Radio Has an Addiction Problem

listening_to_radioHave you heard the latest? People are addicted to their smartphones. “We now see smartphones as dangerous for young minds,” writes Jean-Louis Gassée in a Monday Note.

More than 30 years ago MIT professor Sherry Turkle postulated that computers weren’t just a tool, but were sneaking into our minds. In doing so, they would change our relationship with the world around us.

Smartphones are Mobile Computers

Turkle would continue her thoughts on this subject in a 1995 book “Life on the Screen, Identity in the Age of the Internet” saying “computers don’t just do things for us, they do things to us, including our ways we think about ourselves and other people.”

Smartphones plus Social Media

When our mobile computers are married to a social media site like Facebook, things get really sticky. Sean Parker, a founding partner at Facebook, wrote about the problem after he left the company saying, “[Social Media] literally changes your relationship with society, with each other…It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it is doing to our children’s brains.”

Time for Apple to Build A Less Addictive iPhone

The NY Times published an article by Farhad Manjoo that made the case for a less addictive iPhone. Can you imagine someone writing that broadcasters should be making TV or radio less addictive? That watching too much TV or listening to too much radio might be bad for our brains.

Broadcasters today find they have a different problem. They have lost the addictive luster of the past.

The Amazon Addiction

“For many businesses, Amazon is simultaneously a sales channel, a potential service provider and a competitive threat,” says Forrest Research. For broadcasters, Amazon is attacking our retail advertising revenue, by undermining the very businesses we sell to. Today Amazon is the go-to website for retail search, surpassing Google.

Trying to compete with Amazon is a retail challenge. The very retailers’ broadcasters depend on for their revenue.

Retailers measure how well they’re doing by their bottom line.

Amazon is all about increasing top line sales growth. (Wall Street hasn’t demanded Amazon to be profitable yet.)

See the problem?

Trying to beat the Amazon model is a race to the bottom with pricing for our advertising customers.

Free shipping, two-day shipping, lowest prices, biggest selection, customer ratings etc. are among the things making Amazon addictive.

People Made Radio Addictive

Over the years, radio has had personalities that made the medium addictive like Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Dan Ingram, Larry Lujack, Robert W. Morgan, Jess Cain, Dale Dorman, Paul Harvey and many more.

Once upon a time, music formats could be addictive, but today’s access to streaming audio is challenging that beachfront.

Alexa Doesn’t Know My Local Radio Station

My local radio stations are called KISS (WKSI-FM) and WINK (WINC-FM). When I ask Alexa to play either KISS-FM or WINC-FM, I get the Los Angeles KIIS-FM or the WINK-FM licensed to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

When I asked Siri the same questions, she couldn’t help me play anything. Siri told me, “Sorry, Dick, I can’t help you with that on your iPhone.”

When your branding is not unique, these new consumer voice activated devices don’t have a clue what you’re trying to ask them. They either make their best algorithm guess or just throw in the towel.

Broadcast Station Call Letters

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) solved this problem early in broadcasting by assigning each broadcast station its own unique call letters, but broadcasters abandoning those identifiers for branding like Kiss, Froggy, Hot, and others, that are duplicated all across the country, is now a problem in a voice activated world. But it’s not just the brand not being unique, the programming is likewise just as non-unique.

Don’t Be Generic

No one ever became addicted to a generic.

Addiction stimulates parts of the brain that trigger craving and longing, that release habit-forming, feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins.

Your iPhone does that for you.

You voice activated smart speaker does too.

Broadcasting is show business.

Which do you think stimulates the part of the brain that causes addiction? The show part or the business part?

Answer that question correctly and you’re on your way.

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My First Echo

My First SonyBack in the 1980s, SONY introduced a series of small-scale electronics for kids. They came in brightly colored plastic with large buttons that were easy for little people to control. The line was called “My First Sony.”

SONY even introduced this line with a slick TV ad. Take a moment and watch it HERE.

The tag line in the ads was “What I love is my first Sony. It won’t be your last.”

That was over 30-years ago.

Voice Activated Devices

This past Christmas, my fiancé, Sue, gave me an Amazon Echo Dot. Why a Dot and not the larger version? Because I said I didn’t want one of these things. Heck, I own a “million” radio sets.

But she figured for $29 it would make a fun stocking stuffer.

Amazon Echo’s and Google Homes’ were the hot Christmas gift of 2017. Amazon said that they sold “tens of millions” of Echo devices all over the world and that it’s Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick with Alexa voice remote were its most popular products across all categories.

Our Family Got Bigger

The Echo Dot was so easy to set-up and begin using. You basically plug it in. Then use your smartphone to connect it up to your WiFi and begin using it.

Like most new owners, the thing we used it for was to play music.

Now the Dot has a speaker akin to the one in my iPhone7. It reminded me of the sound that I used to get out of my first Zenith transistor radio back when I was in grade school. But then, it sounded great listening to the oldies on WMEX-FM via TuneIn radio. It’s the way I originally heard all of these songs.

My fiancé is not a fan of my many remote controls and especially all the buttons they have, but she very quickly fell in love with Alexa and controlling everything with her voice. We both did.

Alexa quickly became the third member of our family.

I told Sue that I could see us getting an Amazon Echo with the bigger speaker in our future.

Happy Valentine’s Day

That future came on Valentine’s Day 2018. I gifted the love of my life jewelry, candy, a romantic dinner out and she gifted me an Amazon Echo. Oh, there were many other things she gifted me, but the second Echo device is what I remember most and quickly put into service in our living room replacing the location previously occupied by the Dot.

When we got back home from our Valentine’s Day dinner, we sat on our living room couch, and asked Alexa to play our favorite love songs.

No Going Back

When I think of how quickly Alexa has taken over our lives – and we haven’t even scratched the surface of all she can do – I realize that there’s no going back.

It’s like giving up the microwave oven in the kitchen, or power windows in the car, or Google search or the internet. Once you have made these new innovations a part of your life, you won’t ever wish to return to a life before them.

The TV remote control made it possible to quickly change channels without leaving the couch. The video cassette recorder and then the DVR made it possible to no longer be chained to the TV network’s schedule. Netflix made watching a series, a binge affair.

Now these voice activated devices are changing the world of audio.

Quickly.

Addictively.

So, What Happened to the Dot?

If you’ve read this far, you might now be wondering what happened to our Amazon Dot.

It’s been re-deployed to the bedroom where it now puts us to sleep and wakes us up.

And it sounds great! Thanks to my BOSE Wave Radio.

Amazon Echo Dot & Bose Wave Radio

Let’s see the next holiday on the calendar is St. Patrick’s Day. I could see getting a couple more of these Dots to connect to our other BOSE Wave Radio and other radios I have in each room of our home.

Alexa, welcome to the family.

 

 

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My First Sale

red-gas-pump-clipart.jpgI began my broadcasting career as a disc jockey when I entered the 10th grade in high school. Broadcasting would pay for my college undergraduate and graduate degrees. Anyone who knew me from the outset would have told you I was a real radio guy. I thought I knew it all.

That is, until I decided that if I were to ever to be promoted to the position of general manager, I would need to have proven myself in the area of sales.

Account Executive

The way I would become an account executive happened when I was approached by a general manager, at one of our competitors, who wanted to hire me to come work for him as his program director/operations manager; the same position I currently held. I thanked him for the offer but said my goal was to become a general manager and I wanted my next move to be in sales.

“Seriously?” he asked astonishingly. “Let me get back to you on that,” and the phone call ended.

Two weeks later, he called back and said, “I’ve got your sales job. Let’s talk.”

The offer to become a radio account executive would pay me the same money I was currently paid as a program director/operations manager as a salary with 10% more for each sale I made. I was stunned and wondered why I had not made this move sooner. I took the job.

Front & Back of the Building

From my earliest days in radio, I learned there were two parts to a radio station building. The front half and the back half.

The front had all the executives and sales people. The back had the DJs, production people and engineering. Both ends seemed to always get a rug burn when they met in the middle.

My First Week in Sales

When I was hired for my new sales position, I was told I would be given an active list of advertisers. That might have been the case, but my current employer wanted me to give them two weeks’ notice before leaving – unusual in broadcasting when a person is crossing the street to a competitor – and I did, which meant by the time I arrived at my new station, the active advertisers had now fallen in love with other account executives who had been asked to babysit those accounts until my arrival.

So, my first day in sales would see my list of active advertisers whittled down three and on my first morning all three of those called in to cancel their advertising. But I was still excited to be in advertising and could not wait to hit the streets.

My boss told me at the outset, that since I would be using a lot of gas for my car driving around to prospect for new advertisers, I could sell a gas trade to off-set this expense. It didn’t take a lot of math skills to realize that such a sale would result in 100% commission to me.

All that first week, the only businesses I called on were gas stations.

I heard a lot of “NOs.”

Until Friday around noontime, I called on a gas station owner who was eating his lunch. He said if I would come back after he finished eating he’d listen to me. I did. He liked the plan I proposed and I signed my first sale, a gas trade.

Friday Afternoon at the Sales Office

At the end of a week, sales people are usually back in the sales office, taking care of orders and planning out the coming week before going home for the weekend. They also are sharing stories of their week in sales.

“So, how did your first week go in sales?” someone asked me. “Did you sell anything?” inquired another.

Yes, I responded. I sold a gas trade.

The room went deathly silent.

“You sold a gas trade?” they asked, almost in unison.

“Yes, yes I did.” I replied. “Don’t each of you have a gas trade?” I asked.

Don’t Tell Me It Can’t Be Done, Until I’ve Done It

It was at that moment I learned I was now the only sales person in that radio station that had a gas trade. And the reason was simple. They all knew what I didn’t. They all knew gas stations didn’t trade gas for advertising, but I didn’t know that.

Pam Lontos often says in her sales training, “Don’t tell me I can’t do something, until after I’ve done it.”

I was sure glad that I hadn’t been told that gas stations didn’t trade advertising for gas at the outset or I might never have had that gas trade for the entire time I was in sales and sales management at that radio station.

The Lesson Learned

The lesson I would learn from my first sale was not to let others tell me what I could or could not accomplish. If I was going to be successful, I would need to set my own goals, make my plan and work my plan.

I became a general manager at the age of 30. That job morphed into a market manager as the radio industry began consolidation.

My next goal was to use my college education in teaching to land a job as a broadcast professor at a university. That happened in 2010 when I joined the faculty of The School of Journalism & Broadcasting at WKU.

In 2014, I began this mentorship blog with the goal of paying-it-forward to others.

Throughout my life, so many people have been there for me, openly sharing their knowledge, wisdom and help to further my career.

That’s why I work every day to lead and mentor others in finding their own success in broadcasting.

 

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It’s Like Mowing the Yard When the House is On Fire

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 1.38.20 PM copy

Ladies & Gentlemen, we have a problem. Our business model is broken.

Trying to make your daily, weekly or monthly budget while ignoring the 800-pound gorilla in the room is akin to the title of this article.

The Big Disconnect in Local Media

Nancy Lane is the president of the Local Media Association. Her latest article on LinkedIN really caught my attention. Like the fact that only 1% of publishers/station managers/GMs agree that their sales reps do a good job when it comes to selling digital. Why do you think that might be?

Gordon Borrell Knows

LMA research notes that most traditional media sellers have too many things to sell, making it hard for them to be consultative.

I’ve been hearing Gordon Borrell tell broadcasters exactly what they need to do to grow their slice of the ad pie for a couple of years now. At seminars I’ve attended, Gordon always adds that the companies doing the best job of growing their digital sales, employ sales people dedicated to only selling digital. It’s probably why this month Gordon Borrell was quoted as saying, “The pool of dollars is stunningly large, and radio often doesn’t get more than a ladle dip in the shallow end.”

Finding Good Sales People

If you’re a sales manager, director of sales or GM, the best way for you to find good sales people would be if your current staff would recommend working for your broadcast station, right?

Well, Nancy’s LMA found in their research that current media employees recommending others to work at their company came in at a 3. To put that number in perspective, the company that does this kind of research for all industries, found historically with all of their clients, that an average score for employees recommending their company as a good place to work was 36. In fact, the company hired to do the research by LMA had never seen a score of 3 before. It was the lowest they’ve ever seen in the history of their research.

That news alone should be a BIG wake-up call to everyone in media, since talent recruitment/retention was cited as the #1 challenge.

Digital is a Marathon, NOT a Sprint

A couple of the hard realities of digital is that it will take a long-term commitment and there still isn’t an overall business model to effectively monetize the audience being attracted.

Another hard reality is that the time to see a return on a company’s digital investment is longer than many CEOs want to hear about, plus the digital margins won’t look anything like the fat margins enjoyed by legacy media companies of the past.

Just One Example

To try and put all of this into a little more in perspective, let me share some of the cold hard facts shared in an article titled “Thinking of Starting a Podcast, DON’T.”

Jordon Harbinger writes “We are in the golden age of podcasting.” So why when asked if everyone should be starting a podcast does he give this super complicated advice: “DON’T.”

Here’s why, Harbinger has been hosting a podcast since 2006 (The Art of Charm) and candidly admits that if he had to start all over again today, he’s not sure he would. “It’s never been easy and it’s not easily profitable,” says Harbinger.

Today, Harbinger says his podcast is grossing about $480k/year, but in the beginning, he was spending around $10k/month with no promise of an immediate return on that investment. In fact, he suspects if you were to add it all up, they’d be just barely in the black after six years.

The Problem is Us

Bob Hoffman, aka The Ad Contrarian, says that technology has impacted all aspects of the advertising business. Before technology, ad folks were flying by the seat of their pants and their gut. However, Bob says now that we have technology, he’s not convinced we still have any better reality of what works and what doesn’t.

Hoffman sums it up this way, “In my mind, advertising technology has lost its credibility for two reasons. First, we haven’t acknowledged the unanticipated consequences of what has ensued. Second, we have refused to act honestly and correct the errors of our expectations. Instead we have created an ongoing crisis of credibility with a constant stream of half-truths, lame excuses, and public scandals.”

If digital is our future, we have to fix this big disconnect.

Going Deeper

The Local Media Association has offered their research report for FREE and you can download a copy by following this link HERE

As LMA President, Nancy Lane puts it, “One thing is clear, the disconnect is hurting the industry’s ability to move the needle when it comes to growing digital. Politics, defensive postures, silos and more still exist. That needs to end tomorrow and only strong leadership will change that.”

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Fail. Forward. Fast.

Success FailureIf there is one thing that both college professors and college students have in common, is that they both hate to fail. Professors never want to see their students fail. And students fear failing on many levels.

But failure is a necessary part of success.

Tom Peters

In my sales classes, I showed a short video clip of Tom Peters sharing his favorite slide from his huge slide deck. It reads:

Fail. Forward. Fast.

(“Reward Excellent Failures, Punish Mediocre Successes.”)

Nobody wins by playing it safe.

Nobody learns either.

Woody Allen

Woody cut his creative teeth during the Golden Age of Television writing for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.”

Woody learned “if you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

Radio Innovation

When I was growing up, the radio dial was a cornucopia of innovation.

Every radio station was original and unique.

Sunset would open up the skywave for AM radio listening and I would tune in great radio stations like WKBW from Buffalo, WLS & WCFL from Chicago, CKLW from Windsor-Ontario, Canada and many, many more.

Each of them was unique, a part of their community and provided great companionship.

Then radio began to copy one another.

Imitation, while maybe the sincerest form of flattery, lacks innovation.

Best Practices

With the passage of the Telcom Act of 1996, the radio industry began to rapidly consolidate.

The concept of “Best Practices” would further stifle experimentation and failure by trying to lay a safe, secure foundation for every radio station in these expanding companies to follow.

The new publicly funded corporations quickly learned that funding, not innovation was the way to grow larger. Money gets invested in business models that are familiar.

That’s why the movie industry cranks out so many sequels when they find a hit film.

Failure leads to Innovation

Thomas Edison when asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times inventing his light bulb responded “I didn’t fail 1, 000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Walt Disney is said to have gone bankrupt a couple of times before he became a successful innovator.

In other words, we can learn, grow and become better from our failures.

Radio’s New Heroes’

I’m confident that new blood is flowing into the radio industry that will quickly discard things that aren’t working, try new ideas, innovate and fail, forward, fast.

Everything in life brings risk.

It’s true that you risk failure if you try something bold

because you might miss it.

But you also risk failure if you stand still and don’t try anything new.”

-John C. Maxwell

 

 

 

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Put Your Money Where Your Mouths Are

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Boom Boom Brannigan, June 1, 2000. (Times Union Archive)

Last week, I wrote about the power of the human voice. Each of us who decided to make radio a career was influenced by the voices we heard coming through our radio speaker.

Zenith Radio

My first radio, a pocket Zenith Royal 50 transistor, was purchased at Sammy Vincent’s Music Store on North Street in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. My first SONY reel-to-reel tape recorder would also come from Sammy Vincent’s.

Both of these wonderful electronic devices would be the foundation of my lifelong radio career.

Sammy Vincent’s was also the place to get a free copy of the latest WPTR-AM1540 Top 31 songs of the week.

Boom Boom Brannigan

WPTR had many famous voices travel through its 50,000-watt AM broadcast signal. Its most famous voice was that of Boom Boom Brannigan. You can hear an air check of Boom Boom from January 1974 here. The Albany Times Union wrote upon Boom Boom’s death in 2010 at the age of 82, “Boom Boom Brannigan, a pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll radio in the Capital Region was known for his energetic personality, sideburns and bright fashions. For decades, Brannigan was the voice of the local airwaves, a high-profile DJ who delivered the hits that defined the music of the baby-boom generation.”

Every market had their own Boom Boom.

For example, Boston had Arnie Woo Woo Ginsburg, New York City had Cousin Brucie and Los Angeles had The Real Don Steele.

Each, larger than life personalities, that lived the part of being a radio star. Each more important to their listeners than the hits they exposed them to.

Radio Stars

Bob Lawson, who worked with Brannigan at WPTR in 1964 put it this way, “They were the real stars in those days, and Boomer was the epitome of radio stardom.”

These legendary radio personalities caused so many baby boomers to get into the radio industry.

I had the opportunity to meet Boom Boom one Saturday afternoon when he was broadcasting from a little phone booth like studio in the transmitter room, next to the huge 50,000-watt transmitter. He was the consummate gentleman and further inspired this young broadcaster as he let me sit in with him during his broadcast that day.

70-20-10 Rule

Fresh off CES2018 many radio executives are talking about the latest shiny new things that are on the horizon and how they will impact radio. Everyone’s talking about how radio needs to innovate. The big question is how does the radio business manage its innovation resources.

In his book, Mapping Innovation, author Greg Satell cites the 70-20-10 Rule that is used by companies like Google to allocate resources.

70% of a company’s resources should be invested in sustaining improvements to existing products. Eric Schmidt, Google’s Chairman, said the 70-20-10 Rule insured that Google’s core business would always get the bulk of the resources.

20% of available resources should get invested in exploring adjacent opportunities.

The remaining 10% are for creating something entirely new. Something that most likely will crash and burn, so you want to be able to sustain this effort without it damaging your core business. What Satell said he learned about businesses that invested in basic exploration was they all eventually hit on something big.

Radio’s 70-20-10

What would you say radio’s 70-20-10 rule is? 70% goes to pay down the debt? I’m sure many come away with that impression from what they read in the trades. But not every broadcast company is in that predicament.

How about your radio company?

Consider this operating strategy: 70% of your resources should be invested in your people who create the radio you broadcast every day. 20% should be invested in the adjacent delivery pipelines, like streaming, NextRadio and voice activated devices. And 10% should be invested in building a new paradigm.

What’s happening in the 21st Century is the acceleration of change for all industries. Innosight predicts that about half of the S&P 500 will be replaced by 2026. Back in 1965 33-years was the average tenure of a company on this stock exchange. By 1990, this narrowed to 20-years. By 2026, it’s forecast to drop to 14-years.

So, the gale force winds of change have never blown with more velocity.

Community & Companionship

What great local radio personalities each created in their markets was a sense of community and companionship for their listeners. That’s radio’s core business.

It’s where the bulk of your resources should be directed.

Put your money where your mouths are.

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The Power of the Human Voice

The Last Jedi

Finn, Rey and new character Rose in Star Wars: the Last Jedi Credit: Press

I recently saw the latest Star Wars movie “The Last Jedi.” It was powerful in many ways, not the least of which was because it was the final film for actress Carrie Fisher, who was excellent.

In film, the way to connect with the theater goer is with close-ups of the faces of the actors. It’s powerful and we respond, as human beings, to another person’s face.

When radio was born, people could not see faces, and the connection radio listeners would make would be with people’s voices.

Radio People’s Memories

I belong to a bunch of radio groups on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. One of the things these groups have in common is a desire to have things be the way they used to be, like they were when they were growing up. (Spoiler Alert: Ain’t gonna happen)

The other thing that they share, is that the memories everyone has that are the most vivid about radio, are about the people’s voices they listened to.

What made their favorite radio station(s) so loved, were the personalities.

What Makes a Voice Attractive?

In the early days of radio, microphones and everything they were connected up to, to transmit the human voice, were by today’s standards, pretty crude. Men with deep, strong, resonating voices were preferred for traveling through the ether.

As technology improved, other voices entered.

Listeners would now find themselves attracted to people who sounded more like they sounded. Research shows that the reason apparently is because it makes us feel like we’re part of a certain social group.

“The voice is an amazingly flexible tool that we use to construct our identity,” says Dr. Molly Babel, a linguistics professor at the University of British Columbia.

Is a Pleasing Voice More Attractive than a Pleasing Face?

When we hear an appealing voice, our feelings of attraction are heightened. Attractive voices cause us to perceive those individuals with more pleasing personalities.

So, while the real emotion in movies is transmitted via close-ups of the face, on the radio it is the human voice.

So, which is more dominate? A face or a voice?

Turns out, researchers tell us, that “the effects of vocal attractiveness can actually be stronger than the effects of physical attractiveness when each dimension appears alone” (Zuckerman et al., 1991).

Alexa, Siri, Cortana

I’m sure the power of the human voice was not lost on Amazon, Apple or Microsoft as they developed their AI digital voice assistants.

My fiancé Susan gifted me an Echo Dot for Christmas. (I already have been using Siri on my iPhone.) The ease with which it sets up and you begin using it, is remarkable. It quickly becomes a member of the family.

When going to bed our first evening with Alexa in our home, Sue said “Alexa, Good Night.” And Alexa responded with “Good Night, Sweet Dreams.”

Sue came into the bed room walking a cloud beaming how real, how sweet, how comforting it made her feel.

And I knew exactly what she meant.

Anyone who has one of the devices will too.

Radio Voices

The power of the personalities on your airwaves are critical to your station’s future success in 2018. How do their voices make your listeners feel?

It can happen in many different ways.

Let me offer a couple of examples: It can be via stationality like the JACK format, (done very well in Nashville) or it can be like the voices and style cultivated by NPR.

It just doesn’t happen by accident.

It takes planning and continuous execution of the plan.

The Battle for Attention

In the end, every form of media is battling for attention.

And to paraphrase the lesson taught in “The Last Jedi,” radio needs to stop trying to defeat what it hates about the competition and save what it loves about radio.

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