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Will the Radio Industry Turn Around?

A long time reader of this blog, who is a major market personality, asked me “in your opinion is there any chance the industry will turn around?” This question assumes that the radio industry is going in the wrong direction. Is it?

The World is Constantly Changing

I often pondered if the town blacksmith ever wondered, as he saw motorcars become more common, if America’s transportation system would one day “turn around”  and return to one powered by horses? For many Amish people, horse power remains as vital to their lives as it has always been. Horsepower in our time has been a way we measured the output of our fossil fueled engines, in our motorized vehicles.

We need to realize that changes and evolution are the realities of life. Nothing stays the same. Does anyone think the radio industry is exempt?

The Internet

I’m communicating with you right now via the internet. When I first started on the internet, it was by using a dialup modem over the same telephone line my house phone used to make and receive telephone calls.

My first internet service was an interactive personal service called “Prodigy.

Dial-up was very slow, crashed a lot and sometimes it took several attempts to get a phone connection for your computer.

Prodigy’s business model depended on rapidly growing its advertising and online shopping business. It created email and message boards primarily to aid people in shopping, not for general communication between users, which in practice is what it became. Ironically, at a time when long distance calls were billed by the minute, Prodigy’s message boards exploded in popularity with users who would stay connected to the service far longer than projected with the result of driving up Prodigy’s operational expenses and negatively impacting cash flow for its stakeholders.

Prodigy, which began operations in 1984, would finally disappear in April of 2013. (That’s a life span of less than thirty years.) By that time, I had long departed the service for the much more robust America On Line (AOL).

Digital Fiber

At the end of 2020, my street was wired with fiber optic cable and our house abandoned Xfinity’s copper wire and download/upload speeds of 117/5 Mbps (Megabits per second) for the more symmetrical offering from Glofiber of 300 Mbps upload/download speed for around $15 less per month in cost.

I tell you this because back in the 90s, dialup access to the world wide web was amazing. It was like experiencing AM radio in the days when all that was available were newspapers and magazines to connect daily with the world. We gladly suffered through busy signals when trying to connect our computer modems and never realized how slow our connection speeds were. Like AM radio, it was good for its day but I seriously doubt you would want to return to that type of internet service after you’ve experienced high speed digital via fiber optic cable.

Just in case you are wondering, the 300 Mbps symmetrical connection speed I signed up for is the slowest speed offered. They offer up to 2 Gigabits per second but not being a gamer, I seriously have no need for anything that robust for what I use the internet for.

AM, FM, Streaming

AM radio was incredible 100 years ago when commercial radio service was licensed to begin operating in the United States. AM radio listening was eclipsed by FM radio listening in the late 70s, which is the dominate way most American’s hear broadcast radio. However, we’re now  fifty years beyond that time and living in a world where audio listening can be fully customized and on demand whether you want music, talk, the sound of ocean waves, or crickets.

Stimulus Checks

January 2021 is seeing another round of stimulus checks coming out from the Federal government. When Generation Z and Millennials were asked how they planned to spend their $600 check, after some basics like groceries, rent and overdue bills, their next most important  expenditure would be for video games/consoles that filled their entertainment passion while they socially distanced at home.

Car Buying

COVID-19 changed the way people bought a new car. As we were all forced to work, play, shop and communicate online, consumers found they could just as easily shop for cars via the internet as well. Moreover, surveys have shown that consumers really liked it and don’t plan to return to the old ways of buying a car. Car dealers, which had been resisting doing business this way for decades, now find themselves having little choice but to embrace this disruptive change or go out-of-business.

GYMS

59% of Americans say they plan to continue working out in their own home when asked about returning to a physical gym after the pandemic subsides. Among Millennials, that number grows to 81%, according to a survey by The New Consumer.

Interestingly, gyms are now finding themselves in the same situation as arcades. Once upon a time, people went to malls or amusement centers to play video games, but that’s been replaced by playing those games on a video gaming system, like Xbox or PlayStation.

The Power of Talent

I’ve often written that the “secret sauce” of great radio stations are their air personalities behind the mic.

Alexandra Bonetti, a fitness studio owner in New York, observed the bond that fitness clients formed with a particular instructor. This led her to create a tech startup called “Talent Hack.”

When COVID closed down gyms, fitness instructors suddenly found themselves on their own. (Not so dissimilar to the radio industry jettisoning their air personalities.)

Bonetti’s “Talent Hack” allowed fitness instructors to continue to serve their clients and monetize their talents.

It’s in challenging times like these that new business models like Talent Hack emerge.

The New Nature of Work

While technology accelerated the pace of our work lives, it never fundamentally changed the nature of the way we work. However, COVID-19 mandated changes to the nature of work in all industries.

For many, working from home was no longer a luxury but a necessity, due to social distancing.

Once business owners and their employees learned they could do their jobs remotely, real change to the nature of work was in the wind. Now it has been proven that people could work from anywhere, and that epiphany will produce profound changes for our cities, our transportations systems, our communications networks, the work week, and the work day going forward.

Accelerated by this global pandemic, the challenge has become NOT to turn things around, but to implement the changes needed to thrive in this changed world.

More to the point, the question is not whether the radio industry will turn itself around, but rather is it headed in the right direction? And from my vantage point, the jury is still out on that question.

“What you are going to be tomorrow

you are becoming today.”

-John Maxwell

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2021 the Beginning of a New Year and Decade

Last year at this time, we were debating whether 2020 was the end of the second decade of the 21st Century or the beginning of the third decade. (Spoiler Alert: it was the end. Decades start with 1 and end with 0.)

I remember being anxious for 2019 to end, but after the challenging year that 2020 became, I couldn’t for the life of me remember why 2019 was so bad. So, I decided to look back to find out what was happening. These are only some of the highlights that made 2019 an anxious year for me, and others.

United States Government Shutdown

On January 3, 2019 Democrats took control of the United States House of Representatives. Hopes were high that they would end the government shutdown. The shutdown had now been going on 22 days, leaving 800,000 employees unpaid, becoming the longest in U.S. history.

College Admissions Scandal

We learned of a college admissions scandal where around 50 people had been accused of bribery and fraud to secure admission to elite colleges for their children. The scandal featured two familiar faces, actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. (I’ll never think of “Aunt Becky” the same way again.)

Huffman would serve 14 days in prison, fined $30,000 and be required to perform 250 hours of community service for her involvement in the scandal. Loughlin and her husband would continue to fight into 2020 before settling with prosecutors, heading off to jail and paying fines.

The Mueller Report

What seemed like forever, 2019 was the year that Robert Mueller finally turned in his report on the 2016 Presidential election after a nearly two-year investigation on whether the Trump Campaign helped Russia interfere with our election. Attorney General William Barr would reduce the report’s findings to a four page letter to Congress that in essence said ‘there’s nothing to see here.’

Hats Get Thrown into Presidential Race for 2020

By the time Joe Biden threw his hat into the ring, announcing he was running for President in 2020, 20 candidates, the largest field of presidential candidates in U.S. history, were now all running against the incumbent, Donald Trump. It was in May of 2019, that Gallup’s tracking poll measured Trump’s approval rating at the highest of his presidency thus-far, 46%. (It never got any higher than 49%.)

That same month we also learned via the New York Times, that Donald Trump has lost $1.17 billion from his various businesses from 1985 to 1994, a far greater amount than previously known, and more than any tax payer in U.S. history.

Measles Outbreak

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June reported that there were 971 cases of measles in the United States, the highest level in more than 25 years.

Jeffrey Epstein

Billionaire financier and registered sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, is taken into federal custody in New York on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to traffic minors in Florida and New York. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta would resign amid the controversy over his prosecution of Epstein in 2007, which raised lots of questions about how this case had been handled. Epstein, only months later, would be found dead in his jail cell.

NYC Blackout

Manhattan’s West Side was hit with a blackout, occurring exactly 42 years after the New York City blackout of 1977 that would also plunge much of New York City into blackness.

Election Security Blocked

Less than 24 hours after Special Counsel Robert Mueller warned of the continued threat of interference to America’s elections, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocks legislation designed to improve election security in the United States.

The Phone Call

In September, the inspector general of Intelligence, Michael Atkinson, communicates to the House Intelligence Committee that a whistleblower had issued an “urgent” and “credible” complaint involving an apparent July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian president Zelensky. This phone call would lead to the Impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump in January of 2020.

Opioid Crisis

America’s opioid crisis would see Purdue Pharma file for bankruptcy in response to lawsuits related to its participation in the crisis.

Impeachment Proceedings Announced

The end of September would see the announcement by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, that the House would begin a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that an IRS employee had filed a whistleblower complaint saying an unnamed political appointee at the United States Department of the Treasury tried to interfere with the tax audits for President Trump or Vice President Mike Pence.

On October 31, the U.S. House of Representatives votes 232 to 196 in favor of formally proceeding with an impeachment inquiry against President Trump. The first formal hearings to begin in November.

At those hearings, Gordon Sondland, the United States Ambassador to the European Union,  testified that there was a quid pro quo in the Ukraine scandal, pushed by Rudy Giuliani and ordered by Trump. The White House announces that President Trump will not participate in the House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing on December 3.

On December 18, the House votes to forward two articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate, accusing him of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. Donald Trump became only the third U.S. president to be impeached by the House.

2019

Looking back, there was little wonder why we were all looking forward to the end of 2019 and the start of 2020. Little did we know what lay ahead or that we would long for the way many of the things had been in the year just past.

We knew there would be an Impeachment trial in the Senate, but we never imagined our world would be closed down by a global pandemic and that the most powerful nation in the world would be brought to its knees in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 and dying of the novel coronavirus.

2021

Which brings us to not just the start of a new year, but the start of a new decade. We’re not out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot. Dr. Anthony Fauci believes the worst is yet to come. December became America’s deadliest month yet for COVID-19.

On top of that, our ‘make-believe economy,’ where there’s no such thing as risk, can’t go on forever, and according to Axios Markets editor Dion Rabouin, Wall Street knows it.

Creating New Habits

Experts in the study of human behavior tell us, that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit. On average, it takes about 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.

It was in March of this year that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, that was over 305 days ago.

If this lasts another six months, another 180 days, that would mean that we have been living with the new habits due to COVID-19 for 485 days. Does anyone seriously think that the new habits we’ve formed over that period of time will suddenly vanish?

Permanent Changes

This is not a blog about politics. It’s a media mentorship blog.

The big takeaway in today’s article is that the changes that have taken place during 2020 are becoming permanent. You can’t plan for the future by thinking life will return to the way it was in the first decades of the 21st Century. Hotels, for example, are now renting hotel rooms to people to use as an office, allowing them to get out of their house, but still remain COVID safe. Now that’s being creative! And if they can do it, what can your industry do?

We think too much and feel too little.

-Charlie Chaplin

So, take a moment to reflect on how the year just passed has changed you.

  • What did you love about the changes 2020 brought (no more commuting?).
  • What would you leave out or what would you do more of in 2021 to improve your career, and your life?
  • What did this year teach you, about yourself, your work, your life, your priorities?
  • What were you most grateful for?
  • Were you able to find happiness in things you previously overlooked or took for granted?
  • How will the things you learned in 2020, benefit you in 2021?

Think of 2021 as the year for letting go of the past.

Letting go of what was, is the way we create the space for building what can be.

Are you ready?

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Best of the Blog 2020

It’s been my tradition on the last Sunday of the year, to look back at the year that has just past and share with you the Top 5 Most Read and shared blog articles of the past 52-weeks. Maybe you missed them or perhaps you’d like to read them again.

To date, I’ve published 334 articles that have been viewed over 218,000-times around the world.

Most Read Article of 2020

COVID-19 and the global pandemic completely obliterated our 2020 travel plans. But in November, we decided we could just as easily isolate ourselves in a mountain cabin as in our own home and so we traveled to Mount Airy, North Carolina, more affectionately known as “Mayberry USA,” the home town of Andy Griffith.

While there, I discovered the most unique and historic local radio station; WPAQ. Radio in Mayberry USAwould become 2020’s most read blog article.

Sue, (my wife and the editor of this weekly blog) and I are big fans of “The Andy Griffith Show,” TV’s second most popular sitcom behind “I Love Lucy.” Mount Airy embraces the spirit of Mayberry, a time when the most important question of the day was what the special was at the diner.

Read why this article touched the hearts of so many HERE

Second Most Read Article of 2020

Even before COVID-19 would turn radio furloughs into permanent layoffs, the radio industry was eliminating people. What were called RIFs (Reductions In Force) back in 2009, were now being called “dislocations.”

The article, Dislocation is the New RIF would see the most comments of any I had written in 2020 and come in as the second most read and shared article of the year. It was published on January 19, 2020.

Read why the radio industry, so many of us fell in love with and made a career of, is melting away HERE

Third Most Read Article of 2020

Let’s face it, radio sellers have always had to be the best in the business. You couldn’t see, touch, smell or taste radio advertising, it could only be consumed by the ear. But the power to plant the seed of an idea through the ear, can be the most powerful of all the senses when used correctly.

That’s why, when Nielsen announced in 2021, it would only list radio stations in its reports that subscribed to its service and not the audiences of the entire radio market of stations. I along with many others, felt that buying radio advertising would become much more difficult. It’s why I wrote Why Make Radio Advertising Harder to Buy?

Read more about Nielsen’s new “Subscriber First” policy that begins in a matter of days from now HERE

Fourth Most Read Article of 2020

The fourth most read and shared article of 2020, I didn’t even really write. What I wrote about was a simple poem written by Kitty O’Meara, dealing with the 2020 global pandemic, that was being widely shared on social media and labeled as something written about the 1918-1919 global pandemic and how history was repeating itself. My article was a takeoff on a radio feature Paul Harvey made famous, called “The Rest of the Story.” I know you will enjoy this wonderful poem by Kitty titled And the People Stayed Home.”

You can read it HERE

Fifth Most Read Article of 2020

Sue and I are baby boomers. We grew up with radio. I made it my career. So, when our city’s 911 Manager stated, “people don’t listen to radio anymore, but they’re really into social media,” and the head of the British Broadcasting’s Radio division said “radio, as we’ve always known it, has lost the faith of listeners,” I knew I had to write about it in an article titled Where Have All the Baby Boomers Gone?

Sadly, the radio industry continues to jettison the very people that connect its stations with the listening audience, the radio personality.

You can read the article HERE

Most Read Articles, Period

Two of the articles I’ve written over the past five years continue to garner traffic. They are “SiriusXM Radio is Now FREE” and “The Day the Dumbest Idea Invaded the Radio Industry”.

I actually updated my article on SiriusXM, when I read about the incoming 2021 CEO’s plans to consider offering some ad-supported channels that would be receivable by all SiriusXM radios and would not require a subscription. You can read that follow-up article HERE

The record holder for any of my articles, all 334 of them, continues to be “We Never Called It Content”. Over 3,500 people read and shared it the day it was published on Sunday, September 6, 2015 and to date, just shy of 5,000 people have read it and 68-people have left a comment about it. Read it HERE

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 that 164,000 people from all over the world who have visited this blog (https://DickTaylorBlog.com) and have read an article that caught their interest.

FREE SUBSCRIPTIONS

You can subscribe/follow 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 of your screen and click on the FOLLOW button. (If you’re accessing this blog via mobile phone or tablet, that button might not be visible, so be sure to do this on a computer or laptop.)

Thank You for reading, next week I will begin my seventh 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!

Dick & Sue

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Grateful for Your Readership

Back next week

with the year’s most impactful articles

on DTB in 2020

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F’ing With the Magic

Those that know me, know I don’t use profanity. But former radio CEO Mel Karmazin, upon learning about Google’s automated advertising sales algorithm, verbalized what every nervous media and technology CEO was thinking when he said to Sergi Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt “You’re fucking with the magic.” I read this in Ken Auletta’s 2009 book titled “Googled: The End of the World as We Know It.”

Media Advertising – The Last 10 Years

If we measure media advertising as a percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), we see that in the last decade, media advertising in the United States was down 25% according to the Progressive Policy Institute. This think tank is reported to do some of the best research that uncouples advertising expenditures from the rest of the economy.

What caused this drop? Low cost digital ads, as compared to advertising rates in traditional media, what many of us used to call trading traditional media dollars for digital dimes.

Unfortunately, as traditional media, especially print, was seeing its advertiser base disappear, it compensated for fewer advertisers by raising its prices. Television did this too. They were assuming they held an impregnable position with advertisers. Unfortunately, they completely ignored the digital reality exploding all around them.

Radio’s Expansion

Similarly, the radio industry went about over-populating the AM and FM broadcast bands without acknowledging the growth of digital alternatives. The FCC’s “MM Docket 80-90” added over 700 new FM radio stations in the first three years after the law took effect in 1987. Then LPFM (Low Power FM radio signals) were added to help AM radio stations, as well as to provide local non-profit radio stations to communities that had no local radio service.

If that wasn’t enough, radio broadcasters began to embrace HD Radio (digital radio signals) when they learned that the same law that allowed for an AM radio station to rebroadcast its programming on an FM signal also allowed HD Radio broadcasts to be rebroadcast on an analog FM signal.

To be clear, in 1927 there were 705 commercial radio stations on-the-air (all on the AM band and most with transmitter power of under 1,000-watts). Today we have 25,819 radio stations (21,209 FM / 4,610 AM).

While all of this was going on at a frenetic pace, no one was paying attention to the 800-pound elephants in the room aka Facebook, Google, and Amazon.

Time Spent vs Ad Expenditures

It stands to reason, that the more time a person spends with a particular form of media, the more likely they are to be exposed to more of the advertising content it runs.

Ten years ago analyst Mary Meeker showed in her annual “State of the Internet” slide show, how things were trending negatively for traditional media.

For print, our media attention in 2010 was only 8%, but print commanded 27% of ad dollars. By 2018, our print attention had dropped to only 3%, and print’s ad dollars fell to 7%.

For TV, in 2010 it garnered 43% of our media attention, and commanded 43% of ad dollars. By 2018, both attention and ad dollars had fallen to 34%.

In 2010, for radio, we gave this medium 16% of our media attention and it collected 11% of the ad dollars. By 2018, our attention had fallen to 12% and radio’s ad dollars slipped to 8%.

Where did those ad dollars go? To digital media, as this Mary Meeker chart clearly shows.

More specifically, to mobile digital media.

In 2010, the smartphone in your pocket took up about 8% of our media attention and a paltry 0.5% of ad dollars spent. But by 2018, mobile digital media was commanding 33% of our attention and collecting an equal 33% of ad dollars, soon to be eclipsing TV in both metrics.

Too Little, Too Late

It’s easy to look back 20 years into the beginning of the 21st Century, and say what should have been done, but the fact of the matter remains that traditional media companies were in denial. The denial of the coming digital media world wasn’t just in the ad-supported mediums such as print, radio and TV, but also in companies like Kodak, which actually invented the digital camera in 1975, but whose leaders were in denial about it being the future of photography, and worried about cannibalizing its lucrative print film business.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

-Peter Drucker, legendary management consultant

Radio’s golden assets were its radio personalities and the relationships they built with the listeners. In the rush to expand, and appease shareholders who wanted accelerated growth, radio owners killed their “golden goose,” while enlarging its nest.

Radio continues to jettison the very people that connect its stations with their community of license.

Simon Sinek said, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do, simply proves what you believe.”

For me, radio was a passion to make something great come out of a person’s radio speaker. It’s why I made radio broadcasting my career and why I went on to teach broadcasting at a university. It was my passion to create great radio!

What is radio’s WHY today?

I think that’s the question the industry needs to ask itself.

“If you keep your eye on the profit, you’re going to skimp on the product.

But if you focus on making really great products, then the profits will follow.”

-Steve Jobs

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Could 2021 Be the Year SiriusXM Adds FREE Channels?

Back in July of 2016, I wrote an article wondering what might happen if AM/FM radio broadcasters woke up one day to the headline “SiriusXM is Now Free.” What made me think about this happening, was I had just read how Angie’s List had announced they were pulling down their paywall and making their service free and available to everyone.

Pay to Play

Call it a subscription, a membership fee or a paywall, what happens when they are eliminated? In Angie’s List’s case, less than one percent of Americans were members at the $40/month fee that had been in place. Paying that fee let people see the reviews of members that they  experienced when doing business with certain businesses or services. But now, everyone could have free access to those same rather substantial reviews, while enjoying the website’s strong, trusted and valuable content.

Why did Angie’s List Tear Down Their Paywall?

Angie’s List is a publicly traded company. Their stock had been down seventy-five percent from the previous three years and management was under pressure to get the stock going back up. By tearing down their paywall, they would increase page views. When page views go up, revenue goes up.

SiriusXM Under New Leadership in 2021

On January 1, 2021, Jennifer Witz takes over from James Meyer as CEO of SiriusXM. Meyer has been leading the satcaster since May of 2004. During his tenure, SiriusXM has grown to having its service playing in 132 million cars, but with only 34.4 million paid subscribers.

Its stock price all-time high was back in February of 2000, over twenty years ago, when it hit $66.50 a share. This past year the stock has traded between $4.11 and $7.40, for an average price of $6.05 a share.

Do you see an Angie’s List type of problem?

Walking a Tightwire

Incoming CEO Witz knows she will be walking a tightwire by making part of SiriusXM free to all radios capable of receiving the satcaster’s signal. The challenge will be to monetize those non-members through ad-supported free channels without cannibalizing paid memberships. SiriusXM grew revenues 7% in 2019 to a record $6.2 billion.

AM/FM radio revenues are projected to fall 17% in 2020, largely due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, but quickly rebounding in 2021 and growing in the years beyond.

Audio Advertising Works

With the dynamic growth of smart speakers, fueled in the United States by Amazon which controls 70% of the home smart speaker market, new interest of advertising goods and services via audio only has increased dramatically.

This should be a boon to AM/FM radio advertising, except for one caveat, the way people consume audio today is vastly different than even ten years ago with eMarketer saying there are 204 million digital audio listeners in the United States today. In fact, listening to digital audio makes up two-thirds of all digital media consumption, second to only digital video viewing based on time spent on this activity.

Moreover, digital audio advertising has been growing at a double digit rate.

Competition for Your Ear

The competition to be in your ear has never been greater. Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, Apple Music, YouTube, podcasts, and audio books are all looking to get a piece of your time and attention.

With this increased focus on digital audio by consumers, advertisers are following in lockstep.

SiriusXM

Which brings us back to where this article started, SiriusXM. The satcaster has long seen AM/FM radio as its main competition and that two-thirds of AM/FM radio’s revenue stream is due to dominance on car radios. It’s simply too tempting not to want to utilize the chip it’s paid to have installed in your vehicle’s dashboard and monetize it in a new way. Doing so would mean an increase in revenues for its shareholders and at the same time the ability to elevate the company’s stock price.

If Apple has taught the world anything, it is that you can’t be afraid to cannibalize yourself if you want to grow your company.  Also, you don’t always have to be first to the party, to come away a big winner. You simply need to provide a superior product.

SiriusXM also enjoys the advantage of knowing who’s listening to what. Here’s how the satcaster puts it:

Jul 6, 2020 — “TRACKING” YOUR ACTIVITIES ACROSS DEVICES AND APPS We receive Listener Usage Data automatically from Internet-enabled devices. If you have a Sirius XM account, we may match the Listener Usage Data we receive to the device or devices associated with your account and thereby with you or your household.”

It’s an obvious advantage over audience estimates provided by a third party ratings company when a digital audio service can tell an advertiser how many people actually were exposed to their advertisement.

For radio sellers in 2021, it’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight.

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Media Convergence, As Cold As Ice

When I was working on my undergraduate degree back in the early 70s, I did a research paper on media convergence. At that time, we thought that convergence would occur around cable television. But not today.

Even in the 90s, the concept of media convergence seemed like the world of Jules Verne. People consumed each source of information, on its own separate platform. Print came in the form of a magazine or newspaper. Radio, via a reception device designed to pick up only AM or FM radio signals and television, through a big picture tube encased in a giant wooden cabinet. It was beyond most of our imaginations that print, radio and television would ever be delivered to us on a single device that we could carry in our pocket; like today’s smartphone.

Even more amazing is the fact that our smartphones can also publish our written thoughts, broadcast our spoken word and even transmit our pictures/videos to today’s global village.

Maybe even more shocking to us as Boomers, is the fact that the Millennial generation doesn’t even have memories of the fragmented media world we grew up with.

How Innovation Changes Our World

In order to try and help media people understand how innovation can change the world as we knew it, let’s take a look at how bringing “cold” to the south set-off a change reaction of change.

Two hundred years ago, if you lived in the south, there was no way to escape the heat. Frederick Tudor, Boston’s “Ice King” would spend a decade figuring out how to transport ice from New England to the south and even around the world. New England’s natural ice would become so treasured, that in the early 1900s, it would become America’s second largest export after cotton.

Then a physician, Dr. John Gorrie, wanted to try to cool the hospital rooms of his Florida hospital, in order to make his patients who were burning up from fever more comfortable in the sweltering heat of the south. Gorrie invented a refrigeration machine, and when he applied for a patent on his invention, he wrote: “Artificial cold might better serve mankind. Fruits, vegetables and meat, would be preserved in transit by my refrigeration system and thereby enjoyed by all.”

When ice fishing, Clarence Birdseye learned how the Inuit Indians of the north flash froze the fish they caught, by leaving them out in the frigid air. This caused their catch to be instantly frozen and allowed the Inuit to keep their catch fresh to eat at a later time. This inspired Birdseye to improve artificial refrigeration to enable the flash freezing of all kinds of produce,  creating the frozen food industry.

Fred Jones, created refrigeration units that could be placed on tractor trailer trucks, shipping containers and railroad cars, allowing for long-haul transportation of perishable goods.

Innovation Eats Its Own

In the 1800s, having an idea to bring cold to a part of the world that was always hot, was considered an insane idea. Everyone thought Frederick Tudor was an oddball. His efforts to perfect the transportation and storage of natural ice at one point put him in debtors’ prison, but his persistence would eventually make him a very wealthy man, until the birth of mechanical refrigeration. Gorrie, Birdseye and Jones would bring an end to the natural ice industry, with their innovations in cold.

Big ideas don’t come from a “Eureka moment.” They come from one person asking themselves, “I wonder if…” From having a hunch that just won’t go away. Big ideas are created from many other people having small, incremental ideas, that then get networked together, and over time become the next big thing.

The Internet

Fifty-one years ago, at 10:30pm, the internet was born with the transfer of one simple message. Charley Kline, a student programmer at UCLA, would type the letters “L” and “O” and electronically send them more than 350 miles to the Stanford Research Institute’s computer in Menlo Park, California. The computer system immediately crashed after they were sent, but a communications revolution had begun.

Now if you think of analog communications as “natural ice” and digital communications as “artificial ice,” you can see it really isn’t unusual for new innovations to extinguish original big ideas.

While today, we’d never consider putting an old fashioned ice box in our modern kitchens, the business of selling ice still exists. I for one, still frequent my local convenience store’s ice box, to pick up a couple of bags of ice cubes for my picnic cooler.

Likewise, I think a need for a few local radio stations may remain, but only if they provide a unique and unduplicated service to their listeners.

But I also believe that the analog communication model will slowly fade into the background as new communication innovations come along and replace it.

AM/FM radio’s days, as we Boomers knew it, are numbered.

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Happy Thanksgiving 2020

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November 26, 2020 · 7:39 am

Thank You Sue

I knew from the moment our eyes first met, that you were someone special.

When I asked you to share your life with me and you said “YES,” it was magical.

This week we celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of our Best Day!

2020 has been a very challenging year, but loving you wasn’t.

I’m grateful for everything you do.

Thank You.

I Love You.

P.S. Thank You Sue for editing this weekly blog.

(Today’s I edited on my own.)

-0-

Next Week: Media Convergence, As Cold as Ice

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Radio in Mayberry USA

Dick Taylor in front of WPAQ

Like many people my age, we grew up watching television shows like The Andy Griffith Show. My wife and I have been watching every episode on Netflix before turning off the lights and going to sleep. We’re currently in season seven.

Mayberry, NC

While there never was a town in North Carolina named “Mayberry,” Andy Griffith’s home town of Mount Airy, NC embraces the spirit of Mayberry to this very day. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to find any kind of collectible that says “Mount Airy,” but you will have no trouble finding lots of things with Mayberry on them.

We recently took the short drive from our home in Virginia to Mount Airy to visit the Andy Griffith Museum. It did not disappoint.

Historic Earle Theatre

Included with your museum admission, is admission to the Historic Earle Theatre located on Main Street in Mount Airy. Upon entering the theater, the first thing that caught my eye was an “ON AIR” light by the stage and pictures of radio station WPAQ.

The theatre even runs a video presentation about this radio institution, founded by its original owner Ralph Epperson, on Groundhog Day in 1948.

This year’s annual birthday celebration marked the station’s 72nd year of service to its listening area, which always includes a free concert at the Earle Theatre for its loyal listeners.

WPAQ

The first thing I Googled on my iPhone when I saw the call letters WPAQ was to find out what they stood for, as I could not imagine what they had to do with Mount Airy or North Carolina. Turns out, they really don’t stand for anything (much like America’s first commercially licensed radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh).

In fact, Ralph Epperson said the station actually ran a listener contest to try and give the station a name that went with the call letters WPAQ, but nothing ever really seemed to fit. One listener suggested that they stood for “We Piddle Around Quietly,” but Epperson said that wasn’t what they were looking for.

I think that listener got the idea from the disparaging nickname given to FDR’s Works Progress Administration (renamed Work Projects Administration; WPA). Some people felt Roosevelt’s New Deal program was a waste of money. They assailed this program that employed millions of unemployed people to carry out works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, along with employing musicians, artists, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literary projects.

The WPA spent $13.4 billion during the Great Depression but detractors of FDR’s get America back to work program said WPA stood for “We Piddle Around.”

So, you can see why Mr. Epperson didn’t adopt this suggestion, as he was a man of progress and forward thinking, he was never one to “piddle around,” let alone quietly.

The Voice of the Blue Ridge Mountains

While Mount Airy always embraced its role as the model for its native son Andy Griffith’s popular television program, WPAQ likewise always promoted and worked to preserve North Carolina’s mountain music heritage as the Voice of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

WPAQ is the source for local news, old-time bluegrass and gospel music, religious services and the broadcast of local obituaries. I truthfully can’t remember the last time I heard obituaries on the radio until I started listening to WPAQ. However, I remember writing many obituaries in my early radio days when I did news at WBRK in Pittsfield, Massachusetts back in the 70s.

The Saturday Merry-Go-Round Show

WPAQ broadcasts live from the Historic Earle Theatre every Saturday from 11am to 1:30pm on a program called the Merry-Go-Round. It’s the second longest continuously broadcast live radio show of its kind in America, second only to WSM’s broadcast of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.

WPAQ’s program used to be the third oldest, until WWVA gave up its weekly broadcast of Jamboree USA with then station owner iHeartMedia who moved the program from WWVA to WKKX before ending the weekly broadcasts in 2008. Jamboree USA returned to the air in 2014 on a non-commercial low-power FM in Wheeling.

Mount Airy residents and tourists alike believe live radio music is part of the charm of the area.

Ralph Epperson always said he wanted his radio station to be different, saying “Why should we be like everyone else?”

Ralph Epperson passed away in 2006, but his son Kelly, along with Kelly’s wife Jennifer, co-own and manage the radio station exactly as Ralph envisioned. With one possible exception…

No Static at All

WPAQ was licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to broadcast on 740 KC with a daytime power of 10,000-watts, 1,000-watts one and half hours before both sunrise and sunset and 7-watts at night.

On August 6, 2020, WPAQ signed on its brand new FM translator at 106.7 delivering the stations programs in stereo. The station also broadcasts its programming online at  https://www.wpaq740.com/listen-online/ .

During a recent evening walk around my neighborhood, I heard the sound of a fretless, five string banjo coming from a neighbor’s porch. When my neighbor finished his song, my wife and I applauded the performance and commented that he sounded like the music on WPAQ. He responded by telling us that he streams WPAQ on his iPhone and makes regular trips to Mount Airy for the blue grass/mountain music festivals.

Legacy Lasts

In these times of uncertainty, it’s comforting to know that radio stations like WPAQ are keeping family values, traditions and the roots of both this type of music and this type of radio broadcasting alive.

Proving that providing live, local and unique programming never goes out-of-style.

Looking into WPAQ’s main studio from the performance studio.
Announcer desk in performance studio.
Baby grand piano in performance studio.
Main Studio with Jennie Lowry playing records, CDs, & using carts.
Solid wood studio doors from trees grown on Ralph Epperson’s father’s farm.
Ralph Epperson in front of radio station WPAQ, Mount Airy, North Carolina
Ralph Epperson

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