What is Radio’s WHY Today?

One of my favorite authors is Simon Sinek. In his 2009 book “Start With Why” he wrote that “any organization can explain what it does; some can explain how they do it; but very few can clearly articulate why” they do what they do.

Sinek found that all inspiring leaders and companies “think, act and communicate exactly alike.”

“They can be found in both the public and private sectors. They all have a disproportionate amount if influence in their industries. They have the most loyal customers and the most loyal employees. They tend to be more profitable than others in their industry. They are more innovative, and most importantly, they are able to sustain all these things over the long term. Many of them change industries. Some of them even change the world.”

And they think, act and communicate completely opposite of everyone else.

Has Radio Lost Its Why?

When commercial radio was born in the 1920s, radio’s why was thought to be a technology that could provide nationwide communications that would be a unifier for cultural and social systems. Radio’s regulatory guiding principle was to “operate in the public interest, convenience and/or necessity.”

When people were still trying to wrap their minds around what exactly radio would be, there was one common reoccurring theme about what radio broadcasting could do, and that was to unify a nation and create an American identity.

It could accomplish this in several areas:

  • Physical Unity: the ability to unite America from coast-to-coast, border to border, with instantaneous wireless communication.
  • Cultural Unity: through entertainment, news and the spoken word (English); radio could create a kind of national homogeneity.
  • Institutional Unity: corporations and the federal government would come together on a mandate that this new powerful form of communications needed centralized control.
  • Economic Unity: through advertising, radio could now offer national, regional and local opportunities for businesses to expose their products and services and grow our nation’s economy.

Radio vs. The Internet

Just about every business has found its original business model challenged by a population connected to the internet. Think about the original radio why areas and you can easily see how each of them has been overtaken, embellished – and depending on your point of view – improved upon by the world wide web.

The internet, it turns out, is a better innovation for addressing those original foundational tenets of radio’s purpose than radio itself. So now what?

Radio first needs to know its “WHY.” Then it needs to communicate it, clearly and simply or suffer the consequences.  Bud Walters of The Cromwell Group loves to say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Until the radio industry figures this out, getting new people to listen (or former listeners to return) will be a challenge.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

-Simon Sinek

Tommy Kramer’s Two Questions

To help you get started on defining radio’s WHY for the 21st Century, I’d like to share two questions that GOODRATINGS Strategic Services consultant Tommy Kramer recently asked his readers:

  1. What do you have that I can’t get everywhere else?
  2. What do you have that I can’t get ANYWHERE else?

Tommy says that coming up with the answers to these two questions will decide your future.

I would add that working through these two questions might just uncover your new WHY for the radio industry in the 21st Century.

Simon Sinek says “When you compete against everyone else, no one wants to help you, but when you compete against yourself, everyone wants to help you.” When you develop your WHY you do what you do, it will give you the strength to keep going and a desire to keep improving with each passing day.

My Question for YOU

What do you think radio’s WHY should be in today’s world?

Please post your thoughts in the comments section on today’s blog. If we can get enough people to think about our industry’s WHY, the what and how of doing it will naturally fall into place.

If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

-Henry Ford

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Is Radio Up Schitt’s Creek?

When we travel, we’ve noticed that radios have vanished from hotel/motel rooms across America, replaced by free WiFi. Televisions didn’t go away, but were upgraded to widescreen High Definition TVs and you almost always still find a Gideon Bible.

Schitt’s Creek

When watching movies and TV shows, I often look to see if there’s a radio in sight, noticing in British productions they often are, but not in American ones.

The series Schitt’s Creek was produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Canada and is currently running on Netflix. Sue & I have watched all six seasons of the show twice and while the residents of the fictional Rosebud Motel can be seen using televisions, computers and cellphones, we never see anyone listening to a radio*.

Nostalgia Sells

If you think about it, many forms of nostalgia have been reborn and enjoy great success in the 21st Century. Sonic successfully brought back the drive-in restaurant, Major League Baseball got its highest television ratings playing ball on a “Field of Dreams” in Iowa, Drive-In Movies are a way to watch a movie on the big screen while socially distancing and Schitt’s Creek, along with COVID, might be credited with bringing back the MOTEL.

The Johnny Rose character envisioned franchising his Rosebud Motel and found investors that believed in his dream.

MOTELS

The New York Times published an article over the Labor Day Weekend titled “Who Wants a Hotel With a Hallway Anyway?” The article explains that since COVID hit, people’s desire to travel hasn’t diminished, but that traveling by personal automobile and staying in places that allowed easy entry to a room without having to take an elevator or travel down a crowded hallway suddenly became an important criterion in lodging.

And when you think about it, motels are like baseball, hot dogs and apple pie; they are woven into the fabric of Americana.

Car Radios

Just as American, is our love of the automobile. Motels, which get their name from the merging of the words “hotel” and “motorcar,” grew across the USA right along with car ownership.

Car radios were an expensive option when they came on the scene in the 1930s, but by 1946, it’s estimated that over nine million cars had a radio in them. With the advent of the transistor, radios became a smaller and inexpensive auto option, so much so that by 1960 over 50 million cars – 60% of all the cars on the road – had a radio in them.

I’m sure the cars used on Schitt’s Creek had a radio in them, but we never see them used on the show like we do televisions, computers, cellphones and laptops.

We also see Facebook, Twitter, and online ratings sites being used on the show. Even the town’s real estate agent has a podcast that takes advantage of internet access and WiFi.

Staying Current

The big difference between those original motels and the motels of the 21st Century is that they have taken the positives – parking your car right in front of your room, avoiding crowded spaces – and eliminating the negatives – primitive furniture, lumpy bedding,  and dingy décor – creating an inviting and COVID-SAFE getaway experience.

Motels today have free WiFi, HDTVs, and plenty of places to charge your laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Interestingly, like radio many operators have taken the word “radio” out of their company names and logos, some motel operators think a better name might be “motor lodge” or “boutique hotel.” They are concerned the word “motel” conjures up bad images of the places shown in TV shows like Breaking Bad or in movies like Chevy Chase’s Vacation.

But whether you call them motor lodges, high-end motels or exterior-corridor hotels, they are once again in vogue because they are perfect for getting away in a coronavirus mutating world.

Buy the Rosebud Motel

Several years ago, when I was traveling through Cleveland, Ohio, I visited Ralphie’s home featured in the movie classic “A Christmas Story.” It was bought in 2004 by Brian Jones, a San Diego entrepreneur and a big fan of Jean Shepherd’s classic film. Jones used the revenue from his Red Rider Leg Lamp Company to purchase the home on eBay for $150,000 remaking the inside of this 19th century Victorian house an exact replica of the movie’s interior.

Since its opening on Thanksgiving weekend in 2006, millions of people have toured the home making it one of the top tourist attractions in Cleveland. Jones also built a wonderful museum and gift shop near the house and continues to enjoy success selling his leg lamps, Red Rider BB guns, and other movie nostalgia.

If you are just as enamored with the motel in Schitt’s Creek and think you might be able to turn it into your own “goldmine,” you can buy it for $1.6 million. Known in real life as the Hockley Motel, you will find it located just an hour outside of Toronto, Canada.

If you do decide to buy this piece of television nostalgia, please consider putting digital streaming radios in each of the ten rooms as part of your renovation.

*A clock radio appears for brief moment by Johnny’s bed in Season 2, Episode 4, but it never gets used, like the TVs, computers and cellphones.

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My First Radio Broadcasting Mentor

William Mahan/Berkshire Eagle, 1957

His name was Dana Jones and he was the original disc jockey when radio station WBEC (Berkshire Eagle Company) signed on the air in 1947. I wasn’t even born until 1952.

In this picture, Dana is holding his news copy between his teeth, while he cues up his next record, adjusts the volume on his control console and begins his morning radio program.

I got to thinking about Dana on this Labor Day weekend, because growing up, a new school year for me, always began after this holiday weekend.

Dana Jones would have twenty years of radio broadcasting under his belt before I would finally meet the man I grew up listening to on the radio. That happened when WBEC’s management approached the Junior Achievement organization in Springfield, Massachusetts about creating a JA radio company. I interviewed for, and was selected to be a part of this new Junior Achievement service-oriented educational learning experience in broadcasting. We would broadcast every Saturday morning over AM1420 WBEC, and that’s how I finally met Dana Jones.

Dana Jones

Dana was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 14, 1922. His family moved to West Stockbridge, Massachusetts in the early 30s and in 1940, Dana would earn his high school diploma from Williams High School in Stockbridge.

Pearl Harbor

When America was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, Dana would enlist in the Army and served in New Guinea, the Philippines and Morotai rising to the rank of sergeant. In the 50s, he enlisted in the Marine Reserve.

WBEC Signs On-The-Air

When Dana left the Army, he first went to work in Pittsfield, Massachusetts at its largest department store, England Brothers, but with a voice destined for radio, he was hired away by the Berkshire Eagle newspaper to anchor mornings on its latest media venture; radio broadcasting.

When WBEC went on-the-air on March 25, 1947, Dana Jones was the first voice heard, and he would anchor its morning show until 1980.

Dana did news, weather, sports, interviews with visiting dignitaries and politicians, remote broadcasts, farm reports and even hosted a children’s show called “Storytime.”

1950s in The Berkshires

In the 50s, if a family in the Berkshires owned a television, the only TV station they could receive was the General Electric Company television station out of Schenectady, New York. WRGB was one of the very first TV stations in the world, tracing its roots back to a GE experimental television station founded in 1928.

GE’s television station didn’t begin its broadcast day until 4pm in the afternoon and Pittsfield’s major daily newspaper, The Berkshire Evening Eagle, came out each day around 4pm, so when you woke up in the morning, if you wanted to know what had happened while you were sleeping, it would be the radio that would bring you up-to-date.

Storytime

Every school day morning at 7:45am, Dana Jones would say “Good morning boys and girls, it’s story time,” and for the next fifteen minutes families would be treated to stories about Wilber the Whistling Whale, Johnny Appleseed and many other stories that showcased radio’s “theater of the mind.”

Snow Storms

When snow covered the Berkshires in white, those tubes on the radio could not warm up fast enough to tune in and hear what schools would be cancelled that day on the account of snow. It would also allow kids more time to listen to Dana Jones and his “On The Sunny Side of the Street” music show that came on after mom’s got their kids off to school.

The Life of a Morning DJ

Dana Jones rose every morning at 3am. Monday through Saturday, he would arrive at the radio station at 4am, where he first would turn on the transmitter to warm up its tubes, go through the Associated Press teletype for the latest news, weather and sports, and write and record the comedy bits that would be a part of his radio show featuring two iconic characters he had created; Grampa Crabgrass and Uncle Ephraim. Sign-on was 5:30am.

Saturdays

On Saturday mornings, my mother got up early and drove me out to the radio station by 6am where I would sit in the studio with Dana while he did his radio show. Our Junior Achievement company members usually arrived by 8:30am and I would then join the rest of the JA members to prepare our weekly sixty minute 11am radio broadcast.

Every weekend, I couldn’t get to the radio station early enough, to be enveloped in all things radio, and will always be grateful to both my mother and Dana Jones for catering to this high school kid’s passion to be on-the-air.

Seems Like Old Times

While radio had paid for my college education, it had not been as kind to Dana having been shown the door at both WBEC and later at the Berkshires first radio station WBRK, becoming very discouraged about the radio business.

I remember sitting at his kitchen table and putting together the deal to hire Dana, a man I so respected and admired to become the morning anchor on my new radio station.

I was launching a new radio format on 1110AM WUHN in Pittsfield that would feature Al Ham’s “Music of YOUR Life” big band and standards type of music, the very songs that Dana played when he began his radio career as a disc jockey. I wanted Dana to do everything he excelled at, including his comedy routines with Grampa Crabgrass and Uncle Ephraim. My vision for mornings on this radio station made Dana’s eyes light up and he got excited about radio once again.

I would leave Pittsfield to take over as general manager of WIIN/WFPG in Atlantic City in 1984. Dana continued working at WUHN until 1988 when the station’s owners decided to change its format to something that would appeal to a younger audience. Dana would retire from radio broadcasting at age 66.

He died at the age of 83 of a heart attack on November 25, 2005.

He was a gentle giant in the industry and in person, and he possessed a voice that was undeniably Dana Jones.

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What Do Radio Broadcasters & Almond Farmers Have In Common?

Last week, an article in The Atlantic titled “The Well Fixer’s Warning: The lesson that California never learns,” was a terrifying read about the water supply used to irrigate the almond orchards on the farms of Madera County. So many of the farm’s wells were coming up dry and the farmers were puzzled as to why water flowing out of their wells had been reduced to a trickle and were mostly producing sand.

Matt Angell is not only an almond farmer himself, but owns Madera Pumps, a company that drills wells and repairs well pumps. He knows that droughts, like the California sunshine go hand-in-hand, and as John Steinbeck wrote: “no one (forgets) the last drought faster than the farmer.”

Since the middle 1970s, almond farmers have persevered through at least five droughts and their solution to the problem was always the same – BUILD MORE DAMS.

BUILD MORE DAMS

Those three words stopped me cold. Who else thinks like this? Radio people, that’s who.

Today in America, there are now 26,076 radio stations on the air, 2,500 of these stations are broadcasting in HD which adds another 2,100 multicast radio channels to the mix. That’s about a 93% increase in the number of radio signals from when I started in high school.

The radio industry and almond farmers, have both felt that the way to grow is by adding more and more and more. Almond farmers added more acreage of almond trees and radio owners added more signals.

Aquifers

The dam reality was the San Joaquin River already had a half-a-dozen dams diverting its water, so the next solution to obtaining more water for almond irrigation was to drill down to the aquifers beneath the farmlands. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the farmers of Madera County to pump out the easily available ground water and see their wells coming up dry. As they were drilling deeper and deeper into the earth, a hidden lake beneath the farmlands was discovered in 2014. It was shocking to see it pumped dry in only seven years.

Angell noted that the snow on the mountain had melted two months earlier than “normal,” and the water level of the San Joaquin river was so low, it was now nothing more than a series of unconnected ponds as well as the wells – residential, business and farming – all over the community were running dry.

The reality is, the Madera County underground water table is one of the most over-tapped aquifers in the West, and all those wells had depleted the underground water source, causing the aquifer to collapse.

The Advertising Pie

It was before the COVID19 pandemic gripped our world, Gordon Borrell hosted a webinar back in early 2019 and told of how the media pie (the radio industry’s aquifer, if you will) is over-tapped.

To put things in perspective, Gordon shared how an over-populated media landscape is impacting local advertisers.

  • 1,300 daily newspapers, 6,500 weeklies
  • 4,700 printed directory books
  • 4,665 AM radio stations, 6,757 commercial FM radio stations
  • 1,760 Class A TV stations
  • More than 1,000 cable systems with local sales staffs
  • 660,000 podcasts were actively produced in 2018
  • 495 NEW TV shows were introduced last year in addition to what’s already on
  • PLUS, local ad sales are taking place on Facebook, Google and Amazon

Same Old Answer

Despite the fact that the water from the aquifer and river was being depleted by droughts, climate change and being over-tapped, the almond farmers’ answer was always the same, said Mark Angell, “Plant more almonds and pistachios. Plant more housing tracts on farmland. But the river isn’t the same. The aquifer isn’t the same.”

Listen to radio owners, and they will tell you they too need more and more radio signals in order to stay viable, despite the fact that the advertising pie is finite and media supported by advertising continues to expand exponentially.

“I used to use the word unprecedented to describe what we’re doing to the land,” said Angell, but “now I use the word biblical.” Is it any different for radio broadcasters?

The Solution

For the nut farmers of Madera County, the solution is a hard pill to swallow, it’s “to figure out a way to retire one million acres of the six million farmed, “otherwise, we’re looking at a race to the bottom,” said Angell.

For radio broadcasters, Gordon Borrell said the solution to the future of media expenditures would be a process of “thinning the herd.”

The way advertising buyers are responding to a world of media abundance, Borrell says, is by:

  • Decreasing the number of companies from which they buy advertising from 5 to 3.5, and
  • 90% of their media buys are being made with companies who can bundle traditional and digital advertising.

Killing the Golden Goose

Do you remember the Aesop fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs? Let me refresh your memory of this tale. It’s about a farmer that was poor. One day he makes a startling discovery when he finds a golden egg in the nest of his pet goose. Skeptical at first, he has the egg tested and finds that it is indeed made of pure gold. Even more amazing, each day this farmer awakes to find that his goose has laid another golden egg. In very short order, this poor farmer becomes fabulously wealthy. But then his wealth brings greed and impatience. No longer satisfied with just one golden egg per day, the farmer cuts open his goose to harvest all of its golden eggs at once only to find the goose is empty inside. With a now dead goose, there will be no more golden eggs laid.

In remembering this fable, it sounded so familiar to the world of radio broadcasting and almond farmers. Both possessed a wonderful “goose” that laid daily “golden eggs.”

Unfortunately for almond farmers, in wanting more, they are killing their water supply, and for broadcasters not wishing to wait for each day’s golden egg, cut open their goose beginning with the Telcom Act of 1996, that allowed them to own as many radio stations as they basically wished.

The moral of Aesop’s fable is if you focus only on the golden eggs and neglect the goose that lays them, you will soon be without the very asset that produces the golden eggs.

The radio industry’s quest for short-term returns, or results, took their free FCC licenses and ruined them by not maintaining the balance between the production of desired results and the production capacity of the asset.

Aesop’s fable is the very principle of effectiveness. It’s a natural law. Like gravity, you don’t have to believe in it or understand its principles, but you can never escape its effects.

Radio broadcasters probably saw the moral of the fable being the more geese you own, the more spots you add to the hour, the more effective your R.O.I. (Return On Investment) will be.

Almond farmers saw the moral of the fable as planting more trees, install more powerful pumps to withdraw more water and watch your R.O.I. grow.

But ironically, it is the principle of “Less Is More” that in the end rules the day.

To be truly effective, you need to maintain the balance of what is produced (golden eggs/revenue) and the producing asset (your goose/radio station/almond trees).

Everything in excess

is opposed to nature.

-Hippocrates

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If It’s to Be, It’s Up to Me

The first time I ever heard those words, they came out of the mouth of Dick Vaughan.

Sadly, this lifelong radio/TV broadcaster left us on Monday, August 9th. He was one of those people you meet in life that you never forget; a larger-than-life personality.

Philadelphia

The first time I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with Dick Vaughan was in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. We worked for the same radio company, but in different Massachusetts cities. I worked in Pittsfield and he worked in Ware.

Over a weeklong NAB Management Training Program at The Wharton School, we would each learn that we shared many of the same passions: a love of the radio business, love of family, a love of learning and a strong desire to make a difference in the world.

Our days were spent in classes and every evening we had dinner together. During one of those dinners, Dick mentioned that he was a member of Philadelphia’s Joseph A. Ferko String Band. Since they would be rehearsing at Ferko Hall that evening, he asked if I’d like to go over and hear them? I said, “YES!” and we departed for 2630 Bridge street in Philadelphia.

One of the earliest LP (long play) record albums I remember owning was of the Ferko String Band, so this was very exciting, but puzzling news. How did Dick Vaughan who lived and worked in Ware, Massachusetts become a member of the Ferko String Band?

Ferko String Band

Turns out that Dick became involved with the band in 1956, when he was on a committee planning an anniversary celebration for the Massachusetts city of Medford. Having played the Ferko String Band’s records on the radio and knowing the spectacular regalia the band wore in the annual New Year’s Day Mummers Parades, he figured they would be a huge attraction.

Dick picked up the phone and called Joseph Ferko. Mr. Ferko told Mr. Vaughan that the band had never performed outside of Philadelphia. Now, Dick Vaughan lived by the attitude that there was no such thing as can’t, leading to the Ferko String Band’s first out-of-state performance in Medford. This first road trip would be a success and lead to years of extensive touring by the band and Dick Vaughan being invited to become a member. Dick’s membership in the Ferko String Band would span decades and often saw him in the role of Master of Ceremonies at many Mummer’s events.

Always Say “YES”

Another thing that bonded Dick and I, was a belief that the way you get ahead in the world is to always say “YES” when anyone asks you to do something. It’s by taking on new challenges that you learn and grow in life.

WARE Radio

WARE in Ware, Massachusetts is one of two American radio stations whose call letters are also the name of their city of license, the other being WACO in Waco, Texas.

Hearing Dick Vaughan talk about WARE and the success this radio station enjoyed, created a strong desire in me to drive to that part of the state and visit the station. I expected the building to tower over this rural community, but it didn’t, it was located in a single story structure. WARE was a powerhouse radio station because what the it accomplished for its advertisers, listeners and community. Dick Vaughan would be the station’s general manager from 1958 to 1986.

Hand Grenade

One of the sales stories I remember Dick sharing with me was how he got the attention of a business owner that wouldn’t stop and listen to him explain why advertising on WARE would grow his business. Dick’s solution to this problem was to go to an Army Navy Store and purchase a dud hand grenade. He returned to this business and stood in the middle of the store, held up the hand grenade and pulled the pin. The business owner froze in place and Dick would then say, “now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you how WARE can help you grow your business.” DV made the sale and it would become a long-term advertising relationship.

YaGottaWanna

Dick Vaughan was a mentor to many people, both in and out of radio. Many remember a sign on his desk that read “YaGottaWanna,” and how he preached that the difference between winning and losing is all about the effort you put into what you want to accomplish and that you have to want to win.

He demanded that everyone who worked at the station had to bring their ‘A’ game every day, and if you didn’t, he made sure you heard about it.

Massachusetts Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame

It was just last month that Dick Vaughan reached out to me to support him in his effort to be selected for induction into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Dick didn’t make the cut in 2021, but it gave us a chance to spend an hour on the phone together. He told me about his TV show on Charlton Community Television Channel 12 and what programs he was working on. He never retired, explaining that staying active was one of the secrets to living a long life.

You’ve got to do something you love

Dick’s father was a U. S. Navy commander and he once told his son that you’ve got to find something you like to do in life and then figure out a way to get paid for it. Dick’s broadcasting career turned out to be just that, a job he loved and got paid for.

Dick Vaughan took a radio job opportunity he was offered back in the 1950s, gave it his all and never looked back.  

R.I.P. Dick Vaughan (August 21, 1935 – August 9, 2021)

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The Butterfly Effect

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the butterfly effect “as a property of chaotic systems (such as the atmosphere) by which small changes in initial conditions can lead to large-scale and unpredictable variation in the future state of the system.”

Mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz found that a very small change in initial conditions could create a significantly different outcome as he studied how data, that had been rounded in a seemingly inconsequential manner, greatly impacted the outcome. In other words, a very small change in the initial conditions created significantly different outcomes.

The concept, that small causes may have large impacts to weather patterns was also studied by French mathematician and engineer Henri Poincaré and American mathematician and philosopher Norbert Wiener.

The butterfly effect concept is now often applied to any situation where a small change is supposed to be the cause of larger consequences.

Speed Limits

Last week, Sue & I traveled to North Jersey for another granddaughter’s birthday. What we noticed as we drove the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway was that traveling the speed limit made us a “road hazard.” Even traveling 5 or 10 miles over the posted speed limit saw our car being passed as if we were standing still.

It made us wonder, how fast does one need to exceed the speed limit to be pulled over by a New Jersey State Trooper? Does everyone breaking the law, make it alright? Does speeding in one’s car have implications for other aspect of our lives?

Bicycling on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City

Growing up, my family enjoyed vacationing in Atlantic City. I remember rising early in the morning and heading to one of the many bicycle rental shops to ride the boards as the sun came up. In the 60s, bike riding was only permitted between the hours of 6 and 10am, and anyone caught riding a bike after 10am was immediately escorted off the boardwalk.

In July, 2016, the hours for riding bikes on the boardwalk were extended from 6am to 12 Noon.

But Sue & I, along with other pedestrians would find ourselves constantly dodging bicycles at all hours of the day and night as we strolled the boards and no one seemed to be enforcing the rules.

But it wasn’t just bicycles, people were also playing loud music, drinking alcoholic beverages, riding skateboards and walking their dogs along this world famous boardwalk.

Simple rules for the good of all, and no one enforcing them. Did these people think that because they can exceed the speed limit when driving, they can ignore other regulations too?

Wearing Face Masks

The places we stayed at, all had signs stating that face masks must be worn by everyone while inside the building, yet most people didn’t wear a mask. Some that did wear them, wore them below their nose or under their chin, which amounts to the same thing as not wearing one at all.

Is the reason we can’t get people to do this simple preventative measure, stem from the fact that we are okay with people doing their own thing, regardless of the consequences?

Climate Change

When we were out on the west coast for our oldest granddaughter’s high school graduation in Oak Harbor, Washington, we experienced the heat dome that impacted the northwest back in June.

It was dangerously hot, but it didn’t just happen by itself. It happened because like the disregard we show for speed limits posted on our roadways, the lack of respect we give to rules about when we can ride a bicycle on a crowded boardwalk, whether our discomfort in wearing a face mask outweighs infecting another person with the Delta virus, we continue to ignore the impact we’re having on the climate of the only planet humans have to inhabit.

To change the world, we must all first start with changing ourselves.

Speaking of change…

Radio on the Beach & Boardwalk

Walking the boardwalk, back in the 80s and 90s when I managed radio stations in Atlantic City, you heard radios playing all over the beach and every boardwalk store you entered, but that was then. Today what you hear are advertisements for casino shows, restaurants, and other coming attractions coming from digital signs with speakers placed every couple of feet along the boardwalk or music coming from the speakers placed in front of the various boardwalk casinos that broadcast messages to come inside.

Again, it’s worth noting that in each place we stayed, our rooms came equipped with high-speed internet and flat screen high definition television sets, but not a radio in sight.

Where Have All the DJs Gone?

Spinning the radio dial in my car, I was sad to hear nothing but songs, commercials, promos and jingles. The radio personality has vanished from most radio stations.

Pipe Organs and Radio Stations

At 12Noon every weekday, Boardwalk Hall offers a free 30-minute organ concert featuring the World’s Largest Pipe Organ. Sue and I have walked through the inside of this mammoth instrument and enjoyed hearing it stir our souls.

It occurred to me that maybe the reason I so love giant pipe organs is because sitting at the console of one these beasts, is like being surrounded by turntables, cart machines, reel-to-reel recorders and the master control board at a radio station.

Nothing happens from either, until a talented performer takes command and makes the magic happen.

I’m happy to report that we were entertained by a 19-year old organist last week who made the Midmer-Losh Boardwalk Hall pipe organ with 33,112 pipes and 449 voices that are all controlled from a seven-keyboard console on the arena’s main stage come alive.

I only wish I could say the same for radio stations we listened to, which today all are running without a new generation of broadcasters plying their trade. Most are simply running on auto-pilot.

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Still On The Beach

From north Jersey to south Jersey,

we’re loving summer at the Jersey Shore.

Back with a new blog article on Sunday, August 15th.

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It’s Beach Time

After a year of not traveling due to COVID19,

it’s good to be able to visit family once again.

Back with a new blog article on August 15th.

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HD Radio – The Answer to the Question No One Was Asking

I was reading about how HD Radio was celebrating its 15th birthday recently and that had me scratching my head as HD Radio is older than that. In checking the records, I saw that the Federal Communications Commission selected HD Radio as America’s digital standard in 2002. By comparison, Steve Jobs introduced Apple’s iPod in October 2001, XM Satellite Radio began service in 2001 and Sirius Satellite Radio in 2002.

Radios Go High-Definition

This was the headline that appeared in the Baltimore Sun on January 7, 2004. Unfortunately, unlike HDTV (High Definition Television) HD Radio never stood for “High Definition.” And possibly that was the first mistake. HD Radio was simply a name they chose for the digital radio technology, but even today, many people still think it means “High Definition” or “Hybrid Digital.”

Sadly, by 2004, America’s digital radio was late to the party and if the industry is now marking the date of 2006 as its moment of birth, it was really late!

Remembering 2006

In 2006, Facebook opened up its social network to everyone in the world. The original requirement that you be a college student enrolled at a specific university was eliminated and the only requirement now was that you were over the age of 13 and had a valid email address.

In just 15-years, Facebook has grown to over 2.85 billion active monthly users.

Let’s look at what else was born in 2006 that competes for our attention:

  • Twitter was launched in 2006 and today enjoys 199 million monetizable daily active users.
  • Wii game system was introduced with its handheld motion controller that got families off the couch and in motion doing all kinds of sports in front of the TV.
  • PlayStation 3 came online to provide strong competition to XBOX 360. (Video gamers spent about eight hours and 27 minutes each week playing games, which is an increase of 14% over 2020. The video gaming industry predicts revenues of $100.56 billion by 2024)
  • Google bought YouTube in 2006 and now has over 2 billion users, the channel grosses over $19.7 billion in revenue and users are uploading videos at the rate of 500 videos per minute with over a billion hours/day spent watching videos on the platform.
  • The one billionth song was purchased from Apple’s iTunes, the dominate source for music lovers in 2006. (Two years later Spotify would arrive and not only disrupt how music was sold but how it was listened to in general.)

When we look at 2006, it becomes easier to understand why HD Radio wasn’t such a big deal to the average media consumer.

Solving a Problem That Didn’t Exist

What HD Radio did for FM radio stations was solve a problem that listeners to FM didn’t feel existed. No one who listened to FM radio was complaining about the quality of the sound, they were complaining about other things, like too many commercials. And for AM radio stations, it meant people buying radios for a service that didn’t offer anything they really wanted to hear or couldn’t get elsewhere. AM radio was now the service of senior citizens who already owned AM radios, who grew up with AM radio’s characteristics and whose hearing was not the best now anyway. So, HD Radio for AM wasn’t anything they were asking for and worse, AM radio stations that put on the new digital signal found it lacked the benefits of skywave and often interfered with other company AM radio stations as the industry quickly consolidated radio ownership.

Industries Most Disrupted By Digital

In March 2016, an article published by Rhys Grossman in the Harvard Business Review listed “Media” as the most disrupted by the growing digital economy. Turns out, if you’re a business-to-consumer business, you’re first being most disrupted by digital. The barriers to be a media company used to be huge, but in a digital world they are not, meaning that the business model that media companies depend on has not adapted well to the digital economy.

Elephant in the Room

But the elephant in the room remains the broken media business model. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television – any media that is ad supported – will be challenged to find a way to capture revenue to continue operating.

Walt Disney famously said “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make movies.”

Broadcasters of my generation had that same attitude about creating great radio.

Do the people owning and operating today’s radio stations still embrace that concept?

* In 2021, it’s estimated there are 3.78 billion social media users worldwide.

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What I Recently Witnessed About Radio Use

Sue & I just returned from a seven week trip out west to visit our children and grandchildren who are living in Nevada, Montana and Washington. For me, our trip would also be a chance to witness how radio is used (or not used) in three different households, as well as in hotels, businesses and public transportation. What I would witness, was concerning.

Nevada

In Nevada, I noticed that for a household of seven, not a single radio was to be found. Audio was accessed by asking Alexa (Amazon Echo) to play something or a particular playlist was sent wirelessly to speakers via someone’s iPhone. Everyone, even the very youngest grandchild, who’s five, had their own iPhone.

In a house where both parents work, and can be called out at any hour of the day, this type of communications for all family members becomes a necessity.

Radio listening, if done at all, was something only done when in the car. Television, was connected to a cable bundle and only CNN or Netflix seemed to get viewed. The grandkids spent most of their time playing video games on the house computer, game console or their iPhones.

Montana

Here a Sonos home speaker system had been installed in the home. I found that two different local radio stations (country & classic rock) were programmed into rotation, along with an Amazon Echo smart speaker. Our grandkids called up songs they wanted to hear by asking Alexa to play them, so in the week we spent, Alexa was pretty much the default choice for anything musically played.

Television programs were all streamed via YouTube TV.

Radio pre-sets in the car were set to several country stations, several classic rock stations, several contemporary music stations and an oldies station. In all, 22 different radio stations were loaded onto the pre-sets. I added KBMC to that pre-set list when we borrowed the car a couple of times. KBMC programs a variety of jazz and classical music.

Washington

Our stay in the State of Washington took place on Whidbey Island. The only radio signal licensed on the island plays regional Mexican music and the majority of its content is in Spanish. So, it wasn’t surprising to find the pre-sets on the car radio did not include KNZW – La Zeta 103.3.

What was surprising was to see that all the pre-sets were to HD1 signals in this Mazda 6 sedan. (It appears Mazda has their radio default to HD signals and you have to toggle it off to get FM signals.) Since the island is just across the water from Seattle, all of the pre-sets were to Seattle radio stations. The two that dominated the listening in the car were KSWD (Audacy’s 94.1 The Sound) when mom was behind the wheel and KQMV (Hubbard’s Movin’ 92.5) when either of the grand kids got control of the radio. However, what is dispiriting to witness is how frequently the radio stations get changed whenever something comes on that they don’t wish to hear. When commercials come on, the station gets changed. Likewise, when songs they don’t like come on, the station gets changed. It’s like watching football using the Red Zone.

Here again, not a single radio receiver was to be found inside the home.

The Bus & Hotels

When we departed Whidbey Island, we took a bus into Seattle. On the bus we listened to KSWD 94.1 The Sound out of Seattle. It provided a nice sound track for the ride and the bus driver never changed the station for the two hours it took to reach our destination.

Every hotel room we stayed in featured flat screen TVs but none had a radio. The old clock radios have been replaced by digital clock/USB charging stations for our iPhones, iPads and laptop computers.

Summing It All Up

I realize there is nothing scientific about this, it’s all anecdotal, but it was a dose of reality that confirms much of the research I’m reading about today’s radio landscape.

No one in our seven weeks on the road tuned into any AM radio station. FM, was radio to everyone, but then, only in their vehicles. Listening to radio in the home was not possible, because there was only one radio in any of the homes we stayed at and that was in the garage.

HD Radio sounds great, but in all honesty, the one family that had this easily accessible in their car, probably didn’t know that’s what they were listening to and it certainly wasn’t the reason they were listening to any particular station.

With the exception of our two hour bus ride, radio exposure could be measured in short segments, that only happened to occur because the radio comes on with the ignition switch. Sadly, changing radio stations occurs constantly, so any commercial content never gets heard.

Likewise, businesses we frequented either had their own franchise “radio station,” like Walmart Radio or streamed a music channel from some other music service they subscribed to.

In our travels, we didn’t see a TV commercial, billboard or bumper sticker for any radio station. Lots of shirts and sweatshirts promoting lots of things, but not one for any radio station.

Radio, it would appear, has become the Rodney Dangerfield of media.

“We don’t get no respect.”

But then maybe, it’s a self-inflicted situation

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