Category Archives: Education

It Was All Harry’s Fault

Magnetophon German Recorder

There was an interesting discussion this week, stirred up by a couple of Fred Jacob’s blogs; one asking if radio was losing the battle for the listener’s ear and the other questioning if radio’s “Live & Local” ship had sailed.

I’m sure you have your opinions on both.

But it got me to thinking about the history of radio and its battle over LIVE versus RECORDED programming.

Radio Was Born on LIVE Programs

In the beginning of commercial radio, the Federal Radio Commission had a decision to make, would it put a lot of radio signals into the air with mediocre content or limit the number of radio signals to only those entities that could provide LIVE quality programming content. It chose the latter.

Radio was born as a medium that broadcast only LIVE content. Music, news and sports was all broadcast LIVE; that is until a man named Harry came along.

The Following Program was Pre-recorded             

In the history of show business, Harry was a very popular entertainer and is remembered as its first “multimedia star.”

By 1948, half of the recorded music broadcast on radio was Harry’s, not to mention he was also a major Hollywood attraction at the movies.

But first and foremost, Harry was a savvy businessman, investing in Minute Maid orange juice, owning part of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team and seeing the future of tape-recording technology.

In 1936, Harry became the host of a nationwide variety show. Because the network radio programs were all done LIVE, Harry not only had to do the show once, but twice, every night; once for the East Coast and again for the West Coast.

By 1945, Harry was tired of two shows a night and because his network, NBC, wouldn’t let him record his first show for replay, Harry and his network parted company when the season ended that year.

NBC Red & NBC Blue Networks

It was during this same time that NBC, which dominated America’s network radio with their Red and Blue networks had been forced by the government to sell off its Blue network, which would become the American Broadcasting Company and the ABC Radio Network.

ABC needed a headliner and they approached Harry to host their nightly variety show. Harry said he would do it, if he could record it for replay to the West Coast. ABC said he could, but only if the quality of the recorded show equaled that of a live broadcast.

The recording technology in that day was primarily the Electrical Transcription or ET disc. These were giant records, 16-inches in diameter (an LP is 12-inches in diameter), but even an untrained ear could discern whether what they were hearing through a AM radio speaker was LIVE or played off of an ET.

If you’ve ever heard the Herb Morrison broadcast of the crash of the Hindenburg, you know the level of quality this type of recording device delivers. Listen HERE

Recording on Magnetic Tape

A recording device that resembles a reel-to-reel recorder had been developed in Germany during World War II to record Adolf Hitler. After the war, an American GI brought one of these machines back home and began to improve upon it using American made components. Recordings made on this new machine sounded like the original LIVE performance and Harry thought this might be the answer he was looking for. There was just one problem, the company was broke. So, Harry put $50,000 in an envelope and sent it to Alexander Poniatoff, the head of the company called AMPEX.

To put this in perspective, $50,000 in 1948 would be the equivalent of more than a half million in today’s dollars.

ABC heard the recordings of Harry’s show on these new AMPEX recorders using 3M recording tape and gave them a “green light.”

Now, Harry only had to do one LIVE show a night on the East Coast with the West Coast hearing the recorded playback.

Radio’s Innovators

It’s always a challenge to say who makes a greater contribution to changing the world, as each generation has its great innovators.

Marconi gave us the wireless, a one-to-one form of communications that transformed the world.

General David Sarnoff (RCA) innovated the radio as a form of mass communication, giving us a one-to-many instant communication service of news, entertainment and advertising supported radio.

And Harry “Bing” Crosby was the person who introduced high quality recording technology to broadcast radio that sounded equal to the original LIVE presentation.

Like Steve Jobs, who didn’t invent the cellular telephone but had the vision to develop it into the smartphone we enjoy today, Bing Crosby was the person who had a vision to see how a new recording technology could be transformative to the radio industry.

Innovation requires investment.

For too long, radio broadcasters have been living off their “seed corn,” while technology companies have been focusing on improving the audio listener experience and by delivering  what the customer wants.

“It’s never too late to do great radio that serves your community.”

-Fred Jacobs

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Easter 2021

For 51 weeks out of the calendar year Dick employs his magic pen, using words to bring you his ideas, as well as the latest statistics and always a bit of history on where radio is charting it’s next course, putting together a verbal sound to the industries current color and posture.

I journey with this incredible man weekly, suggesting commas, periods, paragraphs, and sometimes a different word or two to give a new perspective to the blog’s overall composition.

For the second year, Dick has asked me to use his Dias and share my perspective of the most important of all holy days, the Easter season.

My story is very simple; “I have chosen” to be a part of a strong and quiet faith, a faith that has been extensively and greatly tested, but never ever has it faltered.

In my life time I have not known one person that has not muddled their way through pain and the many tall dark cavernous mountain ranges that accompanies these eventual wounds, climbing steep and jagged cliffs with enormous slippery boulders, which always lead to the end result, of being able to overlook the waters of the calm sea.    

In the last 100+ years this country went through two World Wars, the 1918 flu pandemic, as well as the Great Depression consuming the world of our parents and grandparents. But as we look at those bolded words on paper- they literally mean nothing to us, it’s just history.

Now on the other hand, looking at our past year, and the chaotic toxic moments that we’ve lived, “this too is history,” history for future generations to read.  So, through this…

What Have We Learned

Every one of us has experienced the fall into Alice’s “rabbit hole.” Covid, nasty politics, a contentious election, needless shootings, drug wars, all leading to provoked anger, outraged anger and even a milder form of pacified anger.

Neighbor pitted against neighbor, battling over whose point of view was right, some to the point of losing a family member or a dear friendship.  And in the final analysis we all are no better than the story that made up the Wild Wild West.

When one chooses to walk on this dark side, (and yes, it is a choice) can you honestly say that you are living the 11th commandment,

“That you love one another, even as Christ has loved you.”

John 15:12

Instead of implementing simple words such as, “we agree to disagree. We chose to listen to needless gossiping, encourage bullying by making fun of the other for wearing or not wearing a mask, or voting for someone different than your agenda, downgrading  the other and enforcing your righteous ways by making the other see ‘your’ mindset.

Helen Keller, the amazing women that lived in darkness all of her life, never had the time to be mean, and focused her attentions on the positive, sharing a quote with us;

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched;

they must be felt with the heart.”

Now with all this, you are probably bored with these endless words of a Pollyanna, but this is where my story turns.

Lessons Learned

Here we are, the stormy waters of 2020 are starting to subside and we are now skimming the surface of these waters. You won’t remember how you made it through and in a few years your version of this history won’t even be close to the real truth, but, you managed to survive, some have not, and for some that storm will never be over. But one thing is for certain, when you do completely emerge, you will not be the same person who walked in. That’s what a storm is all about.  This is also a definition of Grief. Everything is different, everything will be different, and it’s okay.

“No winter lasts forever; and no spring skips it’s turn” 

Hal Borland

The very first Easter showed us that Life never ends, and Love never dies.

Making the greatest gift of Easter — hope, renewal and new life

Last May, Dick and I changed our life style, definitely not because we wanted to but because we had to. We are older, retired and not of the mindset to want anything different – same, same worked for us. We definitely had to WORK at change, mentally and physically, but we worked at it together, in very small doses. After a lot of fussing, we realized that we only needed to make two changes, that being the elimination of starches from our diet and walking 2.5 to 5 miles a day. This change has paid off, as we are each both down numerous pounds and have tremendous energy.  

The reason I mention this gets back to the content of the article.

One Can Change, If One WANTS To                               

You’re not going to change the world, that’s literally impossible, but you can change you – work at being that walking lesson, be silent in your beliefs, but be full of Love for anyone and everyone. As we now step to the different version of pre-covid, you have an end result  in your possession, seeing that new as “HOPE”.

Let’s look at our neighbor, our co-worker, a great uncle, homeless person, mentally challenged individual, a person of different race, color or culture with a new quiet, peaceful silence, but also take the time to listen to them, they too have a story, there will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself, be at peace with God, but more importantly, keep peace with your soul.

Our warmest thoughts are being sent to you and your treasured family.

Happy Easter

Sue & Dick

Susan is a graduate of Concordia University with a degree in Family Life Education and is a Certified Grief Counselor. God joined us together in 2018.

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Can Algorithms Be Fair?

A while back, I wrote a blog article about “The Fairness Doctrine.” After the January 6th siege on Capitol Hill, many people began wondering if this policy, originally enacted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1949, but then eliminated under President Ronald Reagan, should be re-instated.  

To review, this doctrine required the holder of a broadcast license to both present controversial issues of public importance, and to present these issues in a manner that was honest, equitable, fair and balanced.

In other words, broadcasters were supposed to not only uncover what the people in their broadcast service area should be aware of, but also to present both sides of the issue.

The Fairness Doctrine only applied to radio and television licensees and no other form of media. Even if it was still in place today, it wouldn’t have applied to Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram or any other forms of non-broadcast communication. The problem with social media is that what we read, see, and hear is all controlled by algorithms.

The Challenge of Controlling Algorithms

Unlike most innovations that human beings have designed, algorithms are not static and easily defined. You can’t say that one algorithm is good and the other is evil. They are like a living organism, in that they can learn, adapt and change over time.

Cornell University online behavior scholar, J. Nathan Matias, put it this way:

“If you buy a car from Pennsylvania and drive it to Connecticut, you know that it will work the same way in both places. And when someone else takes the driver’s seat, the engine is going to do what it always did.”

With an algorithm, it changes with each human behavior it comes in contact with and that’s what makes trying to regulate it, from a government standpoint, such a challenge.

Broadcast radio and television was an unknown when it appeared, and government was challenged to regulate it. It used as a model, the regulations that had been developed to oversee America’s railroads. In fact, that’s where the concept of requiring radio and TV stations to operate in the “public interest, convenience and/or necessity” comes from. It’s also why no one has ever been exactly sure of what this phrase actually means when it comes to broadcast regulation.  

Closing the Barn Door

The old saying “It’s too late to close the barn door, once the horse is gone,” might be the type of problem facing regulators trying to bring fairness to today’s internet dominated world.

The European Union’s first go at trying to regulate Google Shopping, demonstrated how the slow moving wheels of justice are no match for the high speed technology of today. By the time regulators issued their decision, the technology in question had become irrelevant.

20th Century Solutions Don’t Work on 21st Century Problems

We all learned in school how America’s Justice Department, and in some cases individual states, broke up monopolies in oil and the railroads. Historically, what government was trying to do was breakup price-setting cartels, and lower prices for consumers. But with entities like Facebook and Google, no one pays to use their service; it’s free!

Promising Technology or Dystopian Reality?

When commercial radio was born a hundred years ago, it was greeted with the same exuberance that the internet was and people thought radio would connect people, end wars and bring about world peace.

Then American radio would give a voice to Father Charles Coughlin, a Detroit priest who eventually turned against American democracy itself through his nationwide radio broadcasts, opening the door for the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine coming into regulatory existence.

A Collaborative Solution

Media regulation in the 21st Century with algorithms that act like living organisms maybe should be regulated in the same way we protect our environment.

As an example, how would you go about improving a polluted river?

“To improve the ecology around a river, it isn’t enough to simply regulate companies’ pollution. Nor will it help to just break up the polluting companies. You need to think about how the river is used by citizens—what sort of residential buildings are constructed along the banks, what is transported up and down the river—and the fish that swim in the water. Fishermen, yachtsmen, ecologists, property developers, and area residents all need a say. Apply that metaphor to the online world: Politicians, citizen-scientists, activists, and ordinary people will all have to work together to co-govern a technology whose impact is dependent on everyone’s behavior, and that will be as integral to our lives and our economies as rivers once were to the emergence of early civilizations.”

-Anne Applebaum and Peter Pomerantsev, The Atlantic, “How to Put Out Democracy’s Dumpster Fire

Now you know why bringing back “The Fairness Doctrine” will not work in a communications world controlled by algorithms.

We need to think differently.

Albert Einstein said it best,

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

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Only Change is Here to Stay

Every night, the music of Enya lulls us off to dreamland. One of our favorite songs is “The Humming.” A line from that song is “only change is here to stay.”

I’ve often written in this blog about the only constant in life is change, and that if you’re not changing your life for the better, you’re changing it for the worse, for nothing stays the same. Nothing.

Changes in Communication

Watching the Ken Burns documentary on “Country Music” it was very clear the important role that radio played in spreading the popularity of this musical genre. But that was then, today the smartphone is at the center of everyone’s life.

Smartphones

The latest from Edison Research now says that 88% of Americans over the age of 12 own and use a smartphone; 250 million, to be exact.

The wireless phone companies will tell you that today we use our smartphones primarily for data. Edison Research tells us that 82% of Americans are now active on social media platforms, the top three being Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Smart Speakers

While 32% of homes in the U.S. don’t have a single AM/FM radio in them, 47% now have a smart speaker.

Today, 193 million Americans – or 68%  of adults 12 years of age and older – digitally consume audio using one of these smart devices.

Car Radio

AM/FM radio’s last place of dominance is the vehicle dashboard. WFH (Work From Home) eliminated the need to commute for a lot of people, thereby causing them to spend less time with traditional radio in their cars.

McKinsey Global Institute says at least 20% of people currently in the WFH mode won’t ever be returning to an office after the pandemic ends. Just as alarming for radio station owners is the recent report by Edison Research that shows the percentage of people who listen to audio on their smartphone in their cars is now at 50%.

“We’re recovering to a different economy.”

-Jerome H. Powell, Federal Reserve Chairman

ZOOM

Before COVID-19, we already were doing video conferencing and phone calls on platforms like Go To Meeting, Face Time, WebX, or Skype. But then the world was shut down by a novel coronavirus and it was ZOOM that suddenly became the dominant platform for teaching school, conducting government, running our courts, attending church, working from home, celebrating our weddings and birthdays, and just about everything else we used to do in person.  

ZOOM is the best example of how fast our world changed when COVID-19 struck.

How did ZOOM do it? By investing the time to know what their video conferencing customer wanted, knowing it better than anyone else and then delivering it best when the critical moment – a global pandemic – arrived.

“Spend a lot of time talking to customers face-to-face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers.”

– H. Ross Perot

Your listeners are changing, your advertisers are changing, your world is changing. So, you’d better be listening carefully to understand how you must change to be relevant to their wants, needs and desires.

Because as Enya sings “only change is here to stay.”

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Build Your Rainy Day Fund

The novel coronavirus has eliminated jobs in less time than it takes to read this sentence. Many of those jobs were going away anyway, but COVID-19 sped up their demise.

For real radio people, the phrase “you haven’t really worked in radio until you’ve been fired at least three times,” taught many of us how to deal with a sudden loss of income.

13 Lucky Years

I moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1984 to take over as general manager of WIIN/WFPG radio stations. At the young age of 32, I was promoted to my second general manager job; a job I would perform successfully for 13 years, until one day the stations were taken over by new owners.

Shortly after the closing, I learned that one of the owners would now become the new general manager, eliminating my position.

NJ Transit

I quickly learned that I would receive no severance pay, that my job was ending immediately and that my company car had just turned into a New Jersey Transit Bus if I needed wheels.

My new home with its hefty mortgage was manageable with my former income, but not with an unemployment check.

Job Hunting

While searching for my next radio management position, I traveled to a radio conference in Phoenix, Arizona. There I met another radio general manager who had also recently lost his job through a change in ownership. We were in the same situation, except he wasn’t as stressed out over landing his next position, as I was. Here’s what he shared with me that I never forgot.

Live Below Your Income

He told me as he advanced in the radio business, working in larger markets, and increasing his income, that he and his wife bought bigger houses, better cars and added lots of toys to their lifestyle. Each time when another job would end abruptly, he would become panicked and stressed out about quickly finding his next job. But when he moved to Phoenix, he told his wife that they were going to buy an affordable home and adopt a lifestyle they could manage, even if this job ended tomorrow. This time, they would live below their income and “build a rainy day fund.”

Why Don’t We Save?

Dan Ariely is an Israeli-American professor and author. He serves as a James B. Duke Professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. Recently a reader of his Wall Street Journal column asked “Many people I know have lost their jobs during the pandemic, which made me realize I needed to set up an emergency savings fund. But my job is secure so far, so it hasn’t felt very urgent to put money in the account. What can I do to make sure I contribute to my emergency savings every month?”

Dan told his reader “research shows that we are much more likely to save money for a specific personal goal than simply because it’s the right thing to do. The better way to look at this is to calculate how much you need to pay your mortgage or rent for three months, or to buy food for your family etc. When you think of saving as protecting those you love and meeting particular needs, you are more likely to commit to making regular contributions.”

I did something very similar after landing my next position, with the caveat of making the saving part, automatic. I calculated how much I would need to live and then directed the remainder to be automatically direct deposited into my “rainy day savings account.”

Sleep Like a Baby

One of the worst feelings you can have as a parent is not having the finances to take care of your family.

The change in my spending/savings habits gave me real peace of mind and I have slept like a baby ever since. I never felt like I was making a sacrifice either, as I would learn that life isn’t about acquiring more and more things, the secret to enjoying life is learning to appreciate the things you already have.

“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

-from Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince

Pick a Profession, Not a Job

Just as important as financial security, is your health and well-being. For that, you need to be employed in something where you can’t wait to get up every morning.

If you want to become really good at something, you’ll need to spend years honing your craft. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes a person 10,000 hours to really master something, so you better love what you’re doing.

Cleveland radio air personality, Michael Stanley, passed away this week. He wrote a goodbye letter to his WNCX listeners that said in part, “it’s been said that if you love your job then it’s not really work and if that’s really true (and I definitely think it is) then I have been happily out of work for over fifty years!”  

I too was fortunate to have found a profession I made into a lifelong career and have enjoyed for over 50 years. Just like it’s important to live below your income level, it’s just as important to spend your days filled with doing things you’re passionate about.

Today, writing this blog and volunteering as a radio personality on a non-profit radio station continues to be my joy and hopefully provides mentorship and entertainment value to others.

Life is not about the destination, for it’s the same for each of us, it’s about the journey.

Enjoy your journey.

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COVID-19, One Year Later

It was just a year ago that I wrote about “The Day the World Shutdown.” So, shall I ask you, “how are you doing?”

For Sue & I, while we were just vaccinated on Friday, the wearing of face masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing is unlikely to change for us for the rest of 2021, if not longer.

Based on my research of pandemics past, I realized very early that this would be about a two year disruption and I suspect that when we say “Happy New Year” and ring in 2022, things will finally be on course for whatever the “new normal” is.

WFH

Working From Home, most often abbreviated as “WFH,” has also changed people’s media habits.

A year ago I wrote that I expected most people would consume their media by streaming it via the internet. The latest research has shown that is exactly what happened. eMarketer data showed that traditional radio broadcasts were eclipsed by digital audio, mid-2020. This week, Edison Research reported, that 30% of all audio listening now occurs on mobile devices; unless you’re between the ages of 13-34, then that number is 46%. Not surprisingly, this age group’s listening to audio on an AM/FM radio receiver is down to only 20%.

Working from home meant that those people who normally listened to AM/FM radio while commuting in their car, were now doing their audio consumption where they live, and 32% of today’s households don’t have a single AM/FM radio in them. However, 44.2% of homes today have a voice activated assistant, like Amazon’s Alexa, to access their favorite audio content.

Audio in Cars

The global pandemic has forced all of us to get used to new ways of doing every little thing, such as shopping online, streaming video entertainment on huge flat screen TVs and asking Alexa for assistance like she had become a member of the family. We’ve become so comfortable with these new Artificial Intelligence (AI) devices that we might start to wonder what life was like before them.

Automobile manufacturers also took notice of this change, like the commercial for a new Buick – or is it an “Alexa on Wheels?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqvEcLWI0ME

I remember when I used to tell advertisers that a car was a “radio on wheels.”

Now I don’t have a new car, but my 2009 Honda Accord has a fabulous sound system that seamlessly connects to my iPhone and streams my audio content in my car. My car radio is locked on “AUX.” (I know I’m not alone.)

The End of Commuting

Bill Gates shocked the world when he predicted in November of last year that 50% of all business travel would never come back and that 30% of the days people spent in an office would likewise disappear forever. McKinsey Global Institute pretty much corroborated Gate’s predictions by adding that 20% of workers would continue to work from home indefinitely.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell, puts it this way, “We’re recovering to a different economy.”

Disney Closing Mall Stores

Disney plans to close 20% of its Disney Stores saying that they’ve seen changes in the ways people shop due to COVID-19 and that the future means people will continue to shop online. As a result, Disney plans to focus on e-commerce, its Apps and social media platforms. Disney says the data shows that the global pandemic increased the speed of change from brick-and-mortar to online shopping by half a decade.

Movies & Streaming

Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek went even further in announcing the company’s future, saying that the days of releasing new movies to theaters for several months before bringing them to their streaming platform, are over. For example, when “Raya and the Last Dragon” hits the theaters this month, it will simultaneously be available on Disney+ for subscribers for an additional $30.

Disney+ has exceeded everyone’s expectations, rapidly growing to over 95 million paying subscribers. The biggest surprise to this streamer of family content was that over 50% of those subscribers don’t have children.

Worst Year in Pay-TV History

2020 was a record year for cord-cutting according to analysis of cable TV subscribers by MoffettNathanson. Cable TV lost six million subscribers dropping cable’s household penetration level to a low, not seen in thirty years. Smart TVs are the primary reason people now stream their video content from the internet.

Award Shows Audiences in Decline

Audiences for the Academy Awards, Grammy’s, Golden Globes and Primetime Emmys have all been in a steady decline since 2000. The first of these 2021 award shows, and a harbinger for those to come, the Golden Globes, set a record low for NBC’s telecast of these awards.

Where Have All the Sports Fan Gone?

You might have thought with people stuck at home, that sports would have seen solid television audiences, but that wasn’t the case. 2020 saw a drop in viewership for practically every sport. Compared with 2019, the NBA Finals were down 51%, the NHL Finals were down 61%, the U.S. Open tennis matches were down 45%. Even the Kentucky Derby recorded its lowest TV audience ever, falling 49% from 2019, to just over eight million viewers.

Television’s biggest audience draw for many years has been the NFL and the Super Bowl, but not this year. The big game’s audience was the lowest it has been in fifteen years.

If Misery Loves Company…

Pro Sports, Harley Davidson and broadcast radio/TV are all suffering from a similar problem, they aren’t attracting the next generation. Generation Z Americans, those born after 1996, just aren’t that into sports, Harley’s and traditional media, like previous generations.

That’s probably why, when the NFL started asking for a 100% increase in TV rights payments, Disney (owner of ESPN) immediately rejected it.

However, streamers, like Amazon Prime and AppleTV+ may give the NFL the money they want, but will those high rights fees manifest in higher premiums for subscribers.

For the maker of “The Hog” and traditional broadcast media, the future is as challenging. Harley Davidson is looking to make their motorcycle line all electric, following the lead of the world’s automobile industry, and hoping it will attract new riders to their brand. Radio/TV broadcasters are also trying to capture new audiences with Apps, streaming and podcasts.

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

-Wayne Gretzky

Anyone who thinks their business will return to the way it was, once COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror, will be hanging the “Gone Fishing” sign out, be down-for-the-count or just plain out-of-business.

It’s time for all of us to be thinking like Gretzky.

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Remodeling Communications

My church recently sent its Annual Report for 2020 to all its members. It reminded me that it was on March 13, 2020 that in-person worship service was suspended at our church, along with all other activities because of the highly infectious nature of COVID-19.

Pastor Martha Sims wrote, “In its 267-year history, this congregation has had its share of difficult times; fires and conflicts and even some changes that resulted from the virus of 1918.”

The 1918-1920 global pandemic, often referred to as the “Spanish Flu,” caused my church to end the use of a common cup for communion during services and begin using little individual glasses. While communicants had the option to either continue to drink wine from the common cup or use the new individual glasses, the record shows that people quickly adjusted to the new normal and both methods did not have to be offered beyond that first Sunday morning of the change.

Permanent Change

I share this story with you, because setting up those little individual glasses for the communion wine, and then collecting them, washing them and putting them back out again for the second Sunday morning service was something my wife and I participated in as part of our church service. But now I wonder what the future will hold regarding more changes in this and other areas of our church life after what COVID-19 has taught us.

We’ve dined out on only a few occasions, mainly due to traveling, and noticed that restaurants now give patrons a paper menu that is disposed of after orders are taken.

Hand sanitizer is found in every store you go into these days, often with signs asking people to use it upon entering. Might we find these changes remain, post-COVID?

Radio Personalities Broadcasting from Home

Broadcast programming consultant, Gary Berkowitz, hosted his first ZOOM call with radio programmers from throughout the United States and Canada talking about how they’re dealing with the global pandemic in their radio operations. What struck me most was that all of the radio stations had equipped their personalities with high quality microphones, processing, laptops and high-speed internet service to do their shows and/or voice track them from home.

Personalities in places like New York City and Philadelphia were broadcasting from their apartment or basement on some of America’s top radio stations.

One personality said he had to get special permission to go into the radio station to do a special Christmas broadcast, taking calls from youngsters who wanted to talk to Santa, because it wasn’t possible to execute this from his home studio.

A Canadian programmer said his radio group spent about $2,500 per personality to equip them with the best equipment to broadcast from home, and that it has worked out seamlessly with no disruption to any of their radio stations normal programming. Might this become permanent?

Bob Van Dillen

It’s not just radio personalities, but television personalities too. Bob Van Dillen is the meteorologist on HLN’s Morning Express with Robin Meade. Since the pandemic hit, Bob has been doing his weather forecasts from the safety of his home.

I also noticed that some of our local TV anchors and reporters on NBC4 out of Washington, DC are doing this too.

COVID-19 Disruptions

I’ve done a lot of reading about past global pandemics, with the intent of trying to learn how they made permanent changes to the world going forward. What I’ve learned is, there really is nothing to compare with what we’re going through, with those of the past.

The Internet

Probably the biggest reason this time is so different is the existence of the internet. Never before has the world been able to continue operating to such a large extent by being so instantly connected as we are today.

Almost everything we need, can now be obtained via this communications innovation.

Our last medical appointment with our doctor was done over a ZOOM-like connection. Our weekly church service is broadcast live on Facebook and on-demand recordings are available for later viewing on YouTube. Our church has already committed to continuing video church services even when in-person services can once again take place.

In my home, all of our television viewing is via streaming, using AppleTV, FireTV, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and YouTube.

I access the world of radio, via streaming as well these days by simply asking Alexa for the station or audio content I wish to hear.

Audio Tipping Point Crossed in 2020

While we were all consumed with trying not to contract COVID, the average time spent listening to traditional radio (AM/FM) was surpassed by listening to digital audio.

“ When we change the way we communicate, we change society.”
-Clay Shirky

The Future of Radio is to Meet the Listener Where They Are

Today’s audio consumer is more likely to be accessing audio content via digital streaming than through an AM/FM radio set and they are also more likely to want some visual content along with their audio. It will be critical for broadcasters to be offering programming – both audio & visual – that is engaging and delivers what people want.

Broadcasters will have to take into consideration the environment the media consumer is using their product in, and take full advantage of all the technology advances it offers, be it at home, at work or in the car.

In other words, it’s time for broadcast media to start making plans to remodel the way they communicate with their audience. The first question every broadcaster will need to be asking is:

How relevant are we to our media consumer in this environment?

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Your Cell Phone is a Radio

By definition, radio is, a: the wireless transmission and reception of electric impulses or signals by means of electromagnetic waves. b: the use of these waves for the wireless transmission of electric impulses into which sound is converted, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary.

Your cell phone sends signals to (and receives them from) nearby cell towers (base stations) using Radio Frequency (RF) waves. This is a form of energy in the electromagnetic spectrum that falls between FM radio waves and microwaves.

My First FCC License

When I studied for and passed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) test to obtain my 3rd Class Radio-Telephone License, I initially wondered why it said “telephone” on it.

Telephones in 1968 were all wired devices, like in my parent’s house in which our family phone was connected by a copper wire and bolted to the kitchen wall.

When I began to study the history of radio, I learned that an early experimenter in radio broadcasting, Kentucky melon farmer Nathan Stubblefield, wanted to be able to talk to his wife while he was driving his automobile while away from their farmhouse. In those early days, no one had a clue what this new technology would become.

Radio’s Metamorphosis

The podcast “Local Marketing Trends” hosted by Corey Elliot and Gordon Borrell, recently featured an interview with the Radio Advertising Bureau’s (RAB) President/CEO Erica Farber in which she said the radio industry’s sales arm was going through a metamorphosis; today the RAB thinks more broadly, to include all things audio.

Gordon asked Erica if she meant podcasting and streaming audio like Spotify and Pandora, to which she said “Yes.” When might this happen, Gordon asked, to which she responded, “maybe today.”

Farber explained how she feels radio is ahead of the curve in not just delivering content, but in delivering services too. Radio is no longer just about selling thirty and sixty second spots but it’s a very different business now, with radio’s core product today being “delivering results.”

Audio Advertising Bureau

Might the Radio Advertising Bureau change its name to become the Audio Advertising Bureau?

I hope not. Here’s why I say that.

Radio suffers from traditional broadcaster thinking that it needs an FCC license, radio tower, antenna and transmitter which sends a signal out over the AM or FM radio bands. But if you ask a young person, what is radio, they will tell you about their favorite stream or podcast which  they listen to through their smartphone.

Radio is not a dated identifier, it’s very much in vogue in the 21st Century, but what imagine comes to mind when one says the word “RADIO” will differ depending upon a person’s age.

1940s Floor Cabinet Radio (what my parents listened to)
1970s Transistor Radio (the radio of my youth)
21st Century Smartphone used as a radio & a whole lot more (the “radio” I use today)

Apple Music Radio

You might have missed Apple’s August 2020 Press Release about how they were changing the name of their radio service from Beats 1 to Apple Music Radio. In spite of trying to invent a new name for their streaming music offerings, their users called it “RADIO.” And now, so does Apple.

Beats 1, has been Apple’s flagship global radio station since its launch in 2015. Five years later, it’s been renamed Apple Music 1. Oliver Schusser, vice president of Apple Music, Beats and International Content, explained

“Apple Music Radio provides an unparalleled global platform for artists across all genres to talk about, create, and share music with their fans, and this is just the beginning. We will continue to invest in live radio and create opportunities for listeners around the world to connect with the music they love.”Beats

Now is NOT the time for AM/FM Radio broadcasters to abandon the sonic brand known as “RADIO.”

Adapt or Die

When people started streaming over the Internet and calling it “radio,” traditional broadcasters looked down their noses in much the same way that print journalists looked down their noses at the new media platforms like Buzzfeed and Vice Media invading their world.

Traditional media survivors will learn to accept and embrace the new platforms that disrupt the world as we knew it and are creating the world that will be.

An inability to adapt to new platforms is what causes both people and industries to fail.

AM, FM, internet streaming, smartphones, connected cars are all platforms. Radio, newspapers, magazines and the like, are all media products. Understanding this dichotomy is critical.

And so, the challenge for radio is not changing its name, but adapting its product to today’s platforms.

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Smile Radio – Making Listeners Feel Good

You won’t find many radio stations in the world using the word “smile” in their positioning. I was looking for a good news story about radio for this week’s blog article and could only find three.

  1. An “aspirant Community Radio Station based in Carrigtwohill, County Cork,” Ireland, that as of this writing was still in search of a suitable premises to operate from and wasn’t on the air.
  2. Smile FM, a network of non-commercial, contemporary Christian radio stations in Williamston, Michigan and
  3. Smile 90.4FM, Cape Town’s Good News Network in Cape Town, South Africa.

Smile 90.4FM

To American radio listeners, the first thing that may catch your eye is the frequency of the radio station, 90.4 on the FM band. In researching this, I learned that while all countries use FM channel center frequencies ending in 0.1, 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 0.9 MHz, some countries, like South Africa, also use center frequencies ending in 0.0, 0.2, 0.4, 0.6, and 0.8 MHz.

Lois O’Brien, the Managing Director of Smile 90.4FM, told me that the radio station signed on eight years ago with the deliberate intention of putting smiles on the faces of people living in the “Mother City” of Cape Town.

Originally, the station tried to highlight news that was overtly positive and deliver it with empathy. The belief being that “there is no evidence to support the rationale that placing the worst of humanity as item number one in a news bulletin, has changed the world for the better.”

Since it’s been hard to find a lot of positives since the advent of a global pandemic, the station has morphed its news positioning to be “News that Cape Town Needs to Know Now.”

The first time I listened to Smile 90.4FM, Sam Roy was on the air and reminded listeners that the daily citywide curfew was going into effect at 9pm, “ten minutes from now,” but that the Friday night Hometown Party Edition was continuing on Smile 90.4FM. Sam Roy was broadcasting LIVE.

Live Air Personalities

Ms. O’Brien told me the station is staffed with live presenters* from 5AM till midnight weekdays, and 6AM to 10PM Saturday and Sunday.

The air shifts during the week are two to three hours long, which are reminiscent of the way Bill Drake scheduled air shifts on his consulted radio stations, to ensure that air personalities were always fresh and energetic. Weekend air shifts on Smile 90.4FM are four hours in length.

More Than Music

JM Henning presents the “Early Bird Info Hour” from 5AM-6AM, and then continues with the “Smile Breakfast with Bobby Brown and Lindy Lehto” from 6AM-9AM.

The station also features various entertaining features, story arcs, stunts, conducts familiar sing-a-longs with the goal of always having fun in everything they do. “We pride ourselves in being authentic and real,” said O’Brien.

No Call Letters

I asked what the station’s call letters were and learned that while the company name is Cape Town Radio (Pty) Ltd, it trades as Smile 90.4FM and that it uses the name Smile 90.4FM everywhere. It has no call letters.

Ratings

Cape Town has a population of 4,618,000. South Africa has eleven official languages, giving radio stations the opportunity to serve a specific language audience. The most listened to radio station in South Africa caters to the Zulu speaking population. Smile 90.4FM began broadcasting on March 25, 2013 targeting the 25-to-49 year old English and Afrikaan speaking audience. It’s built its weekly audience up to 200,000 of them with its bilingual contemporary music format.

Smile 90.4FM enjoys 65% of its audience being exclusive to the station. On average, their loyal and engaged audience listens an hour and forty-nine minutes a day and 39% engage with the station via Facebook.

Special Weekend Features

Smile 90.4FM features “Better Music & More of It” with Top 200 Weekends like:

  • Top 200 High School Hits
  • Top 200 Karaoke Hits
  • Top 200 Songs from the movies
  • Top 200 Duets and Collabs

Promotions

Smile 90.4FM works hard to create promotions and competitions that are innovative and creative. 2020’s R2 Million Campaign was South Africa’s Radio Award winner for Multi-Channel Promotions. It gave listeners a chance to qualify to win two million Rand or $131,138.66, the dollar equivalent of the South African Rand.

Another promotion the station planned was to be like Survivor meets Big Brother. It was called Live Inside & Win the Ride. The promotion was to have had five finalists living inside a car until the last person sitting won a brand new Volkswagen Polo Vivo. Unfortunately, COVID-19 caused that promotion to be suspended.

Global Pandemic

Needless to say, it was hard to see people smiling anywhere around the world during COVID-19 with everyone wearing face masks and socially distancing. Smile 90.4FM contributed to the smile cover-up by joining with a corporate sponsor to distribute over 300,000 masks to worthy institutions like schools, senior homes, orphanages, or others who could not afford a mask.

What I most envy about the station is that everyone is focused on one, and only one, radio station; along with its accompanying website, Facebook page and App. Something American radio stations have long given up with massive consolidation, causing employees to be spread too thin amongst multiple properties.

Community & Companionship

Listeners are attracted to Smile 90.4FM because of the way the station makes them feel. Airing stories that inspire and create a feeling of awe, gratitude and optimism. They encourage Smile listeners to be open to sharing with their neighbors, to be caring with one another and to make a connection.

Radio was born with having live air personalities provide the radio listener with companionship and making a connection to their community. It is for this reason, from the very beginning of commercial broadcasting in America one hundred years ago, radio found a home in its listener’s hearts.

Smile 90.4FM understands the power it has to make its listeners feel good. Owners Singh and Messina said their goal was to “start a movement – a new wave on the air. The name says it all. Hear it…feel it…Smile 90.4FM.”

*Radio DJs or air personalities are called “Presenters” in South Africa

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It’s Groundhog Year

Admit it, 2021 doesn’t feel like anything more than “2020, the Sequel.”  

In addition to COVID-19 continuing to mutate and spread around the world, we are getting ready for another Senate Impeachment Trial. We did flip the calendar, didn’t we?

Crossroads

Bruce Mehlman is a Washington, DC attorney who publishes some very insightful PowerPoints. His latest is titled “Crossroads.” I encourage you to take a moment to review the entire slide deck, but if you’re time challenged, here are some key points that Bruce makes. I think you will find these very encouraging.

Reasons for Hope

Bruce found 20 Hopeful Headlines You May Have Missed

Digital Transformation is Accelerating

Mehlman points to nine areas where accelerating digital transformations will improve the world:

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Government
  • Research
  • Cities & Retail
  • Workplace
  • Wellness & Fitness
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Transportation

The biggest challenge facing us is not COVID-19 or the Economy or even China, but TRUST. When it comes to media, 56% of Americans believe “journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations,” and that should be very concerning for any media professional.

If people don’t trust us for giving them the straight story when it comes to news, what makes you think they will trust our advertisers?

For an ad-supported industry, TRUST is tantamount, which is why last week I wrote about the trust problem with “Subscriber First,” Nielsen Audio’s new policy of only releasing the ratings of subscribing stations to the radio trades. You can’t trust what you see, because you’re not seeing all the stations impacting a radio marketplace. You can read that article by clicking HERE

Recommendations for Leaders at the Crossroads

Mehlman makes five excellent suggestions for the leaders of any business or industry:

  1. Communicate Directly, Truthfully & Often Business is now more trusted than politicians or media outlets thanks to pandemic straight-talk. TRUST begins with telling the truth.
  2. Support Constructive Leaders It’s time to stand up for people who are doing the right thing, stop treating responsible and irresponsible players like they are equals. It’s also important that we engage those we hope to change.
  3. Leverage Your Power Business has become the “4th branch of government” according to Axios. We need to take responsibility and own the impact we’re making on society and not do things we know to be wrong or bad, because we want to put a dollar in our pocket. You have power over what programming you put on your airwaves, and the people you endorse. Set a good example for others by the way you run your business by championing causes that will make a positive difference in your community.
  4. Lead By Example Modern media and politics reward outrage, division and sanctimony rather than pragmatic problem-solving. It’s way past time for change!  The documentary “The Brainwashing of My Dad” shows the power we wield. As media companies we need to demonstrate the value of cooperation with others in creating a better world.
  5. We’re All In This Together Doing your part is no longer enough. Societal and global risks threaten to overwhelm our system, demanding collective action. Sometimes you need to go outside of your lane.

I encourage you to click on this link and see the full PowerPoint slide deck that Bruce Mehlman has thoughtfully prepared. You will find it HERE

“Don’t give them what you think they want.

Give them what they never thought was possible.”

Orson Welles, actor, director, screenwriter & producer

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