Radio’s Non-Compete Contracts

69Have you ever thought about how Silicon Valley became such a powerhouse in the world of technology?  Back in the 80s, my home state of Massachusetts was home to world class research with institutions such as MIT, Harvard and the Route 128 corridor. So how did Boston cede its leadership to California and Silicon Valley? Employee non-compete contracts that held employees bound to these vertically integrated firms.

Meanwhile, taking a different approach companies such as Hewlett Packard and Sun Microsystems were embracing their people to job hop. They encouraged open technologies and building alliances.

Cross-Pollination of Ideas

In her book Regional Advantage AnnaLee Saxenian writes that these same phenomena took place in all kinds of industries all over the world; that being that these companies in California allowed cross-pollination of ideas to occur by the movement of people between them.

Ironically, radio enjoyed this same kind of cross-pollination up until 1996.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996

President Clinton signed sweeping communications reform in America with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The radio industry consolidated almost overnight with a handful of major companies owning virtually all of the best “beachfront” radio properties.

The radio business, is not about just having a license to broadcast, but is about transmitted power and – like the real estate business – location, location, location. Unfortunately, that’s not how the FCC looks at license assignments.

Federal Radio Commission

The first regulatory body for communications in the United States was the FRC (Federal Radio Commission) and it divided the country into five equal regions and assigned the same number of radio services to each region. Why was this a bad idea? Because most of the people all lived in one or two regions of the country at that point in time and so more radio service was needed in them than in regions where it was mainly wildlife.

History Rhymes Again

I fond of saying that history doesn’t repeat but usually rhymes and in the case of radio’s number of AM or FM licenses a single company can own in a metro area we are repeating the same mistakes made by the FRC.

It’s not about number of signals but the power of those signals and location.

Cross-pollination of People

Part and parcel with the Telcom Act of ’96 was the loss of cross-pollination of people. If a person was RIF’d (Reduction In Force) by his company, he was under a non-compete to walk across the street or maybe some place else in the country as the same companies were now competing against one another all across this great land.

Before the Telcom Act, a single radio company could only own 12AM-12FM-12TV stations in the entire USA.  After the act, pretty much as much as they could afford to buy (with certain limitations).

BEST PRACTICES

Worse, these huge new radio companies would introduce across their footprint the concept of “Best Practices.” This is a code word for putting a knife in the heart of innovation.

Innovation requires risk.

Wall Street investors are basically risk adverse.

Playing it safe becomes the rule of the day and anyone that can’t play by the new rules is quickly shown to the exit doors.

Innovation requires three things according to the author of The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida. Those are talent, technology and tolerance.

Consolidation and the new goal of “increasing shareholder value” would chop the talent pool while replacing people with technology. And the tolerance for anything new was likewise reduced to nil. Welcome to “playing it safe” radio; sterile, predictable and boring.

The Day I Tore Up My Employee’s Non-Competes

Back when I was in Atlantic City, I had an employee walk across the street to a radio competitor of mine. I wanted to pursue this employee because I had them under a non-compete contract. My new owners said that if a person didn’t want to work for them, to just let them go. I said then if they didn’t intend to enforce my employee’s non-compete contracts why did they keep them in place when they bought my stations from the previous owner. The president’s response to me was, “darn if I know.” I said then I’m going to tear them all up and he said, “go ahead.”

Life Without Non-Competes

I have to tell you, as a young manager, the realization that everyone at my radio stations could walk across the street to competitors was scary.

However, something wonderful happened.

People who now worked for me knew they no longer were working under non-competes and they now worked for me because they wanted to. It also made me realize that I too needed to provide a style of management that made people want to stay with me more than going someplace else. That, I would learn, is the best way to run a business.

Even better, having this type of work environment saw lots of talented people waiting in line to come work at my stations.

Make Radio Great Again

Radio became the force in America it is by being open to risk, new ideas and innovation. It kept the things that worked and jettisoned the ones that didn’t.

In other words, before radio was encumbered with huge debt brought on by consolidators, it invested in its future.

Radio can only win the future by investing in it.

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Radio’s Non-Compete Contracts

69Have you ever thought about how Silicon Valley became such a powerhouse in the world of technology?  Back in the 80s, my home state of Massachusetts was home to world class research with institutions such as MIT, Harvard and the Route 128 corridor. So how did Boston cede its leadership to California and Silicon Valley? Employee non-compete contracts that held employees bound to these vertically integrated firms.

Meanwhile, taking a different approach companies such as Hewlett Packard and Sun Microsystems were embracing their people to job hop. They encouraged open technologies and building alliances.

Cross-Pollination of Ideas

In her book Regional Advantage AnnaLee Saxenian writes that these same phenomena took place in all kinds of industries all over the world; that being that these companies in California allowed cross-pollination of ideas to occur by the movement of people between them.

Ironically, radio enjoyed this same kind of cross-pollination up until 1996.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996

President Clinton signed sweeping communications reform in America with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The radio industry consolidated almost overnight with a handful of major companies owning virtually all of the best “beachfront” radio properties.

The radio business, is not about just having a license to broadcast, but is about transmitted power and – like the real estate business – location, location, location. Unfortunately, that’s not how the FCC looks at license assignments.

Federal Radio Commission

The first regulatory body for communications in the United States was the FRC (Federal Radio Commission) and it divided the country into five equal regions and assigned the same number of radio services to each region. Why was this a bad idea? Because most of the people all lived in one or two regions of the country at that point in time and so more radio service was needed in them than in regions where it was mainly wildlife.

History Rhymes Again

I fond of saying that history doesn’t repeat but usually rhymes and in the case of radio’s number of AM or FM licenses a single company can own in a metro area we are repeating the same mistakes made by the FRC.

It’s not about number of signals but the power of those signals and location.

Cross-pollination of People

Part and parcel with the Telcom Act of ’96 was the loss of cross-pollination of people. If a person was RIF’d (Reduction In Force) by his company, he was under a non-compete to walk across the street or maybe some place else in the country as the same companies were now competing against one another all across this great land.

Before the Telcom Act, a single radio company could only own 12AM-12FM-12TV stations in the entire USA.  After the act, pretty much as much as they could afford to buy (with certain limitations).

BEST PRACTICES

Worse, these huge new radio companies would introduce across their footprint the concept of “Best Practices.” This is a code word for putting a knife in the heart of innovation.

Innovation requires risk.

Wall Street investors are basically risk adverse.

Playing it safe becomes the rule of the day and anyone that can’t play by the new rules is quickly shown to the exit doors.

Innovation requires three things according to the author of The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida. Those are talent, technology and tolerance.

Consolidation and the new goal of “increasing shareholder value” would chop the talent pool while replacing people with technology. And the tolerance for anything new was likewise reduced to nil. Welcome to “playing it safe” radio; sterile, predictable and boring.

The Day I Tore Up My Employee’s Non-Competes

Back when I was in Atlantic City, I had an employee walk across the street to a radio competitor of mine. I wanted to pursue this employee because I had them under a non-compete contract. My new owners said that if a person didn’t want to work for them, to just let them go. I said then if they didn’t intend to enforce my employee’s non-compete contracts why did they keep them in place when they bought my stations from the previous owner. The president’s response to me was, “darn if I know.” I said then I’m going to tear them all up and he said, “go ahead.”

Life Without Non-Competes

I have to tell you, as a young manager, the realization that everyone at my radio stations could walk across the street to competitors was scary.

However, something wonderful happened.

People who now worked for me knew they no longer were working under non-competes and they now worked for me because they wanted to. It also made me realize that I too needed to provide a style of management that made people want to stay with me more than going someplace else. That, I would learn, is the best way to run a business.

Even better, having this type of work environment saw lots of talented people waiting in line to come work at my stations.

Make Radio Great Again

Radio became the force in America it is by being open to risk, new ideas and innovation. It kept the things that worked and jettisoned the ones that didn’t.

In other words, before radio was encumbered with huge debt brought on by consolidators, it invested in its future.

Radio can only win the future by investing in it.

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The Post-Fact Society

68P.T. Barnum, among many others, is credited with saying: “I don’t care what they say about me, just make sure they spell my name right!”

Barnum knew it wasn’t important what people said about him as long as they were talking about him. Only the noise level about Barnum mattered.

When I saw this chart from The DataFace measuring the newspaper media coverage of the two presidential candidates, it was eye opening.  68a It mattered little that most of that coverage was negative. What mattered was they spelled “Trump” correctly.

Fake News

Once upon a time, news came from journalists who worked for newspapers, radio and television stations.

Then along came the iPhone and social media.

Now the same device that could receive text, voice, pictures and video could produce it too.

Social media platforms provided mass distribution without a filter (aka an editor).

This provided the perfect storm for the production of fake news. A cottage industry in some parts of the world, some American citizens soon learned that producing internet stories that would get lots of clicks could be profitable.

Radio & Fake News

Even syndicated radio host Sean Hannity got snared in the volume of fake news being generated and had to apologize for using fake news stories to attack Obama.

Ad Supported Media Fight for Survival

In an effort to make a little coin, trusted media sources began accepting advertising that would lead their readers, listeners, viewers to unaffiliated sources that would serve up this fake news. In so doing, they inadvertently now wore the stink of the fake news creators. The public quickly could not discern the researched and sourced news from the made-up variety.

One PM Central Standard Time

Radio and television journalism didn’t always operate this way. PBS produced an excellent documentary about the coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The program was called “One PM Central Standard Time” and it covered how “the most trusted man in America” Walter Cronkite waited until Kennedy’s death was confirmed by  multiple sources before going live with the news to the nation over the CBS radio and television networks.

The Being First Obsession

Things changed when things started being published digitally. In this world, advertising paid based on clicks. Quantity beat quality. Sensational beat facts. Going viral meant big money to these new media folks. Plus the concept of “native advertising” means that advertising copy is presented to look like editorial.

All of these little changes contributed to consumers becoming less and less able to tell real news from what was fake news. Which has led to many not believing anything today’s media tells them.

And that’s a very sad state of affairs for journalism.

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
–Thomas Jefferson

21st Century Business Model Challenge

Starting with newspapers, then radio, then TV then digital, the business model has been one of ad supported media. The model is broken.

Disruption first destroys the old ways of doing things before the new ways are discovered and take root. We are living in that destruction period of disruption.

Our challenge lies in building a business model that will support solid journalism, quality entertainment and community service.

What others have shown us is that in a 21st Century world it will take a collaborative effort from people from all over the world to help build the new way.

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The Magic Hat

67aI’m not going to get into the weeds about the presidential election. But I do want to weigh in about marketing and promotion.

I read that Donald Trump spent more on those “Make America Great Again” red ball caps than he did on any other part of his campaign. I also know that in the fly-over states his lawn signs were also prolific.

I bring this up because I remember when radio stations promoted themselves prolifically as well.

Do you?

It’s About Touching People Emotionally, Stupid

Roy H. Williams taught me long ago in writing persuasive radio commericials that if you win a person’s heart, their mind and pocketbook will follow. People first are hooked by their emotions and then justify their actions logically.

Go Team Go

Pick any sports team, in any sport, and you will see team fans proudly wearing their favorite team’s hats, shirts, colors.

Colleges also understand the importance of school spirit through the display of all kinds of wearables.

Bumper Stickers

Radio used to own the bumper sticker market. One radio station I especially remember was WOBM in Toms River, New Jersey. 67 This simple white on blue bumper sticker was seen on virtually every car at the Jersey Shore when I moved to Atlantic City in 1984.

But many of these station branded items seem to have been eliminated as budget cuts forced a leaner, meaner operating style.

Ratings vs. Station Wear

These days one of a radio station’s biggest expenses is audience ratings. The expense line for station branded items I’m sure pales by comparison.

The Federal Election Commission filings show that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign spent around $1.8 million on polling from June 2015 through September 2016, but spent $3.2 million on hats. Polling like audience ratings don’t touch anyone on an emotional level (except maybe the manager when the bill comes due).

Is there a lesson for radio here?

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Just In Time Learning

66In a post I wrote about “Where You Should Be Recruiting Radio Talent” I mentioned a concept of “Just In Time Learning” that struck a chord with many readers. Commenter’s said they found the idea interesting and something they had never heard or thought of before. So I thought I’d expand on that thought with a little more detail and why it’s time has come.

Toyota’s Better Idea

Manufacturers used to stock everything they would need to build a product in warehouses. It was expensive and often wasteful. Then the idea of having parts shipped just-in-time to be assembled into a finished product was introduced.

Originally called “just-in-time production,” it builds on the approach created by the founder of Toyota, Sakichi Toyoda, his son Kiichiro Toyoda, and the engineer Taiichi Ohno. The principles underlying the TPS are embodied in The Toyota Way.

College Degree Credential Creep

Once upon a time, college was an optional final stage of learning in the United States. Today even a Starbucks barista probably has a college degree. So what’s causing this college degree credential creep? In many cases the reason is that employers feel that by requiring candidates to have a bachelor’s degree they will see a higher quality group of candidates. It has nothing to do with what job skills are actually required. It’s used mainly as a screening tool. Unfortunately, two-thirds of the workforce in America gets screened out when a B.A. degree requirement is inserted into the advertisement. Burning Glass researched how the demand for a bachelor’s degree is reshaping the workforce and you can read more about all of this here.

The 20th Century College Education

When the 20th Century began, America had about a thousand colleges and those colleges had less than 200,000 students enrolled in them. By mid-century the number of colleges exploded and colleges that once had about a thousand students expanded to universities with enrollments of tens of thousands of students.

Unfortunately our 20th Century higher education system simply wasn’t designed to deliver what’s needed in a 21st Century world.

Your Teacher, Your Doctor and Your Barber

In our high tech world, things can quickly scale. Productivity grows quickly. But a teacher still teaches at the same pace. Your doctor can only see patients at the same pace.  And your barber can only cut hair at the same pace as each of these professions did in the 20th Century.

When something can’t scale, the price to provide the service goes up.

In the case of higher education, this price problem has been compounded by states reducing funding to their colleges and universities, resulting in public colleges being funded more and more by student tuition and lots of fees. This has resulted in a trillion dollar student loan crisis in America.

Certifications vs. Degrees

For the radio industry, the answer may be professional certifications versus bachelor’s degrees. Students simply can’t afford to go to college for four to six years and come out with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt to take an entry level radio job that will pay them fifteen to eighteen thousand dollars a year. Even worse, most likely the job you’re most looking to fill – sales – a college grad won’t have received any course work in learning about. Broadcasting in college is focused on teaching all of the low demand jobs in radio and the classes in the high demand jobs are either non-existent or being eliminated.

The Radio Advertising Bureau offers professional certifications in selling starting with their Radio Marketing Professional (RMP) certification. Burning Glass says that jobs in fields with strong certification and licensure standards have avoided the problem of “upcredentially.” They write: “This suggests that developing certifications that better reflect industry needs, together with industry acceptance of these alternative credentials, could reduce pressure on job seekers to pursue a bachelor’s degree and ensure that middle-skill Americans continue to have opportunities for rewarding careers, while continuing to provide employers with access to the talent they need.”

Radio’s Recruitment Mission

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) need to spearhead the radio industry in creating bonafide certification programs for all job classifications that will be accepted by the radio industry as the equivalent (or better) than a bachelor’s degree. These programs need to be offered to high school aged students and recent high school graduates.

Certification programs can be designed to provide the kind of just-in-time learning needed for each radio position. When a person shows they’re ready to advance additional certification training can be taken to prepare them for the next higher position.

Done in this way, the training will be up-to-date, cutting edge instruction to insure the student is learning exactly the skills needed for the position they will be moving into.

Time for Radio to Think Different

The radio industry will need to attract new talent in order to stay viable and continue growing. Embracing a better form of training for the skills needed and making this a requirement versus a college bachelor’s degree is 21st Century thinking.

Many of these programs are already in place, but industry recognition and acceptance of them lags in comparison to requiring a college degree.

It’s time to think differently about how we find, train and grow the radio talent of tomorrow.

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It Was the Best of Times & the Worst of Times

65Radio broadcasting began in the “Roaring 20s.” A time in America that saw the first tabloid newspaper appear. Reader’s Digest, New Yorker Magazine, Time Magazine would also be born right along with radio. It was a time of unprecedented economic prosperity and social change. It was a time of a strong backlash of racism, fear of immigration and morality.

The 1920s and the world we are living in today are not all that dissimilar. Today, the wealth inequality is greater than it was in the early 1920s.

And just like those times, almost a hundred years ago, that gave birth to radio we are living in times that are giving birth to the “Internet of Things.”

Immigration: Then & Now

After World War One ended, America got tough on immigration. The most stringent set of immigration restrictions in American history was enacted with “The National Origins Act of 1924.” It restricted the flow of immigrants from Europe (and elsewhere) to less than 200,000 per year. This fear of immigrants reignited the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK membership saw its membership rise to a new high in 1928. Reformers advocated for a more militant, less conciliatory stance.

Today the battle rages on over building a wall between Mexico and the United States and over immigration of Muslims.

Women’s Rights

While women had won the right to vote, they still couldn’t go to college and most professions still excluded women. While women could now own property, they couldn’t establish credit with a bank or get backing for a business venture.

Many felt that the only thing that changed in America when women were given the power to vote was prohibition; the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.

War on Illegal Substances

So while the United States tried to control alcohol in the 20s and failed, today we find America battling another illegal substance battle, marijuana, with much the same results.

People will find a way to do something they really want to do.

Modern Mass Media

The 20s ushered in the first decade of modern mass media. American-made films not only captured the attention of American audiences, but the whole world. Every city would have at least one movie house by the end of the decade.

Because the movies were silent, musicians were in high demand for the movies. And because radio was all live, it too needed musicians to perform during each broadcast day.

Radio Jingles

The 20s also saw advertising agencies now develop departments devoted to the creation of radio advertising and soon the commercial radio jingle was born.

The Worst of Times

The Roaring 20s would end with Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.

While this decade created favorable conditions for big business to prosper, the alliance of government and industry left labor unions out in the cold.

It was these times that radio was born.

The Great Recession of 2008 would be the environment that would see the Internet of Things born.

Today’s Big Regulatory Difference

The big difference I see today for radio versus its toddler years is how it is regulated. The Radio Act of 1927  provided the foundation for all broadcast regulation right up until today. While more Acts were passed and made law over the years, the basics remain much the same as when they were first made law.

Some of the key provisions in the original Act that we’ve deviated from today are:

  • Limiting the number of broadcasters to foster higher quality radio broadcasts versus having more stations of poor or mediocre qualities
  • Radio broadcasters would operate in the “public interest, convenience and necessity”
  • Radio would be a regulated medium to assure high quality and operating in the public interest
  • Radio would be commercial and privately owned (a condition that made radio broadcasting in the USA different from every other country in the world)

Those who complain that radio isn’t like it used to be only need look at how broadcast regulations have been changed over the past century; the biggest change being the Telcom Act of 1996.

Utopian Hopes, Dystopian Fears

When commercial radio was born in 1920, it was hoped that it would bring about national unity. Those utopian hopes and dystopian fears would fall basically into four different areas.

  1. Radio would create a physical unity in the country bringing people together as one
  2. Radio would bring about a new cultural unity as Americans
  3. Radio would make America a one language nation providing linguistic unity
  4. Radio would bring about institutional unity where everyone wanted the same things and held the same vision

I will let you draw your own conclusions on the success or failure of these goals for radio.

Internet of Things

Broadcasting in America started out as a government-assisted oligopoly. The internet did too. Both, I would argue, now fall into the unlimited category. While I realize this is definitely true for the internet, I know others would quickly point out the limited amount of spectrum for AM and FM radio broadcasting. However, with the growth of FM translators and LPFM stations, it feels like it’s unlimited.

The original system of a government preferred broadcasting system is being challenged today by the Internet of Things.

And covered in dust, is the original fundamental principle of operating in the public interest, convenience and necessity and not merely for maximum profits.

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Welcome to the Social Capital Age

64We live in interesting times. The internet has changed our world in a revolutionary way. In its current form the internet is now over twenty-years old. There are college students today that don’t know a period of time when there wasn’t an internet.

The 5 Media Revolutions

There are only five periods in world history where communication has undergone such a massive change to be called a “revolution.” The first would be the invention of the printing press and movable type. The telegraph and telephone would be the second time. The ability to take photos, record music and voice and create motion pictures would be third. Radio followed by television would be the fourth time and the digital/internet period – the period we are living in today – is the fifth communications revolution.

Each communications revolution brought with it a period of adjustment and made the world a little more connected. Entrepreneurs who could envision the future would leverage each media revolution to their economic benefit.

The Post-Digital Age

Once upon a time, people spoke of the electrical age and the computer age. You don’t hear anyone say that anymore. Slowly fading away are people calling things digital or internet. It’s when people begin to take a new innovation for granted that it begins to have social impact.

Social Capital vs. Technical Capital

In the previous four media revolutions, technical capital is what separated the winners from the losers. What makes the fifth media revolution so confounding to media professionals is that every new media device sold today creates not only a media consumer but a media producer as well. By 2020 it’s estimated that there will be nearly eight billion people living on planet earth and 65% of them will be connected to the internet. That means there will be over five billion people who will be able to create content and distribute it over the internet.

“The moment we’re living through

 is the largest increase in expressive capability in human history.”

 –Clay Shirky

Professor Shirky also says that as these new social media tools get technologically boring, they get socially interesting. In other words, as the value of technical capital goes down, social capital’s value increases.

NPR Sees Large Ratings Increase

On Tuesday, October 18, 2016 NPR reported that its multiplatform journalism has seen a tremendous audience growth. NPR President and CEO Jarl Mohn said it showed that NPR was doing a far better job of its public service mission, community engagement and local impact.

What NPR is very effectively doing is increasing the value of its social capital. It is focused on its listeners who have an appetite for strong reporting and a need to be in the know.

Today’s media landscape allows one to convene an audience, but not control them. It takes discipline to understand this change in our 21st century communications world.

Advertising’s New Challenge

Older media folks still think of media in terms of radio, TV, newspapers, magazines etc. Today any person over ten doesn’t make this kind of distinction.

Radio to my college students is anything that they can get through any media device that is primarily audio-only. Satellite radio, Pandora, AM, FM is all radio to them. Likewise is the idea of ecommerce, mcommerce or brick-and-mortar, for today’s consumer it’s just buying stuff they want, when they want it.

Birds of a Feather, Flock Together

The concept of reaching a mass audience through target demos is over. It’s no longer about age, as it is state of mind. Today the game is about reaching a unique audience that is socially connected by their interests. Shared interests are the new “local.” The future is in the careful creation of the ad itself, which speaks to the interests of the consumer and then placing it in a media environment that is in sync with the product or service being presented. Podcasters are doing this quite effectively.

Media that defines what it is, monitors all content to be consistent with that definition, will be the media that wins for both its audience and its sponsors.

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