What Does a Radio Look Like?

107When I was growing up, there were lots of examples of what a radio looked like. The instant we saw it, we immediately knew it was a radio.

My first radio was a Zenith Royal 50. It was red & white and came with a brown leather carrying case and a single ear phone. It opened up the world to me.

In high school & college my radio was a Grundig 2440 table radio with a 100-foot copper wire antenna running across my parent’s backyard from my second floor bedroom window. Another wire would run out that same window to the ground.

Once I got my license to drive, the radio that would get the most use would be the AM radio in my 1969 Chevrolet Biscayne.

My home radio of choice would be purchased after many years of longing and being brainwashed by the radio advertisements delivered by the one & only Paul Harvey during his daily news & commentary broadcasts over the ABC Radio Network. It would be the BOSE WAVE Radio.

When I bought my new MacBook Air, it came with a free pair of Beats Wireless Headphones.

100My new iPhone7 uses the Apple AirPods.

Wireless headphones outsold non-bluetooth headphones in the first half of 2016 (just a year ago). I wrote about this evolution in headphone technology this past March 2017 in a post about the MAYA principle.

Things Forecast to Kill Radio

Radio still dominates in the automobile.

Over my radio career I lived through so many technical innovations that were forecast to kill radio, especially in the car.

There was the 8-track player, cassette player, CB Radio, CD Player, CD Changer, iPod, thumb drive, iPhone and streaming audio.

In each case we would learn that all each of these innovations did was replace a previous innovation by that percentage of the audience that wanted to curate its own music or programming. It never really replaced what over-the-air AM/FM radio delivered.

Hotels Eliminate Radios

I’ve just recently stayed in two different major hotel chain hotels that were either recently remodeled or newly constructed. The analog TVs have long been replaced by HDTVs, and showers now replace bath tubs, LED bulbs replaced the old filament ones, but the big surprise was the complete elimination of the radio.

They have been replaced by something called “CubieTIME.”CubieTIME

This device will tell you the time and you can set an alarm to awake you at the appointed time you wish to start you day. But those little radios (that never could pick up crap in more recent times) are gone.

Atlantic City Maid Checklist

For over a decade I ran the beautiful music/easy listening radio station in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Most of the casino hotels had a standard checklist of things a maid would do when preparing the guest room for the next patron.

One of those things was setting the radio to a pleasant volume and tuning it in to 96.9 FM for the soothing music of WFPG (the radio station of the World’s Famous PlayGround).

Today’s Kids vs. 1980’s Technology

In my recent college capstone class, I asked the students when they got their first cell phone. All the students said when they were in elementary school. The smartphone, not a radio, was what they wanted next as they were growing up.

The technology we grew up with and enjoyed is alien to today’s youth.

This short video brings home how things have changed.

You can view it on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7v75QpvISUs

What Icon Represents Radio Today?

The big question for the radio industry today is what iconic symbol represents the medium today? Not a radio tower. John Hogan, former president of Clear Channel, said during all of my years working for the world’s biggest radio broadcaster that we were no longer about tall towers in big fields. Most radio sets look like something from the 20th Century or older, not the 21st Century world of today.

Should it be a microphone? A pair of headphones? A computer? A smartphone?

I think I will just turn on my RADIOradio while I ponder this question.106

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Radio & the Consumer Driven American Economy

99This week produced some conflicting economic data. The stock market was setting new records and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.3% but the number of people filing for unemployment benefits beat analysis estimates. WTF?

The Surprising Threat to Radio

It’s estimated that two thirds of the American economy is driven by consumer spending. Don’t get hung up on the percentage, but know that a lot of our economy is driven by the buying and selling of stuff that is consumed.

Some things, like a Whopper are consumed quickly and other things, like the car you drive, are consumed over a longer period of time. Much of our spending is discretionary.

Radio is a strong driver of putting thoughts into people’s heads about things they should be deciding to consume. Radio is the word of mouth medium with the big mouth.

So what threatens radio today? Consumers are not spending.

Radio’s Role in Consumerism

Broadcasters can’t change the attitude of an apathetic consumer for the most part. Other factors in the world create consumer attitudes, uncertainty being one of the biggest.

Uncertainty causes consumers to hunker down and make do with what they already have. And today’s world is filled with lots of uncertainty that is being stoked 24/7 by the cable news networks, talk radio and social media.

Radio is excellent at directing consumers to different businesses, products and services when they are feeling confident and want to part with some of that discretionary cash.

Barron’s reports that year-over-year growth in U.S. retails sales peaked in mid-2011 at 8.3% and has since rolled back to 4.5%. The four biggest performing stocks are Amazon, McDonalds, Comcast and Home Depot.

A World of Debt

Radio people are very aware of the huge debt problems impacting iHeartMedia and Cumulus. But they may not be aware that American household debt in the last quarter reached a record $12.73 trillion and Barron’s says that just surpassed the debt American’s owed at the height of the housing bubble.

Student loan debt is now over $1.4 trillion, which is about $620 million more than U.S. credit card debt. Student loan debt rose six percent in the past year.

American credit card debt rose by $3 billion in February 2017, its highest level since 2008 according to The Motley Fool.

Market Watch says that U.S. households now have surpassed the amount of debt they had in 2008. Plus Americans are struggling with their auto loan debt with these sub-prime loans hitting their highest delinquency levels in December 2016. A pattern that Market Watch says was seen prior to the 2007-2009 great recession.

An Inconvenient Truth

During the 1960s and 1970s, the American economy expanded over 11%. In the 90s it couldn’t get above 9% and in the most current expansion it hit 5.9% and recently was only 3.6% according to Barron’s.

Many Americans no longer see consumption as being the “American Dream” but now are saving as much as they possibly can despite interest rates on savings sitting at anemic levels.

Income inequality is also playing a huge role in the current state of American consumerism. 76% of the wealth in America is now held by the top 10%. Only 1% is in the hands of the bottom 50% of American families in today’s America. CNN Money reported in December 2016 the wealth inequality in America is getting worse. “The rich are money making machines,” said CNN.

A 2016 study by Gallop senior economist Jonathan Rothwell found that the bulk of our national spending is eaten up by just three items – healthcare, housing and education.

What’s the impact on ad supported media in a world of enormous debt and haves vs. have-nots? I wrote about this after reading Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the 21st Century.” That article was called “The Future of Ad Supported Media” and you can read it by clicking on the link here .

Survival of the Fittest

What all of this is telling us, Spending is OUT and Frugality is IN.

A broadcaster friend of mine was sharing that in his PPM market TV ad time is now selling at “radio rates.” When the pie isn’t growing, media companies are forced to begin taking more from someone else.

Radio is the best value for the money when the economy goes soft.

I started my radio sales career at the beginning of the early 80s recession. I was very successful and it saw me enjoying a four plus decade long radio career before becoming a broadcast professor to pay-it-forward to a new generation of broadcasters.

As Warren Buffett says, “It’s when the tide goes out, that you know who’s wearing a bathing suit.” In other words, when the business changes from taking orders to really selling, we will learn which companies have trained their sales people to not just survive but thrive.

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When TV Disrupted Radio

97I grew up with TV.

Essentially, we were “born” in the same year.

I don’t remember a time when TV didn’t exist.

TV was supposed to put radio out-of-business. It was the “great disruptor.”

Why TV Didn’t Put Radio Out-Of-Business

While I loved my TV shows and even remember planning my life around TV GUIDE and the new fall shows, I still fell in love with radio and wanted to be a radio personality since elementary school and my first Zenith transistor radio.

Radio for me was never about Jack Benny or Groucho Marx or Amos & Andy or radio dramas like Orson Welles “War of the Worlds.”

Radio was exciting execution, engaging personalities and the best of new music from all genres.

Radio was addictive because it was so engaging.

Disruption Knows No Loyalties

It’s reported that as this decade began only 67 of the original Fortune 500 companies were still in business. Welcome to the 21st Century of Disruption.

The reality in today’s world of accelerating change is that the very success that rockets a company to raving success usually becomes the dagger that runs through its heart when the market environment shifts. Then new firms take over and former leaders fade into the history books.

The business truth is eventually every business sees its model fail.

Radio’s New Business Model after TV

Can you imagine a more difficult time than when TV swooped in and stole all of radio’s programs and talent? It was a time when people said things like “The last person to leave, please turn off the lights on your way out.”

It was a dark time for radio.

But not for all.

Only those who couldn’t see their way past the way it had been.

New broadcasters were quick to develop new formats.

1965 saw the birth of BOSS RADIO in Los Angeles with Bill Drake & Ron Jacob’s 93-KHJ.

At the same time 1010-WINS in New York would pioneer the all news format and everyone would know the phrase “You give us 21-minutes and we’ll give you the world.”

These new broadcasters would be the ones that inspired me to want to be a radio guy.

The Transistor Radio

Radio took advantage of the transistor radio. The youth of my day would all want a transistor radio of their very own and radio owned the youth generation.

The Car Radio

As we grew older and bought our first car, the car radio was a MUST HAVE accessory.

Movies like American Graffiti would romance the glory of the young and their radio.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

Today’s 21st Century finds radio with a new disruptor, the internet. It’s not a new product but an ecosystem.

Amazon and Walmart sell many of the same products and are quite competitive on price. The big difference is Walmart is a brick and mortar ecosystem and Amazon is internet based.

For radio to compete the industry needs to have a vision for how its product fits into a complex network of components, systems and user experience.

That’s the 21st Century radio challenge. (TV faces the same challenge.)

Today’s radio must seamlessly fit into a listener’s life on any platform the listener uses.

Disruption will crash and burn any business model that wants to hold onto the past.

Disruption will clear a path for those who are innovative, nimble and responsive to a changing marketplace.

For those broadcasters, the opportunities are limitless.

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Radio’s Best Feature

96The one constant in life is change.

What makes our world different than the world we grew up in is the rate of change in technology.

Adoption rates for technology over time according to the U.S. Census,  shows us that it took about 45 years for 25% of Americans to adopt electricity, 35 years for 25% of Americans to adopt the wired telephone, about 32 years for 25% of Americans to adopt radio, 25 years for TV, 15 years for personal computers, 12 years for mobile phones, 8 years for the internet and about 5 years for 25% of Americans to adopt smartphones.

Nearly nine in ten Americans today are on the internet and 77% of Americans now own a smartphone according to Pew Research.

K.I.S.S.

Most people who have any sales training at all know all about “KISS.”  Some say it means “Keep It Simple Stupid” and others will tell you it means “Keep it Short & Simple.”

But either way the message is the same, keep things simple.

“You have to work hard to get your thinking clean and make it simple.”

-Steve Jobs

Quite possibly our biggest challenge in the 21st Century is to keep up with the rate of accelerating change.

The More Things Change, the More They Are the Same

I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase uttered more than once in your lifetime. Every generation has thought that the rate of change was beyond their ability to cope.  A couple of centuries ago Henry David Thoreau told his contemporaries to “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”

Technology – especially information technology, the basis of our social networks – is speeding up exponentially. The famous Moore’s Law predicted this for computer chip development.

Exponential growth rate is an evolutionary process.

In his book “The Singularity Is Near” Raymond Kurzweil showed how civilizations advance through building on the ideas and innovations of previous generations, a positive feedback loop of advancement.

Each new generation is able to improve upon the innovations of the past with increasing speed.

Kurzweil wrote in 2001 that every decade our overall rate of progress was doubling, “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st Century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).”

Only 17 years into the 21st Century and it feels like Kurzweil nailed it with his prediction.

It Still Takes 9 Months to Make a Baby

While it’s true so much of our world is uncontrollably speeding up, we are still human beings and we still pretty much move at the same pace biologically as we always have. Technology doesn’t transform our human nature.

Our need for love, touch, companionship and community will always be part of our humanity no matter what technology brings.

Radio Reaches 93% of Adult Americans Every Week

The latest Nielsen Audio research reports “radio leads all other platforms when it comes to weekly reach (93%) among adult consumers – and with new insights available to compare radio to other platforms on a regular basis, it’s clear that radio is an integral part of media consumption for millions of Americans.”

Great radio makes a human connection, engages its community and is a companion.

Radio’s best feature in a world of complex technology is that it’s simple to use.

It’s that simplicity I believe that makes it the #1 media favorite.

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Great Local Radio is Community & Companionship

95

In April 2017, I asked “What can radio do that other media can’t?

And the answers to that question continue to pour in.

Jay Clark’s Answer

Jay Clark shared the story of a 5-station radio cluster in a non-rated market that he consults. The stations’ new Market Manager invited Jay to do a station review and make certain everything was being done the best it could be to serve the market. The two FM stations had market acceptance and well-established air staffs. Unfortunately, most had never been coached, and those few who had been coached, it was years ago. Coaching is like maintaining your car you need to do it on a regular basis.

The music rotations and station imaging were basically stagnant. Two of the three AM stations were still playing music, but brought in zero revenues.

Note that everyone who worked at the stations was included in the discussions about the changes that needed to be made and were excited about contributing to these stations’ new directions.

AM Changes

The two AM radio stations were changed from music to talk, one with religious programming and the other with sports programming. Now both of these stations are seeing the flow of dollars for the first time in years. While no revenue giants, they are growing listeners and dollars.

FM Changes

All air talent received coaching. Music and music rotations were all upgraded. Traffic and a new Sales Manager bought into new inventory control metrics.

While these changes were taking place internally, both the Market Manager and the new Sales Manager were out in the community meeting and listening to current clients, potential clients and market leaders. In less than a year, both of these individuals established themselves as important figures in the community.

Community Involvement

The stations are actively involved in local charity events. They’ve also learned how to marry these events with potential advertisers to demonstrate the power of radio and their stations.

For example, a local automotive dealership they approached about radio advertising said he didn’t believe in the power of radio and that’s why he hadn’t used it in years.

However, his favorite charity was an annual food drive.

The stations ran the next food drive at his dealership and the success of that drive convinced the owner to start a large radio advertising schedule that continues airing.

This same formula was repeated with other charities with the same positive results.

What you give to your communities will come back to you.

Revenue Growth

It takes shoe leather to make sales and grow revenue. The management team at these stations rolled up their sleeves, met with the movers and shakers in their community, listened to them and responded to what they heard, made the cold calls, and created advertising programs that got results.

Sales year to year were up 22% in the last quarter of 2016. Sales in the first quarter of 2017 were up 28% over last year. Expenses were flat.

Radio is a “Contact Sport”

What the management of these stations did is what every radio person knows: hit the streets, get face-to-face with decision makers, bring ideas and make things happen.

Train your sales people and make them more productive.

Do all the right things, consistently, every day to achieve success for your people, your advertisers, your charities and your community.

Be good neighbors who become good friends.

People always do business with people they know and like.

The essential point – Community & Companionship

Jay’s consulting of these stations helped them to reflect the marketplace and its diversity over the five different radio stations. After all, it’s a lot easier to sell in a small or medium market when the business community listens and likes your radio stations. Three of the stations were a franchise in the market place.  All they did needed were updating and revamping to better serve the community’s needs. Because people grew up with these signals they had something that the new players do not, tradition.

Tradition and franchise are radio’s great advantage;

it’s what radio has that other media does not.

Fortunately, management recognized and agreed that you can’t be successful by eliminating the very people who make your local stations “family” to their community.  A local air staff, combined with national programming that is localized by constantly changing pre-produced host intros, outros, and breaks, is critical to serving the marketplace.

Because the local air staff lives in the community, they understand their audience. They are engaged in local sales promotions and charity broadcasts.  They are the face of these radio stations to the listeners in the community.

Jay says, “an essential point that many, in their quest to chop costs, forget.”

More Details

If you’d like more details about all of this, you can give Jay a call on his cell phone at (212) 203-1331 or shoot him an email at: jay@jayclark.biz

We all have mentors and Jay Clark, a Pittsfield, Massachusetts boy like me was one of mine. From Pittsfield to New York City, Jay has done it all and seen it all.

Remember, great local radio is about attention to the details: station management that is focused on their people, sales personnel who are on the street focused on the station’s clients, constant attention to local production and keeping things fresh, national programming that complements the values of the market combined with live and local personalities engaged in their community and being dependable companions.

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Is Your Iceberg Melting?

94This past week was another tough one for the wonderful people who work in radio. Most people who get into radio do it because they’ve caught the “radio bug” and the work becomes their life’s passion. I know that’s how it is for me.

When I caught the “Radio Bug”

From my earliest years, I knew what I wanted my life’s work to be. I built a radio station in my parent’s basement and broadcast to the neighborhood (about a 3-block radius) on both the AM and FM bands using transmitters I bought from Radio Shack.

When I started high school, I earned my 3rd Class Radio/Telephone Operator’s License, Broadcast Endorsed from the Federal Communications Commission in Boston. I wasn’t old enough to work, so I had to get a Massachusetts Work Permit. They didn’t have a category for disc jockey, so they branded me as “talent.” (I never told them I had to take meter readings every half hour in front of a transmitter that put out 1,000-watts of electromagnetic power. If I had, they would never have given me my work permit.)

College Radio

In college, it was radio that paid for my bachelors and masters degrees. I took my college’s carrier current radio station, got an FM broadcast license and was the first general manager.

Radio was in my blood.

RIF’s

After the Telcom Act of 1996, radio began its road down the consolidation path funded by Wall Street. It was during this period of time a new acronym would come into radio’s every day lexicon, RIF’s, or Reduction In Force. In other words, people were being terminated in huge numbers.

This past week, I sadly read about another round of RIF’s taking place among our country’s biggest owners/operators of radio stations. It breaks my heart.

RIF’s from the Manager’s Perspective

We all feel sorry for those that have unexpectedly lost their job. What we often don’t read about is the perspective from the other side of the desk, what the management is going through when these decisions are made at corporate.

I lived through it in 2009 as a Clear Channel Market Manager.

It’s NOT FUN.

With each corporate meeting, I would come home with a flash drive that could not be opened until a specific date/time with who I would have to RIF next.

I RIF’d my entire news and promotions departments.

I RIF’d DJ’s and PD’s.

I RIF’d my national sales manager, my director of sales and local sales managers. With each round of RIF’s I got more hats to wear. The work still needed to be done, it didn’t go away with each round of RIF’s.

I hated my job.

Then my regional manager showed up unannounced and RIF’d me.

His manager showed up after he had RIF’d all of his designated market managers and RIF’d him.

The company president RIF’d the senior regional managers.

Then the CEO RIF’d the president.

It was not a happy time, but believe it or not, being RIF’d to me was better than being one of those that found themselves with more and more hats to wear, with more and more responsibility, without a penny more in pay.

There were many folks who told me to find another line of work, but they didn’t know that broadcasting was the only thing I ever wanted to do.

Except for one other thing, teaching and mentoring the next generation.

My education was in teaching. Both my bachelors and masters degrees were in teaching.  My best teachers were those who worked in the field first and then came into the classroom to teach.

Paying It Forward

My long term goal was always to one day teach at a college or university the very things I had done all of my professional life.

My big opportunity presented itself at Western Kentucky University’s School of Journalism & Broadcasting in 2010.

When I was RIF’d by my regional manager, I had met or exceeded every goal I had been given and was paid bonuses for my accomplishments. I was even named one of radio’s Best Managers by RADIO INK magazine. The issue of the magazine with me in it came out almost the day after I was RIF’d. Funny how life is: good things happening at the same moment as bad.

One Door Closed, Another Door Opened

When my last management job came to an abrupt end with Clear Channel, my broadcast professorship door opened at WKU.

Let me tell you, going from being a radio market manager to broadcast professor is a steep learning curve. But with the help of Charles H. Warner at NYU, John Parikhal of Joint Communications and others, I successfully made the transition and became successful at teaching. In fact, my new broadcasting educational work branch opened my eyes to all kinds of new and exciting learning opportunities.

I started this BLOG and a column for RADIO WORLD magazine during this time.

Those have lead to numerous invitations to appear on podcasts, Vlogs, articles, and broadcast interviews with others sharing stories of my work and experiences.

I’ve done research on the radio industry and their employment needs in the 21st Century. I’ve presented panels every year at the national conference in Las Vegas as well as been an invited broadcast expert on many panels at both BEA and NAB.

I’ve presented seminars at state broadcast associations and done training sessions for broadcast companies.

In short, I’ve been more active in broadcasting on so many levels than I ever was as a radio manager.  And I’ve loved every minute of it.

But I’m not going to candy coat what’s happening, not only in radio but in all ad supported media. It’s a revolution.  Not an evolution.

In revolutions the first thing that happens is destruction of the old. We’re still living through that period right now and it’s not fun. I get it.

Our Iceberg Is Melting

Back in 2008, many people picked up a copy of Ken Blanchard’s book “Who Moved My Cheese?”  I know I did. It’s a great read.

But maybe the book everyone in broadcasting should be reading today is “Our Iceberg Is Melting” by John Kotter. Kotter is an award winning author from the Harvard Business School.

Like Blanchard and Johnson’s Cheese book, Kotter writes a simple fable about doing well in an ever-changing world.

The fable is about penguins in Antarctica that discover a potentially devastating problem to their home – an iceberg – and it’s melting away.

It’s a story that will resonate with anyone in broadcasting today.

Read about how the penguins handle their challenge a great deal better than many broadcasters are doing today. Kotter’s book walks you through the eight steps needed to produce positive change in any group.  You will not only enjoy the read, but will be guided with valuable insights to deal with our 21st Century world that is moving faster and faster every day.

The Big Take Away

When corporate, middle management and all employees are on the same page with regards to change, it is amazing what can happen, despite adverse conditions.

These are lessons for people who already are in broadcasting, for broadcast students, enlightened colleges are already teaching the concepts, skills and providing the tools that will be needed going forward. My students know that the future is not bleak. They understand the history of broadcasting that brought us to where things are today and they are as pumped as you and I were when we were their age to craft the future of broadcasting in the new century.

I’m excited.

They’re excited.

The best is yet to be.

 

 

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