Category Archives: Education

Who Will Keep the Light On?

Hudson Athens LighthouseIt was the radio commercial that planted Motel 6’s “We’ll keep the light on for you,” in your brain. The frequency and repetition of that phrase, along with a well-crafted and ever changing script always kept you wondering what Tom Bodett was going to tell you next, that you already didn’t know about this motel chain.

Lighthouses

Long before there were wireless communications at sea, the lighthouse was the way sailors kept their ships on course and away from danger.

Lighthouse keepers kept these sentinel beacons operational through the darkness and all kinds of weather. Lighthouses, those keepers thought, were never going away.

And they haven’t.

But with lighthouse keepers, today’s technology has basically eliminated the need for them.

Radio Stations

Radio stations are also not going away, but the need for radio personalities, for staffing of any kind on weekends, nights and holidays, has.

Radio stations and lighthouses are both communication centers people depend on. Often for their life.

Bob Christy recently wrote about “Real Life in the Fire Zone…” about his own personal experience during the California wildfires near his home in Southern California. He told of the incredible radio coverage provided by two Los Angeles radio stations, KFI AM640 and KNX AM1070. Due to the fires, they had no wired communication in their home. Bob said he dug out an old boom box, loaded it up with batteries and tuned in the AM radio news and news/talk stations for updates about the fires.

Like a lot of us Boomers and members of the Greatest Generation, Bob grew up on AM radio. But I wondered if many who might have benefitted from the coverage even knew about those AM radio stations or if they even had any type of OTA radio in their home.

Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society

My older brother is active in the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society. He’s also a photographer and in addition to working as a volunteer at the HALPS, he travels frequently around the world seeing and photographing lighthouses.

The annual season for touring Hudson-Athens Lighthouse concluded this fall. The lighthouse is located in the middle of the Hudson River between Hudson, New York and Athens, New York. The Coast Guard has an automated LED light on the lighthouse that is still used by ships to navigate that part of the Hudson River but no person physically is needed to man the light. In fact, no person has been needed for years due to technology.

This historic lighthouse, like almost all lighthouses around the world, are maintained by local volunteers that love and care for these critical communication centers of the past.

I wondered if one day, something similar might be the case for some of America’s heritage radio stations, maintained as museum pieces, as another part of communications history.

Amazon

I often hear radio people say things like “Radio will never go away.” I think lighthouse keepers probably said that sort of thing once too. The navigational beacons remain, but the nature of what used to be called a lighthouse, does not. All that’s needed today is an automated LED beacon mounted on any kind of tall structure.

At an all-hands meeting in November, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was asked by an employee about the future of the company, to which Bezos stunned his people by responding, “Amazon is not too big to fail, in fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail.

If such a thing could happen to the world’s biggest online retailer, what makes us think it would never happen in our industry?

Prolonging Amazon’s Demise

Bezos said, the key to prolonging the demise of Amazon was to “obsess over customers and to avoid looking inward, worrying about itself. If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end.”

I remember when one of the radio station clusters I managed was taken over by one of the big C companies and the company leader told us that we should be focused on making money for the company. It was 180-degrees from the kind of radio I was raised on, where if you took care of your employees, your listeners and your advertisers, the company would get their reward in the end from doing those other three things right.

Where Will They Come From?

Sometimes when we look at another industry or occupation, it gives us insight into the future of our own specialty.

In America, the last officially manned lighthouse was the Boston Light. The United States Coast Guard manned it until 1998. During the last twenty years, volunteers have maintained the light and given tours.

What these volunteer groups are now finding is that with each passing year, fewer and fewer people are doing more and more of the work. New volunteers are increasingly harder to find and often depart quickly when they learn of all the work needed to keep these facilities operational.

And sadly, some of these lighthouses may soon be closing their doors for good due to lack of interest.

It Can Happen Here

There are lessons to be learned from both the story of lighthouses and Amazon.

Will the leaders of radio take a Jeff Bezos approach to the radio industry’s future or end up like lighthouse keepers?

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Ho, Ho, Ho…Go, Go, Go

Job CutsSadly, it’s that time of the year when radio station budgets are being finalized and staffs are being cut before the start of a new year.

Hubbard Radio’s Chicago VP/GM Jeff England recently told the trades, “As technology evolves, we have to look for ways to use it to our advantage. The difficult decision to reduce staff is an effort to remain competitive in a very challenging environment.”

General Motors

The large radio companies are faced with the same challenges that America’s large car companies are faced with, a rapidly changing marketplace.

GM’s CEO, Mary Bara, announced that General Motors would be shuttering seven plants around the globe to focus on increasing production of new electric vehicles. More than 14,000 GM workers will be out of a job as the company laid them off without any warning.

An outraged GM worker told the press, “You’re going right into Christmas. You’re looking for a celebration and that’s not there now.”

Sadly, I’ve known lots of radio people who can identify with how the workers at closing GM plants feel. I am one of them, as Clear Channel showed me the door without warning, just before Christmas 2009.

What makes these plant closings so impactful to their communities is not just the GM workers out-of-work, but the additional downsizing in the support businesses in those communities and elsewhere. As many as seven more people, for every GM worker, could see their jobs eliminated at businesses such as food services, retailers, healthcare, etc. All the businesses that broadcasting depends on for advertising.

Focused on the Future

Mary Bara, in a statement, said of GM’s decision to close some of its plants, “The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future. We recognize the need to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences to position our company for long-term success.”

Is this any different than what any other industry, including broadcasting, needs to be doing?

Top Tech Trends for 2019

I just sat in on a Juniper Research webinar about the “Top 10 Tech Trends for 2019” and it was mind numbing in many ways.

I try to stay up on the latest trends, but I must admit I needed a second browser window open during their presentation to understand what the heck they were talking about. They were using terms like chatbots, loot boxes, RPAs, RCSs, etc.; like these were common everyday terms.

Here’s what I learned about tech’s future as it may impact radio and broadcasting:

  • Digital, blockchain, robots, voice assistants, 5G wireless and artificial intelligence (AI) are where everything is headed.

Intel is working with China’s Alibaba (an internet service that connects buyers with sellers) to develop artificial intelligence to enhance EDGE computing power in the internet of things. China is a huge market for American companies. In the case of General Motors, they didn’t build car assembly plants in China to ship those vehicles to America, they built them to sell vehicles in China. In the first nine months of 2018, GM sold 2.7 million cars in China compared to 2.6 million cars in all of North America.

Amazon’s digital voice assistant, Alexa, will be deployed in more devices. Currently voice assistants are in 9% of the households worldwide according to Juniper Research. That percentage is even higher in developed markets and VA’s will become a service-led market going forward.

5G wireless will enable RCS (Rich Communication Services) that will compete with services like Facebook messaging and is expected to bring people back to messaging directly via their smartphones, due to a more vibrant, media-rich platform. RCS is the successor to SMS text messaging that we now use.

Digital Advertising in 2020

Salesforce Research in their latest insights into the new era of advertising and media buying report says that:

“Consumers and business buyers receive more messages, through more

channels, then ever before. Cutting through the noise requires advertisers

to deliver hyperpersonalized messages that resonate at the individual

level. Now, advertising is undergoing a transformation — the biggest

revolution since the launch of digital ads in the 1990s — driven by data.

 

To effectively reach audiences and interact with them in a smarter, 1-to-1

manner, advertisers must connect and make sense of a myriad of data

sources. Of course, achieving this requires a shift in dynamics; advertising

and marketing can’t live in vacuums. Technology can’t be an afterthought.

The winners in this new era will coalesce the right teams and technologies

to harness data, more precisely track their efforts, and measure progress

to evolve their strategies at the pace of the consumer.

 

Dominant channels — and thus budgets — are shifting, too. Increasingly,

advertisers will rely on major platforms under the Google and Facebook

umbrellas to deliver their messages. And success isn’t measured only by clicks and impressions, but also lifetime customer value.”

Salesforce says that advertising and marketing are converging, and that the same team now performs both functions and shares the same budget. Companies now are over the tipping point (57%-59%) internalizing their ad spend decisions for Facebook/Instagram and Google search. 94% of companies now use Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM) data to target their advertising. The main benefactors of this change are Facebook and Google, with an estimated 66% of digital ad spend going to just these two.

Click HERE to get your copy of the full report from Salesforce.

Strategy, Tactics and Radio’s WHY

I asked the question in the fall of this year, “What’s Radio’s Why?” I asked that question because it often appears that radio is employing lots of tactics without first having a grand plan; a strategy.

GM and Ford both see a future where SUVs, trucks and electric vehicles will be their primary focus. Ford plans to eliminate all but two of its car lines and GM announced that it would be terminating many of its car models too. Both of these car companies have a future strategy, and I would contest, have found their “why.”

In order to have a profitable strategy for radio, the industry must first answer what its WHY is,  and that it fits into the needs, wants and desires of a 21st Century listening audience.

 

 

 

 

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America’s Weight Problem

SheetzIt’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving and you’ve probably had too much to eat. It won’t be much longer before it’s time to make New Year’s resolutions and many will again make losing some of those extra holiday pounds their goal in 2019.

But, that’s not the “weight” problem I want to address today.

Actually, it’s America’s WAIT problem.

Everyone’s in a Hurry

I guess one of the benefits about being retired is that it gives you a chance to hit the pause button on your life and bear witness to everyone else around you. Unfortunately, what I’m seeing is a world where everyone’s in a big rush to get somewhere. On the highways, traveling the speed limit, makes one feel like a road obstruction.

My GPS

Once upon a time, I used to push the speed limit. I even had a radar detector on my dashboard. But all that darn thing did was make me anxious. It gave off lots of false alarms and I finally got rid of it. No one seemed to get pulled over for going 5-miles over the speed limit, I thought, so who needs a radar detector anyway.

Then I got a GPS. I quickly learned that going 5-miles under the speed limit got me to my destination about the same time and I could drive all the way using cruise control, hardly ever touching the gas or brake. Driving everywhere has become such a pleasure.

Maybe everyone should have a GPS to show them slowing down is a positive, and makes our highways a safer place for everyone.

Skip Button

America’s wait problem extends to so many places.

Disney offers a fast pass at their parks to allow patrons to get into their favorite attractions faster. Supermarkets offer self-checkouts or carts with handheld scanners to allow their customers to get in and out of their markets quicker.

Sheetz (a gas/convenience store chain in our area) sent me a post card asking if I’d like to download their App because, as they put it “lines are overwaited.”

Pandora, Apple and Spotify offer listeners a “skip button” to bypass songs they don’t want to hear, and allow them to get to the next song faster. They all seem to limit this feature to about six songs an hour and users think this limit is too low from what I’m reading.

Short Attention Spans

Short attention spans seem to be affecting everyone these days. It’s probably the underlying cause of “America’s Wait Problem.”

Technology Enables Wait Problems

I remember having a six-transistor radio as a youth. It had two dials on it, one for volume and the other to change the AM frequency the unit could receive. Our television set at that time was connected to two antennas on top of our house, one for the NBC TV station and the other for the CBS TV station in our area. If you wanted to change TV stations, you got off the couch to turn the dial.

Then, radios got presets for the growing number of AM and FM stations that were on the air, and television sets got remote controls and became connected to a cable that offered a myriad of TV channels.

Today, the NFL offers a channel that keeps switching to every scoring drive around the league.

If you didn’t have a short attention span as a child, you’re acquiring it as an adult in today’s media world.

Why Most Songs are 3 to 5 Minutes Long

The first records were 78s. They were called that, because the discs spun around at 78 revolutions per minute. The 10-inch 78s could hold about 3-minutes’ worth of music and the 12-inch 78s could hold about 4-minutes.

In 1949, RCA introduced the 45-rpm discs with those huge holes in the middle. Like the 78s, these new records also could only hold about 3 to 4-minutes’ worth of music.

In spite of the fact that as technology took away such time constraints, artists knew if they wanted radio airplay, they had to keep their songs in that 3 to 5 minute zone.

Oh sure, there were exceptions; “Hey Jude” by the Beatles and “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris come to mind. Back in the day many DJs called them bathroom break songs.

Some radio operators in Canada and Australia tried cutting song lengths in half, saying it was because their “listeners attention spans suck.” A format called “QuickHitz” launched in the USA in 2012 and limited the length of every hit song played to just 2-minutes. John Sakamoto, a staff reporter for Canada’s STAR newspaper wrote: “Once you get over the initial outrage, it actually makes perfect sense. Our attention spans are short, four minutes seems like an eternity, therefore something designed to capture our attention — say, a pop song — should be twice as good at half the length.”

SPOILER ALERT: That Calgary radio station John wrote about quickly abandoned the format calling it an “interesting experiment.” You can read the rest of the story HERE.

Wait a Minute

And there, in essence, is our problem as a society today. We can’t wait. Not even a minute.

We want it, when we want it, on the device we want it on, and we want complete control over it, once we have it.

This is the 21st Century media challenge for all of us.

 

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Gratitude

Gratitude AttitudeOn this Sunday before Thanksgiving, I’d like to take a time-out from my normal blogging topics and reflect on all of the things in my life I have to be grateful for. Hopefully, it will bring to mind similar thoughts about your life this past year and those things you have to be grateful for too.

First and foremost, I’m grateful for Sue Flynn Towley, the love of my life, who will become my life partner this coming Saturday.

I’m grateful for our thirteen wonderful grandchildren. Each one of them special, healthy, happy, and loved.

I’m grateful for our two sons and four daughters who’ve welcomed each of us into the family.

I’m grateful for my two older brothers and Sue’s older sister that have known each of us individually, since birth, and have been our support system in good times and bad.

I’m grateful for accepting myself for exactly who I am, and how I’m changing with age.

I’m grateful for still having a boundless curiosity and desire to never stop learning and growing.

I’m grateful that I’ve learned how to slow down and savor each morsel of daily life. Life is not about getting to the finish line first, but about enjoying the journey.

I’m grateful that through sharing, I can add value to others’ lives.

I’m grateful for knowing, at an early age, the two career paths I wanted to travel – radio for over four decades and college teaching for nearly a decade – and being able to do both.

I’m grateful for a successful media mentorship blog that has reached over 118,000 people from all over the world, continues to grow, and allows me to pay-it-forward to the next generation of broadcasters.

I’m grateful for all the wonderful people I’ve met on this journey called life, people who were only strangers until we said “hello,” and then became friends for life.

I’m grateful for having enough.

I’m grateful for God’s love.

I’m grateful for YOU.

 

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Is Radio Biting Off More Than It Can Chew?

caravelle radio broadcast stationThere are lots of items in the news these days about what the radio industry should be doing. Streaming, podcasting, smart speaker accessible etc. The one thing I hear little talk about is, improving the core product and focusing on what the listener is seeking.

The Radio Ecosystem

If you think about it, the radio ecosystem, AM/FM radios, have not seen any real changes in decades. Oh, there was the introduction of HD Radio – introduced around the same time as Apple introduced the iPod (R.I.P. 2001-2014), but listeners never really understood the need for it. HD Radio was embraced by commercial broadcasters when they learned they could feed analog FM translators from HD Radio signals and have more FM radio stations in a single marketplace. This was hardly listener focused and actually chained the radio ecosystem to old analog technology.

What IS Radio?

In the beginning, radio was a way to wirelessly communicate with other people using Morse Code on spark gap transmissions. Guglielmo Marconi built a radio empire on this technology.

David Sarnoff, a skilled Morse Code operator and a Marconi employee envisioned a “radio music box” and wrote a memo about developing a commercially marketed radio receiver for use in the home. It wasn’t until after World War I, when Sarnoff proposed the concept again, this time in his new position as general manager of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), that it would see the light of day.

Sarnoff would demonstrate the power of radio by broadcasting a boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. In just three years, RCA sold over $80 million worth of AM radios, and not soon after created the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).

Federal Radio Commission

America’s first attempt at regulating radio transmission was the Radio Act of 1912, that was enacted after the sinking of the Titanic. This law didn’t mention or envision radio broadcasting.

As radio broadcasting began to grow in the 1920s, then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover would begin the process of trying to regulate the limited spectrum that everyone now wanted a piece of.

The Radio Act of 1927 was America’s first real attempt at regulating radio broadcasting. The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was then formed by this act.

It should be noted that the FRC operated under the philosophy that fewer radio stations, that were well funded and provided live original programs, were better for America than a plethora of radio stations providing mediocre programming. It was an idea that the major radio receiver companies championed.

Federal Communications Commission

In 1934, the Congress took another attempt at regulating broadcasting (radio & TV) as well as all the other forms of communication that now existed. The Communications Act of 1934 created a new regulatory body called the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). By 1934, radio broadcasting had evolved into a highly profitable business. Broadcast educator, Fritz Messere, writes: “Many of the most powerful broadcasting stations, designated as ‘clear channels’ were licensed to the large broadcasting or radio manufacturing companies, and the Federal Radio Commission’s adoption of a rigid allotment scheme, under General Order 40, solidified the interests of the large Broadcasters.”

The biggest and most well-funded broadcasters have been favored since the very beginning. What kept things in check until 1996 was the limit on the number of AM, FM and TV stations a single company could own.

Telcom Act of 1996

Those limits would evaporate with President Clinton’s signing of the Telcom Act of 1996. Radio, as America had known it, would be over.

Now, for the most part, a single owner could own as many radio stations as their pocketbook could afford. Lowry Mays and Red McCombs, founders of Clear Channel Communications, would grow their portfolio of radio stations to over 1200 from the 43 radio stations they owned before the act was signed.

In 2003, Mays testified before the United States Senate that the deregulation of the telecommunications industry had not hurt the public. However, in an interview that same year with Fortune Magazine, he remarked, “We’re not in the business of providing news and information. We’re not in the business of providing well-researched music. We’re simply in the business of selling our customers products.” (Mckibben, Bill (2007). Deep Economy. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. p. 132.)

Radio Zoning The FCC is now considering whether to further loosen up the ownership limits of radio and TV stations in America. FCC Attorney John Garziglia recently wrote:

“If radio stations could be erected like fast-food establishments and grocery stores, with no numerical limits imposed other than a businessperson’s risk tolerance, it would be difficult to argue for FCC-imposed ownership limits on radio. Indeed, a regulatory agency enacting numerical limitations on restaurants and grocery stores would likely not pass legal muster.

But there are widely-enacted municipal limitations on just about every type of local business. The limitations are called “zoning” – the permitting or prohibiting of certain uses in certain areas to protect the character of the community.

The FCC’s radio ownership rules can be thought of as a kind of radio zoning. In the same way as land-use zoning protects a community’s character, the FCC’s ownership rules permit or prohibit certain radio station combinations protecting the amorphous concept of the public interest.

With land-use zoning, communities maintain a distinct character, livability, aesthetic, and economic success by not bowing exclusively to the profit motive of land developers. Allowing several or fewer owners to own virtually all of the radio stations in the country would doom the specialness of our radio industry.”

 

I think John makes some excellent points and I would encourage you to read his complete article HERE.

Biting Off More…

Radio operators today can’t properly staff and program the stations they already own. What makes them think that will change if they own even more of them? Most radio stations are nothing more than a “radio music box” run off a computer hard drive, an OTA (over-the-air) Pandora or Spotify.

Former Clear Channel CEO, John Hogan, introduced the “Less Is More” concept when I worked for the company. While it actually introduced more on-air clutter, not less, the idea was neither new or wrong.

If owning more radio stations was the answer in 1996, then why in 2018 are we worse off than we were then?

Why was Jerry Lee able to own a single station in Philadelphia and dominate that radio market?

Why are many locally owned and operated radio stations some of the healthiest and most revered in America today?

Radio not only needs zoning on the number of radio stations a single owner can control in a market, but the total number of radio station on-the-air in a market. And it needs radio stations that are neglected to be condemned like property owners who let their land go to seed.

The FRC wasn’t perfect, but the concept of “less is more” served America well for many decades. Fewer radio stations that provided high quality, live programming, operating in the ‘public interest, convenience and necessity’ and by virtue of that diversity of ownership, provided diversity of voice and opinions, as well as healthy competition.

 

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Automation Killed the Radio Star

BugglesRemember when the rock group, The Buggles, introduced a new cable TV channel, MTV (Music Television) with the song “Video Killed the Radio Star?” That was August 1, 1981. Here’s how Mark Goodman introduced the channel over 37-years ago. CLICK HERE 

What Killed MTV?

By the early 90s, MTV was looking to boost its audience ratings and introduced a trivia game show called “Remote Control.” It attracted more viewers than its music videos, so MTV created “The Real World” in 1992, television’s first unscripted reality show.

These new programs were attracting a new generation to MTV and also dooming the channel’s original concept of 24/7 music videos.

So, MTV didn’t kill the radio star, but something else did.

Consolidation, Computers and Cash

Ironically, it would be the radio industry itself that would kill the radio stars. Those talented men and women that made a couple of turntables, a few cart machines and a microphone work together and created real magic. What many liked to call radio’s “theater of the mind.”

After the passage of the Telcom Act of 1996, a massive and swift consolidation of the radio industry took place. Radio was very attractive to Wall Street due to its fat bottom line and year-over-year revenue growth.

They say you make money in radio station ownership at the time you buy the station, not when you sell it. In other words, the die is cast at the closing of the purchase. Consolidators were so eager to buy up radio stations, they over-paid. iHeartMedia and Cumulus, two of the country’s largest radio owners are poster children for this practice as they work their way out of bankruptcy.

In an attempt to mitigate this problem, computers and voice tracking were introduced across these radio station empires allowing them to drastically reduce their air staffs. The very people that were the bridge to the listeners and advertisers were the first to go.

All in the name of sending more cash to the bottom line and paying down crippling debt.

What Radio Stations Promoted BEFORE Consolidation

WHDH Radio PersonalitiesRadio used to really promote its greatest asset, its radio talent. WHDH in Boston promoted itself as having “New England’s Finest Radio Entertainment 24 Hours Every Day!” The “Big 5 on 85” print ad featured Jess Cain, Fred B. Cole, Hank Forbes, Bob Clayton and Norm Nathan, as their air staff, and never mentions what kind of music they play, or news they featured or anything else the radio station did. WHDH was not alone in doing this. Every radio station promoted its talent line-up. Radio air talent WAS the reason people listened.

George Johns recently wrote that when he bought his first radio station (K103 in Portland, OR) that he knew he had to have Craig Walker as his morning man. Unfortunately, Craig was already on the air in Portland at the #1 radio station, KGW. Geo pitched Craig a job with K103 for more money and said he was willing to wait out his one-year noncompete contract to get him. George Johns said his financial partners thought the deal was too expensive and so Geo took out a mortgage on his Coronado, California home to guarantee the money personally.

Did George Johns gamble pay off? Yes. On day one. Craig Walker premiered at #1.

Can you feel the love radio once had for its air talent?

Non-Competes

Which brings up another radio industry problem, the non-compete contract. Have they hurt the radio industry’s growth and innovation?

Boston’s Route 128 corridor used to be the center of technology in the 60s and 70s. In the 1990s, California’s Silicon Valley took over that title from Massachusetts.

Why did Boston’s tech companies lose to those in the Silicon Valley?

Boston was a collection of high tech companies, like Wang, DEC and Data General competing against one another. They kept everything in-house and were vertically integrated. They had employee non-compete contracts. If you left your firm, you were looked upon with great disdain.

Silicon Valley, on the other hand, built an ecosystem. They shared everything. People were free to move between companies, and did. And everyone was still considered part of the family.

Value Chains versus Ecosystems

The radio industry operates like a value chain. Radio’s big consolidators are driven by efficiencies.

Accenture Strategy published a study that found that ecosystems are a “cornerstone” of future growth in a 21st Century world, a way to increase revenue. Ecosystem companies thrive on making connections, lots and lots of them.

The broadcast industry has pushed away from so many chances to collaborate and in so doing lost a competitive advantage.

What is Radio’s Most Valuable Asset Feeling?

Don Anthony’s Morning Show Boot Camp (MSBC30) collaborated with Jacobs Media Strategies to produce the first ever “Air Talent Questionnaire: How Radio DJs View Their Industry.” Some of the takeaways were disheartening to hear. Such as:

  • Most of the shifts where DJs got their first jobs are disappearing

  • Many DJs are not air checked and that lack of attention appears to impact attitude

  • Many DJs have feelings of angst & insecurity; many others are struggling financially

If radio connects with listeners through its air talent, then just these three items ought to give every radio station operator pause.

How to Win the Triple Crown

Diane Lane with Secretariat

I just watched the movie “Secretariat.” In 1973, Big Red, as he was nick named, became the first Triple Crown winner in 25-years, at a time when many thought there would never be another. “His record-breaking victory in the Belmont Stakes, which he won by 31 lengths, is widely regarded as one of the greatest races of all time,” writes Wikipedia.

What struck me, was what Secretariat had, that the other horses did not, a loving caretaker, a loving trainer, a loving jockey and most of all, a loving owner. Big Red was surrounded by people who genuinely loved and believed in him.

Great radio stations are filled with people like that.

I’ve always believed that what happened in the halls of my radio stations were transmitted out, over-the-air, to the listener. We transmitted so much more than just the music we played, the news we delivered, and the entertainment we provided. We transmitted an intangible spirit that was contagious and attracted loyal listeners.

And we do that when we love, appreciate and take care of our most valuable radio asset, our air talent.

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Radio’s Money Problem

Abandoned Radio StationFor the radio listener, your next break is all that matters. Does it speak to your listener? Does it have relevance to your listener’s life right this second? How do you know?

Homogenized America

With the growth of fast food establishments, big box stores and online shopping, one might think that America is now homogenized. That we’ve become a “one size, fits all” society. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Defining Generations

Before we discuss what specific age group goals are, let’s first define those groups.

  • Millennials (ages 18-34)
  • Generation X (ages 35-52)
  • Baby Boomers (ages 53-72)
  • Greatest Generation (ages 73 and older)

I’m part of the Baby Boomer generation, so let me speak about a group that I personally know something about.

Boomer Goals

Harris Poll surveyed 2,002 American adults to learn what we want as we get older. The number one thing was to travel abroad (57%). I know that travel is #1 on my list and that’s why this spring I set out with Sue on a cross-country trip across America that racked up 11,175-miles on our Honda Accord.

The next bucket list item the Harris Poll found was that American’s want to take up a new hobby (52%). In my case, that has manifested itself by working on my blog and volunteering at my church.

The other items on the list were tracking one’s health using a wearable, joining new social circles, living abroad and participating in extreme sports (28% to 3%). What these things all say is that growing older doesn’t mean we have to stop having fun.

Boomer Priorities

I really can identify with what the Harris Poll found as the top priority of aging Americans, spending more time with friends and family (62%). Previously my radio and teaching careers had been my primary focus for over 50-years, but not any longer. Now, being a grandpa is Job One.

Other priorities we have as we age, is the desire to seek out new experiences (51%), which explains our desire to travel and see more of the planet. To travel, one must be healthy and so health and wellness (51%) is also a priority.

Aging Positives

Americans agree that as we age we gain wisdom (65%) and experience (62%). Which begs the question, why do  companies seem to undervalue their senior employees or try to unload them with offers of early retirement and buyouts.

Other positives of growing older are that we feel more trustworthy, independent, are more comfortable in our own skin and feel more in control of our lives.

How Old is “Old?”

I think the answer to the question “How old is old?” has always been a moving target depending on the age of the person being asked that very question. The Harris Poll found that Millennials think old is 67, Generation X thinks it’s 72, Baby Boomers think it’s 79 and the Greatest Generation think it’s 82.

Usually the day after my fitness class, I think it’s my current age.

“Between now and 2029, one Baby Boomer will turn 65 every eight seconds,” says management guru Tom Peters. In his new book, The Excellence Dividend, Peters says “Most firms seem clueless – or worse, even seem to turn their back on the opportunity (of serving this huge population).”

Radio & “the Oldies” Market

Tom Peters is pretty adamant about what companies need to do to serve this segment of the American population.

  • Do a stem-to-stern assessment of the skills, assets, and culture that are needed to serve this market
  • People aged 50 or older have 47-times more net wealth than households headed by a person under age 35

It appears that some companies have done this and are enjoying the profits of their efforts. SiriusXM’s Q3 Conference Call saw that company’s CEO Jim Meyer telling analysts that audio is thriving like never before saying “the entire pie of audio consumption is actually growing.” Net income is up 24%, margins are up 40% and they plan to increase their dividend to investors.

Willy Sutton robbed banks, he said, because that’s where the money was.

The money is with the Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, the very population that was raised on radio.

I’m not saying every radio station needs to cater to this senior segment. Obviously, if radio is to be relevant to the generations following the Boomers, it needs to offer programs that are relevant to this age group too. However, in my travels around this country I’ve heard a minuscule number of radio signals appealing to the money age groups. In my opinion this is a missed opportunity, for the radio industry’s future and its current economic stability.

Another Place, Another Time

I started my radio management career back in early 1980, still in my twenties, as the general manager of an AM daytime radio station that programmed Al Ham’s “Music of YOUR Life.” Next to Rush Limbaugh, Al Ham’s music format was the next best thing one could program on an AM radio station to attract the older audience of that time.

Our FM station in that AM/FM cluster was programming the current top hits of the day, and between us, we pretty much covered all the demographics. The hardest part of attracting new advertisers to my daytime radio station, was convincing them to try it. Once they did, they quickly became regular advertisers because the people we attracted to our programming had the money to buy everything our advertisers sold. My company president always liked to say, “money makes honey,” and my success with this little 1,000-watt daytimer led to my promotion to market manager in Atlantic City running a news/talk AM radio station and a 50,000-watt FM Bonneville Beautiful Music radio station. Both stations were programmed to an older, well-heeled, audience. We were a million dollar cash flowing property.

The Time is NOW

Tom Peters pretty much sums up radio’s action plan by saying, “Cut the B.S. Can the excuses. Forget the fancy reports. Get moving now. Get the job done. On this score, nothing has changed in 50-years, including the maddening fact that all too often a business strategy is inspiring, but the execution mania is largely AWOL.”

Pay attention to the culture inside your radio operation. IBM’s turnaround CEO Lou Gerstner put it this way, “culture is not just one aspect of the game – it is the game.”

And finally, train your people.

“Training is any firm’s single most important capital investment.”

-Tom Peters

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