Category Archives: Mentor

Put Your Hands on the Radio

In our lives, each one of us experiences moments of uncertainty and doubt. Graduation from high school often means moving out of our family home and being on our own for the first time. Some of us go off to college, join the military, or begin a trade or profession, often struggling to survive with a myriad of life challenges, many we may have never even considered before.

One Person’s Story

JC knows these feelings all too well. In his early 20s, he set out to find his fame and fortune. He departed his “windy city” hometown for Hollywood.

If day-to-day survival for JC wasn’t difficult enough, his beloved dog was hit by a car. The vet bill would be $900, money JC didn’t have as he was barely earning enough to pay his rent.

A Loving Father

JC knew what he must do, but he hated the thought of it. He picked up the phone and called his father back in Chicago, telling him how his dog had been hit by a car and that he now needed a $900 loan to pay the veterinarian bill.

“Dad, should I just give up on this thing and come home?” he asked.

“No, don’t come home” his father told him,  “I’ll give you the loan, you gotta stay put.”

Inspiration in a Time of Desperation

Then his father added, “Don’t stop believin’.”

“That’s beautiful, Dad” JC told his father jotting those three words into his little note book he kept for inspiration when writing songs.

Life is a Journey

By 1978, JC had moved to San Francisco and was enjoying success as a keyboardist for a rock group called the Babys.

It was when another rock band, Journey, invited him to join their group, and the words of his father would then resurface.

Journey was in the middle of recording tracks for a new album and while they already had recorded 17 songs, their producer wanted one more tune. Journey’s Steve Perry turned to their newest member and told him to “go home and see what you got. I know you’ve got something.”

JC poured over his notebooks for inspiration when he came across the words his father told him when he harbored thoughts of giving up his dream and moving back home.

Don’t Stop Believin’

With those three words along with “hold on to that feeling,” the creative process began.

JC and his bandmates would go on to create a song about a boy and girl who “took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.”

Radio Needs to Start Believin’

Jonathan Cain’s father words would be the spark that would ignite Journey’s iconic song “Don’t Stop Believin’” from the album ESCAPE.

Those words from a father to a desperate son have gone on to inspire fans around the world for more than 40 years.

Let’s not forget that it was radio that made this song a listener favorite.

Don’t Stop Believin’, hold on to that feelin’.

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Oh, The Insanity

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) submission to the Federal Communications Commission for the FCC’s 2018 Quadrennial Regulatory Review is eye-opening.  You can read it for yourself HERE. It left me shaking my head.

The NAB told the commission that “’local radio stations’ Over-The-Air (OTA) ad revenues fell 44.9% in nominal terms ($17.6 billion to $9.7 billion) from 2005-2020.” Local 2020 digital advertising revenues by stations only increased the radio industry’s total ad revenues by $0.9 billion bringing them to $10.6 billion.

The NAB’s solution to the problem is for the radio industry to become more consolidated.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over

and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

Say What?

Back in the mid 90s, the radio industry was telling anyone who would listen that the problem with the state of radio broadcasting in America was that the industry was made up of little “ma and pa” radio stations/groups which could not scale and if the ownership caps weren’t lifted the radio industry would perish.

Excuse me, but I’ve already seen this movie and how it ends. So, why would doing more of what didn’t work, result in a different outcome.

The Media World Has Changed

I don’t think anyone would contest that the media world we live in has changed dramatically since 2005. Facebook, the world’s largest social media company with over 1.84 billion daily active users, opened its doors on February of 2004. YouTube began in 2005 and Twitter in 2006.

Google, the dominate search engine on the internet, began in 1998 and internet retailing behemoth, Amazon, began in 1994.

The new internet kids on the block that dominate our day are WhatsApp (2009), Pinterest (2009), Instagram (2010), Messenger (2011), SnapChat (2011) and TikTok (2016).

The Top 10 internet companies at the end of 2020 raked in 78.1% of the digital ad revenue ($109.2 billion).

All Ad Dollars Are Green

While we like to break money spent on advertising into distinct categories like digital media, traditional media etc. the reality is the total number of advertising dollars is a finite number and in the end you can’t tell a dollar from digital from a dollar from analog advertising.

“You can’t handle the truth!”

Colonel Jessup

(played by Jack Nicholson in the 1992 film “A Few Good Men”)

Since 2005, many young entrepreneurs have created a better mousetrap to capture those advertising dollars. No one ever made a regulation or a law that prevented the radio industry from doing what any of those internet companies did. The passenger railroad industry never thought of themselves as being in the transportation business but only the railroad business. That’s why it found itself challenged by other means of people transportation, namely the airlines.

The radio advertising industry was born by entrepreneurs that learned how to create a product that attracted a large listening audience, which in turn enabled them to sell audio advertising to companies wishing to expose their product or service to these consumers.

Unfortunately, we found ourselves challenged by new media competition. Initially, it was television, but transistor portable radios, along with car radios, allowed our business to reinvent its programming and flourish once again.

With the advent of the internet, radio was caught flat-footed.

If that were its only problem.

Radio Stations (2005-2020)

In 2005, America had 18,420 radio signals on the air.

  • 13,660 AM/FM/FM Educational radio stations on the air
  • 3,995 FM translators & boosters
  • 675 Low Power FM stations.

By 2020, those numbers increased to 26,001 radio signals.

  • 15,445 AM/FM/FM Educational radio stations
  • 8,420 FM translators & boosters
  • 2,136 Lower Power FM stations

18,330 vs. 26,001

That’s a 41.8% increase in the number of radio stations.

While radio folks were busy trying to steal radio advertising from the station across the street or consolidating with their former competition, the internet folks were focused on selling more advertising. From 2005 to 2020, the sale of digital advertising grew from $12.5 billion to $139.8 billion. That’s an increase of 118.4%.

But during that same time, radio grew its digital advertising footprint by $0.9 billion.

Quantity vs. Quality

When radio regulation began in America under the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) the decision was made by that regulatory body to focus on the quality of radio programming versus the quantity of radio stations they allowed to broadcast. Only people or companies with the economic capital to operate a radio station in the “public interest, convenience and/or necessity” would be allowed to obtain a radio broadcast license.

I believe you could say that the radio industry’s downfall began when we ceased worrying about quality and went with the more signals we license, the better for radio listeners mantra.

Sydney, Australia

Sydney is a major city in the country of Australia with a population of 5.312 million people. There are 74 radio stations on the air in Sydney.

By comparison, Los Angeles (America’s second largest city) has a population of 3.984 million people and 158 radio stations serving its metro.

In July 2021, radio revenues in Sydney were up 11.3% year-on-year according to Milton Data.

The Benefits of Pruning

Gardeners know that pruning is the act of trimming leaves, branches and other dead matter from plants. It’s by pruning a plant that you improve its overall health.

A beautiful garden is one where the plants have been trained to grow properly, to improve in their health/quality, and even in some cases to restrict their growth. Pruning is a great preventative gardening and lawn care process that protects the environment and increases curb-appeal.

The irony of gardening is, the more fruit and flowers a plant produces, the smaller the yield becomes. Pruning encourages the production of larger fruits and blooms.

Why do I share this with you?

I believe that everything in the world is interconnected. You can’t for a moment think that what makes for a bountiful garden would not also make for a robust radio industry.

Today’s radio industry is so overgrown with signals and other air pollution, that it has impacted its health.

Doing more of the same, and expecting a different result is insane.

It’s time to get out the pruning shears.

Less Is More

I believe that the way to improve the radio industry in America, to have more advertising revenues to support quality local services including news, sports and emergency journalism, along with entertainment by talented live performers, is by reducing the number of radio signals.

AM radio is the logical first place to start.

Elsewhere in the world we are seeing that not only the AM band being sunset but the analog FM band as well. The world has gone digital.

American radio has one final chance to get it right by correcting for past decisions, hurtful to radio broadcasting, in creating a new and robust digital broadcasting service.

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Does Radio Sound Choppy to You?

What I mean by that “choppy” observation is that radio has lost its flow. Today’s radio for the most part is herky-jerky. On-air production is constantly starting and stopping with every programming element and to a life-long radio guy, poor on-air production grates on my ears. It’s like a train wreck.

Where’s the Flow?

What I loved about listening to radio growing up was each station’s on-air production. The flow of programming elements was exciting. A radio station’s jingles flowing into the next record with the air personality working their magic in the mix.

But today, we hear a commercial end – a jingle plays and ends – a record begins – and then maybe an announcer (I dare not call them a “personality”) read a liner card. It’s all so disjointed and it’s anything but smooth.

Moreover, every programming element is generic. The station has no local feel about it.

Great On-Air Radio Production is Hard to Find

One of the stations I enjoy listening to for great on-air production is WETA-FM out of Washington, DC. WETA-FM is a classical music station, but its flow is seamless. Its personalities are personable and, for me, they are the #1 reason I so enjoy the station, along with the fact that WETA-FM brings this same detailed attention to every programming element.

Another Washington, DC radio station that delivers flow, personality and is a pleasure to listening to is News Radio WTOP. This radio station is usually the nation’s top billing radio station and has won every radio award; more than once.

You can’t transplant either of the stations, as they are fully programmed to serve their marketplace and no place else.

Syndication & Voice Tracking

The reason most radio stations don’t have great on-air production and flow can be attributed primarily to syndication and voice tracking.

With syndication, stations on the network need to all wait for network cue tones to fire their programming elements. Also, if their local production isn’t perfectly timed out, there will be gaps between the programming elements or a programming element will be cut-off.

The other problem with syndication is that it’s not unusual to hear a radio commercial repeated more than once in the same break. I’ve heard the same commercial play three times in a single break, sometimes this occurs with the same spot playing back-to-back.

With voice tracking, an announcer is tracking for multiple stations and never is really able to focus on a single station or radio market. It sounds like they’re talking at me and not to me. Often, they seek out generic content that can be tracked in multiple markets. I don’t need Facebook content read to me, I’m on Facebook.

The Listener Experience

Great radio is all about creating a fabulous listener experience, unfortunately that is rare on today’s radio dial.

Sadly, I understand how under-staffing means that today’s radio talent is wearing multiple hats (often more than four, according to the latest research from Fred Jacobs) and has little opportunity to give any one of their responsibilities more than a moment’s focus.

I often think what your favorite NFL team would look like if the quarterback also was the team’s coach, punter and played defense.

Or how would football fans feels if their team was under the same ownership as three other NFL teams and their quarterback also played for one or more of those other teams.? My thinking is that this would spell the beginning of the end of raving football fans.

Well, as I travel around America, I hear the same announcers on multiple radio stations.

How can any radio station expect to have listener loyalty when their on-air announcers don’t even have station loyalty? Listeners know great radio when they hear it. They will continue to listen to your station only until something better comes along, and we all know it’s easier to retain a listener than to acquire a new one.

Until the listener experience is Job One, today’s radio will be contributing to its own undoing.

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Invest in the Future

In life we have three important choices: 1) accept things that can’t be changed, 2) muster up the courage to change the things that can be changed, and 3) be blessed with the wisdom to know the difference.

Radio’s WHY

In last week’s blog, I asked “What is Radio’s WHY Today?” In reviewing blog reader comments, I saw a common theme expressed, that radio should be LIVE & LOCAL. But does being “live” really make a difference in and of itself? If seasoned radio people are being honest with themselves, they would have to admit they had heard lots of bad “live radio” over the years. When it comes to being “local,” what is local today? We live in such a connected world, that in order to live the lives we’ve become accustomed to, requires a global supply chain. Any disruption, will negatively impact our happiness faster than a bee sting.

Radio’s guiding principle is relevance. People will gravitate to things that have relevance to them and their lives. Let me give you one example…

Fundraising

When it comes to raising money for a good cause, radio stations continue to turn in an outstanding performance, why? Because people feel these causes are very relevant, so they support these events.

Unfortunately, much like a retailer’s weekend sale, when the radio station’s fundraising ends the people depart for other activities that are higher on their relevancy scale.

The Amazon Lesson

In Seattle several decades agao, Jeff Bezos began Amazon in his garage. His guiding principle in building this company into the behemoth it is today was to invest in the future. Identify the constants of the people who use your product or service and build on them with relentless focus. In other words, be relevant to your customers.

For Amazon, it meant offering everything at the lowest possible price and delivering it to people’s homes faster and faster.

“When you have something that you know is true,

even over the long term,

you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

-Jeff Bezos

Great Radio

Great radio will always be about the listener, knowing what is relevant to them and delivering it 24/7.

Great radio provides community and companionship.

Great radio creates FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) in the listener.

Great radio stations are highly focused on the audience they have set out to serve. They’re not trying to please everyone, but only to super-serve their target audience.

Less is More

The venture capitalists thought the way to riches was by putting more and more radio signals on the air,  quantity over quality and in so doing abandoned the very essence of what makes great radio.

“Successful businesses are those that continue to find ways

to best fulfill (their customer’s) core needs.”

-Jeff Bezos

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What is Radio’s WHY Today?

One of my favorite authors is Simon Sinek. In his 2009 book “Start With Why” he wrote that “any organization can explain what it does; some can explain how they do it; but very few can clearly articulate why” they do what they do.

Sinek found that all inspiring leaders and companies “think, act and communicate exactly alike.”

“They can be found in both the public and private sectors. They all have a disproportionate amount if influence in their industries. They have the most loyal customers and the most loyal employees. They tend to be more profitable than others in their industry. They are more innovative, and most importantly, they are able to sustain all these things over the long term. Many of them change industries. Some of them even change the world.”

And they think, act and communicate completely opposite of everyone else.

Has Radio Lost Its Why?

When commercial radio was born in the 1920s, radio’s why was thought to be a technology that could provide nationwide communications that would be a unifier for cultural and social systems. Radio’s regulatory guiding principle was to “operate in the public interest, convenience and/or necessity.”

When people were still trying to wrap their minds around what exactly radio would be, there was one common reoccurring theme about what radio broadcasting could do, and that was to unify a nation and create an American identity.

It could accomplish this in several areas:

  • Physical Unity: the ability to unite America from coast-to-coast, border to border, with instantaneous wireless communication.
  • Cultural Unity: through entertainment, news and the spoken word (English); radio could create a kind of national homogeneity.
  • Institutional Unity: corporations and the federal government would come together on a mandate that this new powerful form of communications needed centralized control.
  • Economic Unity: through advertising, radio could now offer national, regional and local opportunities for businesses to expose their products and services and grow our nation’s economy.

Radio vs. The Internet

Just about every business has found its original business model challenged by a population connected to the internet. Think about the original radio why areas and you can easily see how each of them has been overtaken, embellished – and depending on your point of view – improved upon by the world wide web.

The internet, it turns out, is a better innovation for addressing those original foundational tenets of radio’s purpose than radio itself. So now what?

Radio first needs to know its “WHY.” Then it needs to communicate it, clearly and simply or suffer the consequences.  Bud Walters of The Cromwell Group loves to say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Until the radio industry figures this out, getting new people to listen (or former listeners to return) will be a challenge.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

-Simon Sinek

Tommy Kramer’s Two Questions

To help you get started on defining radio’s WHY for the 21st Century, I’d like to share two questions that GOODRATINGS Strategic Services consultant Tommy Kramer recently asked his readers:

  1. What do you have that I can’t get everywhere else?
  2. What do you have that I can’t get ANYWHERE else?

Tommy says that coming up with the answers to these two questions will decide your future.

I would add that working through these two questions might just uncover your new WHY for the radio industry in the 21st Century.

Simon Sinek says “When you compete against everyone else, no one wants to help you, but when you compete against yourself, everyone wants to help you.” When you develop your WHY you do what you do, it will give you the strength to keep going and a desire to keep improving with each passing day.

My Question for YOU

What do you think radio’s WHY should be in today’s world?

Please post your thoughts in the comments section on today’s blog. If we can get enough people to think about our industry’s WHY, the what and how of doing it will naturally fall into place.

If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

-Henry Ford

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Is Radio Up Schitt’s Creek?

When we travel, we’ve noticed that radios have vanished from hotel/motel rooms across America, replaced by free WiFi. Televisions didn’t go away, but were upgraded to widescreen High Definition TVs and you almost always still find a Gideon Bible.

Schitt’s Creek

When watching movies and TV shows, I often look to see if there’s a radio in sight, noticing in British productions they often are, but not in American ones.

The series Schitt’s Creek was produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Canada and is currently running on Netflix. Sue & I have watched all six seasons of the show twice and while the residents of the fictional Rosebud Motel can be seen using televisions, computers and cellphones, we never see anyone listening to a radio*.

Nostalgia Sells

If you think about it, many forms of nostalgia have been reborn and enjoy great success in the 21st Century. Sonic successfully brought back the drive-in restaurant, Major League Baseball got its highest television ratings playing ball on a “Field of Dreams” in Iowa, Drive-In Movies are a way to watch a movie on the big screen while socially distancing and Schitt’s Creek, along with COVID, might be credited with bringing back the MOTEL.

The Johnny Rose character envisioned franchising his Rosebud Motel and found investors that believed in his dream.

MOTELS

The New York Times published an article over the Labor Day Weekend titled “Who Wants a Hotel With a Hallway Anyway?” The article explains that since COVID hit, people’s desire to travel hasn’t diminished, but that traveling by personal automobile and staying in places that allowed easy entry to a room without having to take an elevator or travel down a crowded hallway suddenly became an important criterion in lodging.

And when you think about it, motels are like baseball, hot dogs and apple pie; they are woven into the fabric of Americana.

Car Radios

Just as American, is our love of the automobile. Motels, which get their name from the merging of the words “hotel” and “motorcar,” grew across the USA right along with car ownership.

Car radios were an expensive option when they came on the scene in the 1930s, but by 1946, it’s estimated that over nine million cars had a radio in them. With the advent of the transistor, radios became a smaller and inexpensive auto option, so much so that by 1960 over 50 million cars – 60% of all the cars on the road – had a radio in them.

I’m sure the cars used on Schitt’s Creek had a radio in them, but we never see them used on the show like we do televisions, computers, cellphones and laptops.

We also see Facebook, Twitter, and online ratings sites being used on the show. Even the town’s real estate agent has a podcast that takes advantage of internet access and WiFi.

Staying Current

The big difference between those original motels and the motels of the 21st Century is that they have taken the positives – parking your car right in front of your room, avoiding crowded spaces – and eliminating the negatives – primitive furniture, lumpy bedding,  and dingy décor – creating an inviting and COVID-SAFE getaway experience.

Motels today have free WiFi, HDTVs, and plenty of places to charge your laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Interestingly, like radio many operators have taken the word “radio” out of their company names and logos, some motel operators think a better name might be “motor lodge” or “boutique hotel.” They are concerned the word “motel” conjures up bad images of the places shown in TV shows like Breaking Bad or in movies like Chevy Chase’s Vacation.

But whether you call them motor lodges, high-end motels or exterior-corridor hotels, they are once again in vogue because they are perfect for getting away in a coronavirus mutating world.

Buy the Rosebud Motel

Several years ago, when I was traveling through Cleveland, Ohio, I visited Ralphie’s home featured in the movie classic “A Christmas Story.” It was bought in 2004 by Brian Jones, a San Diego entrepreneur and a big fan of Jean Shepherd’s classic film. Jones used the revenue from his Red Rider Leg Lamp Company to purchase the home on eBay for $150,000 remaking the inside of this 19th century Victorian house an exact replica of the movie’s interior.

Since its opening on Thanksgiving weekend in 2006, millions of people have toured the home making it one of the top tourist attractions in Cleveland. Jones also built a wonderful museum and gift shop near the house and continues to enjoy success selling his leg lamps, Red Rider BB guns, and other movie nostalgia.

If you are just as enamored with the motel in Schitt’s Creek and think you might be able to turn it into your own “goldmine,” you can buy it for $1.6 million. Known in real life as the Hockley Motel, you will find it located just an hour outside of Toronto, Canada.

If you do decide to buy this piece of television nostalgia, please consider putting digital streaming radios in each of the ten rooms as part of your renovation.

*A clock radio appears for brief moment by Johnny’s bed in Season 2, Episode 4, but it never gets used, like the TVs, computers and cellphones.

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My First Radio Broadcasting Mentor

William Mahan/Berkshire Eagle, 1957

His name was Dana Jones and he was the original disc jockey when radio station WBEC (Berkshire Eagle Company) signed on the air in 1947. I wasn’t even born until 1952.

In this picture, Dana is holding his news copy between his teeth, while he cues up his next record, adjusts the volume on his control console and begins his morning radio program.

I got to thinking about Dana on this Labor Day weekend, because growing up, a new school year for me, always began after this holiday weekend.

Dana Jones would have twenty years of radio broadcasting under his belt before I would finally meet the man I grew up listening to on the radio. That happened when WBEC’s management approached the Junior Achievement organization in Springfield, Massachusetts about creating a JA radio company. I interviewed for, and was selected to be a part of this new Junior Achievement service-oriented educational learning experience in broadcasting. We would broadcast every Saturday morning over AM1420 WBEC, and that’s how I finally met Dana Jones.

Dana Jones

Dana was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 14, 1922. His family moved to West Stockbridge, Massachusetts in the early 30s and in 1940, Dana would earn his high school diploma from Williams High School in Stockbridge.

Pearl Harbor

When America was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, Dana would enlist in the Army and served in New Guinea, the Philippines and Morotai rising to the rank of sergeant. In the 50s, he enlisted in the Marine Reserve.

WBEC Signs On-The-Air

When Dana left the Army, he first went to work in Pittsfield, Massachusetts at its largest department store, England Brothers, but with a voice destined for radio, he was hired away by the Berkshire Eagle newspaper to anchor mornings on its latest media venture; radio broadcasting.

When WBEC went on-the-air on March 25, 1947, Dana Jones was the first voice heard, and he would anchor its morning show until 1980.

Dana did news, weather, sports, interviews with visiting dignitaries and politicians, remote broadcasts, farm reports and even hosted a children’s show called “Storytime.”

1950s in The Berkshires

In the 50s, if a family in the Berkshires owned a television, the only TV station they could receive was the General Electric Company television station out of Schenectady, New York. WRGB was one of the very first TV stations in the world, tracing its roots back to a GE experimental television station founded in 1928.

GE’s television station didn’t begin its broadcast day until 4pm in the afternoon and Pittsfield’s major daily newspaper, The Berkshire Evening Eagle, came out each day around 4pm, so when you woke up in the morning, if you wanted to know what had happened while you were sleeping, it would be the radio that would bring you up-to-date.

Storytime

Every school day morning at 7:45am, Dana Jones would say “Good morning boys and girls, it’s story time,” and for the next fifteen minutes families would be treated to stories about Wilber the Whistling Whale, Johnny Appleseed and many other stories that showcased radio’s “theater of the mind.”

Snow Storms

When snow covered the Berkshires in white, those tubes on the radio could not warm up fast enough to tune in and hear what schools would be cancelled that day on the account of snow. It would also allow kids more time to listen to Dana Jones and his “On The Sunny Side of the Street” music show that came on after mom’s got their kids off to school.

The Life of a Morning DJ

Dana Jones rose every morning at 3am. Monday through Saturday, he would arrive at the radio station at 4am, where he first would turn on the transmitter to warm up its tubes, go through the Associated Press teletype for the latest news, weather and sports, and write and record the comedy bits that would be a part of his radio show featuring two iconic characters he had created; Grampa Crabgrass and Uncle Ephraim. Sign-on was 5:30am.

Saturdays

On Saturday mornings, my mother got up early and drove me out to the radio station by 6am where I would sit in the studio with Dana while he did his radio show. Our Junior Achievement company members usually arrived by 8:30am and I would then join the rest of the JA members to prepare our weekly sixty minute 11am radio broadcast.

Every weekend, I couldn’t get to the radio station early enough, to be enveloped in all things radio, and will always be grateful to both my mother and Dana Jones for catering to this high school kid’s passion to be on-the-air.

Seems Like Old Times

While radio had paid for my college education, it had not been as kind to Dana having been shown the door at both WBEC and later at the Berkshires first radio station WBRK, becoming very discouraged about the radio business.

I remember sitting at his kitchen table and putting together the deal to hire Dana, a man I so respected and admired to become the morning anchor on my new radio station.

I was launching a new radio format on 1110AM WUHN in Pittsfield that would feature Al Ham’s “Music of YOUR Life” big band and standards type of music, the very songs that Dana played when he began his radio career as a disc jockey. I wanted Dana to do everything he excelled at, including his comedy routines with Grampa Crabgrass and Uncle Ephraim. My vision for mornings on this radio station made Dana’s eyes light up and he got excited about radio once again.

I would leave Pittsfield to take over as general manager of WIIN/WFPG in Atlantic City in 1984. Dana continued working at WUHN until 1988 when the station’s owners decided to change its format to something that would appeal to a younger audience. Dana would retire from radio broadcasting at age 66.

He died at the age of 83 of a heart attack on November 25, 2005.

He was a gentle giant in the industry and in person, and he possessed a voice that was undeniably Dana Jones.

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What Do Radio Broadcasters & Almond Farmers Have In Common?

Last week, an article in The Atlantic titled “The Well Fixer’s Warning: The lesson that California never learns,” was a terrifying read about the water supply used to irrigate the almond orchards on the farms of Madera County. So many of the farm’s wells were coming up dry and the farmers were puzzled as to why water flowing out of their wells had been reduced to a trickle and were mostly producing sand.

Matt Angell is not only an almond farmer himself, but owns Madera Pumps, a company that drills wells and repairs well pumps. He knows that droughts, like the California sunshine go hand-in-hand, and as John Steinbeck wrote: “no one (forgets) the last drought faster than the farmer.”

Since the middle 1970s, almond farmers have persevered through at least five droughts and their solution to the problem was always the same – BUILD MORE DAMS.

BUILD MORE DAMS

Those three words stopped me cold. Who else thinks like this? Radio people, that’s who.

Today in America, there are now 26,076 radio stations on the air, 2,500 of these stations are broadcasting in HD which adds another 2,100 multicast radio channels to the mix. That’s about a 93% increase in the number of radio signals from when I started in high school.

The radio industry and almond farmers, have both felt that the way to grow is by adding more and more and more. Almond farmers added more acreage of almond trees and radio owners added more signals.

Aquifers

The dam reality was the San Joaquin River already had a half-a-dozen dams diverting its water, so the next solution to obtaining more water for almond irrigation was to drill down to the aquifers beneath the farmlands. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the farmers of Madera County to pump out the easily available ground water and see their wells coming up dry. As they were drilling deeper and deeper into the earth, a hidden lake beneath the farmlands was discovered in 2014. It was shocking to see it pumped dry in only seven years.

Angell noted that the snow on the mountain had melted two months earlier than “normal,” and the water level of the San Joaquin river was so low, it was now nothing more than a series of unconnected ponds as well as the wells – residential, business and farming – all over the community were running dry.

The reality is, the Madera County underground water table is one of the most over-tapped aquifers in the West, and all those wells had depleted the underground water source, causing the aquifer to collapse.

The Advertising Pie

It was before the COVID19 pandemic gripped our world, Gordon Borrell hosted a webinar back in early 2019 and told of how the media pie (the radio industry’s aquifer, if you will) is over-tapped.

To put things in perspective, Gordon shared how an over-populated media landscape is impacting local advertisers.

  • 1,300 daily newspapers, 6,500 weeklies
  • 4,700 printed directory books
  • 4,665 AM radio stations, 6,757 commercial FM radio stations
  • 1,760 Class A TV stations
  • More than 1,000 cable systems with local sales staffs
  • 660,000 podcasts were actively produced in 2018
  • 495 NEW TV shows were introduced last year in addition to what’s already on
  • PLUS, local ad sales are taking place on Facebook, Google and Amazon

Same Old Answer

Despite the fact that the water from the aquifer and river was being depleted by droughts, climate change and being over-tapped, the almond farmers’ answer was always the same, said Mark Angell, “Plant more almonds and pistachios. Plant more housing tracts on farmland. But the river isn’t the same. The aquifer isn’t the same.”

Listen to radio owners, and they will tell you they too need more and more radio signals in order to stay viable, despite the fact that the advertising pie is finite and media supported by advertising continues to expand exponentially.

“I used to use the word unprecedented to describe what we’re doing to the land,” said Angell, but “now I use the word biblical.” Is it any different for radio broadcasters?

The Solution

For the nut farmers of Madera County, the solution is a hard pill to swallow, it’s “to figure out a way to retire one million acres of the six million farmed, “otherwise, we’re looking at a race to the bottom,” said Angell.

For radio broadcasters, Gordon Borrell said the solution to the future of media expenditures would be a process of “thinning the herd.”

The way advertising buyers are responding to a world of media abundance, Borrell says, is by:

  • Decreasing the number of companies from which they buy advertising from 5 to 3.5, and
  • 90% of their media buys are being made with companies who can bundle traditional and digital advertising.

Killing the Golden Goose

Do you remember the Aesop fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs? Let me refresh your memory of this tale. It’s about a farmer that was poor. One day he makes a startling discovery when he finds a golden egg in the nest of his pet goose. Skeptical at first, he has the egg tested and finds that it is indeed made of pure gold. Even more amazing, each day this farmer awakes to find that his goose has laid another golden egg. In very short order, this poor farmer becomes fabulously wealthy. But then his wealth brings greed and impatience. No longer satisfied with just one golden egg per day, the farmer cuts open his goose to harvest all of its golden eggs at once only to find the goose is empty inside. With a now dead goose, there will be no more golden eggs laid.

In remembering this fable, it sounded so familiar to the world of radio broadcasting and almond farmers. Both possessed a wonderful “goose” that laid daily “golden eggs.”

Unfortunately for almond farmers, in wanting more, they are killing their water supply, and for broadcasters not wishing to wait for each day’s golden egg, cut open their goose beginning with the Telcom Act of 1996, that allowed them to own as many radio stations as they basically wished.

The moral of Aesop’s fable is if you focus only on the golden eggs and neglect the goose that lays them, you will soon be without the very asset that produces the golden eggs.

The radio industry’s quest for short-term returns, or results, took their free FCC licenses and ruined them by not maintaining the balance between the production of desired results and the production capacity of the asset.

Aesop’s fable is the very principle of effectiveness. It’s a natural law. Like gravity, you don’t have to believe in it or understand its principles, but you can never escape its effects.

Radio broadcasters probably saw the moral of the fable being the more geese you own, the more spots you add to the hour, the more effective your R.O.I. (Return On Investment) will be.

Almond farmers saw the moral of the fable as planting more trees, install more powerful pumps to withdraw more water and watch your R.O.I. grow.

But ironically, it is the principle of “Less Is More” that in the end rules the day.

To be truly effective, you need to maintain the balance of what is produced (golden eggs/revenue) and the producing asset (your goose/radio station/almond trees).

Everything in excess

is opposed to nature.

-Hippocrates

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If It’s to Be, It’s Up to Me

The first time I ever heard those words, they came out of the mouth of Dick Vaughan.

Sadly, this lifelong radio/TV broadcaster left us on Monday, August 9th. He was one of those people you meet in life that you never forget; a larger-than-life personality.

Philadelphia

The first time I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with Dick Vaughan was in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. We worked for the same radio company, but in different Massachusetts cities. I worked in Pittsfield and he worked in Ware.

Over a weeklong NAB Management Training Program at The Wharton School, we would each learn that we shared many of the same passions: a love of the radio business, love of family, a love of learning and a strong desire to make a difference in the world.

Our days were spent in classes and every evening we had dinner together. During one of those dinners, Dick mentioned that he was a member of Philadelphia’s Joseph A. Ferko String Band. Since they would be rehearsing at Ferko Hall that evening, he asked if I’d like to go over and hear them? I said, “YES!” and we departed for 2630 Bridge street in Philadelphia.

One of the earliest LP (long play) record albums I remember owning was of the Ferko String Band, so this was very exciting, but puzzling news. How did Dick Vaughan who lived and worked in Ware, Massachusetts become a member of the Ferko String Band?

Ferko String Band

Turns out that Dick became involved with the band in 1956, when he was on a committee planning an anniversary celebration for the Massachusetts city of Medford. Having played the Ferko String Band’s records on the radio and knowing the spectacular regalia the band wore in the annual New Year’s Day Mummers Parades, he figured they would be a huge attraction.

Dick picked up the phone and called Joseph Ferko. Mr. Ferko told Mr. Vaughan that the band had never performed outside of Philadelphia. Now, Dick Vaughan lived by the attitude that there was no such thing as can’t, leading to the Ferko String Band’s first out-of-state performance in Medford. This first road trip would be a success and lead to years of extensive touring by the band and Dick Vaughan being invited to become a member. Dick’s membership in the Ferko String Band would span decades and often saw him in the role of Master of Ceremonies at many Mummer’s events.

Always Say “YES”

Another thing that bonded Dick and I, was a belief that the way you get ahead in the world is to always say “YES” when anyone asks you to do something. It’s by taking on new challenges that you learn and grow in life.

WARE Radio

WARE in Ware, Massachusetts is one of two American radio stations whose call letters are also the name of their city of license, the other being WACO in Waco, Texas.

Hearing Dick Vaughan talk about WARE and the success this radio station enjoyed, created a strong desire in me to drive to that part of the state and visit the station. I expected the building to tower over this rural community, but it didn’t, it was located in a single story structure. WARE was a powerhouse radio station because what the it accomplished for its advertisers, listeners and community. Dick Vaughan would be the station’s general manager from 1958 to 1986.

Hand Grenade

One of the sales stories I remember Dick sharing with me was how he got the attention of a business owner that wouldn’t stop and listen to him explain why advertising on WARE would grow his business. Dick’s solution to this problem was to go to an Army Navy Store and purchase a dud hand grenade. He returned to this business and stood in the middle of the store, held up the hand grenade and pulled the pin. The business owner froze in place and Dick would then say, “now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you how WARE can help you grow your business.” DV made the sale and it would become a long-term advertising relationship.

YaGottaWanna

Dick Vaughan was a mentor to many people, both in and out of radio. Many remember a sign on his desk that read “YaGottaWanna,” and how he preached that the difference between winning and losing is all about the effort you put into what you want to accomplish and that you have to want to win.

He demanded that everyone who worked at the station had to bring their ‘A’ game every day, and if you didn’t, he made sure you heard about it.

Massachusetts Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame

It was just last month that Dick Vaughan reached out to me to support him in his effort to be selected for induction into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Dick didn’t make the cut in 2021, but it gave us a chance to spend an hour on the phone together. He told me about his TV show on Charlton Community Television Channel 12 and what programs he was working on. He never retired, explaining that staying active was one of the secrets to living a long life.

You’ve got to do something you love

Dick’s father was a U. S. Navy commander and he once told his son that you’ve got to find something you like to do in life and then figure out a way to get paid for it. Dick’s broadcasting career turned out to be just that, a job he loved and got paid for.

Dick Vaughan took a radio job opportunity he was offered back in the 1950s, gave it his all and never looked back.  

R.I.P. Dick Vaughan (August 21, 1935 – August 9, 2021)

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The Butterfly Effect

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the butterfly effect “as a property of chaotic systems (such as the atmosphere) by which small changes in initial conditions can lead to large-scale and unpredictable variation in the future state of the system.”

Mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz found that a very small change in initial conditions could create a significantly different outcome as he studied how data, that had been rounded in a seemingly inconsequential manner, greatly impacted the outcome. In other words, a very small change in the initial conditions created significantly different outcomes.

The concept, that small causes may have large impacts to weather patterns was also studied by French mathematician and engineer Henri Poincaré and American mathematician and philosopher Norbert Wiener.

The butterfly effect concept is now often applied to any situation where a small change is supposed to be the cause of larger consequences.

Speed Limits

Last week, Sue & I traveled to North Jersey for another granddaughter’s birthday. What we noticed as we drove the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway was that traveling the speed limit made us a “road hazard.” Even traveling 5 or 10 miles over the posted speed limit saw our car being passed as if we were standing still.

It made us wonder, how fast does one need to exceed the speed limit to be pulled over by a New Jersey State Trooper? Does everyone breaking the law, make it alright? Does speeding in one’s car have implications for other aspect of our lives?

Bicycling on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City

Growing up, my family enjoyed vacationing in Atlantic City. I remember rising early in the morning and heading to one of the many bicycle rental shops to ride the boards as the sun came up. In the 60s, bike riding was only permitted between the hours of 6 and 10am, and anyone caught riding a bike after 10am was immediately escorted off the boardwalk.

In July, 2016, the hours for riding bikes on the boardwalk were extended from 6am to 12 Noon.

But Sue & I, along with other pedestrians would find ourselves constantly dodging bicycles at all hours of the day and night as we strolled the boards and no one seemed to be enforcing the rules.

But it wasn’t just bicycles, people were also playing loud music, drinking alcoholic beverages, riding skateboards and walking their dogs along this world famous boardwalk.

Simple rules for the good of all, and no one enforcing them. Did these people think that because they can exceed the speed limit when driving, they can ignore other regulations too?

Wearing Face Masks

The places we stayed at, all had signs stating that face masks must be worn by everyone while inside the building, yet most people didn’t wear a mask. Some that did wear them, wore them below their nose or under their chin, which amounts to the same thing as not wearing one at all.

Is the reason we can’t get people to do this simple preventative measure, stem from the fact that we are okay with people doing their own thing, regardless of the consequences?

Climate Change

When we were out on the west coast for our oldest granddaughter’s high school graduation in Oak Harbor, Washington, we experienced the heat dome that impacted the northwest back in June.

It was dangerously hot, but it didn’t just happen by itself. It happened because like the disregard we show for speed limits posted on our roadways, the lack of respect we give to rules about when we can ride a bicycle on a crowded boardwalk, whether our discomfort in wearing a face mask outweighs infecting another person with the Delta virus, we continue to ignore the impact we’re having on the climate of the only planet humans have to inhabit.

To change the world, we must all first start with changing ourselves.

Speaking of change…

Radio on the Beach & Boardwalk

Walking the boardwalk, back in the 80s and 90s when I managed radio stations in Atlantic City, you heard radios playing all over the beach and every boardwalk store you entered, but that was then. Today what you hear are advertisements for casino shows, restaurants, and other coming attractions coming from digital signs with speakers placed every couple of feet along the boardwalk or music coming from the speakers placed in front of the various boardwalk casinos that broadcast messages to come inside.

Again, it’s worth noting that in each place we stayed, our rooms came equipped with high-speed internet and flat screen high definition television sets, but not a radio in sight.

Where Have All the DJs Gone?

Spinning the radio dial in my car, I was sad to hear nothing but songs, commercials, promos and jingles. The radio personality has vanished from most radio stations.

Pipe Organs and Radio Stations

At 12Noon every weekday, Boardwalk Hall offers a free 30-minute organ concert featuring the World’s Largest Pipe Organ. Sue and I have walked through the inside of this mammoth instrument and enjoyed hearing it stir our souls.

It occurred to me that maybe the reason I so love giant pipe organs is because sitting at the console of one these beasts, is like being surrounded by turntables, cart machines, reel-to-reel recorders and the master control board at a radio station.

Nothing happens from either, until a talented performer takes command and makes the magic happen.

I’m happy to report that we were entertained by a 19-year old organist last week who made the Midmer-Losh Boardwalk Hall pipe organ with 33,112 pipes and 449 voices that are all controlled from a seven-keyboard console on the arena’s main stage come alive.

I only wish I could say the same for radio stations we listened to, which today all are running without a new generation of broadcasters plying their trade. Most are simply running on auto-pilot.

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