Category Archives: Education

Are You Counting What Counts?

I believe it was Albert Einstein that said “Not everything that can be counted, counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” One of the things that distressed me during the period of radio’s great consolidation, and even recently, is the elimination of radio talent.

Jim Zippo

On August 19, 2022, Jim Zippo wrote on his Facebook page:

“Well, it’s been a week and it’s finally sinking in…

I’m no longer on the air for 98.7 KLUV (Audacy) here in Dallas after 15+ years of great  times and really fun radio. Also gone: Jeff Miles and Rebekah Black of “Miles in the Morning” – corporate streamlining in tough financial times. I was reassured my performance has been outstanding, and this is just a $ issue happening at stations nationwide. Similar stories are out there.

Jim Zippo

It’s been a great opportunity to continue my on-air career, now in its 47th year. I feel certain I will “see ya on the radio” again, soon, hopefully! JZ”

Friday morning, going into the Labor Day Holiday Weekend, Jim Zippo posted his latest DEMO on Facebook as he searches for his next radio gig. You can hear that here: https://www.facebook.com/thezipdude/videos/594790472346561

CKOA-FM

Last week I wrote about a radio station that Sue & I enjoyed listening to while we drove The Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. It was LIVE and very LOCAL.

This week Bill MacNeil, CKOA-FM’s General Manager reached out to me about my article saying that a radio colleague shared it with him and his team.

Bill wrote:

“We like to think of ourselves as the little station that could. We always put our listeners first and are proud to provide the most live and local programming in the market.”

I wrote back to Bill and said:

“Bill, you and your team have every reason to be proud of the radio service you provide. CKOA-FM provides both community and companionship. AND you don’t have to be a local to enjoy the programming that you provide.”

CKOA-FM even provides tourist information about the area on the radio station’s website: https://coastalradio.ca/tourist-information/

Radio is Show Business

When radio was taken over by Wall Street, it became numbers obsessed. It basically increased profits through firing people, never realizing radio’s attraction was the very people who sat in the air chairs of their stations. They were the “show” in the radio business.

And when there was no more talent to RIF (Reduction In Force), they began trimming the people in other areas of the radio station, like sales and promotions.

The results of all these staff reductions has produced a radio industry that is less competitive to other forms of entertainment and less dynamic.

Passionate Leaders

When we look at other industries and great leaders we find they were passionate about the mission of their company. Henry Ford was passionate about the power of transportation. Sam Walton was passionate about super-serving the customer. And Steve Jobs was passionate about making insanely great products. It was this passion for, and being lazar focused on the mission, that brought about their company’s economic success.

I was attracted to the radio industry as a boy by people who were passionate about making great radio and everywhere I turned my radio dial I heard talented people on-the-air.

Most radio people my age rarely listened to the records playing, we were the ones who switched stations when the music started to hear another radio personality, on a different radio station, work their magic.

Today’s radio industry is counting the wrong things.

The success of radio depends on the well-being of those who are passionate about it and live it.

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Canadian Radio

During our recent road trip through Atlantic Canada, Sue and I had the opportunity to listen to local Canadian radio. The first thing we noticed when we scanned the AM radio band throughout Nova Scotia was there was nothing to listen to. I don’t mean there was nothing worth listening to, but there was literally nothing but static on the AM band.

When I got home, I did a search for AM radio in Nova Scotia and found there are actually four AM radio stations listed as being on-the-air, but our Honda Accord radio couldn’t find them.

AM versus FM in Nova Scotia

In the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, there are 102 radio stations, of which only four are broadcasting on the AM band and ninety-eight are broadcasting on FM. The population of Nova Scotia is a little over a million people.

To put the land mass of Nova Scotia into context, it’s about the size of West Virginia.

West Virginia has 224 radio stations with a population of 1.76 million. Sixty-five of West Virginia’s radio signals reside on the AM band and 159 on the FM band.

Radio Programming in Nova Scotia

As we scanned the dial through Nova Scotia, the biggest impression we both had was how under-radioed Atlantic Canada was compared to the radio dials in the United States. The programming we heard basically broke down into French speaking radio, religious radio, CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada’s NPR-style radio service), rock radio, country radio and community radio.

Community Radio

Community radio in Canada is a legally defined broadcast category by the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, the Canada equivalent of America’s Federal Communication Commission or FCC). CRTC licenses radio service for commercial broadcasting, public broadcasting and community broadcasting.

Community radio began in Canada in the mid 70s. While many community radio stations are associated with a school campus, it’s not unusual for a college to hold both a campus radio license and a community radio license. Both licenses are governed by the same document.

CRTC policy states that community radio “distinguishes itself by virtue of its place in the communities served, a reflection of its needs and values, and the requirement for volunteers in programming and station operations. This helps ensure that programming is different from that of commercial and public radio, in both style and substance, and is rich in location information and reflection. The programming provided by campus and community radio should meet the needs and interests of the communities served by these stations in ways that are not met by commercial radio stations and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).”

These radio services were created much like our LPFM (Low Power FM) radio service here in the United States. But there is one big difference between Community Radio in Canada and LPFM radio in the United States, and I will address that in a moment.

Content Restrictions

One of the things the CRTC governs in Canada that the FCC does not in the United States is the content of programming on its radio signals.

All broadcasters in Canada, including community radio, must follow strict CRTC regulations regarding the minimum amount of Canadian content they must broadcast. For music broadcasts, 35% minimum must be Canadian between the hours of 6 AM and 6 PM.

Canadian broadcasters make this determination using the MAPL System.

  • M (music) – the music is composed entirely by a Canadian
  • A (artist) – the music is, or the lyrics are, performed principally by a Canadian
  • P (performance) – the musical selection consists of a performance that is wholly recorded in Canada or performed wholly in Canada and broadcast live in Canada
  • L (lyrics) – the lyrics are written entirely by a Canadian

(CRTC, Government of Canada, MAPL System)

Community radio stations must also have 15% of their content be spoken word programming, that is produced locally, and 5% of all music played consists of lesser known and/or emerging/experimental genres, and of this 12% must be Canadian.

LPFM vs Community Radio Restrictions

The big difference I found between the LPFM radio service here in the United States and Community Radio in Canada was in the ways of funding the service. While the CRTC puts all kinds of restrictions on content, when it comes to funding a Community Radio Station, both donations from listeners and businesses as well as advertisements, provide financial support for these non-profit operations.

LPFM radio stations can accept underwriting and donations from listeners but there can’t be a “call to action” in the message, as there can be on a commercial radio station. This is the same restriction that Public Radio in the United States operates under.

A call to action, are words like “hurry down right now,” “call now,” or “check out our low prices.” This language while alright for commercial radio advertisements in the United States, are not allowed on LPFM or Public radio stations.  

CKOA-FM, The Coast 89.7

The radio station we enjoyed listening to while driving the Cabot Trail was The Coast 89.7 FM. The station has local air personalities, local musical artists, local news and provides real companionship for both the residents of northern Nova Scotia as well as tourists. In fact, their website has a section just for tourists visiting Cape Breton Island.

We listened long enough to hear the ads for Roger Burns Real Estate so often, that we could say the tag line with the ads when they came on: “If our sign is on your lawn, YOUR MOVIN’!”

CKOA-FM targets a 55-plus audience, and we certainly fit that target demographic.

Being a community-based not-for-profit radio station, CKOA-FM is one hundred percent locally owned and operated – not part of a large conglomerate.

It’s website states:

“We depend on advertising from community-minded businesses and upon our listeners’ generosity to continue our tradition of bringing you programming that you can’t find anywhere else.”

The station went on the air on December 3, 2007 and appears to be thriving in the 21st Century.

New Experiences

We travel to meet new people, see one-of-a-kind sights, and have new experiences. After two road trips across America, everything but listening to radio fulfilled those expectations.

After road tripping through Atlantic Canada, we can honestly say this part of the world exceeded our expectations, for its beauty and its warm/welcoming people.

Having great original radio programming to listen to on the ride, like CKOA-FM, was a wonderful bonus.

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Touring a Transmitter Manufacturer

I started in professional radio in 1968. A transmitter company in Hackett’s Cove, Nova Scotia was founded in 1969. That company was Nautel, and both of us have been in the radio business for over 50-years.

Nautel initially began as a company that would build and supply solid state navigation beacons for the Canadian government. These solid state transmitters replaced ones built using tubes and proved to provide greater reliability and longevity; in fact, many of these early models are still in service today.

In the early 80s, Nautel would apply their knowledge and experience in building solid state beacon transmitters to radio broadcast transmitters, introducing 10,000 and 50,000 watt solid state AM transmitters.

Jeff Welton

One of the readers of this blog, saw that I would be doing a road trip through Atlantic Canada and reached out to me suggesting I email Jeff Welton at Nautel and ask for a tour of the company’s headquarters and manufacturing facilities in Nova Scotia. When I reached out to Jeff, he quickly responded that he would be happy to give us a tour.

In 2020, Jeff Welton was the recipient of the NAB Radio Engineering Achievement Award.

Jeff has been with Nautel over 30-years, and is an expert in digital radio, radio technology and radio engineering. He is currently sales manager for the central United States region for the company. When I reached out to him, he quickly responded that he would be happy to give Sue & me a tour.

Since COVID-19 closed down the world, many of the people not involved in the manufacturing process at the Nautel facility work from home, so like most businesses these days, the volume of workers in the plant on any given day is lean. However, business for the company has never been stronger. The amount of orders they have in their production pipeline is noticeably higher than what it was before the pandemic began.

Jeff told me the company’s support team maintains several lower power standby transmitters (both AM and FM) for their customers that can be immediately moved to a location where a customer’s transmitter plant has experienced an emergency. Currently all of the support transmitters are in the field, as several stations have faced challenges this year, ranging from floods to fires to older (non-Nautel) equipment failing and needing something to get back on the air fast.

Solid State Technology

I had always heard Nautel being referred to as the “Cadillac of broadcast transmitters.” After Sue & I toured the plant, we understood why. Nautel oversees every element of their transmitters, from building the cabinets, to the internal components, down to the wooden crates that the finished product will be shipped in.

Nautel’s large impact on the radio broadcasting industry came with its introduction of solid state AM & FM transmitters and as the benefits of solid state technology became clear, radio broadcasting quickly embraced solid state designs over tubes.

Its focus on solid state technology from Nautel’s inception in 1969 is what made it a leader.

The company is privately owned, and Kevin Rodgers the current CEO/President of Nautel, worked for the company for decades before taking over the company from its founders.

Pipe Organs

While I’ve been to several different manufacturing plants over the years, what I found touring Nautel’s operation in Nova Scotia reminded me of touring a pipe organ manufacturer in Ohio. In each case, the company’s employees were like family, with the newest employees having multiple years with the company. There is enormous pride in the construction of the finished product down to the smallest detail.

Both the organ company we visited as well as Nautel, want their products to provide years of trouble free service but are always ready to provide customer support on a moment’s notice.

Nautel’s customer locations around the world.

Today, Nautel has more than 19,000 customers in 177 countries, with their RF (radio frequency) solid state solutions providing reliable service in harsh climates from the arctic circle to the world’s deserts.

Nautel is one of those rare companies that is big enough to be at the cutting-edge of innovative technology and small enough to respond to specific customer needs.

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Voice Cloning Technology

While I was traveling through Atlantic Canada in July, this news story broke in Radio World:

iHeartMedia’s plan to use Veritone’s voice-cloning technology for its podcast platform has some radio industry observers asking the obvious questions: How good does it sound and is broadcast radio far behind? 

The largest radio company in the United States says that for now, the synthetic voice solution will only be used to translate podcasts from English to other languages for use on the iHeartPodcast Network, first for Spanish-speaking audiences. But Veritone officials confirm its technology could someday be used for advertising to reduce time-to-market and production costs for radio.”

You can read the complete article here: https://www.radioworld.com/news-and-business/headlines/veritone-synthetic-voice-gets-an-audition

It reminded me of an article I wrote on this very subject in December 2021. I thought readers might find my article of more interest now that the deployment of this technology is happening at warp speed.

Is it Live, or is it Memorex?

I remember when the audio quality of tape recorders became so improved with audio reproduction, that the question of the day was, “Is it live or is it Memorex?” Memorex was a company established in 1961 for selling magnetic computer tapes. In the 70s Memorex moved into producing quality audio tape for recording music and voice.

TV commercials at that time featured Ella Fitzgerald singing a note that shattered a glass, while simultaneously being recorded on an audio cassette. The recorded audio would then be played back and the recording would also shatter a glass, to which the announcer would ask, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?”

Is AI Going to Replace Voicetracking?

Then Radio Ink published a story that got many of the people in my radio, podcasting and other social media groups talking about, titled “Is AI going to replace voicetracking?”

Voicetracking technology has been used to replace live radio personalities for decades, but what AI presents the industry with is the possible ability to bring back the big name radio personalities.

Dan Ingram, Larry Lujack, Robert W. Morgan, The Real Don Steele…

Imagine your radio market’s favorite radio personality returning to the airwaves. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

A company called WellSaid Labs has created dozens of human voice avatars where all one needs to do to get them to talk, is type text into a computer and the voice will say it.

Imagine how having a creative person, who has studied the style of an iconic personality, and then creating new, contemporary material to be delivered in that personality’s voice might sound.

Netflix Research

Now you might be wondering why anyone would want this type of technology. Well, Netflix now streams content worldwide and buys new content from producers all over the world. Much of that content is produced in the country’s native language and so Netflix has to show that content with either subtitles or voice-dubbing the dialog with voice actors speaking in the language of the country the material will air in.

It might not surprise you to learn that when Netflix has offered viewers two ways of viewing  a program, Americans in particular, prefer voice-dubbing to subtitles. (I know I do.)

To speed up the process of voice-dubbing and to have voices that sound the same as the original actors, companies like WellSaid are developing artificial intelligence technology that by voice sampling can then re-create the voice automatically.

ALEXA

I already have conversations with Alexa and have wondered what she might sound like as a DJ on a radio station, haven’t you?

The afternoon DJ on KCSN, Andy Chanley, has been on-the-air there for over 32 years. Now using a robot DJ named ANDY (Artificial Neural Disk-Jockey), Chanley’s voice will continue to be heard in many places throughout Southern California. During a demonstration for Reuters, reporters say that Chanley’s AI voice was hard to distinguish from his human voice.

You can listen to these computer generated voices WellSaid has created for yourself by clicking on this link: https://wellsaidlabs.com/?#actors-preview-list

Is Your Favorite DJ Already a Robot?

WellSaid says its voice avatars are doing more than just DJ work, they are being used extensively in corporate training material and the creation of audio books.

Do I think I will live to see radio’s great personalities coming back to life? No, because I think there will be too many legal issues that might complicate that from happening anytime soon.

But I do think that original voice avatars, teamed up with creative content developers, might just come into existence sooner than we imagine and provide us with an entirely new form of radio entertainment.

(This article was originally published on December 19, 2021)

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Where Have All the People Gone?

It’s almost hard to believe, in an economy where employers are finding it difficult to hire and retain employees, that the radio industry continues to eliminate people.

iHeart Initiates Round of Cuts

Lance Venta of RadioInsight broke the news on Wednesday, June 8th about iHeart doing a new countrywide Reduction In Force (RIFs). On Friday evening, as I scrolled down my screen, Lance updated his initial report with locations of where some of the known cuts had taken place. Boston, Chicago, Des Moines, Jacksonville, New Hampshire and Tampa.

Reading the names of the people cut, I couldn’t help but notice they have been in their positions for decades, with titles like Senior Vice President of Programming and member of the National Programming Team. We’re talking some very senior level people with tenured radio careers.

Main Studio Rule Eliminated

It was back in October of 2017 that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to eliminate the Main Studio Rule, a provision that had been in place since 1934, and allowed radio owners to no longer maintain a main studio within its principal community contour. In other words, there’s no one home at your local radio station.

Lance speculated that in the future, we would see much leaner broadcast facilities. Welcome to that future.

Public Interest, Convenience and Necessity

The case broadcasters make for Over-The-Air AM/FM radio is that in times of emergencies, staying on the air is what makes radio an essential resource. They like to point out that other forms of communication, like satellite dishes, cell towers and microwave relays do not.

Ironically, without having a main studio in the affected area, broadcasters use satellite dishes, cellular communications and microwaves to feed local transmitters, often from hundreds of miles away from where a natural disaster is occurring.

Broadcasters have abandoned local staff being on the ground in their FCC licensed service area and with it, the vital connections with local emergency management officials.

Efficiently Eliminating Radio’s Advantage

Radio is a people business.

When I started in radio back in 1968, every radio station was a beehive of professionals dedicated to being the best they could be.

As an example, CKLW, a stand-alone AM radio station in the Detroit metro, had twenty-three people just in their news department.

Was radio efficient back then? No.

Was radio effective? YES!

Did radio make money? Tons of it!

Radio’s advantage has always been the people who make the magic happen.

Sadly, radio today operates in an “efficiency bubble,” where efficiency is valued over effectiveness.

Efficient radio chases away listeners.

Effective radio creates them.

The pursuit of efficiency is a rational answer to an emotional problem.

The radio business was never built on Excel spreadsheets and doing what was most efficient, it was built by creative people who touched others emotionally. Be it station imaging, air personalities, promotions, contests, community events, advertising or marketing, radio always went for people’s hearts.

Radio is successful when it delivers a sense of community and companionship to the listener.

Show me a successful radio station in 2022 and I will show you one that continues to foster emotions in their listeners and advertisers.

Radio done correctly still wins.

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What Comes First? Radio Job or College Degree?

The reason I write my blog is to stimulate discussion about what radio needs to be doing to not just survive, but thrive in the 21st Century. If things weren’t hot enough after I published last week’s blog article, “No College Degree Required,” they got even hotter after Fred Jacobs expanded on my thoughts in his Monday blog article titled: “Want To Succeed In Radio? Get That Degree.” Let’s hope all the discussion that occurred on both of our blogs and on social media leads our industry’s leaders to make some meaningful changes.

How I Got Into Professional Radio

Just about everyone my age (69) who got into the radio business, did so while still in high school. For me, the entrance door was via Junior Achievement. JA was just beginning to experiment with the idea of having service companies. The Junior Achievement program was created to help high school students understand the principles of running a business by selling stock ($1), forming a company, deciding on what product to make, making that product, selling that product and then liquidating the company and returning (hopefully) a monetary value greater than the $1 invested by the stockholders; all during a single school year.

One of the local radio stations in my town, came to my 10th grade high school assembly and made a presentation about forming a JA Radio Company. I set my sights on being in it, and made the cut. One of my best friends also made the cut and has retired from a very successful radio and voice-over career of 50 years.

My College Years

I was the GM of my college’s carrier current AM radio station and worked to secure an educational FM license before graduating. WJJW remains on the air to this day at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

I was a commuter student with no student loans, but back in 1970, such a thing was more the norm than the exception. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 1970-71 academic year, the average in-state tuition and fees for one year at a public non-profit university was $394. By the 2020-21 academic year, that amount jumped to $10,560, an increase of 2,580%.

How Other Industries Treat College & Their Best Employees

In other industries, it’s not uncommon for companies to actually pay for their best employees to earn their college degrees in order to further their advancement. I know a person that learned his computer skills in the military and works for a military contractor in DC. He’s been working with the highest level of military leaders at the Pentagon as well as with members of Congress. After 17 years of constant achievement, his company is paying for him to complete his college degree. He currently maintains a 4.0 GPA.

His degree, ironically, won’t even be in the area that he works in, but in an area that gives him passion outside of his job.

Just-In-Time-Learning

The point of my article wasn’t to dis getting a college education, but for our radio industry to begin recruitment and training at the high school level. Radio needs to be a way for talented individuals to be exposed to what a wonderful business radio is, and have a way to enter without being screened out by a computer algorithm looking for a college degree. (You can’t see talent on a spreadsheet.)

Clear Channel used to run a wonderful training program called Clear Channel University. It succumbed to one of the many rounds of budget cuts.

The RAB’s Radio Talent Institute is an excellent program and my point was it should be run in the high schools across America.

Companies interested in retaining and growing their best employees should be making higher education opportunities a company benefit, what I like to call “just-in-time-learning.”

When the NAB offered a Sales Management Program through the Wharton School, I paid my own way and went. I already had an undergraduate degree from a four year college and a master’s degree from a university, but I never had the specific training that this program offered for the job I had been promoted into.

The owner of the radio stations I worked for at the time, provided a lot of training for its people. We attended the annual Managing Sales Conference hosted by the RAB. I earned my CRMC, Diamond CRMC and CDMC from the Radio Advertising Bureau.

I always told my college students that their degree wasn’t the end of their learning, but the launchpad to a life of learning. Every year of your life, learn something new, experience something new, grow your knowledge in life.

Think about what you can add to your resume that will make you a more valuable person to your company, your family and yourself.

Not Every Job Is For Every Person, Regardless of Their College Degrees

A comment made by Tom Langmyer said it best; that at the core, it all comes down to the person. Having a PhD doesn’t equal a great air personality or salesperson.

The hardest part is expecting the same result when sending 10 people to university for Broadcasting/Media. So much is about the person.

Success on the content and sales side relies so much more upon the candidate’s personality, makeup, drive, ambition, chemistry, life experiences, ability to engage and activate people, etc.

Those are attributes which additional education can enhance, but if one does’t have those natural abilities, anything including a PhD in broadcast media, is worthless.

-Tom Langmyer

My success as a GM in hiring was to first hire for attitude and then train the person for the job that needs to be done.

When the raw talent at affordable prices is sitting in high school classrooms today, why is the radio industry waiting till college to begin recruiting?

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No College Degree Required

The other day when I went to my mailbox, I noticed a rather large piece of “junk mail” from a local HVAC company.

It said:

We’re Hiring!

Start a Rewarding Career with [business name]

Attention: High School Grads

HVAC is a Great Career Option! No Student Debt!

Great pay, hours and benefits!

Which got me to thinking about all the radio help wanted ads saying you need to have a college degree to apply. Why does the radio industry list having a college degree as a requirement, when the truth is, great radio broadcasters haven’t had one, nor did they need one.

Cost of a College Degree in 2022

According to Educational Data, when you consider student loan interest and loss of income, the cost of a four-year college degree can exceed $400,000.

It’s not unusual for a college grad to learn the starting pay in radio is often as low as $19,500/year ($9.36/hour) for on-air positions and sales positions are 100% commission based.

Start a job with Walmart with no college degree and you’ll make $12/hour. Get that same job at Target and you’ll start at $15/hour. At McDonalds the starting pay range at company owned stores is between $11 and $17/hour.

Virtually every job in today’s world will pay you more than most radio positions, and yet radio ads always require you to have a college degree while those other companies don’t.

Radio Talent Institute

I worked with Dan Vallie and his Radio Talent Institute at Western Kentucky University. It’s an excellent program, now operated by the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB). Sadly, it’s offered as a summer program to students in colleges across America. I contend that the RAB should be offering this program in the high schools.

For all of the same reasons, one of my local HVAC companies is appealing to high school grads, this also makes sense for the radio industry.

Famous Broadcasters

Oprah Winfrey didn’t need to have a college degree to become one of the most successful women in broadcasting. She dropped out of college after only one semester to pursue a career in broadcasting.

In 2015, Forbes published the salaries of the top five radio broadcasters in America.

Glenn Beck earned $16.5 Million in 2015. Not bad for a Sehome High School graduate with no college experience.

Sean Hannity earned $29 Million and never obtained a college degree, even though he attended four different colleges.

Ryan Seacrest earned $65 Million. Like me, Ryan started his radio career at 16 while still in high school. Unlike me, who went to college and graduate school earning two degrees, Ryan dropped out of college to devote all of his energies to broadcasting. Needless to say, he’s really famous and I write this blog.

Rush Limbaugh earned $77 Million and dropped out of college after only two semesters. His mother said at the time that Rush “flunked everything…he just didn’t seem interested in anything except radio.”

The top earning radio personality was Howard Stern. Howard IS a college graduate, with a 3.8 Grade Point Average (GPA) from Boston University, earning $95 Million in 2015.

Now, if I was trying to sell you on the value of a college degree in broadcasting and compared Howard Stern to the other four on Forbes 2015 list, I would say that having a college degree can earn you 23% to 76% more money than not having that piece of paper.

College Degrees

Please don’t think I’m dissing the college experience, I’m not. What I am taking issue with is the hiring practices of the radio industry that make having a college degree a requirement. Radio is better positioned as a trade, one best learned by doing.

The radio industry should be presenting a broadcast career as an opportunity for students graduating from high school.

I treasure my four decade radio broadcasting career, but having my Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science college degrees never played a role.

It wasn’t until I pursued my second career in life, that of a college broadcast professor, that I would need those two pieces of paper to be hired at The School of Broadcasting and Journalism at Western Kentucky University.

Colleges sell pieces of paper representing knowledge learned. You can’t be part of the faculty unless you have also earned these benchmarks in higher education.

Finally, just as adamant as I am about the radio industry starting its outreach at the high school level, I am just as determined to see colleges hiring broadcast professionals based on their broadcast careers, knowledge that has been earned through years of on-the-job experience that no college curriculum can duplicate. Sadly, most colleges screen out any applicant that doesn’t have the required terminal degrees.

“Difficulties come into our lives to develop us.

Every storm is a school.

Every trial is a teacher.

Every experience is an education.”

— Nicky Gumbel.

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Memorial Day Weekend 2022 Road Trips

This past Memorial Day Weekend, AAA (American Automobile Association) predicted that more than 39.2 million Americans took to the road, traveling more than fifty miles to be with family and friends. It was the heaviest holiday traffic in two years and was due to pent-up demand by people trying to get back to the way things used to be before the global pandemic. Even record-high gas prices at the pump weren’t a deterrent.

What Did All Those People Listen To?

A publication I read every day, called Morning Brew, thought it might be fun to survey their four million readers as to what they planned to listen to on their drive. Here’s how they put the question to their readers:

You get handed the Aux (Auxiliary Input) during a long road trip.

What kind of audio are you putting on?

Morning Brew found they could distill the answers given down to five different options. Here are the results:

  1. Curated playlist: 54%
  2. Podcasts: 20%
  3. Audio Books: 12%
  4. No Aux needed – road trips are for the local radio stations: 10%
  5. Nothing, I prefer to ride in silence: 4%

AM/FM Radio

Two things about these results I found interesting: the first was obviously the fact that broadcast radio was not the first, second or third choice for what to listen to when taking a long road trip.

Second, streaming audio wasn’t even a choice, in spite of the fact that these days many radio stations are beginning to focus on their streams due of the growth of smart speakers in the home.

If misery loves company, satellite radio wasn’t mentioned by Morning Brew’s four million readers either, it appears.

“The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations

is to know those expectations.”

-Roy H. Williams

Radio & the Car

For years, I sold advertising telling people that cars were nothing more than radios on four wheels. Since the 1930s, cars and radio have been like peanut butter and jelly for pairing well together.

While a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is still #1 with sandwich eaters, car radio listening is not with audio listeners.

Radio reaches 73% of people in the car

and remains the #1 source for car audio listening.

– Statista Research 2022

Over the last five years, car radio listening, as measured by Statista has decreased 9%, while people playing their own digital music in the car has gone up 8%, and listening to podcasts has gone up 9%. Satellite radio listening over that same period is basically stagnant. (As a point of reference, back in the 70s & 80s car radio listening was around 93%.)

Statista’s latest research and Morning Brew’s reader survey are sadly telling the same story to any radio broadcaster willing to listen.

The reality is that people today have more control over what they can listen to when riding in their car.

Radio is Show Business

The challenge for broadcast radio is to figure out how to increase the value of the show that attracts and engages listeners while decreasing the obnoxiousness of the business part that pays all the bills.

Like a tightrope walker, it’s a very delicate balancing act.

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Why Are We So Fickle About Change?

When change doesn’t happen – or happen fast enough, we get agitated. However, when change finally comes, we often aren’t happy with the changes it brings.

One of the hardest aspects about change is that no matter how passionate we are about it, we need to accept that others will not embrace it. Not every change is for everyone, some people will embrace it, some people will tolerate it, some people will rebel against it and some people will leave to pursue a different journey.

Radio & Change

I’ve been writing this weekly blog for eight years and my readers often fall into two camps: those that agree with what I write and those who disagree. Often those who disagree with the changes that are happening to the radio industry, label me as “Chicken Little,” the character in the John Greene Chandler children’s short story written in 1840, who proclaimed the sky was falling.

To be a Chicken Little, however, you must warn of a calamity without justification. Clearly, the data presented by multiple researchers of media tell us the warnings are indeed justified.

The moral of the Chicken Little story is to have courage, and keep your eyes open even when it feels like the sky is falling.

Convincing the Unconvinced

It’s human nature to try to convince those who disagree with us, to our way of thinking. Sadly, trying to do that is almost always a mistake. What you will succeed in doing is often offending their dignity.

I don’t mind people who disagree with me. It lets me know that I’m not just “preaching to the choir,” but that I am also mixing it up with the “heathens.” It’s those people who challenge what I write that make me think harder, do more research and more fully develop my thoughts. To those people, I owe a debt of gratitude.

Instead of Arguing Against an Idea, Argue For It

In 1896, the Supreme Court codified the doctrine of separate but equal into constitutional law. It meant that individual states could decide if they wanted to discriminate against black Americans.

As you might imagine, people were up in arms over this SCOTUS decision, calling it fundamentally unjust. The Plessy v. Ferguson decision cemented racial segregation in America for another fifty years.

But a lawyer named Charles Hamilton Houston saw it differently. Houston set out to use his opponent’s evil idea for good.

Houston didn’t argue against “separate but equal,” but for it.

He used it to argue that when the University of Missouri law school refused admission to a black student that under the “separate but equal” doctrine, Missouri must establish another law school for black students. Something that would be unaffordably expensive.

A law that was designed to prevent black Americans from common resources, like drinking fountains, elementary schools and restrooms, now when applied to a rare resource like a graduate law school, was the beginning of the unraveling of the “separate but equal” doctrine.

In 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously overruled “separate but equal” with their Brown v. the Board of Education decision.

Applying This Concept to Radio

We need to listen to the people who no longer love radio, and not argue with them about why they should be listening.

If we listen to them, really listen to them, they will show us how to win them back. Charles Hamilton Houston didn’t argue with the “separate but equal” doctrine, he leveraged it to not only end that doctrine but also to take down America’s Jim Crow laws right along with it.

The radio industry needs to stop arguing with people and research data that it doesn’t like, but rather start using that information to build the foundation for action that delivers the very things radio needs to do to win its audiences and advertisers back.

We change the world by learning to see it differently.

My weekly blogs aren’t written to make a point, but to make a difference.

Believe that you can and you’re halfway there.

-Theodore Roosevelt

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Great Radio Starts in the Station’s Hallways

Once upon a time, a radio station had a team of people fully focused and dedicated to a single radio signal. Think of the incredible radio stations you listened to in your youth: WABC, WKBW, WRKO, WLS, WPRO, WDRC, KHJ, KFRC, CKLW, etc. These were standalone radio stations with dedicated staffs that numbered ten or more times larger than today’s radio clusters, which are made up of 4 or more stations.

WBEC

When I was on-the-air and in programming/operations for AM1420-WBEC, it was the only radio station I was concerned about. When the owner added an FM signal to our operation, he hired a dedicated air staff and programmer to oversee this new signal.

In my car, in my home, in my office, you could here WBEC playing. I remember the programmer of our new FM station grousing that his station was not being heard anywhere in the building but his own radio studio.

WUPE/WUHN

When I moved into sales at Whoopee Radio, our programming was simulcast on both our AM and FM signals. When ownership decided to split the AM and FM into separate formats, I was promoted to general manager of the AM station and went about hiring air personalities and a sales staff for our new Radio One – WUHN. Only our broadcast engineer and office staff would be shared by both operations.

On my side of the building all you heard playing was WUHN and on the other side it was WUPE.

KOEL AM/FM, KCRR & KKCV

When I got to Iowa as Market Manager of a four station cluster, the sound of any one of the radio stations playing was hit and miss in the common areas, but each station had its own dedicated staff, completely focused on their operation. Again, only office and engineering staff were shared.

Radio Clusters in 2022

People wonder why Christian Radio and Public Radio stations are often the most successful radio operations in markets across America. I don’t wonder. What I see are radio operations that hearken back to the way I started in radio, an entire staff, 100% focused on a single radio station.

In these radio stations, the programming can be heard in the hallways, bathrooms and coming out of every office.

In my Capstone Class at the university, I would take my students to see how different radio and TV stations operated in the area. The differences in equipment, staffing, and facilities were always enlightening. Everyone in these stations could be seen jumping from one station to another, many had programs they hosted on more than one signal.

What never ceased to amaze me however, was when you went into our local public radio station or our local Christian radio station, the energy was palpable. Everyone in these radio stations were dedicated to the mission of the station. They didn’t just broadcast their formats, they lived and breathed them.

Culture always changes in the hallways,

before it changes out the speakers.

-John Frost

When John Frost asked in his weekly blog, “if your radio station went off the air, would anyone care,” it got me to thinking about what makes for a successful operation. Be it a business, sports team, or even a radio station, if you don’t have that spirit of a shared mission with a defined goal that everyone’s working towards, you won’t ever be a success.

Radio broadcasting is an emotional art form. If you don’t feel that emotion in the hallways of your operation, you’ve entered a radio station that is dying.

Radio is not dead, but many radio stations are on life support.

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