Seven years ago, on this Sunday morning I wrote a blog article titled “Out, damn’d spot!” The title for the blog came from Lady Macbeth, Act 5, scene1, where the spot the Bard’s lady is talking about is the imaginary blood she sees on her hands from the murders and other crimes she and her husband have been involved in. (Not all that dissimilar to how too many spots are killing radio.)
The genesis for that article was born from a speech then CBS Radio President Dan Mason gave in 2016, about how many radio spots should run in a typical hour of radio programming; his answer was 8 to 10 units.
Well, more than half a decade later, the majority of operators in the radio industry, have made very little progress on putting themselves on a strict advertising unit diet.
Limiting Unit Loads in 2023
Radio Ink started the conversation about unit loads again, in an interview with One Putt Broadcasting’s owner, John Ostlund who says he limited the number of ads on his five radio stations to five minutes per hour. Before the reduction, Ostlund says his stations typically were running 10 to 12 minutes (or more) per hour of ads.
As I read the interview, I realized that everything One Putt Broadcasting’s doing, is how radio was back in the 60s and 70s; ‘everything that was old is new again.’
Then Radio Ink heard from Bill Lynch, General Manage at Momentum Broadcasting about how he’s been running short stopsets for a decade and it’s been financially beneficial to his radio stations. Bill doesn’t think “length” when it comes to the number of ads in each hour, he thinks “units.”
It’s About The Units
Radio Program Gary Berkowitz then authored an article for Radio Ink giving his perspective as a longtime radio programmer and consultant. Gary said:
“If going forward we expect to be relevant,
we simply must cut back on the number of commercials we run.
Argue with me, but listeners do not count minutes.
They count “messages” or units.”
Back in the 80s in Atlantic City, reducing the number of units on my radio stations, saw both audience numbers and revenue growth. So, it was a pleasure to read this still works in the 21st Century.
Radio & Casinos Have Something In Common
In the beginning, both the radio business and the casino business enjoyed scarcity. In the early days, there weren’t a lot of radio stations in America, and if you wanted to own a casino, you needed to be in Nevada (1931). For almost half a decade, Reno and Las Vegas had the monopoly on the casino business until 1978 when New Jersey would be the second state in America to legalize casino gambling.
Most communities were lucky if they had one radio station, it was a time in broadcasting that people would say, ‘owning a radio station is a license to print money.’
What changed for the casino industry was a wave of states legalizing casino gaming all across America quickly disrupting the business models for Nevada and Atlantic City casinos. No longer could they live off just their gambling handles.
Radio station ownership also exploded with multiple radio station signals filling up every available frequency in every populated area in the United States.
The Most Profitable Resort in Las Vegas
Seven years ago, when I wrote my original article, the most profitable casino in Las Vegas was Wynn Resorts and as of September 2022, it still is. What’s Wynn doing that’s different? Wynn Resorts are totally focused on the visitor or user experience.
Steve Wynn changed his casino business model to one less dependent on gambling, to a focus on non-gaming revenues and customer experiences, which now account for 67% of his company’s revenues.
What John Ostlund, Bill Lynch and Gary Berkowitz are telling the radio industry is much the same, that to not just survive, but thrive in the 21st Century, the radio industry must focus on its two main constituencies; the radio listener and the radio advertiser. Both, it turns out, want the same thing; a less cluttered advertising environment.
This should be the focus of the entire radio industry, as Bill Lynch puts it so well:
“It doesn’t matter if there’s one nice house
in a rundown neighborhood,
if most of the neighborhood is run down,
people don’t buy there.”
11 responses to “Out, damn’d spot! (Part 2)”
Dick, for years you have eloquently written about what makes radio a great medium. A listener-centric model has always been king. Without ratings, there can be no premium advertisers. However, in the current era of on-demand music platforms, ratings are now largely driven by on-air personalities. Despite this, radio stars are often treated as an expense to be gotten rid of rather than the valuable assets that they are. We are witnessing a slow death of the glory days of radio.
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One measure of this week’s blog’s truth is the use of the skip and mute buttons during commercial clutter watching TV. Especially with the middle-aged and seniors who feel advertising generally has hammered them enough.
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Yes, we do that ourselves. Excellent point Robin.
Victor, sadly I fee the industry is killing the goose that laid the golden eggs, the radio personality.
Radio personalities, in every community, were something that took years to grow and establish in the listener’s hearts and minds.
When I started in radio, stations would work to cultivate a slow transition when a radio personality was deciding to retire, so that the listener wouldn’t be surprised by a transition. Often the person that would take over a key daypart, was already a known entity to the local listener and seamlessly transitioned.
I remember when Carl DeSuze retired at WBZ in Boston, Dave Maynard (the station’s established midday personality) moved into morning drive. And when Gary LaPierre, the morning news anchor on WBZ, announced he would be retiring and moving to Florida, the station actually put a remote broadcast booth into his Florida home so he could continue to be the voice of the morning newscasts. But every great radio station did these things.
That was then, this is now.
Now, your favorite radio friend simply disappears without warning and the commercial blocks get longer and longer.
It makes me sad.
The simple fact that must acknowledged, is that the radio medium – that once enjoyed a captive audience – no longer does.
Will cutting down the number of spots per hour help? Yes, but, only marginally so.
I couldn’t help but giggle when you cited a 2016 speech by Dan Mason, then President of the CBS Radio, about “spot load,” at the very same time that CBS – who demonized its radio division for being a drag on its corporate bottom line – was selling off its entire radio division to Entercom/Audacy.
You’ve also referenced an article about “One Putt Broadcasting’s” new “no-more-than-5-minutes-of-spots-per-hour” philosophy.
Personally, while I think that’s a great idea, it must be mentioned, that in that article, One Putt’s owner, John Ostlund, said, One Putt “has no debt” – a luxury most radion station owners do NOT enjoy.
Bottom line? Radio’s in a tough place. A generation + has grown-up without radio being on its radar. And, as new technology keeps surfacing, radio’s task becomes even more daunting.
Sadly, I liken radio’s dire plight to the daily newspaper and pay phones – two of what most believed would forever be staples of American life – yet both have fallen out of favor with the public, due to technology, that didn’t exist a few decades ago.
Will Americans start reading newspapers again, if its owners reduce the number of print ads run in each edition? Will those pay phones – the one’s that appeared on virtually every street corner, suddenly attract people to use them – if they cut the cost to a dime-a-call?
Rhetorical questions, of course.
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Steve, You’re on point with your thoughts. The things I mentioned in this week’s article, are the things that should have been done a decade or more ago.
Sadly, today, unless your radio station has been doing all the right things all these years, you most likely won’t be able to go back in time and capture the moment.
Once we give a listener a reason to leave and explore new areas of entertainment, it’s unlikely they will return.
Like most technology advances, once we come to enjoy them, we won’t go back to the old ways. People won’t go back to banging their clothes on a rock, when they have a washing machine. However, I shall never forget the magic of clean sheets, that my mother had dried on a clothes line. Somehow, sheets dried in a dryer, never had the same smell.
Thank You for sharing your thoughts.
Hey, Dick! I chatted with Jeff Smulyen, president of Emmis Communications after a shared plane ride. After talking about my time at KING in Seattle when he owned the Mariners, he made a comment about how tough the business has become and “no one has figured out how to make money” with the expansion of the web, iPods, MP3s and players, etc.
My take, which I’d been developing for some time, was similar to the 8-10 units per hour theory above, with the addition that the industry needs to move to :15 and :30 spots and away from :60s entirely; that the spots need to be as entertaining as the programming; and that they need to be woven into the programming seamlessly. No more, “We’ll be right back after these messages,” which I STILL hear in 2023. (I travel a lot with my work and yes, it’s still an oft-used crutch).
In response to his comment, I said, “I’d love to share my thoughts about that. If you can spare 15 minutes, give me a call,” and handed him my business card.
No call, as you might expect. And here we remain today.
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Carl, Thank You for sharing that story about your conversation with Jeff. Sad, but not surprised that he never called you.
Interesting about what you said about shorter length radio ads. Roy H. Williams, The Wizard of Ads, of which I’m a fellow wizard…believes that it takes 60-seconds to deliver a well written radio ad that appeals to the listener’s emotions. He has had a very successful track record using radio advertising and many have taken the trip to Buda, TX to learn how he does it.
In Australia, for about as long as anyone can remember the standard length of radio ads has been 30-seconds. I always found it made radio stations in Australia sound more upbeat as a result and held you attention. However, the latest two top radio advertising winners were for radio spots that ran 90-seconds in length and a rate card busting 3-minutes and 20-seconds.
More concerning is the Jeff comment that “no one has figured out how to make money” in radio due to so many competitive entertainment outlets all competing for both ad dollars and listener/viewer attention.
All the successful operations have established a bond with their communities and haven’t broken it. They often are the ones that have been owned by the same people for many years and have no debt.
Radio’s debt is the elephant in the room that has been a major contributing factor in shaping the radio we hear today; and not in a good way.
Thank You again, for stopping by the blog and writing all you did.
There are a lot of naysayers who will continue to claim cutting back commercial breaks can’t work. Reasons like too much debt, greed, listeners who left for commercial free streaming sites won’t come back for any reason, etc. However, if the goal of radio is to continue to be a viable source for listeners and advertisers then radio must clean up its act and put forth its best product. Reducing commercial breaks is a big part of that. Just as having engaging personalities is a must. Research shows that listeners feel radio runs too many commercials. In a 10-15 unit stop set no one benefits. Listeners tune out. Advertisers are buried in the break. Smart stations will reduce the length of their breaks. Maybe it won’t bring someone back from a commercial free streaming service, but it will be a substantial benefit in competing against other radio stations.
The need to address the personality drain also needs to be addressed. But, being that the radio news is full of more cutbacks of on air staff and programmers this week leads me to believe that company owners continue to be the industry’s worst enemy.
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I think you will find a lot of agreement with what you wrote Mike.
Thank You for putting your thoughts into words.
And another GM weighed in on the positive effects running shorter stopsets has had for his radio stations: https://radioink.com/2023/03/31/this-gm-got-huge-client-retention-with-short-stopsets/?vgo_ee=5h4OpHLmvBUiPmgPAHTn6WbCNqPsuLFC7IIXGJ8ShfkGaw0%3D%3AgpgSQCWhlbqxgOLhe7xZQeNzDy%2FkbXG9