Category Archives: Sales

Too Much Is Not Enough

too muchI was reviewing the last FCC report about the number of broadcast stations in America as of December 31, 2018 and in my head I found myself singing a parody of the Bellamy Brothers song, “Too much is not enough.” Only my version was “too much is way too much.”

FM Signals Continue to Proliferate

My editor at Radio World, Emily Reigart, recently wrote about how the total number of broadcast stations (radio & TV) grew in the past year by 3,150 stations, it would appear to not be an industry in decline. Unfortunately, while TV and FM stations increased, the number of AM radio stations continues to shrink.

Which again reminded me of that Bellamy Brothers song where they sang “I’m getting weaker, as the day goes by.”

How Much is Too Much

Back in the 1950s through the 1970s, John B. Calhoun, an American ethologist and behavioral researcher, studied what happens when an environment gets overcrowded. In Mr. Calhoun’s case, he studied what happens when you keep adding rats to a defined space. It was to learn about population density and its effects on behavior. Calhoun predicted that what he witnessed with his rats foretold of a grim future for the human race.

I believe much as what Everett Rodgers would learn in studying the adoption of new innovations of Iowa corn farmers that produced his famous Innovation Adoption Curve, that these things have universal applications and impact all areas of our lives.

Overpopulation is overpopulation.

Matters not whether we’re talking rats, people or radio stations.

In more recent times, researchers felt that Calhoun’s experiments didn’t so much predict the effects of overpopulation as much as the moral decay that arises with too much social interaction. Did he foretell of today’s internet connected world?

FM Signals

Breaking down the FCC’s latest report for just radio stations, we see that there are now 4,619 AM radio stations on the air. That’s 20 fewer AM radio stations than a year ago and 167 fewer than a decade ago. This is a trend that shows no sign of changing. That’s why I wrote, that “like coal, AM radio ain’t coming back.”

On the FM side, there were 25 more commercial and educational FM radio stations than a year ago, and compared to 2008, there were 1,422 additional FM radio stations added.

Translators & Low Power FM

Where things get really messy is the addition of translators and low power FM radio stations.

For those not fully versed in these two forms of broadcasting, they are basically the same, in that both occupy space on the FM radio band. The difference is that translators rebroadcast another signal, be it an AM, FM or HD broadcast, and low power FM radio stations originate their programs. Low power FM radio stations are non-commercial operations and limited to a maximum power of 100-watts. (Note: commercial and educational FM stations can have a maximum power of 100,000-watts) Translators or boosters are limited to a maximum power of 250-watts but it’s not surprising to find many operating at a lot less power due to other factors involved.

When we look at the number of these two additional classes of FM broadcasters, we find another 10,124 FM radio stations bringing the total number of FM signals on-the-air in America today to 21,013 FM radio stations. Over four and half times as many FM signals as AM signals.

Inversion Layers

Now while studies are done to determine what power and location an FM station can be located to prevent it interfering with another FM radio station on the same or adjacent frequency, all of these studies are done in a perfect world. By that I mean, one in which weather is behaving.

However, having operated radio stations along the Jersey shore for decades, I know that vertical layering of moisture content and temperature in the atmosphere (inversion layers) can cause an FM signal to travel hundreds or thousands of miles further than normal.

These weather conditions can affect radio signals from several hours to several days.

This weather phenomenon is called anomalous propagation and is usually likely to occur when weather conditions are hot and dry.

With the planet’s climate changing, expect to see even more, less than “normal” weather conditions going forward and therefore even more interference.

Automobile FM Radio

The place radio still dominates, is in the car, though all electric cars are excluding AM radios due to electrical interference, in favor of FM radios with internet and blue tooth capabilities in what manufacturers call “dashboard entertainment systems.”

I’ve traveled all over our great land this past year and what I find is, it is almost impossible to dial in an FM radio station and keep a clear, listenable signal for any great distance or period of time. It quickly turns into an interference situation with another FM radio station, either on the same frequency or an adjacent one.

Less Is More

The radio industry would greatly benefit from fewer signals, with the power to fully cover the area they are licensed to serve, and regulated to insure that they are properly operated in the community of license’s interests, convenience, or necessity.

The FCC can’t abolish the laws of physics.

The advertising base to support local radio is finite.

In Sydney, Australia, a city with about 5-million people, there are 48-radio stations. In Los Angeles, California, a city with about 4-million people, there are 114-radio stations.

The value of a broadcast license was that it was a limited commodity, and as such being granted spectrum on the public’s airwaves benefitted the community, the advertisers, the listeners and the broadcasters.

The Infinite Dial

The internet has created an infinite radio dial and has challenged the value of an FCC broadcast license.

The FCC’s inability to protect the AM spectrum from the myriad of electrical devices that produce an ever increasing noise floor has doomed the future of the senior band as it closes in on a century of service.

Unless something is done, I fear the FM band will suffer a similar fate.

In many ways, it already is.

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CES 2019

Dave - 2001 .jpgI wasn’t at CES 2019. In fact, I’ve never been to CES.

But after reading the reports on this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, I feel like I was there 50-years ago via Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 motion picture phenomena “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Technology Integration

The Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) did a special video they called “Bonus Report of C-Suite Radio Exec’s attending CES” and some of the comments those radio executives made is what made me feel like I’d seen this “movie” before.

Steve Goldstein

Steve said that what he’s marveled at over the years is how media is continually being integrated. He said only a couple of years ago, there was virtually no mention of smart speakers, and this year it’s not only a device exploding in the home, but now is coming into the car too. Goldstein thinks this voice activated technology is important because these devices are not radios, but audio devices and radio stations, as audio content producers need to re-imagine how they will sound and feel like on these devices. And he added, “it’s happening fast!”

Dennis Gwiazdon

Before recently moving to Las Vegas to manage the Beasley Media Group radio stations in that city, Dennis ran the top radio stations in Nashville, TN. When I was teaching at the university in Kentucky, Dennis was an annual guest in my Broadcast Capstone Class.

Dennis said of his visit to CES 2019 it helps radio broadcasters to think about where things are heading and to plan for the future.

Technology today is making our lives simpler by our ability to talk to our devices and connect ourselves to things we used to have to physically operate. Gwiazdon told the RAB that he lives in a smart home in Las Vegas and it’s fascinating to him how he can walk around his house, talk to it and make it do whatever he wants it to do. “I don’t have to touch a light switch, I don’t have to adjust the thermostat, when I come home I can have a routine set-up that will have everything ready for me when I walk through the door.”  “I’m living in that experience now, “said Dennis.

I’m Sorry Dave, I’m Afraid I Can’t Do Thathal 9000

And it was Dennis’ comments that brought to mind the astronaut named Dave in “2001: A Space Odyssey” that when his space pod was trying to re-enter the mother ship and Dave asked the HAL 9000 computer system to open the pod bay doors. Here’s a link to that memorable moment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARJ8cAGm6JE

HAL’s response to Dave was “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” The reason was that the HAL 9000 computer could not only respond to voice commands but, it turned out, could also read lips and knew what Dave and his fellow astronaut were planning on doing. They were planning on taking the HAL 9000 off-line because they suspected the computer was making mistakes.

The HAL (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) 9000 was basically artificial intelligence that was designed to learn, grow and protect itself from attacks. HAL sensed he was coming under attack and was trying to protect itself from the humans.

iPhone 4S

iphone 4s

Oh, it all seemed so innocent back in 2012 when I switched from my Blackberry to my first iPhone. It was the iPhone 4S. The “S” stood for Siri. Siri was my first voice activated assistant.

I found that I used Siri mainly for dictating text messages and emails rather than trying to type things into the phone’s touch screen. Siri did a pretty good job too.

Occasionally I asked Siri to tell me a joke or look something up for me, but not often.

Alexa

So now it’s 2019 and I have Siri on my tablets, my MAC, and iPhone 7. I have three Amazon Echo’s with Alexa, and in my car, my Garmin Smart Drive responds to my voice commands.  It sends me instant traffic information and detours when necessary, along with important weather alerts and breaking news.

I really feel like Dave in 2001, controlling so much of my world with just my voice.

It’s quite addictive and it happens very fast.

I hope they don’t ever turn against me.

Artificial Intelligence

Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have both warned that AI (artificial intelligence) could potentially be very dangerous. Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke certainly showed my generation why, back in 1968. AI is about building machines that think for themselves and grow in their intelligence. It’s what will make a world of self-driving cars, and so much more, possible.

Elon Musk has written:

“The pace of progress in artificial intelligence is incredibly fast. Unless you have direct exposure to groups like Deepmind, you have no idea how fast – it is growing at a pace close to exponential. The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five-year timeframe. 10 years at most.”

On Demand

The world we live in today is one of “On Demand.” The future belongs to those who can create what people want and deliver it when they want it.

The consumer won’t have it any other way.

It’s not an attack on radio broadcasters. It’s the future. Here. Now.

 

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Your Attitude Determines Your Altitude

altitudeIn life, more than any other factor, your attitude pretty much determines where you will go… and how far you will go.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines attitude as “the way you feel about something or someone, or a particular feeling or opinion.”

Attitude in Teaching

When I entered the classroom, I brought what I knew about attitude from my years of managing to education. I knew that one’s attitude is contagious.

More recently I read about the work of Margaret McFarland, a professor of child psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. Ms. McFarland put it this way, “attitudes aren’t taught, they’re caught.”

“If a teacher has an attitude of enthusiasm for the subject, the student catches that whether the student is in second grade or is in graduate school. If you show them what you love, they’ll get it and they’ll want to get it,” McFarland says.

I know that many of my students used to tell me how they loved my excitement and enthusiasm that I displayed in sharing the material I was teaching.

Attitude in Managing

When I departed for my first solo general manager position in Atlantic City, my co-GM back in Massachusetts gave me these words of wisdom, “Whatever your attitude is, when you enter the radio station each day, will become the attitude of your fellow employees. Keep your problems to yourself and always maintain a positive, upbeat, enthusiastic attitude.”

It may have been the most important management advice of my forty-year radio management career.

Attitude in Hiring

Whenever any of my radio stations made a hire, my department managers did all the preliminary screening of candidates. When they had narrowed the field down to two or three finalists, I would meet with those people before a final hiring decision was made.

What was I looking for in my meetings? The person’s attitude.

I knew that in virtually all positions, we could quickly train someone to do the job. However, what we could not change was the attitude of the person.

Hire the people with the best attitudes and train everything else.

“A brand is shorthand for the customer’s expectations.

What promise do they think you’re making?

If you have true fans, the only reason you do is because

the group has engaged with you in a way that signals

that they expect something worthwhile from you next time.

That expectation isn’t specific, it’s emotional.”

-Seth Godin

Attitude in Your Brand

Attitude is emotional.

People love your brand, or they don’t, based on how they feel about your brand emotionally.

The passing of one of my mentors, albeit one I never met, Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, brought to mind how important employee attitude was in building America’s most successful airline.

Herb Kelleher didn’t believe the customer was his first priority, he believed his employees were.

“Your employees come first.

And if you treat your employees right, guess what?

Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy.

Start with employees and the rest follows from that.”

-Herb Kelleher

Kelleher wrote in his book “NUTS!” that, “We will hire someone with less experience, less education and less expertise, than someone who has more of those things and has a rotten attitude. Because we can train people. We can teach people how to lead. We can teach people how to provide customer service. But we can’t change their DNA.”

According to U.S. government data and company records, Southwest has enjoyed 45 consecutive years of profitability, and in 2018 carried more domestic passengers than any other airline.

Attitude & Culture

Herb Kelleher said the secret to Southwest Airlines success, was one thing, “culture.” When you cultivate a good attitude in yourself, and when as a manager you hire people for their attitude, what you end up creating is a culture.

What kind of culture did Herb create at Southwest? The employees and retirees of Southwest Airlines placed a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal in tribute to Herb upon his passing this month. Here’s what they wrote: “Dear Herb, Thanks for always remembering our names. For keeping our airline flying high and our spirits higher. For always being there. For giving everyone (and we do mean everyone) a kiss on the lips. For arm wrestling for our slogan. For being both the hardest worker and the life of the party. And for turning a company into a Family. We will be forever in your debt, and we will aspire to keep your spirit alive. With love and gratitude, -The Employees and Retirees of Southwest Airlines”

herb kelleher tribute ad in wsj january 2019

Is it Time for a Checkup from the Neck Up?

What will the people who work with you, or for you, say about your attitude?

Is it time for you to change that?

What better time to begin cultivating a good attitude than with the start of a brand new year.

Step one is to be sure you’re doing what you love, because as Herb Kelleher said, “If you’re crazy enough to do what you love for a living, then you’re bound to create a life that matters.”

 

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Radio Enlightenment

71huUtNKw3LIt started by seeing a movie called “Peaceful Warrior.” That led to reading a book by the subject of the movie, Dan Millman titled “Everyday Enlightenment.” It made me ponder if the radio industry might benefit from some of the book’s gateways to personal growth. Let me give it a try. Let me know if any of these things resonate with you.

Discover Radio’s Worth

Running a radio station is about choices. Lots and lots of choices. They include our beliefs, support systems, motivation, relationships, luck and/or karma.

Radio operators that do things that are worthy, have a radio station with a good sense of self-worth. “The moment we recognize the degree to which our difficulties are self-imposed, we begin to heal them,” says Millman.

Reclaim Radio’s Will

The radio industry’s great challenge in a 21st Century world is turning what we know into what we will do. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but radio’s future depends upon three little words, made famous by Nike, “Just Do It.”

Radio’s “will” might be better labeled radio’s “purpose.” It’s mission.

Once defined by the radio regulators, in a more deregulated world, it is now up to radio operators to clearly define it for their stations.

I remember a Clear Channel managers webinar that was all about focus. Slide after slide after slide introduced more and more things the company wanted its managers to focus on. You can imagine how CC’s senior managers felt when the webinar concluded, and then what didn’t happen.

Find your radio station’s focus. Agree on your property’s priorities, make sure everyone at the station is on the same page and then handle them one at a time.

The Flow of Money

“Self-worth tends to improve with net worth,” says Dan Millman. The biggest radio companies today haven’t led the way in managing their money.

“There’s a certain Buddhistic calm

That comes from having…money in the bank”

-Tom Robbins

Before an advertiser asks “How much do your charge for your spots?” your radio station needs to have first addressed “How much is our time, our services, and our talent worth?” Your answer needs to be honest and realistic and reflect the realities of the marketplace. Then always deliver your client more than their money’s worth. Don’t discount your product, give more service to your advertisers.

“The great decisions of human life

usually have far more to do with instincts

and other mysterious unconscious factors

than with conscious will

and well-meaning reasonableness.

The shoe that fits one person pinches another;

there is no universal recipe for living.

Each of us carries his own life-form within him—

an irrational form which no other can outbid.”

-Carl Jung

Trust Your Intuition

The radio industry is filled with all kinds of data. So much data, it often paralyzes decision making, rather than aides it.

In the days before this information overload, decisions were made on gut instincts.

Throughout recorded time, some of the most heralded scientific discoveries, like those of Archimedes or Einstein, came to be while that person was napping, dreaming, bathing or the like. Only later were these discoveries validated through scientific methods.

When I read George Johns weekly blog, I often come away with a sense that Geo just knew in his gut the right things to do to make every radio station he touched, be a success.

Face Your Fears

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the conquering of it,” writes Dan Millman.

Some of the articles I write, where I share the latest research about audience trends, that don’t put the radio industry in a positive light, get some very angry responses from people in radio that are filled with fear. Like if we just all bury our collective heads in the sand, the bad news will go away and the sun will come out again and shine down upon radio. That’s not facing your fears.

So, when should you listen to your fears and when should you work to overcome them. If you find yourself in harms way, let your fear guide you to avoid risks and keep you safe. If what you fear is psychological, such as a fear of shame, embarrassment, rejection, and the like, then you need to push through it.

“I have not ceased being fearful,

but I have ceased

to let fear control me.”

-Erica Jong

The way to overcome psychological fear is to take action, action overcomes fear.

Every time I took over a new radio property as its manager, I felt fear. When I began teaching at the university, the first time I stepped in front of a class, I felt fear. When I was invited to do an airshift on 650AM-WSM out of Nashville, after not having been on-the-air in 30-years, I felt fear. But each time, I pushed through the fear by taking action, and just doing it. The fear went away.

“Don’t tell me I can’t do it

until after I’ve done it.”

-Pam Lontos

Serve Your World

“Service is an attitude founded on the recognition that the world has supported you, fed you, taught you, tested you, whether or not your earned it. Understanding this simple truth can move you to do what you can to repay a boundless debt of gratitude. Service is both a means and an end, for in giving to others, you open yourself to love, abundance, and inner peace. You cannot service others without uplifting yourself,” writes Dan Millman.

When I started my radio career, the words, to operate my radio stations in the ‘public interest, convenience and necessity,’ were etched into my soul. Radio was a business, sure. Radio stations, like all businesses, are in business to make a profit. But the radio business also was there to service their community of license, by entertaining them, informing them and coming to their aide in times of need.

“There must be more to life

than having everything.”

-Maurice Sendak

Through your actions, your radio station’s service provides the ultimate means to establish a firm sense of self-worth. It will impact every area of your radio property and enhance the quality of your life.

“The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”

-Robert Byrne

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Best of the Blog 2018

73On this last Sunday of 2018, it’s a good time to look back at the year that just past and share with you the Top 5 Most Read and shared blog articles from 2018. Maybe you missed them or perhaps you’d like to read them again.

To date I’ve published 233 articles that have been viewed around the world over 158,000 times. 2018 was the year that my blog visitors crossed the 100,000-milestone.

Most Read Article of 2018

My most read/shared article of this past year was “Corporate FM” published on March 11, 2018. It told the story of Kansas City Filmmaker Kevin McKinney’s movie “Corporate FM” released in 2012. In 2015, the film was re-edited, updated and released on Amazon Prime for viewing nationwide. A link to the film is contained in the article. “Corporate FM” received the most comments of any article I published this year and was widely shared. To read it, click HERE.

Second Most Read Article of 2018

In August, I wrote an article asking the question if the radio industry does itself a disservice in referring to all radio studies as being AM/FM radio, when virtually all of the radio listening today is to only FM radio. I’m sure this article will continue to stimulate reader comments. You can read “AM/FM or just FM” HERE.

Third Most Read Article of 2018

My third most read article received lots of sharing and was republished in several publications. It pondered if “Automation Killed the Radio Star”. When I was growing up, radio built an audience on the personalities who presented the music. Having the right line-up of personalities was key to winning the most listeners in a market. Join the discussion by adding your own thoughts after you’ve read the article HERE.

Fourth Most Read Article of 2018

Radio in America reaches 93% of adults on a weekly basis according to Nielsen Audio. So, the article on “Why Do People Love Radio?” came in as my fourth most popular for the year. The primary takeaway for the radio industry was to focus on what is not going to change in the next 10-years. The “secret sauce” that has led Amazon to dominate retailing. Read the whole article by clicking HERE.

Fifth Most Read Article of 2018

And finally, the fifth most read blog article I wrote and was widely shared was “Radio’s Money Problem.” Between now and 2029, one Baby Boomer will turn 65 every eight seconds. People aged 50 or older have 47-times more net wealth than households headed by a person under the age of 35. The discretionary dollars are with the Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, the very people who were raised on radio. There’s money to be made for savvy radio operators. Read more HERE.

Most Read Articles, Period

Two articles I’ve written continue to see lots of traffic and continue to be far and away the two most read on my blog.

They are “SiriusXM Radio is Now FREE” and “The Day the “Dumbest Idea” Invaded the Radio Industry”.

Both articles have now been viewed over 17,000-times.

The first article I wrote for my blog was “Clear Channel Media & Entertainment becomes iHeartMedia” and it has now been viewed a total of 8-times.

Why I Blog

I blog for broadcasters, educators and students.

I blog to provide media mentorship and to pay-it-forward to the broadcasting industry that I have been a part of for over 50-years.

I’m grateful for the more than 119,230 people from all over the world who have visited to read an article that caught their interest.

FREE SUBSCRIPTIONS

You can subscribe to this blog for FREE and get a copy of each week’s article delivered to your email IN BOX every Sunday morning. To subscribe, simply go to the bottom right-hand corner on your screen and click on the FOLLOW button. (If you’re accessing this blog via mobile phone or tablet, that button may not be visible, so be sure to do this on a computer or laptop.)

Thank You for reading, next week I will begin my fifth year of blogging with all new articles.

Together we can all learn from one another by sharing our experiences, knowledge and wisdom. Feel free to contribute your thoughts to the discussion in the comments section, I read every one of them.

Happy New Year!

 

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Do You Hear What I Hear?

Head-earWe can all be sitting in the same place and listening to the same thing, yet hear something different. The reason often is our level of attention to what’s being presented and our ability to focus or be distracted.

What is Listening?

Listening is a matter of paying attention. The more closely you listen, the more you will hear.

I remember hearing Roy Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads telling me, “you can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears.” Even the best ear plugs only reduce, but never eliminate all sound.

How Are Your Listening Habits?

“Poor listening habits are responsible for many of our daily woes. Whether it’s a damaging disagreement, a miscommunication or an awful customer service experience, the problem of human communication is often as simple as a failure to pay attention and truly hear what the other person is saying,” writes Jim Smith in Fast Company.

“Good listening is like tuning in a radio station. For good results, you can listen to only one radio station at a time. Trying to listen to my wife while looking over an office report is like trying to receive two radio stations at the same time. I end up with distortion and frustration. Listening requires a choice of where I place my attention. To tune into my partner, I must first choose to put away all that will divide my attention. That might mean laying down the newspaper, moving away from the dishes in the sink, putting down the book I’m reading, setting aside my projects.”       -Robert W. Herron, Homemade

Larry King is famous for being a good interviewer. Larry says that his ability to listen to his guests and really hear what they are telling him, spawns his best questions.

Listening & Sales

If you truly want to understand what another person is saying, you need to listen with full engagement and make a connection to that other person on an emotional level.

In sales, this can be powerful, because people buy with their emotions and justify their purchases with logic.

Sales people often lose a sale simply because they weren’t fully listening to what a client was telling them. But sales people who focus on what a client is saying find they offer plenty of clues as to how to steer the conversation and make a sale.

Sales people who keep talking and selling their services versus listening, often leave a client meeting scratching their head wondering why they didn’t make the sale.

The Pitfalls of Poor Listening

Everyone can benefit from developing better listening skills, not just sales people.

Writer Charles Swindoll once found himself with too many commitments in too few days. He got nervous and tense about it. “I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at mealtimes and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions through the day,” he said. Before long, things around Swindoll’s home started reflecting the pattern of his hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable.

“I distinctly remember after supper one evening, the words of our younger daughter, Colleen,” Swindoll said. “She wanted to tell me something important that had happened to her at school that day and she began hurriedly by saying ‘Daddy, I wanna tell you somethin’ and I’ll tell you really fast.’

Suddenly realizing her frustration, Swindoll told his daughter, “Honey, you can tell me and you don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.”

Swindoll says he never forgot her answer, “then listen slowly.”

Are You Listening?

While it’s easy to listen, listening well is hard, but it is a skill well worth your investment in learning how to do. I’m still working at it for myself.

To our peril we’d rather hear ourselves talk, then listen to someone else.

Learning to listen well requires discipline, effort and intention. The average human has an attention span of 8-seconds and today’s world offers more distractions and competition for our attention than at any time in history.

Being a good listener can open you up to new information that could be beneficial to you.

Now here’s the irony about becoming a good listener, good listeners are often told they’re good conversationalists.

Good listeners:

  • Ask open-ended questions that gently probe beneath the surface, and can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”
  • Listen to learn
  • Watch carefully for nonverbal communication indicating what a person is comfortable sharing
  • Repeat back what they’ve heard to be sure they heard correctly
  • Are not afraid of the silence while another person is thinking
  • Wait until the other person is finished talking before responding

Good listeners make friends, sales and are always welcomed wherever they go.

Become a good listener and a new world will open before you.

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Who Will Keep the Light On?

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

Lighthouses

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

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

And they haven’t.

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

Radio Stations

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

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

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

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

Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society

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

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

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

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

Amazon

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

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

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

Prolonging Amazon’s Demise

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

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

Where Will They Come From?

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

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

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

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

It Can Happen Here

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

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

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