The radio advertising business is all about its ability to deliver both reach (the number of people who will hear your advertisement) as well as frequency (the number of times a listener will hear the same advertisement). Radio, for all of my life has been the medium for delivering the best frequency for an advertiser, but in today’s world, it now is also the best for delivering reach.
Pierre Bouvard, my first Arbitron sales representative and today the Chief Insights Officer at Cumulus Media/Westwood One, calls AM/FM radio the soundtrack of America’s recovery and spending resurgence.
When I started out in radio sales, my first goal was to start making friends with each business person I called on. I used to say to myself, “If you can’t make a sale, make a friend.”
People do business with people they know and like, it’s first step in building relationships with your advertisers.
Advertising is an Investment
Patience is at an all-time low, so the problem in today’s fast-paced world is everyone wants things to happen immediately.
When you’re dealing with people and human nature, things move at their own pace.
Farmers know when they plant a crop, they won’t be going out the next day to harvest it. Likewise, when you put an advertiser’s message on the radio, it will take time to grow in the mind of the consumer. Done correctly, a business can be harvesting sales 52-weeks a year.
Great Radio Ads
Great radio advertising can benefit the listeners of your radio station in addition to growing the business of your advertisers. Great ads speak about the customer’s wants, needs and desires.
Make money for your advertisers and they will be happy to refer you to other local business people who could benefit from your radio station’s audience. And unlike cold-calling (knocking on doors of people you don’t know), a referral is like getting a foot-in-the-door. It’s golden.
Fair Prices & Excellent Service
Studies have shown you don’t have to have the lowest price to attract repeat business, fair prices will do.
Combine fair prices with excellent service and you have a winning combination for building repeat business with your customers.
Your goal as a radio sales person should be to become a sustaining resource for your customers. A person who they call first when they need help with their advertising or promotions; a person they can trust.
You Can’t Do It Alone
Everyone in your radio station that comes in contact with your listeners and advertisers impacts the future relationship your enterprise will have with each of them. Everyone needs to be engaged in delighting your listeners and your advertisers.
When the novel coronavirus turned our world upside down, life as we had known it was dramatically changed. About the closest thing I can compare it to was when I made the decision to retire, move from Kentucky to Virginia and get married; again.
Time to Retire
All my life I had witnessed stories in movies and on TV about people retiring. I remember my own dad being forced to retire at the age of 65, because back in the 70s General Electric Company had a mandatory retirement policy. It seemed like something people planned and looked forward to, and now, after a decades long career in broadcasting and then as a professor at a university, I had arrived. My wife and I planned out two years’ worth of road trips to see America from the ground. As a flight attendant for Delta, she had flown over most of the United States, but like me, longed to see it up close and personal; as can only be done from driving the highways and byways of this great land.
Life in Retirement
I will admit that retirement brings with it, major lifestyle changes, and I truly have learned to enjoy all of it. As an example, in the summer, pool aerobics takes place in an outdoor pool bathed in the warmth of the morning sun. What’s not to like about that?
You might think that a retired person’s life couldn’t have changed much when COVID-19 appeared, and the world closed down. Wrong! Those pool exercise programs were terminated, our planned cruise to Alaska via Canada was cancelled as the border between our countries closed, trips to visit our children and grand children were transformed into ZOOM visits and like everyone else we wore masks, used lots of hand sanitizer and took advantage of senior shopping hours (usually from 6-7am) which meant having to get up with an alarm clock once again.
The global pandemic brought lifestyle changes to the world that were as dramatic as retirement. It’s why after sitting in on the latest Fred Jacobs webinar, TechSurvey 2021, it was this single slide that made the most impact on me.
When radio station listeners were asked why they spent less time listening to radio, the number one and two responses were basically the same: Lifestyle Change.
People were spending less time in their cars as many were now working from home, going to school from their bedroom and meals were now being prepared in the house kitchens versus dining out.
Most people listened to traditional radio in their automobile, because it may be the only radio they own and when “Work From Home” (WFH) became the norm, car usage plummeted.
So, what did we do at home while we were sequestered? We streamed everything: movies, TV shows, music, newspapers, magazines, and visiting friends and relatives, were all made possible via internet.
The last time the world saw so many important structural changes as we’re experiencing today, was in the 1920s; a time when commercial radio was born, and a time when people were yearning for change after experiencing a two year global pandemic from the “Spanish Flu.”
Reassessing the Meaning of Life
The disruption brought with COVID-19 has caused many people to really think about what’s important in their life. This great reassessment is going on at all levels of the American economy causing many people to decide if they want to do something different with their lives. People have realigned their priorities when it comes to what’s important to them, and what makes for a happy, fulfilling life.
Sixty-six percent of unemployed people in a recent Pew Survey said they had “seriously considered” changing their field of work, which might help to explain why certain businesses are having a hard time re-hiring workers as COVID vaccinations are re-opening our economy.
Reassessing Media Usage
The sequestering at home saw, according to TechSurvey 2021, that streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ saw a 35% increase in use, followed by a 15% increase in usage of streaming music services like Spotify and Pandora, as well as spending time on social media. Video gaming was up 13% and the radio station that sent these radio listeners this year’s TechSurvey showed a 10% increase.
It’s important to note that the people who love listening to radio, put listening to their favorite radio personality ahead of hearing their favorite music as the reason they listen.
The Lego Lesson
Now you might be thinking that as a radio owner/manager “Ineed to be doing more.” That seems to be human nature when anyone is contemplating how to beat their previous performance; whether that means increasing audience ratings or bottom line revenues.
Let me tell you about a study where participants were asked to modify a structure built with Legos. Most participants added more bricks – our gut instinct that to do better, it will take more of something – but the better strategy it turns out was to remove a few Lego bricks from the structure.
When it comes to improving your radio operation, might you find a better result by subtracting rather than adding? When you keep things simple focusing on those things that made you successful, magic happens.
It was true when radio was born, and it’s even more important today, but don’t take my word for it, listen to what radio listeners say is the main reason they’re still listening in the latest TechSurvey.
Radio’s most important assets are its air personalities.
This year’s Academy Awards on ABC recorded an all-time low in viewership with fewer than 10 million people who thought it was worth their time to tune in to see which picture was named the year’s best (Nomadland), or who won best actress (Frances McDormand) or best actor (Anthony Hopkins).
Was it because all the theaters closed down in 2020 due to COVID-19 that people didn’t care about the movies?
No, the Oscars telecast is suffering the same fate that has befallen the Golden Globes, Primetime Emmys and the Grammys; today there’s lots of competition for our attention.
Miss America Who?
I lived in Atlantic City, New Jersey for the better part of two decades. My WFPG-AM 1450 radio station was the flagship station for the Miss America radio broadcasts and continued broadcasting the annual beauty pageant to the South Jersey radio market long after network television took over broadcasting the pageant to the nation, via TV.
If you don’t know who the reigning Miss America is (Camille Schrier), you’re not alone, as only 3.61 million people tuned into the NBC telecast; continuing a downward trend of its audience ratings.
World Series Strikes Out
The 2020 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays saw Game Three entering the record books as the least-watched World Series game since Nielsen began tracking ratings in 1968. Just over 8 million people watched.
Super Bowl 2021 Fumbles
With everyone being sequestered at home, and the annual Super Bowl telecasts being the most watched programs on television since 2010, you might scratch your head wondering how the most recent Super Bowl matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs only attracted 96.4 million viewers making it the lowest rated Super Bowl since 2007, when the Colts vs. The Bears attracted only 93.1 million viewers.
Before the 2010 Super Bowl, the season finale of M*A*S*H reigned as the most viewed television program for 27 years, with 105.9 million viewers saying goodbye to Hawkeye and friends in February of 1983.
The 2010 Super Bowl broadcast would garner 106.5 million viewers, and each Super Bowl broadcast after that would become the new most watched program on television.
Welcome to The Internet Revolution
In the 20th Century, the industrial economy was top-down, with all decisions originating from the CEO’s office. The 21st Century now depends on building relationships, collaboration and networking. Not since the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s has America seen anything like what’s happening today.
You’re probably in one of two camps with regard to the speed of change happening right now: one group believes things are changing too fast, and the other group believes things aren’t changing fast enough. Business leaders no longer can sit on the fence about the issues that face us, but are being forced into picking a side.
The media industry that was birthed, and has been fully supported by the selling of advertising, is now looking towards selling subscriptions to support itself. Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, PBS Passport, Amazon Prime, YouTubeTV, Paramount+, HBOMax, AppleTV+, Showtime, Starz, Frndly, and SlingTV are all subscription supported. Then there’s all the music streaming services you can subscribe to like Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, and Apple Music.
Do you like to listen to podcasts, well Spotify and Apple have announced those too will be adding a new subscription option for podcasts you might currently be enjoying for free.
In our house, we subscribe to seven different streaming video services, which grew from zero just five years ago and we currently use ad-supported audio streaming services from Pandora, Amazon and TuneIn. We access all of our streaming services by asking Alexa to play what we’re in the mood to hear via anyone of our four Echo’s and three Alexa equipped televisions.
I honestly cannot remember the last time I watched any commercial television channels.
Whether watching video, listening to audio or reading publications like The Washington Post, The Atlantic, AXIOS or the multitude of radio/TV publications that I devour each day, all of it comes to me ON DEMAND and via the internet.
Our household literally has more content than we have hours in a day to consume and still have time for a life with family and friends outside of the home.
The Future of Media Consumption
For the consumer, streaming consumption is the future, but there is a limit to how much media we can consume, let alone afford to subscribe to and we are approaching a peak in both.
For the media companies, understanding their future will demand a clear-eyed review at how the present came into existence. It will be survival of the fittest and not all will make it.
“Every model is flawed.
Some can be useful for decades or even centuries,
but eventually circumstances change and they become untenable.
After a period of tumult, they collapse and a new paradigm emerges.”
It’s never been more challenging to be a leader, but some of the basics are as important today as ever.
Leadership is about inspiring and empowering people to believe in themselves, their company and the path that lies ahead.
Leg One: Lead by Example
People will follow more what you do than what you say. I remember having one of my department managers tell me that people in our building were afraid to swear around me, because I didn’t use swear words. It’s not that I didn’t know those words, but I personally chose not to use them, resulting in others following my lead.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Leg Two: Create a Unified Vision
A lot of companies have very lengthy and detailed “mission statements.” The problem is that few people can hardly remember, let alone put into practice everything that’s in them. Created by committees, these mission statements call to mind the old joke about what a camel is—it’s a horse created by a committee.
I prefer the idea of creating a “unified vision.” My favorite is the one that Steve Jobs created for Apple: “Create insanely great products.”
Notice he didn’t say they would create the world’s best computer, tablet or smartphone, but that whatever Apple committed to making, it would be “insanely great.”
Leg Three: Inspire Everyone to be Their Best
It’s not one thing that makes an organization the best, it’s everything. Great radio stations are great in programming, promotions, engineering, sales, facilities and community engagement. They should super serve everyone they come in contact with.
“Nobody remembers who finished second,
but the guy who finished second.”
Great leaders hire the best people for each area of their operation, and then, get out of their way to let them excel. Leaders praise in public and correct in private, mentoring everyone in their charge. They stand ready to tackle any obstacles that prevent their people from being their personal best and inspire them to become leaders.
Let’s face it, somethings in life are what they are. Giraffe’s have long necks and elephants have big ears, big feet and trunks. Just as pickup trucks were designed for a different purpose than speed boats. So, why do we think that radio can somehow defy the natural order and become something that it was never designed to be?
Work on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses
One of the lessons I learned in classes at Clear Channel University* was how people often focus on their weaknesses and try to improve them. However, studies have shown that when we focus on our strengths, we grow faster than when we try to improve our weaknesses. Added benefits to focusing on our strengths are that we become happier, less stressed and more confident.
The cure for constantly falling short of your goals is to work on improving where you’re already strong, rather than on areas where you are weak.
Why Doesn’t Radio Focus on Its Strengths?
Entercom changed its name to Audacy, saying:
“We have transformed into a fundamentally different and dramatically enhanced organization and so it is time to embrace a new name and brand identity which better reflects who we have become and our vision for the future. Audacy captures our dynamic creativity, outstanding content and innovative spirit as we aspire to build the country’s best audio content and entertainment platform.”
-David Field, CEO
Audacy is the fourth largest radio company in America (based on the number of radio stations owned) and just like the top three radio operators ahead of them, none use the word “radio” in their name.
It was in 2010, that National Public Radio announced that it would be using “NPR” as its brand name, even though its legal name remains the same. NPR celebrated its 50th birthday in 2020, the same year that American commercial radio turned 100.
What is it about the name “radio” that has radio station owners and operators distancing themselves from this word?
Finding Your Strengths
If you want to grow your strengths, first you need to identify them. This week, Pierre Bouvard, Chief Insights Officer at Cumulus Media/Westwood One, did a pretty good job of that in his blog. While Pierre was trying to correct some misperceptions about broadcast radio, he also gave us a good place to start with identifying some of its strengths. Here are five Pierre cites:
Radio reaches 88% of persons 18 years of age and older each week in America.
Radio reaches the 60% of Americans who are back in their cars commuting to work every day. (The Radio Advertising Bureau says radio’s reach in the car is 83% in 2021, making it the dominate form of media on-the-road.)
Radio’s audience shares are twenty-one times larger than ad-supported Pandora and ten times that of ad-supported Spotify, according to Edison Research.
Radio delivers an impressive Return On Investment (ROI). Pierre says “for example, for every $1 invested in an auto aftermarket AM/FM radio campaign, there is a $21 sales return.”
Radio’s Analog Audience
Lee Abrams posted a short YouTube video back in August 2020 that you might have missed explaining his “PSYCHOGRAPHIC CHART.” If you’re in radio, you should watch it now.
View the full twelve-minute presentation HERE What I’d like to focus on is the two quadrants that Lee has labeled as “Analog Generation/Culturally Sophisticated & Culturally Unsophisticated.” These people are radio listeners. They were born with and are comfortable with analog media.
Lee makes clear that you can’t satisfy more than one quadrant. Pick one and super serve those people to the point of making what you do appalling to people in the other three quadrants.
The bottom line is that you can’t be all things to all people, but you can be everything to some people. This is really Marketing 101.
But the Future is Digital
Yes, the future of media is digital and it can’t be ignored. But you can’t make radio into something it’s not and never will be. It’s a powerful one-to-many media entity; leverage that.
The Australian Radio Network’s Neuro Lab is doing some interesting research into how a listener’s brain responds to audio, whether it’s coming from the radio, a podcast or streamed.
What should make all radio owner/operators sit-up and take notice is the fact that “radio showed the strongest ability to engage listeners and for extended periods of time, racking up 60% more neural engagement than any other audio format.” Podcasts showed higher levels of memory encoding and streaming was noted for promoting positive attitudes towards brands. You can read the full report HERE
All Audio is Not Created Equal (in the Brain)
Dr. Shannon Bosshard, the neuroscience specialist who conducted this groundbreaking research said, “This is the first time that anyone has demonstrated, from the perspective of the brain, that radio, podcasting and music streaming are processed differently and should be treated differently, in the same manner that audio and audio-visual mediums have been.”
Radio Financed TV
It was the incredible revenue streams produced by broadcast radio that were used to build out the medium of commercial television. TV also stole radio’s stars and programs, leaving the radio industry to reinvent itself and compete with television for advertising.
Today, radio is once again finding itself the “money mule” charged with funding the buildout of digital initiatives, having to sacrifice the very thing that makes radio unique in the process; its personalities. And then, just like with TV, radio has to compete with digital for advertising.
Fred Jacobs in his TechSurvey 2021 revealed how important the Radio Personality is to today’s radio listener.
But this shouldn’t come as a surprise. For generations, the radio personality has been the primary attraction drawing audiences to one radio station over another. At his peak, Dan Ingram on WABC in New York was said to be more popular to the station’s listeners than The Beatles.
In the end, great radio isn’t any one element, it’s all of them – personalities, jingles, promotions, station imaging, community involvement and companionship – that makes a radio station part of a listener’s family. People have favorite movies, but not a favorite movie theater; they have favorite television programs, but not a favorite television station; however, people DO HAVE favorite radio stations.
Remember that. Leverage that. Make money knowing that.
A while back, I wrote a blog article about “The Fairness Doctrine.” After the January 6th siege on Capitol Hill, many people began wondering if this policy, originally enacted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1949, but then eliminated under President Ronald Reagan, should be re-instated.
To review, this doctrine required the holder of a broadcast license to both present controversial issues of public importance, and to present these issues in a manner that was honest, equitable, fair and balanced.
In other words, broadcasters were supposed to not only uncover what the people in their broadcast service area should be aware of, but also to present both sides of the issue.
The Fairness Doctrine only applied to radio and television licensees and no other form of media. Even if it was still in place today, it wouldn’t have applied to Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram or any other forms of non-broadcast communication. The problem with social media is that what we read, see, and hear is all controlled by algorithms.
The Challenge of Controlling Algorithms
Unlike most innovations that human beings have designed, algorithms are not static and easily defined. You can’t say that one algorithm is good and the other is evil. They are like a living organism, in that they can learn, adapt and change over time.
Cornell University online behavior scholar, J. Nathan Matias, put it this way:
“If you buy a car from Pennsylvania and drive it to Connecticut, you know that it will work the same way in both places. And when someone else takes the driver’s seat, the engine is going to do what it always did.”
With an algorithm, it changes with each human behavior it comes in contact with and that’s what makes trying to regulate it, from a government standpoint, such a challenge.
Broadcast radio and television was an unknown when it appeared, and government was challenged to regulate it. It used as a model, the regulations that had been developed to oversee America’s railroads. In fact, that’s where the concept of requiring radio and TV stations to operate in the “public interest, convenience and/or necessity” comes from. It’s also why no one has ever been exactly sure of what this phrase actually means when it comes to broadcast regulation.
Closing the Barn Door
The old saying “It’s too late to close the barn door, once the horse is gone,” might be the type of problem facing regulators trying to bring fairness to today’s internet dominated world.
The European Union’s first go at trying to regulate Google Shopping, demonstrated how the slow moving wheels of justice are no match for the high speed technology of today. By the time regulators issued their decision, the technology in question had become irrelevant.
20th Century Solutions Don’t Work on 21st Century Problems
We all learned in school how America’s Justice Department, and in some cases individual states, broke up monopolies in oil and the railroads. Historically, what government was trying to do was breakup price-setting cartels, and lower prices for consumers. But with entities like Facebook and Google, no one pays to use their service; it’s free!
Promising Technology or Dystopian Reality?
When commercial radio was born a hundred years ago, it was greeted with the same exuberance that the internet was and people thought radio would connect people, end wars and bring about world peace.
Then American radio would give a voice to Father Charles Coughlin, a Detroit priest who eventually turned against American democracy itself through his nationwide radio broadcasts, opening the door for the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine coming into regulatory existence.
A Collaborative Solution
Media regulation in the 21st Century with algorithms that act like living organisms maybe should be regulated in the same way we protect our environment.
As an example, how would you go about improving a polluted river?
“To improve the ecology around a river, it isn’t enough to simply regulate companies’ pollution. Nor will it help to just break up the polluting companies. You need to think about how the river is used by citizens—what sort of residential buildings are constructed along the banks, what is transported up and down the river—and the fish that swim in the water. Fishermen, yachtsmen, ecologists, property developers, and area residents all need a say. Apply that metaphor to the online world: Politicians, citizen-scientists, activists, and ordinary people will all have to work together to co-govern a technology whose impact is dependent on everyone’s behavior, and that will be as integral to our lives and our economies as rivers once were to the emergence of early civilizations.”
Every night, the music of Enya lulls us off to dreamland. One of our favorite songs is “The Humming.” A line from that song is “only change is here to stay.”
I’ve often written in this blog about the only constant in life is change, and that if you’re not changing your life for the better, you’re changing it for the worse, for nothing stays the same. Nothing.
Changes in Communication
Watching the Ken Burns documentary on “Country Music” it was very clear the important role that radio played in spreading the popularity of this musical genre. But that was then, today the smartphone is at the center of everyone’s life.
The latest from Edison Research now says that 88% of Americans over the age of 12 own and use a smartphone; 250 million, to be exact.
The wireless phone companies will tell you that today we use our smartphones primarily for data. Edison Research tells us that 82% of Americans are now active on social media platforms, the top three being Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
While 32% of homes in the U.S. don’t have a single AM/FM radio in them, 47% now have a smart speaker.
Today, 193 million Americans – or 68% of adults 12 years of age and older – digitally consume audio using one of these smart devices.
AM/FM radio’s last place of dominance is the vehicle dashboard. WFH (Work From Home) eliminated the need to commute for a lot of people, thereby causing them to spend less time with traditional radio in their cars.
McKinsey Global Institute says at least 20% of people currently in the WFH mode won’t ever be returning to an office after the pandemic ends. Just as alarming for radio station owners is the recent report by Edison Research that shows the percentage of people who listen to audio on their smartphone in their cars is now at 50%.
“We’re recovering to a different economy.”
-Jerome H. Powell, Federal Reserve Chairman
Before COVID-19, we already were doing video conferencing and phone calls on platforms like Go To Meeting, Face Time, WebX, or Skype. But then the world was shut down by a novel coronavirus and it was ZOOM that suddenly became the dominant platform for teaching school, conducting government, running our courts, attending church, working from home, celebrating our weddings and birthdays, and just about everything else we used to do in person.
ZOOM is the best example of how fast our world changed when COVID-19 struck.
How did ZOOM do it? By investing the time to know what their video conferencing customer wanted, knowing it better than anyone else and then delivering it best when the critical moment – a global pandemic – arrived.
“Spend a lot of time talking to customers face-to-face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers.”
– H. Ross Perot
Your listeners are changing, your advertisers are changing, your world is changing. So, you’d better be listening carefully to understand how you must change to be relevant to their wants, needs and desires.
Because as Enya sings “only change is here to stay.”
The novel coronavirus has eliminated jobs in less time than it takes to read this sentence. Many of those jobs were going away anyway, but COVID-19 sped up their demise.
For real radio people, the phrase “you haven’t really worked in radio until you’ve been fired at least three times,” taught many of us how to deal with a sudden loss of income.
13 Lucky Years
I moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1984 to take over as general manager of WIIN/WFPG radio stations. At the young age of 32, I was promoted to my second general manager job; a job I would perform successfully for 13 years, until one day the stations were taken over by new owners.
Shortly after the closing, I learned that one of the owners would now become the new general manager, eliminating my position.
I quickly learned that I would receive no severance pay, that my job was ending immediately and that my company car had just turned into a New Jersey Transit Bus if I needed wheels.
My new home with its hefty mortgage was manageable with my former income, but not with an unemployment check.
While searching for my next radio management position, I traveled to a radio conference in Phoenix, Arizona. There I met another radio general manager who had also recently lost his job through a change in ownership. We were in the same situation, except he wasn’t as stressed out over landing his next position, as I was. Here’s what he shared with me that I never forgot.
Live Below Your Income
He told me as he advanced in the radio business, working in larger markets, and increasing his income, that he and his wife bought bigger houses, better cars and added lots of toys to their lifestyle. Each time when another job would end abruptly, he would become panicked and stressed out about quickly finding his next job. But when he moved to Phoenix, he told his wife that they were going to buy an affordable home and adopt a lifestyle they could manage, even if this job ended tomorrow. This time, they would live below their income and “build a rainy day fund.”
Why Don’t We Save?
Dan Ariely is an Israeli-American professor and author. He serves as a James B. Duke Professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. Recently a reader of his Wall Street Journal column asked “Many people I know have lost their jobs during the pandemic, which made me realize I needed to set up an emergency savings fund. But my job is secure so far, so it hasn’t felt very urgent to put money in the account. What can I do to make sure I contribute to my emergency savings every month?”
Dan told his reader “research shows that we are much more likely to save money for a specific personal goal than simply because it’s the right thing to do. The better way to look at this is to calculate how much you need to pay your mortgage or rent for three months, or to buy food for your family etc. When you think of saving as protecting those you love and meeting particular needs, you are more likely to commit to making regular contributions.”
I did something very similar after landing my next position, with the caveat of making the saving part, automatic. I calculated how much I would need to live and then directed the remainder to be automatically direct deposited into my “rainy day savings account.”
Sleep Like a Baby
One of the worst feelings you can have as a parent is not having the finances to take care of your family.
The change in my spending/savings habits gave me real peace of mind and I have slept like a baby ever since. I never felt like I was making a sacrifice either, as I would learn that life isn’t about acquiring more and more things, the secret to enjoying life is learning to appreciate the things you already have.
“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
-from Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince
Pick a Profession, Not a Job
Just as important as financial security, is your health and well-being. For that, you need to be employed in something where you can’t wait to get up every morning.
If you want to become really good at something, you’ll need to spend years honing your craft. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes a person 10,000 hours to really master something, so you better love what you’re doing.
Cleveland radio air personality, Michael Stanley, passed away this week. He wrote a goodbye letter to his WNCX listeners that said in part, “it’s been said that if you love your job then it’s not really work and if that’s really true (and I definitely think it is) then I have been happily out of work for over fifty years!”
I too was fortunate to have found a profession I made into a lifelong career and have enjoyed for over 50 years. Just like it’s important to live below your income level, it’s just as important to spend your days filled with doing things you’re passionate about.
Today, writing this blog and volunteering as a radio personality on a non-profit radio station continues to be my joy and hopefully provides mentorship and entertainment value to others.
Life is not about the destination, for it’s the same for each of us, it’s about the journey.
For Sue & I, while we were just vaccinated on Friday, the wearing of face masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing is unlikely to change for us for the rest of 2021, if not longer.
Based on my research of pandemics past, I realized very early that this would be about a two year disruption and I suspect that when we say “Happy New Year” and ring in 2022, things will finally be on course for whatever the “new normal” is.
Working From Home, most often abbreviated as “WFH,” has also changed people’s media habits.
A year ago I wrote that I expected most people would consume their media by streaming it via the internet. The latest research has shown that is exactly what happened. eMarketer data showed that traditional radio broadcasts were eclipsed by digital audio, mid-2020. This week, Edison Research reported, that 30% of all audio listening now occurs on mobile devices; unless you’re between the ages of 13-34, then that number is 46%. Not surprisingly, this age group’s listening to audio on an AM/FM radio receiver is down to only 20%.
Working from home meant that those people who normally listened to AM/FM radio while commuting in their car, were now doing their audio consumption where they live, and 32% of today’s households don’t have a single AM/FM radio in them. However, 44.2% of homes today have a voice activated assistant, like Amazon’s Alexa, to access their favorite audio content.
Audio in Cars
The global pandemic has forced all of us to get used to new ways of doing every little thing, such as shopping online, streaming video entertainment on huge flat screen TVs and asking Alexa for assistance like she had become a member of the family. We’ve become so comfortable with these new Artificial Intelligence (AI) devices that we might start to wonder what life was like before them.
I remember when I used to tell advertisers that a car was a “radio on wheels.”
Now I don’t have a new car, but my 2009 Honda Accord has a fabulous sound system that seamlessly connects to my iPhone and streams my audio content in my car. My car radio is locked on “AUX.” (I know I’m not alone.)
The End of Commuting
Bill Gates shocked the world when he predicted in November of last year that 50% of all business travel would never come back and that 30% of the days people spent in an office would likewise disappear forever. McKinsey Global Institute pretty much corroborated Gate’s predictions by adding that 20% of workers would continue to work from home indefinitely.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell, puts it this way, “We’re recovering to a different economy.”
Disney Closing Mall Stores
Disney plans to close 20% of its Disney Stores saying that they’ve seen changes in the ways people shop due to COVID-19 and that the future means people will continue to shop online. As a result, Disney plans to focus on e-commerce, its Apps and social media platforms. Disney says the data shows that the global pandemic increased the speed of change from brick-and-mortar to online shopping by half a decade.
Movies & Streaming
Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek went even further in announcing the company’s future, saying that the days of releasing new movies to theaters for several months before bringing them to their streaming platform, are over. For example, when “Raya and the Last Dragon” hits the theaters this month, it will simultaneously be available on Disney+ for subscribers for an additional $30.
Disney+ has exceeded everyone’s expectations, rapidly growing to over 95 million paying subscribers. The biggest surprise to this streamer of family content was that over 50% of those subscribers don’t have children.
Worst Year in Pay-TV History
2020 was a record year for cord-cutting according to analysis of cable TV subscribers by MoffettNathanson. Cable TV lost six million subscribers dropping cable’s household penetration level to a low, not seen in thirty years. Smart TVs are the primary reason people now stream their video content from the internet.
Award Shows Audiences in Decline
Audiences for the Academy Awards, Grammy’s, Golden Globes and Primetime Emmys have all been in a steady decline since 2000. The first of these 2021 award shows, and a harbinger for those to come, the Golden Globes, set a record low for NBC’s telecast of these awards.
Where Have All the Sports Fan Gone?
You might have thought with people stuck at home, that sports would have seen solid television audiences, but that wasn’t the case. 2020 saw a drop in viewership for practically every sport. Compared with 2019, the NBA Finals were down 51%, the NHL Finals were down 61%, the U.S. Open tennis matches were down 45%. Even the Kentucky Derby recorded its lowest TV audience ever, falling 49% from 2019, to just over eight million viewers.
Television’s biggest audience draw for many years has been the NFL and the Super Bowl, but not this year. The big game’s audience was the lowest it has been in fifteen years.
If Misery Loves Company…
Pro Sports, Harley Davidson and broadcast radio/TV are all suffering from a similar problem, they aren’t attracting the next generation. Generation Z Americans, those born after 1996, just aren’t that into sports, Harley’s and traditional media, like previous generations.
That’s probably why, when the NFL started asking for a 100% increase in TV rights payments, Disney (owner of ESPN) immediately rejected it.
However, streamers, like Amazon Prime and AppleTV+ may give the NFL the money they want, but will those high rights fees manifest in higher premiums for subscribers.
For the maker of “The Hog” and traditional broadcast media, the future is as challenging. Harley Davidson is looking to make their motorcycle line all electric, following the lead of the world’s automobile industry, and hoping it will attract new riders to their brand. Radio/TV broadcasters are also trying to capture new audiences with Apps, streaming and podcasts.
“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Anyone who thinks their business will return to the way it was, once COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror, will be hanging the “Gone Fishing” sign out, be down-for-the-count or just plain out-of-business.
It’s time for all of us to be thinking like Gretzky.
My church recently sent its Annual Report for 2020 to all its members. It reminded me that it was on March 13, 2020 that in-person worship service was suspended at our church, along with all other activities because of the highly infectious nature of COVID-19.
Pastor Martha Sims wrote, “In its 267-year history, this congregation has had its share of difficult times; fires and conflicts and even some changes that resulted from the virus of 1918.”
The 1918-1920 global pandemic, often referred to as the “Spanish Flu,” caused my church to end the use of a common cup for communion during services and begin using little individual glasses. While communicants had the option to either continue to drink wine from the common cup or use the new individual glasses, the record shows that people quickly adjusted to the new normal and both methods did not have to be offered beyond that first Sunday morning of the change.
I share this story with you, because setting up those little individual glasses for the communion wine, and then collecting them, washing them and putting them back out again for the second Sunday morning service was something my wife and I participated in as part of our church service. But now I wonder what the future will hold regarding more changes in this and other areas of our church life after what COVID-19 has taught us.
We’ve dined out on only a few occasions, mainly due to traveling, and noticed that restaurants now give patrons a paper menu that is disposed of after orders are taken.
Hand sanitizer is found in every store you go into these days, often with signs asking people to use it upon entering. Might we find these changes remain, post-COVID?
Radio Personalities Broadcasting from Home
Broadcast programming consultant, Gary Berkowitz, hosted his first ZOOM call with radio programmers from throughout the United States and Canada talking about how they’re dealing with the global pandemic in their radio operations. What struck me most was that all of the radio stations had equipped their personalities with high quality microphones, processing, laptops and high-speed internet service to do their shows and/or voice track them from home.
Personalities in places like New York City and Philadelphia were broadcasting from their apartment or basement on some of America’s top radio stations.
One personality said he had to get special permission to go into the radio station to do a special Christmas broadcast, taking calls from youngsters who wanted to talk to Santa, because it wasn’t possible to execute this from his home studio.
A Canadian programmer said his radio group spent about $2,500 per personality to equip them with the best equipment to broadcast from home, and that it has worked out seamlessly with no disruption to any of their radio stations normal programming. Might this become permanent?
Bob Van Dillen
It’s not just radio personalities, but television personalities too. Bob Van Dillen is the meteorologist on HLN’s Morning Express with Robin Meade. Since the pandemic hit, Bob has been doing his weather forecasts from the safety of his home.
I also noticed that some of our local TV anchors and reporters on NBC4 out of Washington, DC are doing this too.
I’ve done a lot of reading about past global pandemics, with the intent of trying to learn how they made permanent changes to the world going forward. What I’ve learned is, there really is nothing to compare with what we’re going through, with those of the past.
Probably the biggest reason this time is so different is the existence of the internet. Never before has the world been able to continue operating to such a large extent by being so instantly connected as we are today.
Almost everything we need, can now be obtained via this communications innovation.
Our last medical appointment with our doctor was done over a ZOOM-like connection. Our weekly church service is broadcast live on Facebook and on-demand recordings are available for later viewing on YouTube. Our church has already committed to continuing video church services even when in-person services can once again take place.
In my home, all of our television viewing is via streaming, using AppleTV, FireTV, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and YouTube.
I access the world of radio, via streaming as well these days by simply asking Alexa for the station or audio content I wish to hear.
Audio Tipping Point Crossed in 2020
While we were all consumed with trying not to contract COVID, the average time spent listening to traditional radio (AM/FM) was surpassed by listening to digital audio.
“ When we change the way we communicate, we change society.” -Clay Shirky
The Future of Radio is to Meet the Listener Where They Are
Today’s audio consumer is more likely to be accessing audio content via digital streaming than through an AM/FM radio set and they are also more likely to want some visual content along with their audio. It will be critical for broadcasters to be offering programming – both audio & visual – that is engaging and delivers what people want.
Broadcasters will have to take into consideration the environment the media consumer is using their product in, and take full advantage of all the technology advances it offers, be it at home, at work or in the car.
In other words, it’s time for broadcast media to start making plans to remodel the way they communicate with their audience. The first question every broadcaster will need to be asking is:
How relevant are we to our media consumer in this environment?