Radio’s GEN-Z Challenge

GEN ZI recently sat in on the Edison Research webinar about people born between 1996 and 2012, known as GEN-Z.

If you read about this webinar in the radio trades, you would have learned that 55% of these young people listen to AM/FM over-the-air radio. What’s not to like about that?

The reality was, this daily radio listening was only to Over-The-Air FM radio, none of these GEN-Z people ever mentioned listening to AM radio. That’s still a positive, right?

It is, if your only focus is on the immediate future, not future trends.

Generation Z

Today, people aged 8 to 24 make up over 65-million Americans. They are the first truly digital natives, not having known a world without full digital access to content. GEN-Z people are also often called “ZOOMers.” They would rather create their own content than curate other people’s content.

Edison Research points out that Generation Z has only known a world where everything is ON DEMAND, and it’s the growing up in an ON DEMAND world that makes ZOOMers a challenge for OTA radio.

ZOOMer Trends

  • Their smartphones are the center of their media world.
  • 53% of ZOOMers listen to audio streaming daily.
  • They spend 98% more time than the rest of the population watching videos and listening to music on YouTube.
  • Spotify is their go-to music streaming service.
  • Their radio listening is mostly in the car, some at work, but none of it occurs in the home.
  • If they listen to OTA radio, it is on a device that only receives OTA radio signals, not with a digital streaming device.

When Edison Research ran clips of people in this age group talking about their media habits, it was clear FM radio wasn’t their first choice, but the fact that it was available in the car they were riding in or it was playing on a radio that everyone listened to while they were working.

Things Radio Can Do to Attract ZOOMers

Edison suggested that these programming ideas might be a way to attract the GEN-Z audience:

  • News & Information is important to GEN-Z, it’s their social currency.
  • Remind ZOOMers that radio is available on their digital streaming device.
  • GEN-Z wants to change the world, their local communities for the better and OTA radio could be a catalyst for helping them do this.
  • Surprise and delight ZOOMers with your content.

This last point is really about engaging the listener, and showing them you really care. In reality, 74% of your listeners probably don’t care* if your FM radio station disappears, because they don’t think you really care about them. Radio needs to create shared experiences for this age group. Radio needs to show they care.

Shared Values and Shared Purpose

Christian broadcasters and NPR both understand the shared values and purpose of their listeners and base their programming decisions on them. These broadcasters understand that their mission is not to attract everyone to their programming, but to build a loyal audience with those who share their vision of the world.

Using the Edison Research on GEN-Z, how can your radio station inspire and empower the ZOOMers in your community?

How do you learn what the shared values and purposes of the GEN-Z listeners are?

Ask them.

Form a GEN-Z advisory board to learn what’s on their minds and what their vision for the future is. Be willing to focus every aspect of your radio station on what’s important to THEM.

Change doesn’t begin with a slogan, it begins with shared values and purpose, which then inspires people to come together and create a world that is better than they found it.

 

*based on book “Know What You’re For” by Jeff Henderson

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Would You Like to Participate in Radio Research?

nielsen familyNuVoodoo does some really wonderful research about radio listening. They particularly focus on reaching people who are most likely to keep a radio listening diary or wear a Nielsen Portable People Meter, aka PPM.

During their last webinar, a slide came up quickly in the jam-packed presentation that made me choke on my coffee. It showed how small the pool of radio listeners is that would participate in Nielsen Radio ratings research. An astounding 82% say they would never wear a PPM device and even more listeners say they wouldn’t keep a ratings diary. Ratings Likies 2020

I Was a Nielsen Family

When I was a radio broadcaster, it wasn’t unusual for Arbitron Ratings to ask me about keeping a radio listening diary for a week. Each time I declined because I was actively working in radio.

When I was a broadcast professor at the university in Kentucky, I was approached about keeping a television ratings diary and Nielsen said that being a broadcast teacher was not a disqualifier, so I said “yes.”

I knew that the experience of keeping a ten-day television viewing diary would be one I could share with my students in covering the topic of radio/TV ratings. I was thrilled to be a “Nielsen Family,” even though that thrill quickly dissipated once the survey diary and instructions arrived.

The few dollars Nielsen sent to me with the materials seemed small potatoes for the amount of information they wanted to extract from my viewing habits.

By the end of the ten days, I was sure I’d never want to do this again, and it made me sad because I was a person who should be passionate about doing such work.

A Relative’s Family Wore PPMs

A member of my family living outside of Boston was asked to participate in PPM radio research. The rewards being offered enticed them to say “yes.”

The members of the family ranged in age from 44 to 6.

I remember looking at this 6-year old playing on his swing-set and thinking, Boston radio 6+ radio ratings depended, in part, on little kids like this. It sent a chill down my spine.

Well, the family grew tired of participating very quickly. In the nutshell, they didn’t feel the inconvenience was worth the small reward paid for wearing the PPM devices.

They said the experience hardened them from ever participating in future radio or TV ratings research, besides now they rarely listen to radio anymore with Spotify being the family choice for streaming. The Spotify App keeps track of each member of the family’s listening habits, serving up just what they want to hear.

Ratings Likelies: Rare & Vital

In late June 2020, NuVoodoo fielded their sixteenth Ratings Prospects Study and they write: “we drilled down to the small segment of radio listeners likely to accept a meter or diary from Nielsen. As has been the case in every past NuVoodoo study, when we model for the subset of respondents who would say ‘yes’ to Nielsen, the opt-in rate even among our already research-inclined sample is staggeringly low – with the percentage of likely ratings respondents who spend an hour or longer with radio each day even rarer still.”

That’s pretty disturbing to hear.

Share of Ear

Then the news breaks that COVID-19 has tipped the consumer listening habits to digital streaming. Now 53% listen to on-demand/digital devices versus 47% who listen to linear/non-digital devices, like AM/FM radio. Edison Research began tracking audio consumption on digital devices in 2014 and now, only six years later, people over the age of 13 spend more time with these devices than traditional OTA radio.  Digital Devices Cross 50%

It’s another case of the inevitable happening anyway, but COVID-19 is causing changes to occur on an accelerated time frame.

Edison Research also found in their latest Infinite Dial research that new music seekers are using YouTube for music discovery versus AM/FM radio, 68% to 46%.

Dan Ariely Explains

Dan Ariely is a psychology and behavioral economics professor at Duke University. I first became aware of Dan’s work with his book Predictably Irrational.

Dan explains that “the interruption of everyday life has been an experiment showing that habits aren’t just desires; they’re behaviors cued by reminders in our environment. When we change the way we interact with our environment, a lot of seemingly ingrained habits fade away. Some of them we are better off without, like thoughtless consumption and spending.”

Since the pandemic more people who used to commute to work, began working from home. The AM/FM radio cue for listening was their vehicle’s dashboard radio, but since they were spending less time in the car and more time at home, the device for audio consumption used in the home now became dominant.

While one hopes that once people begin to commute to work again, if that even happens, the old routines – including listening to the car’s radio – might return.

However, many companies, especially the high tech ones like Google, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook, are moving to a permanent WFH (Work From Home) model.

Dr. Ed Cohen

One of the most recent high profile layoffs was that of Dr. Ed Cohen from Cumulus as its VP for Ratings and Research.

Radio Ink asked him about the future of AM/FM radio to which he responded:

“It’s a question of whether (the radio industry is) cutting bone and muscle rather than fat. If the radio industry continues to cut, can we put our best foot forward to not only keep current listeners spending as much time with the medium as they have in the past, but can we also convert light listeners to spend more time with radio? Commercial radio is not a charity and faced with the revenue challenges of (COVID-19), layoffs and furloughs are inevitable, but listeners don’t understand that and don’t likely care. They want to be entertained and informed. If they perceive a degradation of what they expect from us in a world of increased competition from other sources (streaming, podcasts, etc.) some will go elsewhere, accelerating a downward spiral. I hate to sound pessimistic about a medium where I’ve spent nearly my entire career (even my Ph.D. dissertation was about radio) and have no claims to be Nostradamus, but that’s the logical conclusion. I hope I’m wrong.”

Sadly, Dr. Cohen, I think you’ve got it right.

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The Times They Are A Changing

Bob DylanIn 1963, Bob Dylan wrote the song “The Times They Are A-Changin” which would become an anthem for frustrated youth who were anti-establishment and wanted change. This marked the beginning of the upswing of a “Me” cycle. 1963 was the rise of the Baby Boomers, a generation that would grow to seventy-four million teenagers at its peak. A generation raised on radio.

The Rosetta Stone

Before Napoleon Bonaparte discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799, no one had a clue how to read Egyptian hieroglyphics. But that four foot tall stone had engraved on it the same story in three different languages, two of which scholars knew how to read.

Today, we live in a world where everyone is concerned about the rapid changes being brought on by the COVID-19 global pandemic. But our world is changing in ways that go beyond the impact of a novel coronavirus, it’s also a societal time of change in America, change that will continue even after a vaccine has been discovered that will quell this out-of-control virus.

Come gather ’round, people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

The “We” Zeniths

In 2012, Roy H. Williams and Michael R. Drew came out with a book titled “Pendulum, How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future.

The essence of the Pendulum hypothesis is that society follows a predictable oscillation, meaning a pendulum that swings between a “We” zenith and a “Me” zenith. Understanding this oscillation will give us insight into the forces that drive the decisions the public makes.

“Predictable, rhythmic attractions are what move our society. Rhythm is intrinsic to the human experience. Feet patter, hearts beat, lungs breathe, planets circle, and seasons cycle to a rhythm. Music, poetry, and dance are built upon it.”

-Roy H. Williams & Michael R. Drew

Some of the “We” zeniths the book Pendulum describes:

  • 1783 America wins Revolutionary War
  • 1863 American Civil War
  • 1943 Adolph Hitler – The Holocaust

{Each “We” zenith is 80-years apart}

Pendulum points out that “virtually every instance of widespread viciousness in Western society has happened within ten years of the Zenith of a “We.” It should be noted that a complete oscillation of the pendulum takes 80-years and that 2023 will mark the zenith of the current “We” period in the Western world.

“We” periods can be defined as “I’m OK, You’re Not OK,” and “Me” periods as “I’m Not OK, You’re OK.” “We” periods are times of witch hunts, “Me” periods are times of hero worship.

According to this book, marketing becomes very easy as we approach the zenith of the “We,” and all one needs to do is “choose what and who you will demonize, and then start tossing fear-soaked words as though they were longneck beer bottles full of gasoline with fiery rags stuffed down their throats.” Does any of this sound like the world we’re experiencing today?

Human Change vs Other Change

We live in a world where the speed of change feels like it is constantly accelerating, and on a technology level it is, but deep human change does not; like the speed of change of the trees, which is not controlled by technology.

Plant a tree and monitor its growth, it appears to not change by the day, but come back in 10-years, 20-years or 40-years and the changes will be obvious. Technology and the internet have done nothing to change the natural cycle of change.

What we can hope for is that the 21st Century’s instantaneous global communication might mitigate the negativity and viciousness as we approach the zenith of the current “We” cycle.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

What Does It All Mean for You?

We’re seeing people demanding authenticity and transparency in all things. We’ve given up our liberties for the perception of security and given up our privacy for convenience.

The future of education will be about creating new pathways to wealth, and re-creating a middle class, as our current world has been bifurcated in to “haves” and “have-nots.”

How Do You Market in a WE Cycle?

You write “pull” messages, rather than “push” messages from now until 2043 for all of Western society, Williams and Drew write. What’s the difference you ask? Push messages are based on a ‘needs analysis’ and ‘over coming objections,’ where as pull messages build relationships through positive attraction. Social media via the internet is a relationship-building tool. The internet by serving up only what’s requested, is in essence a “pull” medium. Radio, television, newspapers, magazines, and outdoor are all “push” mediums.

People who attempt to “push” their messages with pop-ups and other methods on the internet are met with anger by the consumer.

How could your radio program attract an audience with seduction? How could you romance your listeners to want to spend more time with your radio station, its website and/or podcast?

Time is money is the name of the game in a “We” cycle. As Williams and Drew put it, “Whoever wins their time is the one most likely to win their money.”

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

We Me Sales Strategies

Pendulum by Roy H. Williams & Michael R. Drew

 

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W A S S – Bumpass

Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 8.57.02 AMSouth from where I live, is a little community by the name of Bumpass, Virginia. As far as I can tell, the FCC have never licensed a radio station to this little community of 8,792 people.

The town was named for John T. Bumpass, one of the first postmasters in the area. Its post office is still in service.

It’s said that George Washington spent the night at Jerdone Castle in Bumpass on June 10th during his 1791 Southern tour as President. One of the many locations to boast “George Washington slept here.”

When I learned of this place, I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to start a radio station in this place. I could hear the top-of-the-hour jingle being sung now: W A S S – Bumpass.

There are only two problems with this fantasy, 1) the FCC has never given out radio station WASS call letters, and 2) it turns out that the proper pronunciation for Bumpass, is BUMP-us. It originates from the French surname Bonpass which means “good passage.”

Oh well, it made me chuckle.

It turns out I’m not the only person in the world that has had fun at the expense of the town of Bumpass.

If Local Radio Didn’t Exist, What Would You Create?

Which brings me to a more serious subject of creating a radio station in the 21st Century. What do listeners really want? Is there an appetite for delivering content over an AM or FM radio signal if one didn’t already exist in that location? How would you fund it? By advertising? Subscriptions? Donations?

What would you program? Talk, music, sports, weather or something else?

If a community doesn’t have a local newspaper or a radio station, like Bumpass, Virginia, how does it know what’s going on in its local area?

NEWSBREAK

Turns out NEWSBREAK, which bills itself as “The Nation’s #1 Intelligent Local News” App serves Bumpass, Virginia. It relies on local content creators to supply it with local news newsbreakand perspectives. It also works with some of the country’s largest newspapers, magazines and television networks to broaden its scope of news coverage.

There is another App, “The Emergency Email & Wireless Network” that says it too covers Bumpass, but neither App really had any news about the goings-on in the town.

The Central Virginian

About thirty minutes up the road from Bumpass is Louisa, Virginia, location of The Central Virginian, a newspaper that provides some peripheral coverage of Bumpass. Though when I checked for the latest news, the most recent story “The Rumpus is Returning to Bumpass,” was published in April of 2018.

Maybe, Bumpass doesn’t generate a lot of news.

Creating Radio Today

Enough about Bumpass, Virginia, let’s tackle the bigger question about creating a radio station for the 21st Century. What would you need , or not need?

  • No need for a building, air personalities would broadcast from their homes.
  • No need for an AM or FM radio license, streaming audio is the future.
  • Some sort of computerized system to handle music, scheduling and advertising (if you chose to go with an ad-supported model).
  • A website that would allow you to stream your content, and deliver other information along with providing listeners a way to communicate with your radio station.
  • Maybe you create a podcast that capsulizes the day’s news and gets updated at specific times, but allows listeners to access it on their schedule.
  • Local doesn’t have to be live, it needs to be kept up-to-date and deliver information not readily available anywhere else that impacts the people of its service area.
  • Musically, this radio station would offer a variety of streaming options, each with the local component linked to its offering.

Actually, this model sounds similar to what many commercial AM & FM radio stations did to get through the spring months of 2020, due to COVID19. Some still are.

The internet is filled with other operators who have developed this type of radio station for their unserved or underserved communities, as commercial radio operators bought up radio signals and moved them into larger metropolitan areas.

wmex fm rochesterTwo such operations that come to mind are: “yourKawarthaOLDIES.com” and “1059WMEX.com” that are filling a gap left by Big Box broadcasters. WMEX-FM kwartha oldiesrecently added an LPFM to its operation, this allows locals in Rochester, NH to hear the station easily when in their cars.

Radio Today – It’s Only Limit is Your Imagination

There’s never been a more exciting or challenging time to be in the world of audio communications. Not since the invention of radio itself, has there been so much opportunity waiting to be discovered.

It just won’t be like it was when I started in radio over fifty years ago.

It’s going to be better!

 

 

 

 

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Radio & Urban Contemporary, Is the End Nigh?

35Once upon a time, radio was pretty much like the TV show The Voice. We only knew what we heard coming through the speaker on our radio.

Those pilots of the airwaves were magical.

We may not have had a clue as to what they looked like, but we created a persona in our minds as if we did. It was never even close to the real person.

Who’s the Black Guy?

I got my best friend hooked on radio and each day at school we’d compare notes of who we listened to the night before, how far away the stations we picked up were, and where on the dial they were located.

Music Radio 77 – WABC out of New York City threw a pretty consistent signal over Western Massachusetts at night and so that got a lot of my after dark listening time. My friend listened to WABC often as well, so you can imagine our surprise the first time we saw a picture of the WABC All Americans (that’s what they called their air personalities back in the 70s). We looked at one another and said simultaneously, “Who’s the Black Guy?”

That personality was Chuck Leonard. His cool factor just went up in our eyes. Chuck Leonard was not only heard over WABC late at night but on one of our local ABC network affiliated radio stations doing the feature show “Sneak Preview.” Chuck was famous for one-liners like “The best that ever did it, and got away with it.” Yes, we heard a lot from Chuck Leonard and loved everything he did. But in our minds, we had never thought of him as being Black. Once we found out, we didn’t care.

Urban Contemporary Radio

What does that name mean to you and what does it mean to your listeners?

Has the term “urban contemporary” migrated over the last several decades as to its meaning?

The answer in two words: Most Likely.

At the beginning of June 2020, Republic Records announced it would “remove ‘urban’ from the label’s verbiage in describing departments, employee titles and music genres,” explaining that “over time the meaning and connotations of ‘urban’ have shifted and developed into a generalization of Black people in many sectors of the music industry, including employees and music by Black artists.”

A few days later, the Grammy Awards announced it would be renaming its “Best Urban Contemporary Album” — category now being — “Best Progressive R&B Album.”

Motown Sound

Once upon a time, “kid’s music” was just called contemporary or Top40. Everything that wasn’t your parent’s music was embraced. It was the silent rebellion for many of us.

My favorite artists were The Four Tops, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Spinners, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Al Green, Martha Reeves, Gladys Knight, Michael Jackson as well as many others. Berry Gordy’s Motown Records out of Detroit would craft the sound that quickly integrated America’s contemporary radio stations.

But it was DJ Alan Freed at WINS, who coined the term “rock & roll,” that would be the first to break down the color barrier and integrate the music he played over the radio. It’s almost hard to believe that people in his day considered Freed a threat to society because he was playing “race music,” also known as music by Black artists.

WBLS

In 1974, legendary disc jockey and program director Frankie Crocker, coined the term “urban contemporary.” Crocker said his format on WBLS was a broad mix of R&B, hip-hop, disco, rap, and everything from James Brown to Dinah Shore.Frankie Crocker

In essence, it was the best music featuring the songs his radio station’s listeners wanted to hear most.

Black music stations, while popular with listeners, had trouble attracting advertising back then. So, the brilliance of calling WBLS “urban contemporary” enabled Crocker to evade being branded with the Black label. The urban contemporary imaging helped make white advertising executives more comfortable with placing advertising for their clients on that radio station.

Format wise, Crocker brought the concept of ‘playing the hits’ that made radio stations like WABC so loved, from AM to FM radio.

It’s hard to find any radio station nowadays that plays the wide variety of artists, styles and music that one could hear over a single radio station back in the 70s, as this 1970 Top 100 Songs from WABC demonstrates.

iHeart Phasing Out the Word ‘Urban’

Most recently, Rolling Stone magazine wrote an article about how iHeart, and the radio analytics company Media Base owned by iHeart, were working to remove the word ‘urban’ due to the word being controversial in industry-wide discussions around systemic racism.

The use of the word ‘urban’ will be removed from not just the way formats or playlists are described but from job titles too. A representative for iHeart says the term is “definitely outdated.”

Black & White

Unfortunately, this issue may not be as black & white as it might first appear. Not all organizations or individual Black executives are willing to give up the ‘urban’ descriptor, believing that it’s more of a distraction than action for change, saying the “problem lies in the infrastructure, in the system – not in the word.”

Real Change

This issue is not just an American one, but a global one. The student newspaper, The Boar, from Warwick University in the United Kingdom wrote about the “Institutionalized Racism in the Music Industry.”

The article, written by Bailey Agbai, perfectly summed up the current situation:

“As more people start to actively recognize just how deeply racism infests our society, it is no surprise that it plagues the music industry too. It’s important that we continue to speak up and advocate change so that the institutions within the industry amend their ways and finally reflect the music that they unfairly exploit. The industry is a pool of wealth and it is important that those with influence use not only their words to combat racism, but also their resources to impact real change.”

 

 

 

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Furloughs Turning into Permanent Job Losses

Furloughed PermanentlyBIA Advisory Services conducted a rather insightful webinar at the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic. While every media sector was predicting huge downturns in sales revenues, what struck me most were comments like, ‘but radio sales executives are the most pessimistic,’ or ‘23% of radio sales people don’t feel theyEeyore & rain cloud will be employed by the same company in six months.’

Why were radio people so gloomy? Is it because the radio industry attracts Eeyores or because radio people were being the most realistic?

Furloughs

Shortly after the global pandemic shut down the world, companies started talking about furloughs for employees. All types of industries were issuing press releases about how they planned to furlough “x,” “y,” or “z” number of employees.

Now by definition, a furlough is supposed to be a temporary layoff. It certainly sounds much less benign than being told you are terminated, fired, riffed or axed. Furloughs gave people hope they would soon return to work and a lifestyle of the way it was. But was that being disingenuous?

I remember when I was a manager in Clear Channel, the company’s top management would tell us to never let a good emergency go to waste. In other words, use the emergency as a cover to do things you already wanted to do, but could now do much more quickly, using the emergency as the reason.

“For a lot of those furloughed workers, a non-trivial number will have no job to go back to, because the company they worked for will have failed or will need fewer workers than they used to,” says Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve economist.

An article in Forbes, quoting an Associated Press story put it this way, “Call it realism or pessimism, but more employers are coming to a reluctant conclusion: Many of the employees they’ve had to lay off in the face of the pandemic might not be returning to their old jobs anytime soon. Some large companies won’t have enough customers to justify it. And some small businesses won’t likely survive at all despite aid provided by the federal government.”

Entercom Converts Some Furloughs into Layoffs

This was the headline in late June in RadioInsight. How many furloughs were converted or how many markets were affected, is not known.

Radio Business Reports carried the first news of this occurring inside Entercom back in April. RBR quoted Entercom Communications President/CEO David Field’s memo to employees which said, “We are doing everything in our power to minimize the number of layoffs through shared sacrifice across the organization, but we will still need to eliminate or furlough a significant number of positions.”

And Entercom was not alone in having to take a serious look at its business in light of the quick and sudden changes brought on by a global pandemic with no vaccine and no treatment options.

Poynter on Newsroom Layoffs, Furloughs and Closures

In an article, Poynter has been updating regularly, sadly admitting that it’s “getting hard to keep track of the bad news about the news right now. But we have to. Here’s our attempt to collect the layoffs, furloughs, and closures caused by the coronavirus’ critical blow to the economy and journalism in the United States.”

At the end of June 2020, here’s what Poynter had for the impact on radio journalism:

You can keep up with the Poynter updates by clicking HERE

Radio’s Advertising Lifeblood

mom & pop shopYour local radio station, like your hometown newspaper, depends on local businesses and their advertising dollars. Eighty to ninety percent of their ad revenues come from local businesses, those small “mom & pops,” as we like to call them.

So, when I saw this headline in The Atlantic,The Small Business Die-Off Is Here,” my heart went into my throat.

Annie Lowrey writes, “The great small-business die-off is here, and it will change the landscape of American commerce, auguring slower growth and less innovation in the future.” What Lowrey tells us is that the small and mid-size businesses had less than two weeks’ worth of cash on hand making it impossible for them to cover rent, insurance, utilities and payroll for any sustained amount of time.

Many business owners have found help from Uncle Sam to be too little, too late. Every Closedday we see another local business decide to close down permanently rather than sink further into debt.

Lowrey writes, “The short-term effects of this disaster are clear: When businesses liquidate, they lay off workers, who spend less in their local economies, making other businesses weaker, necessitating further layoffs. Business failures thus act as an accelerant in a downturn, making temporary damage permanent. This is a central reason why many economists do not expect a sharp, V-shaped rebound to the current recession, but a long, slow, U-shaped recovery.”

AARP on What Comes Next

In the June 2020 edition of AARP Bulletin Abraham Madkour, Sports Business Journal, writes “I don’t see any timeline where athletic events have packed stands. Nobody wants to be around 75,000 people.” So, sports radio stations are going to be really content challenged, which means listener challenged, which translates into advertising challenged.

AARP goes on to say the Saturday night dinner and a movie is now on the endangered list as is your local mall, department stores, and most other retailers. It’s an “extinction event” for local media ad dollars,” says Ken Doctor, media analyst, who adds, “In a world where nobody is going out, age-old diversions are going bye, bye.”

There’s No Place Like Home

Turns out the safest place to be, is in your own home.

WFHPeople are adapting to working from home, home schooling their children and doing things like baking, learning to play a musical instrument, streaming their audio, video and print content. Our habits are changing and it’s quite likely they will become permanent.

“It’s hard to guess the depth of the downturn, but it will be the worst since the Great Depression,” says Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Permanent Changes

Crystal balling the future is always a risk. No one really knows what lifestyle changes will become permanent and which ones will slowly fade away.

I tried to get some sense of permanent change following the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919 and found there was little to be gleaned because that pandemic broke out during WWI leading into a roaring twenties, followed by a Great Depression, and then WWII. It really gives us little information about the impact the pandemic ended up having because other events trumped its effects.

Broadcast media didn’t begin as a commercial entity until after the pandemic was in the rear view mirror, so there’s no way to tell what the impact might have been. The Asian Flu (1957) and Hong Kong Flu (1968) killed about 2 million and 4 million people worldwide during the 20th Century, but the disruption to our daily lives doesn’t even live in my memory.

If nothing else, COVID19 is and has been a disruption to Earth’s global village economically. Axios reports that a research report from UBS predicts that 100,000 brick-and-mortar U.S. retail stores will close by 2025, in a trend that started before the pandemic and has accelerated amid coronavirus-related shutdowns.

In 2017, as the radio industry news was filled with employees being RIF’d (Reductions In Force), I wrote an article to help people deal with being let go entitled, “Is Your Iceberg Melting?” You can read that HERE

Beyond COVID19

So, what might a media future look like?

Frederick Filloux asked his college journalism students for their thoughts and I will summarize them for you here:

  • Smaller, staff-owned outlets where employees are multi-talented and master a whole palette of tools like data-driven storytelling, video production, infographics and a deep proficiency in social media.
  • Rethinking the ownership and the revenue models. Audience centric business models, but not ad-supported ones. Frederick’s students believe that the advertising supported business model is outdated. The future will involve carefully vetted sponsorships.
  • Explanatory media, that is fact-checked and establishes itself with an expertise against misinformation. These students say, expertise is urgently needed in today’s media world.
  • Print is over. Tomorrow’s media students believe that anything printed embodies the ancient world. COVID19 is only accelerating its demise.

I think COVID19 is going to hasten a rethink about all ad-supported media. Traditional media, born of advertising, will be greatly challenged.

Based on the recent findings of Gordon Borrell, it already is.

Screen Shot 2020-06-30 at 11.21.16 AM

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July 5th – Today in History

FlagI hope you are enjoying this holiday weekend celebration of America’s independence 244-years in the making.

As I was thinking about what I’d write this week, I came across this radio item, dateline Fort Wayne, Indiana that said on July 5th in 1929 radio station WOWO returned to the air one day after its transmitter site burned down. Obviously, that wasn’t a very WOWOjoyous time for the staff and management at that radio station. It was only four years earlier that WOWO signed on the air for the first time in its storied broadcast history, March 25, 1925.

July 5, 1951

It was on this date, 69-years ago that Bell Labs, and primarily William Shockley, announced the invention of the junction transistor during a press conference the company held in Murray Hill, New Jersey.

July 5, 1956

William Shockley and three others were awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics on this date for “their research on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect,” a discovery that allowed radio to be reborn in car dashboards and on portable, hand-held receivers.

Regency TR1 (GREE)It was a joint venture between Texas Instruments and Regency Electronics that would produce the world’s first transistor radio, the TR1, in 1954. However, it wasn’t until three years later when SONY would introduce its smaller and cheaper TR-63 transistor radio that this new communication device would become the 1960s/70s mass market success story.SonyTR63 (HAND)

Steve Wozniak (Apple Computer Co-Founder) said he had a Regency TR1 transistor radio as a kid and was a big fan. “My first transistor radio…I loved what it could do, it brought me music, (and) it opened my world up,” said Woz.

July 5, 1963

The second Beatles song released in America which climbed to number 87 on the Hot 100 was “From Me to You,” and would mark a second “invasion” by the British kingdom.

It was the transistor radio that gave young people the opportunity to easily access “their music” without garnering their parents disapproval, being able to listen to the radio in their bedrooms, cars and anywhere they went.

The transistor radio opened up a world of new artistic expression along with the dissemination of new ideas. These hand-held radios played rock and roll, delivered the news, connected Americans to the Civil Rights Movement and kept citizens abreast of the ongoing Vietnam War.

I’ll come back to the transistor and William Shockley in a moment, but first, let’s look at some of the other things that changed our world on this day.

July 5, 1971

fightvote

The 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution was certified, reducing the voting age in America to 18.

July 5, 1989

SeinfeldThe successful television sitcom “Seinfeld” debuted on the NBC television network. The show “about nothing” ran for nine years and has grossed more than $4 Billion, making it the most profitable half-hour television program in history.

July 5, 1994

amazon

Jeff Bezos begins a new venture in Bellevue, Washington. On this date, “Amazon.com” was born. In just 26-years, Amazon is only the fourth tech company to join the “$1 Trillion Club.” Jeff Bezos’ net worth is now estimated at $111 Billion.

July 5, 2003

On this date, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the SARS virus, known technically as SARS-CoV (coronavirus), was “contained” after affecting 26-countries and resulting in 774-deaths.

Transistor & Shockley

Getting back to William Shockley and his development of the transistor, he would not only change the way Baby Boomers would grow up, listening to their transistor radios, but he is also credited as being “the man who brought silicon to Silicon Valley.”

For you see, one of the key benefits of the transistor was the ability for electronics manufacturers to create smaller and smaller devices, that eventually gave us the computer in our pocket, better known as the smartphone.

1980s to Today

In time, these little transistor radios would be replaced by the Boom Box. Then along came the SONY Walkman (and headphones), followed by the Discman, iPod and today’s internet powered iPhone.

iPhone12Each new generation of technological development has moved media consumers away from traditional broadcast radio’s position as the leader for reaching the masses with new music, news and cultural trends.

The broadcast industry has been slow to adapt to the 21st Century. As greatest hockey player of all time, Bobby Orr might put it, to skate from where the puck is to where the puck will be.

Let’s hope it’s not too late.

“You have to change with the times

or

the times will change you.”

-Marv Levy, Buffalo Bills Coach

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It Ain’t Over, Till It’s Over

Yogi Berra“It ain’t over, till it’s over,” one of the many phrases made popular by Yogi Berra kept popping into my mind as I sat in on several webinars these past few weeks. COVID19 is not over, so why are people acting like it is? We can expect that we will be living with this virus through all of this year and through most of 2021.

Just because we’re tired of it, doesn’t mean we can let our guard down.

“If the underlying problem is that people are afraid of interacting in close proximity, and they’re afraid to go shopping in certain ways, then the only way to get things back to normal is going to be to solve the public health problem.”

-John Friedman, Brown University economist

Nobody Has the Answers

Whether by reading the broadcast trade publications or watching webinars, it’s become abundantly clear that no one has the answers. Sadly, the radio world seems determined to turn back the clock to the way things were. Whether it be in programming or sales, you simply can’t take the way things were done and put them online. The online world is different and needs to be utilized differently.

The Medium is the Message

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan realized how important the medium carrying a message was to the process of communication. Each medium, be it print, visual, audio, musical etc., will determine how the message is perceived by the person receiving it.

You can’t take a price/item full page newspaper ad and simply print that ad on a billboard.

Every advertising person knows that a billboard message needs to be short, succinct and instantly communicated. For a driver passing by at 65 miles per hour, that means a message of about seven words.

Yet, broadcasters forget the wisdom of McLuhan when they take their over-the-air radio broadcasts and simply stream them on the internet.

The internet is a different medium, and people’s expectations for what they watch, listen to or read on the internet are likewise.

It’s Like Déjá Vu All Over Again

Yogi Berra sure knew how to turn a phrase and expose our follies.

When FM radio was born, the type of radio being done on AM was easily transferred over to this new commercial FM radio band. Why? Because both the AM and FM commercial radio bands came through the same type of receiver, a radio tuner. In other words, they utilized the same medium, the radio set.

But when listening to audio programming over the internet, the listener could be using a computer, a tablet, a smart speaker, a cellphone or any of a multitude of internet connected devices.

Different mediums entirely than AM/FM radio sets and each with different user expectations.

You Can Observe a Lot by Just Watching

Once again, Yogi points the way with his unique turn of a phrase.

As I watched the latest round of weekly webinars, one of the things that became clear was how people were moving to steaming when accessing media in their homes.

ComScore said that WiFi connected homes accounted for 68% of video consumption, with the big five streamers being Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Disney. These five account for 82.5% of the streaming video that’s being consumed.

Likewise, Edison Research’s Larry Rosin points out that radio listening is very much car dependent (mainly due to most cars having an AM/FM radio in the dashboard) and that when people are home, streaming is taking over.

“Radio is mainly an over-the-air product

and not a streaming one.”

-Larry Rosin, Edison Research

Think about that statement for a moment. Edison Research has found that AM/FM radios are vanishing from American homes, with 32% of households no longer owning a single radio set.

So, if people mainly use radio programming only on radio receivers, and those receivers are dwindling in homes, offices and dashboards, the radio industry’s challenge is a daunting one. Listening to audio programming will continue to grow via streaming on non-radio set devices. Radio, as we knew it, is moving in the direction of malls and movie theaters, built for a past generation.

During the stay-at-home months of April and May 2020, audio listening at home rose from a pre-COVID19 49% to 70%. This didn’t mean more OTA radio per se.Share of Ear May 2020

If the way people accessed their audio content was via streaming, they did more of that, and if they still owned a radio set, then they listened to more OTA radio.

If You Don’t Know Where You Are Going, You’ll End Up Someplace Else

And that Yogi Berra saying pretty much sums up the world right now during this pandemic. No one knows where we are going. No one has the answers. This is a period of global disruption.

What history shows us during periods of disruption is, the old ways get destroyed before the new ones get built to take over. However, COVID19 appears to be speeding up the process.

“The future ain’t what it used to be.”

-Yogi Berra

 

 

 

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Efficiency vs. Resilience

Rick SklarOn November 9, 1965, around 5:21pm in the afternoon, WABC listeners heard something unusual coming through the speakers on their battery powered transistor radios. WABC was playing Jonathan King’s “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon,” but it sounded different. It sounded like it needed a shot of Geritol, as the recording turned slower and slower. Even WABC’s famous chime was off key, and popular afternoon personality Dan Ingram tried to make fun of what was happening. You can hear that moment by clicking HERE.

The 1965 Northeast Blackout

As it was happening what no one knew, was that the power grid was collapsing. Inside Dan Ingram’s studio, the lights were flickering, the music cartridges were playing at slower and slower speeds and the journalists in the WABC newsroom were beginning to see the wire services report that city after city along the Eastern seaboard were going dark.dan ingram 1965

From Maine to New Jersey, America was experiencing a regional power grid failure. Many radio stations without emergency generators were silenced, but WABC was still on the air due to the station’s transmitter facility being located in Lodi, New Jersey. New Jersey was on a different power grid than New York City.

WABC would rush Dan Ingram to Lodi with a stack of records and have him continue his show from there.

Rick Sklar & Building Resilience

Rocking AmericaRick Sklar wrote in his book “Rocking America” that the blackout helped him to focus his attention on technical reliability. “A station can have the best mix of music and the top jingles, but if the tapes break, the cartridges jam, or the music fidelity is off, the ratings (aka audience) begin to evaporate,” Sklar wrote.

Early in his tenure as the program director at WABC, Sklar would be frustrated by the technical obstacles that got in the way of his building Music Radio 77 into the #1 radio station in The Big Apple.

Lessons Learned at NASA

When America was ready to put a man on the moon, Sklar decided he wanted to be there for that significant moment in history.

He was fascinated by the confidence of NASA that they would land men on the moon and bring them back home safely. He was envious of their certainty and of their equipment and systems to get the job done. He wanted to attain that same kind of certainty for WABC when he returned home to New York.

In drilling down mission control’s engineering confidence, he learned that NASA used triple measurement and triple backup on everything. Sklar would learn from Walter Häusermann, the man who designed the guidance systems for the V-2 rockets, and those of the Apollo command module, “If two of the three readings on any measurement agree, we assume that it is the third meter and not our readout that is at fault.”

WABC Builds Resilience

When Rick Sklar got back home, he began to implement what he had learned at NASA, in the operations at WABC. He built two identical main control rooms and made sure a production studio could act as an air studio if needed. He built the studios with eight cart machines, instead of the previous five, three being ready in case of a failure of any of the primary five machines. He had every one of the two thousand-odd cartridges that made up the WABC sound, duplicated for each studio. The studio to transmitter broadcast land lines were broken into a northern and southern route from the main studios to the transmitter site in Lodi, with a microwave link as the third method for delivering programming to the transmitter.

George Michael WABC in NASA inspired studio

George Michael at WABC in NASA inspired air studio (photo by Frank D’Elia)

Rick Sklar had thoroughly reviewed every element of the operation and implemented ample redundancy to insure a consistent and reliable delivery system for his programming.

Resiliency in People

There’s only so much repetition in equipment that can protect you from disruptions, in order to truly have a “fail-safe” operation, you must have good backup people.

And there’s the real rub in today’s radio world. Where are the people?

As I wrote in last week’s blog, Good Money After Bad, the need to build efficiency in my Sussex, New Jersey radio property saw the elimination of not only full-time employees but the backup people so critical in providing the over-the-air and online services so necessary during times of winter storms.

Global Pandemic

COVID19 is revealing the tradeoffs between building operating systems for efficiency, versus resiliency. These tradeoffs have been occurring in all areas of corporate America, not just broadcasting. This pandemic presents us all with opportunities to rethink of how prepared we are to handle a Black Swan Event. It also has shown us ,simply doing things the way they’ve always been done, isn’t necessarily how they can be done or should be done going forward.

Resiliency and efficiency are polar opposites and every business needs to mind its bottom line and deliver a profit to stay in business. The leaders will learn to invest in resilience efficiently.

Look for that to be the in demand skill in all companies as we digest the lessons of this global event.

 

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Good Money After Bad

Air Canada (2)Would you invest more money in a company that takes your money and won’t refund it during a global pandemic, instead preferring to hide behind policies designed for the way things used to be before COVID19?

I think not.

The Travel Industry

Let me share with you two stories that happened to me recently involving our 2020 travel plans.

These stories involve an airline and a cruise line. While we realize that both of these industries are being dramatically challenged, the way they handle the short-term will most surely impact their long-term survival.

Royal Caribbean International Cruise Lines

My wife and I planned to visit the only state in the United States neither of us had ever been too before, Alaska. We made plans to cruise to Alaska from Vancouver, BC.

Before our cruise, we would fly to Nevada for my oldest son’s wedding, then drive up to Montana to visit my wife’s daughter and family, to be followed with a drive to Washington state to visit another daughter and family.

On the 4th of July we planned to Amtrak from Washington state to Vancouver, BC and board our cruise ship for a weeklong trip to Alaska. We made plans for off-shore excursions during the cruise and paid for everything in advance.

We planned to fly from Vancouver, BC to Washington, DC to get back home.

Then COVID19 hit and we had to cancel everything.

Amtrak refunded our money, the off-shore excursions company refunded our money, the hotels along the way all accepted our cancellations with no fees, but Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines wouldn’t refund our $500 deposit.

How do you think we feel when they send us new offers to take a cruise with them?

Air Canada

Air Canada was the airline we had selected to fly back home from Vancouver, BC when our cruise returned to port. We paid for business class tickets to get seats with a little extra room. Total cost for two tickets, paid-in-advance on February 5, 2020, $1,185.38.

We booked directly with the airline on their website.

Then on March 10, 2020 we receive notice from Medicare saying that the “CDC is advising older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney diseases, are at a higher risk of serious illness if they contract the COVID19 virus.” That “means that most people with Medicare are at a higher risk,” they wrote.

“Your health, safety, and welfare is our highest priority,” wrote the Medicare email.

It went out to spell out activities that we should not engage in:

  • Avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces with limited air circulation.
  • Defer all cruise ship travel worldwide, particularly if you also have underlying health issues.
  • Avoid situations that put you at increased risk, including non-essential travel such as long plane trips.

But Air Canada doesn’t recognize any of this as a valid reason that I would then go to their website and cancel our two plane tickets on March 23, 2020. Instead of offering a refund, they said we could have a travel voucher to use good through March 30, 2021.

How do you think we feel when they send us new offers to fly with Air Canada?

How do you think this makes us feel about even wanting to visit our neighbors to the north?

COVID19 Closed Border

Currently the border between America and Canada is closed. We couldn’t even get to the Royal Caribbean cruise ship if we wanted, nor could we board an Air Canada plane in Vancouver.

That’s something I don’t remember ever happening in my lifetime.

Would it be fair to say these are extenuating circumstances that call for forbearance of rules regarding customer refunds created before the COVID19 global pandemic?

How Much Is a Customer Worth?

What companies often forget is the lifetime value of a customer when they make decisions in the short-term. Repeat business is the way you build a business.

Sadly, the above mentioned companies won’t be seeing us beating a path to their door.

But worse, they’ve now made ALL cruise lines and ALL airlines suspect about their business practices.

Guilt by Association

I learned this lesson from one of my clients, an AAMCO Transmission repair shop. He told me that a lot of people considered transmission repair places to be underhanded. Stories about putting saw dust in the transmission to temporarily solve a problem and make a quick buck instead of doing the actual work of repairing it.

He said when any transmission shop cheated a customer in anyway, it reflected badly on all transmission repair businesses.

I never forgot that lesson when I became a radio station manager.

Storm Center

When I managed a cluster of radio stations for Clear Channel Radio in Sussex, New Jersey we sold an annual package to our clients that gave them immediate access to our airwaves and website to inform their customers of their reduced or changed hours of operation, due to a snow/ice storm, or if they would be closed completely. It was a solid revenue source for my radio stations and appeared as a line item in my budget.

It took a lot of extra manpower to staff our storm center handling calls from listeners and businesses and getting everything broadcast on our four radio stations and their individual websites.

Then the Clear Channel RIFs came along. (RIF = Reduction In Force) I was told by my regional manager that the company’s new automated online system would replace the need for all those people and not to worry.

When the first storm hit, the system crashed. It happened again during the second storm of the season too. I gave our IT people in New York City a tongue lashing, which got me an angry call from my regional manager telling me to stop calling the people in New York and bothering them with my problem.

I never called New York again.

Instead I walked down the hall to my business manager and told her to refund every dollar our clients had paid us to be a part of our storm center and composed a letter to go with the refund checks saying that due to unforeseen circumstances, we could not deliver on what we had promised. Our company’s new automated system had bugs that were being addressed but that I had no idea when they would be fixed. However, we would still do our best with our limited staff to air their cancellation notices and then post them on our websites at no charge.

I didn’t lose a single advertiser, and proceeded to take this lemon of a situation and turn it into lemonade.

Customer Service

People don’t care what you say your customer service policy is. All the flowery language in the world will never camouflage the actions you take in response to a customer’s problem.

Everyone knows what the right thing to do is, in any given situation.

Best management advice I can share with you is, just do the right thing.

P.S.

When it came time to review my quarterly results against my budget, my regional manager asked why I had gone from $30,000 to zero in storm center revenue. When I told him what I had done, you can imagine he was none too happy about it.

However, our revenues and bottom line for that year both exceeded our budget, proving to me you can never go wrong when you do the right thing.

 

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