “Mayberry,” Andy Griffith’s home town of Mount Airy, NC embraces the spirit of Mayberry to this very day. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to find any kind of collectible that says “Mount Airy,” but you will have no trouble finding lots of things with Mayberry on them.

We recently took the short drive from our home in Virginia to Mount Airy to visit the Andy Griffith Museum. It did not disappoint.

Historic Earle Theatre

Included with your museum admission, is admission to the Historic Earle Theatre located on Main Street in Mount Airy. Upon entering the theater, the first thing that caught my eye was an “ON AIR” light by the stage and pictures of radio station WPAQ.

The theatre even runs a video presentation about this radio institution, founded by its original owner Ralph Epperson, on Groundhog Day in 1948.

This year’s annual birthday celebration marked the station’s 72nd year of service to its listening area, which always includes a free concert at the Earle Theatre for its loyal listeners.

WPAQ

The first thing I Googled on my iPhone when I saw the call letters WPAQ was to find out what they stood for, as I could not imagine what they had to do with Mount Airy or North Carolina. Turns out, they really don’t stand for anything (much like America’s first commercially licensed radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh).

In fact, Ralph Epperson said the station actually ran a listener contest to try and give the station a name that went with the call letters WPAQ, but nothing ever really seemed to fit. One listener suggested that they stood for “We Piddle Around Quietly,” but Epperson said that wasn’t what they were looking for.

I think that listener got the idea from the disparaging nickname given to FDR’s Works Progress Administration (renamed Work Projects Administration; WPA). Some people felt Roosevelt’s New Deal program was a waste of money. They assailed this program that employed millions of unemployed people to carry out works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, along with employing musicians, artists, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literary projects.

The WPA spent $13.4 billion during the Great Depression but detractors of FDR’s get America back to work program said WPA stood for “We Piddle Around.”

So, you can see why Mr. Epperson didn’t adopt this suggestion, as he was a man of progress and forward thinking, he was never one to “piddle around,” let alone quietly.

The Voice of the Blue Ridge Mountains

While Mount Airy always embraced its role as the model for its native son Andy Griffith’s popular television program, WPAQ likewise always promoted and worked to preserve North Carolina’s mountain music heritage as the Voice of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

WPAQ is the source for local news, old-time bluegrass and gospel music, religious services and the broadcast of local obituaries. I truthfully can’t remember the last time I heard obituaries on the radio until I started listening to WPAQ. However, I remember writing many obituaries in my early radio days when I did news at WBRK in Pittsfield, Massachusetts back in the 70s.

The Saturday Merry-Go-Round Show

WPAQ broadcasts live from the Historic Earle Theatre every Saturday from 11am to 1:30pm on a program called the Merry-Go-Round. It’s the second longest continuously broadcast live radio show of its kind in America, second only to WSM’s broadcast of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.

WPAQ’s program used to be the third oldest, until WWVA gave up its weekly broadcast of Jamboree USA with then station owner iHeartMedia who moved the program from WWVA to WKKX before ending the weekly broadcasts in 2008. Jamboree USA returned to the air in 2014 on a non-commercial low-power FM in Wheeling.

Mount Airy residents and tourists alike believe live radio music is part of the charm of the area.

Ralph Epperson always said he wanted his radio station to be different, saying “Why should we be like everyone else?”

Ralph Epperson passed away in 2006, but his son Kelly, along with Kelly’s wife Jennifer, co-own and manage the radio station exactly as Ralph envisioned. With one possible exception…

No Static at All

WPAQ was licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to broadcast on 740 KC with a daytime power of 10,000-watts, 1,000-watts one and half hours before both sunrise and sunset and 7-watts at night.

On August 6, 2020, WPAQ signed on its brand new FM translator at 106.7 delivering the stations programs in stereo. The station also broadcasts its programming online at  https://www.wpaq740.com/listen-online/ .

During a recent evening walk around my neighborhood, I heard the sound of a fretless, five string banjo coming from a neighbor’s porch. When my neighbor finished his song, my wife and I applauded the performance and commented that he sounded like the music on WPAQ. He responded by telling us that he streams WPAQ on his iPhone and makes regular trips to Mount Airy for the blue grass/mountain music festivals.

Legacy Lasts

In these times of uncertainty, it’s comforting to know that radio stations like WPAQ are keeping family values, traditions and the roots of both this type of music and this type of radio broadcasting alive.

Proving that providing live, local and unique programming never goes out-of-style.

(This article was originally published on November 15, 2020)

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What’s the Purpose of a Radio Station?

Radio is a business.

Peter Drucker said the purpose of a business is to create a customer.

For radio, that means creating two types of customers: 1) a listener and 2) an advertiser and

when done correctly, a radio station makes a profit.

Making Money

For most of my radio career, radio enjoyed a revenue expansion that rivaled the infamous “internet bubble.” Owning a radio station was considered a license to print money. Bottom lines often delivered a profit of 25 to 50% or more, so, while those profits were noticed by Wall Street investors the ownership limits on radio stations kept them away. Investors were frustrated that there was no way to scale up the size of a radio broadcast company.

Telcom Act of 1996

Then President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It relaxed radio’s ownership rules making it possible for one company to own multiple radio stations in a single market.

Wall Street loved the change! The money poured in from eager investors, and companies like Clear Channel, Citadel, and Cumulus quickly bought as many stations as they could using other people’s money. Mom & Pop radio operations had multiple companies vying for their properties and radio station values soared.

Ownership Limits

In 1953, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted its so-called 7-7-7 rule to encourage diversity of broadcast ownership. In essence, no single owner could own more than 7 AM radio stations, 7 FM radio stations, and 7 television stations in the entire United States of America.

By July of 1984, the FCC said they sought to encourage media competition and increased the number of radio and television stations a single owner could control to 12-12-12. The FCC Chairman was Mark S. Fowler. The President of the United States was Ronald Reagan. The five member FCC was 3 Republican appointees and 2 Democratic appointees. The vote to expand the ownership limits was 4 to 1 in favor.

“Bigness is not necessarily badness,” Chairman Fowler is reported saying. “Sometimes it is goodness.”

The New York Times reported reaction on Capitol Hill to the expansion of ownership limits this way:

On Capitol Hill, there was mixed reaction to the plan to abandon all limits on broadcasting ownership in 1990, although sentiment has grown in recent years for raising the ownership maximum somewhat.

Representative Timothy E. Wirth, the Colorado Democrat who is chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee, said, ”The 12-12- 12 rule is just as arbitrary as the 7-7-7 rule.”

Mr. Wirth said a broad bipartisan consensus in Congress favors adoption of ”objective, long-term rules that assure diversity and competition.” He said such rules would provide for increased broadcast ownership but would not completely deregulate it.”

He went on to say “If they deregulate in 1990, we could end up with a handful of companies owning every broadcasting outlet in the country.”

President Ronald Reagan

Reagan loved two things, cutting taxes and eliminating regulation. Remember Reagan famously said that “Government isn’t the solution to our problems, government is the problem.” Reagan’s pick for FCC Chairman, Mark Fowler, fully embraced this vision and actively applied it to the FCC.

However, the prediction of Congressman Timothy Wirth wouldn’t come into existence until President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It would be the first significant overhaul of the 1934 Act in more than sixty years.

Radio station ownership in the first five years under this new act went from 5,100 owners to 3,800.

Instead of opening up ownership to new and more diverse ownership, it created an opportunity for media monopoly. The Wall Street funded radio companies could now buy out the Mom & Pops and the temptation to sell at never-before-seen-multiples was too good to pass up.

Operating in the Public Interest, Convenience and Necessity

When no one really knew what radio broadcasting would become, they did know they wanted radio to be a communications business that would serve its community of license for convenience in good times and of necessity in times of trouble. The airwaves were considered to be owned by the public, so operating in their best interests was a requirement to being an FCC broadcast licensee.

Changing Competitive Landscape

Historically, radio stations competed against one another. Most markets had such battles as, WLS vs. WCFL, WMEX vs. WRKO, WPTR vs. WTRY, KHJ vs. KRLA etc. When FM radio began to take over from AM, a station such as WABC no longer had just WMCA to beat, but now WTKU-FM too, which offered better fidelity and stereo. This new radio competition replicated in every radio market in America.

Then came Satellite Radio, followed by Pandora along with other pureplay streamers, and podcasts so that today, the radio competition landscape lines are blurred beyond recognition.

Mission vs. Platform

Today’s communications company needs to clearly define its mission and needs to earn the trust of all of its stakeholders. That means building trust between its employees, advertisers and listeners.

We need to stop thinking of “radio” as AM or FM.

We need to think of radio as being the audio leader for creating an environment for convening and supporting groups. We need to be preparing for a future that is still coming into focus.

(This article was originally published on September 8, 2019)

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Corporate FM

Kansas City Filmmaker Kevin McKinney originally released his movie “Corporate FM” in 2012, but unless you lived near a community that was screening the film or attended a film festival where it was being shown, you probably never saw it. Or even heard of it.

Amazon Prime

After re-editing the film in 2015 to reflect updates and changes in commercial radio since 2012, McKinney decided it was time to let more people access the information he covered in the film and just released it on Amazon Prime. (Here’s the LINK https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0786L8Y6L/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_ep_dp_-z-CAb3BGGJA9 ) “Corporate FM” explores the consolidation of radio after the Telcom Act of 1996 and how big corporations with the help of Wall Street and private equity firms swallowed up the radio industry in America.

February 1996

I remember the day that President Bill Clinton signed the Telcom Act of 1996 into law. It was supposed to provide competition between the phone companies and the cable companies with the goal to increase services and reduce prices to the consumer.

Inserted into the bill at the 11th hour were two paragraphs that would change the radio industry forever.

In the film, Robert McChesney, Professor of Communication Studies, University of Illinois points out that commercial media lobbyists, without a single public hearing or any public debate, would insert these paragraphs and open up the consolidation floodgates for radio/TV. Politicians would later say they didn’t know what they were voting for. Even President Clinton would say that he didn’t know that those two paragraphs had been added before he signed the bill into law.

Cumulus and Clear Channel

As the McKinney film told the story of the rise of Cumulus and Clear Channel, it reminded me of my time with both of those companies.

In Waterloo, Iowa I was running the #1, #2 and #3 radio stations. When Cumulus took them over, John Dickey showed up at the stations and proceeded to tell all of us gathered in the station’s conference room what our new logos would look like, what our new jingle packages would sound like, who our new station voice guys would be, how our playlist would be compiled, who are new consultants were etc. To say we were all stunned would be an understatement.

Then later when I was working for Clear Channel (after the Bain/Lee takeover, but before it became iHeartMedia) in Sussex, New Jersey, we received a survey from corporate asking us how local decisions were made about branding, marketing, promotions, music and the like. I assume a similar survey was sent to every market cluster inside Clear Channel.

When the results were tabulated at HQ, we then received directives that no longer would those types of decisions be made on the local level. Local radio had changed.

Local Bands

Growing up, local radio was a way for local bands to get exposure and grow their audience. “Corporate FM” tells the story of how Jewel became a national artist being discovered by local radio and played on-the-air in San Diego.

In fact, it was seeing a drop in attendance at live shows that got McKinney to wondering what was happening, and giving birth to his movie about the consolidation/corporatization of the radio industry.

I know a local band here in Winchester, Virginia “Sons of Liberty”. They play all over the Shenandoah Valley and beyond. They have a CD that Rob McKenzie of Fireworks Magazine spoke glowingly about. Where you won’t hear the “Sons of Liberty” music is on the radio.

Oh, they’ve been heard on an FM radio station (98 Rock) out of Harrisonburg, Virginia on their Sunday night “Wet Paint” show that starts at 11pm. But as “Corporate FM” points out it takes repetition to have an audience become familiar with anything, and for someone to decide they like it, or don’t. Radio used to provide that type of exposure and then monitor audience reaction to see if the record was a hit or a miss. (Remember features like “Champ & Challenger?”)

Sneak Preview

ABC Radio Networks used to air a feature hosted by WABC’s Chuck Leonard called “Sneak Preview.” The network would call affiliates of the ABC Contemporary Radio Network to get their hottest new song and then play it to a nationwide audience. I remember being at WBEC in Pittsfield, Massachusetts when we told Chuck that our hottest new song was “Tracy by The Cufflinks.” He told us he had a terrible time trying to find a copy of the song in New York City.  But Chuck Leonard did find it and it played over the ABC network to a national audience. That was how radio made the hits.

Fifty to Six

“Corporate FM” tells how in the 80s ninety percent of mass media in America was owned and controlled by about fifty different companies, but after the Telcom Act of 1996 it was down to just six corporations.

“Most radio studios are completely empty after 7pm and for the entire weekend.

They set the phone lines to “busy” so callers will believe that someone is there.”

-Slide shown in film

Big N Rich

The popular country recording artists “Big N Rich” addressed the FCC in Memphis, Tennessee. They told the commissioners that one person in a corporate office today can dictate what 35, 55, or 100 stations play.

“Let’s say an artist puts out a song with a political viewpoint and that corporate person says I don’t believe in that position so we’re not going to play that record (Dixie Chicks?). One guy can affect what 30 million people get to hear. That’s censorship.”

-John Rich

Fatherly Advice

Dick Fatherly says “the broadcasters have become the victims, and the winners are – who do you think? -Goldman Sachs.”

Josh Kosman, who wrote the book “The Buyout of America” put it this way: “Private equity took the radio business that was doing pretty well and gutted it.”

Josh has studied how private equity has impacted all industries in America. He used a simple example to explain the difference between you or I buying a house and a private equity firm buying a business doing a leverage buyout (LBO).

When we buy a house, we put down say 30% as a down payment and then take out a mortgage for the 70% balance.

When private equity buys a radio station, they make a small down payment and then the radio station they’re buying takes on the debt for the balance, leaving the radio station with crushing new debt.

The private equity companies then charge management and other fees, making back their down payment money, and a whole lot more. So, it’s zero risk to them.

It reminds me of the guys on the Atlantic City Boardwalk who used to entice you to let them guess your weight and if they got it wrong you won a prize. The only way those guys lost is if you didn’t pay them to guess your weight. For if they got your weight right, they gave you nothing and if they got your weight wrong, they gave you a prize that was valued less than what you paid them to play the game.

“Financial deals allow the corporate owners to keep their stations after bankruptcy.

This prevents local owners from reviving local radio.”

-Slide shown in the film

For those who hold out hope that if/when the big corporate entities fail, and it will return radio to local operators once more, that slide should send a chill down your spine.

America’s bankruptcy laws now favor the debtor in the corporate world.

Conclusion

This is probably a film that many will miss and that’s unfortunate. It’s only a little over an hour in length. It’s well worth your time.

For this is a film not just about what happened to the radio industry but what is happening to our way of life, in industry after industry. This modus operandi is being repeated today.

The people in the film offer their ideas for making radio great again.

I won’t spoil that for you, so you’ll have to watch the film.

Some of the statements made by various participants have since been proven wrong from the time the film was shot. Some of the statements are also inaccurate in terms of how today’s FCC license renewals can be challenged.

In all fairness, many people are still believing that the way it was, is the way it still is. Only it isn’t. Those laws have been changed by corporate lobbyists too.

I hope you will watch the film “Corporate FM” and then post your comments here on DickTaylorBlog dot com.

Note: Don’t have Amazon Prime, you can rent this movie for $2.99

(This article was originally published on March 11, 2018)

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Coal Ain’t Coming Back & Neither is AM Radio

I lived in Kentucky for 7-years.

Kentucky actually issues black license plates that say “Coal Keeps the Lights On.”

And yes, a lot of our electricity is generated from coal fired generating stations. But our dependency on coal has been in decline for years, today only about 30% of our electricity is generated from the burning of coal. 15% is generated from renewal energy sources.

But when it comes to jobs, solar & wind-energy jobs are growing 12 times as fast as the US economy. This has all been happening over the last 10-years or so. Renewable-energy jobs grew at the rate of 6% while fossil-fuel jobs declined at 4.5% from 2012 to 2015 according to Business Insider who also notes that the average number of employees at US coal mines dropped by 12% in 2015.

The solar industry now employs more people than coal, oil and gas combined.

The most recent statistics (2014) for the coal industry say 76,572 people are employed mining coal. That includes miners, office workers, sales people and others who work at coal-mining companies. In 1980, the industry employed about 242,000 people.

But to put the coal industry employment in perspective, there are more people employed in education in Kentucky than in coal. And the Washington Post compared the number of people employed in coal to other industries and reports: “Although 76,000 might seem like a large number, consider that similar numbers of people are employed by, say, the bowling (69,088) and skiing (75,036) industries. Other dwindling industries, such as travel agencies (99,888 people), employ considerably more. Used-car dealerships provide 138,000 jobs. Theme parks provide nearly 144,000. Carwash employment tops 150,000.”

In fact, more people are employed in RADIO (94,584 people) than in the mining of coal.

Coal jobs ain’t coming back.

AM RADIO

When I hear people in coal country cheering about coal jobs coming back under a new presidential administration, I look to my own industry; radio. AM radio is like the coal industry.

America, to a large extent, was built on coal due to the industrial revolution. All of our great factories depended on coal to power their machines. Coal was plentiful and we had lots of it. It was coal’s time.

In the 1920s, AM radio was born. Nothing like it had ever existed in the world. While the telephone brought people together, one person to another person, radio would bring the masses together. Inc.put together a list of “The 25 Greatest Inventions of All Time” and radio was #2 following the wired telephone. The History Channel compiled its own list and it put the smartphone in the first position followed by radio.

The “Golden Age of Radio” is the period from the 1920s to the 1940s when AM radio was the main source of entertainment in American homes. It would be replaced by television in the 1950s.

The transistor and car radio would pump new energy into the radio industry to a young generation in the 1960s and AM radio would be “born again.”

FM RADIO

The latest FCC (Federal Communications Commission) report as of the end of December 2016 shows that there were 4,669 AM radio stations on the air in America. Over on the FM dial, 16,783 signals now beat the airwaves (FM, FM educational, translators and low power FM).

To put things in perspective, at a time in America’s radio history when the number of FM signals equaled the number of AM signals on the air, 75% of all radio listening was to FM. So, you can only imagine what it’s like today for AM radio listening.

JOBS & ROBOTS

In coal mining, the need for coal miners goes down every year. Today, mining for coal no longer means muscle hardy men in maze-like tunnels wielding picks and shovels. The coal industry has steadily been replacing those jobs with robotic machines that require far fewer miners but more computer engineers and coders.

The radio industry employs its own cadre of computer engineers and coders that allows for fewer folks to appear on more radio stations through automation and voice-tracking. Is what’s happening in radio broadcasting any different than what’s happening in coal; or any other industry today?

I grew up on AM radio.

AM radio was my world and the people who made the magic caused this boy to make radio a career.

But AM radio and those jobs are not coming back any more than coal miner jobs.

93% of Americans 12-years of age or older listen to radio every week.

What percentage of those are listening to AM?

As AM radio stations add FM translators, do you think that number will grow again?

Sadly, AM radio is to broadcasting as coal is to power generation.

(This article was originally published on August 20, 2017)

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Road Trip 2022

Sue & I are off on another road trip. This time we’re heading north to Bar Harbor, Maine. Then we will board the CAT Ferry from Bar Harbor to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia for our drive through eastern Canada.

We plan to drive the famous Cabot Trail, visit the Green Gables Heritage Place on Prince Edward Island, visit Quebec City and Montreal before heading back to America.

During this period, I will be re-publishing the best blog article readers picked for the years  2017-2021.

In reviewing them, I see they are as meaningful today as when they were first published.

It looks to be a busy year for travel and we wish you good times whatever your 2022 vacation plans may be.

See you with new articles, thoughts and observations about media in August.


BONUS: On June 20, 2022 Don Bedell interviewed me for his Radio Biz Podcast. You can listen to that podcast here: https://theradio.biz/2022/06/24/episode-17-dick-taylor/

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Where Have All the People Gone?

It’s almost hard to believe, in an economy where employers are finding it difficult to hire and retain employees, that the radio industry continues to eliminate people.

iHeart Initiates Round of Cuts

Lance Venta of RadioInsight broke the news on Wednesday, June 8th about iHeart doing a new countrywide Reduction In Force (RIFs). On Friday evening, as I scrolled down my screen, Lance updated his initial report with locations of where some of the known cuts had taken place. Boston, Chicago, Des Moines, Jacksonville, New Hampshire and Tampa.

Reading the names of the people cut, I couldn’t help but notice they have been in their positions for decades, with titles like Senior Vice President of Programming and member of the National Programming Team. We’re talking some very senior level people with tenured radio careers.

Main Studio Rule Eliminated

It was back in October of 2017 that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to eliminate the Main Studio Rule, a provision that had been in place since 1934, and allowed radio owners to no longer maintain a main studio within its principal community contour. In other words, there’s no one home at your local radio station.

Lance speculated that in the future, we would see much leaner broadcast facilities. Welcome to that future.

Public Interest, Convenience and Necessity

The case broadcasters make for Over-The-Air AM/FM radio is that in times of emergencies, staying on the air is what makes radio an essential resource. They like to point out that other forms of communication, like satellite dishes, cell towers and microwave relays do not.

Ironically, without having a main studio in the affected area, broadcasters use satellite dishes, cellular communications and microwaves to feed local transmitters, often from hundreds of miles away from where a natural disaster is occurring.

Broadcasters have abandoned local staff being on the ground in their FCC licensed service area and with it, the vital connections with local emergency management officials.

Efficiently Eliminating Radio’s Advantage

Radio is a people business.

When I started in radio back in 1968, every radio station was a beehive of professionals dedicated to being the best they could be.

As an example, CKLW, a stand-alone AM radio station in the Detroit metro, had twenty-three people just in their news department.

Was radio efficient back then? No.

Was radio effective? YES!

Did radio make money? Tons of it!

Radio’s advantage has always been the people who make the magic happen.

Sadly, radio today operates in an “efficiency bubble,” where efficiency is valued over effectiveness.

Efficient radio chases away listeners.

Effective radio creates them.

The pursuit of efficiency is a rational answer to an emotional problem.

The radio business was never built on Excel spreadsheets and doing what was most efficient, it was built by creative people who touched others emotionally. Be it station imaging, air personalities, promotions, contests, community events, advertising or marketing, radio always went for people’s hearts.

Radio is successful when it delivers a sense of community and companionship to the listener.

Show me a successful radio station in 2022 and I will show you one that continues to foster emotions in their listeners and advertisers.

Radio done correctly still wins.

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What Comes First? Radio Job or College Degree?

The reason I write my blog is to stimulate discussion about what radio needs to be doing to not just survive, but thrive in the 21st Century. If things weren’t hot enough after I published last week’s blog article, “No College Degree Required,” they got even hotter after Fred Jacobs expanded on my thoughts in his Monday blog article titled: “Want To Succeed In Radio? Get That Degree.” Let’s hope all the discussion that occurred on both of our blogs and on social media leads our industry’s leaders to make some meaningful changes.

How I Got Into Professional Radio

Just about everyone my age (69) who got into the radio business, did so while still in high school. For me, the entrance door was via Junior Achievement. JA was just beginning to experiment with the idea of having service companies. The Junior Achievement program was created to help high school students understand the principles of running a business by selling stock ($1), forming a company, deciding on what product to make, making that product, selling that product and then liquidating the company and returning (hopefully) a monetary value greater than the $1 invested by the stockholders; all during a single school year.

One of the local radio stations in my town, came to my 10th grade high school assembly and made a presentation about forming a JA Radio Company. I set my sights on being in it, and made the cut. One of my best friends also made the cut and has retired from a very successful radio and voice-over career of 50 years.

My College Years

I was the GM of my college’s carrier current AM radio station and worked to secure an educational FM license before graduating. WJJW remains on the air to this day at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

I was a commuter student with no student loans, but back in 1970, such a thing was more the norm than the exception. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 1970-71 academic year, the average in-state tuition and fees for one year at a public non-profit university was $394. By the 2020-21 academic year, that amount jumped to $10,560, an increase of 2,580%.

How Other Industries Treat College & Their Best Employees

In other industries, it’s not uncommon for companies to actually pay for their best employees to earn their college degrees in order to further their advancement. I know a person that learned his computer skills in the military and works for a military contractor in DC. He’s been working with the highest level of military leaders at the Pentagon as well as with members of Congress. After 17 years of constant achievement, his company is paying for him to complete his college degree. He currently maintains a 4.0 GPA.

His degree, ironically, won’t even be in the area that he works in, but in an area that gives him passion outside of his job.

Just-In-Time-Learning

The point of my article wasn’t to dis getting a college education, but for our radio industry to begin recruitment and training at the high school level. Radio needs to be a way for talented individuals to be exposed to what a wonderful business radio is, and have a way to enter without being screened out by a computer algorithm looking for a college degree. (You can’t see talent on a spreadsheet.)

Clear Channel used to run a wonderful training program called Clear Channel University. It succumbed to one of the many rounds of budget cuts.

The RAB’s Radio Talent Institute is an excellent program and my point was it should be run in the high schools across America.

Companies interested in retaining and growing their best employees should be making higher education opportunities a company benefit, what I like to call “just-in-time-learning.”

When the NAB offered a Sales Management Program through the Wharton School, I paid my own way and went. I already had an undergraduate degree from a four year college and a master’s degree from a university, but I never had the specific training that this program offered for the job I had been promoted into.

The owner of the radio stations I worked for at the time, provided a lot of training for its people. We attended the annual Managing Sales Conference hosted by the RAB. I earned my CRMC, Diamond CRMC and CDMC from the Radio Advertising Bureau.

I always told my college students that their degree wasn’t the end of their learning, but the launchpad to a life of learning. Every year of your life, learn something new, experience something new, grow your knowledge in life.

Think about what you can add to your resume that will make you a more valuable person to your company, your family and yourself.

Not Every Job Is For Every Person, Regardless of Their College Degrees

A comment made by Tom Langmyer said it best; that at the core, it all comes down to the person. Having a PhD doesn’t equal a great air personality or salesperson.

The hardest part is expecting the same result when sending 10 people to university for Broadcasting/Media. So much is about the person.

Success on the content and sales side relies so much more upon the candidate’s personality, makeup, drive, ambition, chemistry, life experiences, ability to engage and activate people, etc.

Those are attributes which additional education can enhance, but if one does’t have those natural abilities, anything including a PhD in broadcast media, is worthless.

-Tom Langmyer

My success as a GM in hiring was to first hire for attitude and then train the person for the job that needs to be done.

When the raw talent at affordable prices is sitting in high school classrooms today, why is the radio industry waiting till college to begin recruiting?

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No College Degree Required

The other day when I went to my mailbox, I noticed a rather large piece of “junk mail” from a local HVAC company.

It said:

We’re Hiring!

Start a Rewarding Career with [business name]

Attention: High School Grads

HVAC is a Great Career Option! No Student Debt!

Great pay, hours and benefits!

Which got me to thinking about all the radio help wanted ads saying you need to have a college degree to apply. Why does the radio industry list having a college degree as a requirement, when the truth is, great radio broadcasters haven’t had one, nor did they need one.

Cost of a College Degree in 2022

According to Educational Data, when you consider student loan interest and loss of income, the cost of a four-year college degree can exceed $400,000.

It’s not unusual for a college grad to learn the starting pay in radio is often as low as $19,500/year ($9.36/hour) for on-air positions and sales positions are 100% commission based.

Start a job with Walmart with no college degree and you’ll make $12/hour. Get that same job at Target and you’ll start at $15/hour. At McDonalds the starting pay range at company owned stores is between $11 and $17/hour.

Virtually every job in today’s world will pay you more than most radio positions, and yet radio ads always require you to have a college degree while those other companies don’t.

Radio Talent Institute

I worked with Dan Vallie and his Radio Talent Institute at Western Kentucky University. It’s an excellent program, now operated by the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB). Sadly, it’s offered as a summer program to students in colleges across America. I contend that the RAB should be offering this program in the high schools.

For all of the same reasons, one of my local HVAC companies is appealing to high school grads, this also makes sense for the radio industry.

Famous Broadcasters

Oprah Winfrey didn’t need to have a college degree to become one of the most successful women in broadcasting. She dropped out of college after only one semester to pursue a career in broadcasting.

In 2015, Forbes published the salaries of the top five radio broadcasters in America.

Glenn Beck earned $16.5 Million in 2015. Not bad for a Sehome High School graduate with no college experience.

Sean Hannity earned $29 Million and never obtained a college degree, even though he attended four different colleges.

Ryan Seacrest earned $65 Million. Like me, Ryan started his radio career at 16 while still in high school. Unlike me, who went to college and graduate school earning two degrees, Ryan dropped out of college to devote all of his energies to broadcasting. Needless to say, he’s really famous and I write this blog.

Rush Limbaugh earned $77 Million and dropped out of college after only two semesters. His mother said at the time that Rush “flunked everything…he just didn’t seem interested in anything except radio.”

The top earning radio personality was Howard Stern. Howard IS a college graduate, with a 3.8 Grade Point Average (GPA) from Boston University, earning $95 Million in 2015.

Now, if I was trying to sell you on the value of a college degree in broadcasting and compared Howard Stern to the other four on Forbes 2015 list, I would say that having a college degree can earn you 23% to 76% more money than not having that piece of paper.

College Degrees

Please don’t think I’m dissing the college experience, I’m not. What I am taking issue with is the hiring practices of the radio industry that make having a college degree a requirement. Radio is better positioned as a trade, one best learned by doing.

The radio industry should be presenting a broadcast career as an opportunity for students graduating from high school.

I treasure my four decade radio broadcasting career, but having my Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science college degrees never played a role.

It wasn’t until I pursued my second career in life, that of a college broadcast professor, that I would need those two pieces of paper to be hired at The School of Broadcasting and Journalism at Western Kentucky University.

Colleges sell pieces of paper representing knowledge learned. You can’t be part of the faculty unless you have also earned these benchmarks in higher education.

Finally, just as adamant as I am about the radio industry starting its outreach at the high school level, I am just as determined to see colleges hiring broadcast professionals based on their broadcast careers, knowledge that has been earned through years of on-the-job experience that no college curriculum can duplicate. Sadly, most colleges screen out any applicant that doesn’t have the required terminal degrees.

“Difficulties come into our lives to develop us.

Every storm is a school.

Every trial is a teacher.

Every experience is an education.”

— Nicky Gumbel.

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