Back next week with the year’s most impactful articles
on DTB in 2018.
Back next week with the year’s most impactful articles
on DTB in 2018.
We can all be sitting in the same place and listening to the same thing, yet hear something different. The reason often is our level of attention to what’s being presented and our ability to focus or be distracted.
What is Listening?
Listening is a matter of paying attention. The more closely you listen, the more you will hear.
I remember hearing Roy Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads telling me, “you can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears.” Even the best ear plugs only reduce, but never eliminate all sound.
How Are Your Listening Habits?
“Poor listening habits are responsible for many of our daily woes. Whether it’s a damaging disagreement, a miscommunication or an awful customer service experience, the problem of human communication is often as simple as a failure to pay attention and truly hear what the other person is saying,” writes Jim Smith in Fast Company.
“Good listening is like tuning in a radio station. For good results, you can listen to only one radio station at a time. Trying to listen to my wife while looking over an office report is like trying to receive two radio stations at the same time. I end up with distortion and frustration. Listening requires a choice of where I place my attention. To tune into my partner, I must first choose to put away all that will divide my attention. That might mean laying down the newspaper, moving away from the dishes in the sink, putting down the book I’m reading, setting aside my projects.” -Robert W. Herron, Homemade
Larry King is famous for being a good interviewer. Larry says that his ability to listen to his guests and really hear what they are telling him, spawns his best questions.
Listening & Sales
If you truly want to understand what another person is saying, you need to listen with full engagement and make a connection to that other person on an emotional level.
In sales, this can be powerful, because people buy with their emotions and justify their purchases with logic.
Sales people often lose a sale simply because they weren’t fully listening to what a client was telling them. But sales people who focus on what a client is saying find they offer plenty of clues as to how to steer the conversation and make a sale.
Sales people who keep talking and selling their services versus listening, often leave a client meeting scratching their head wondering why they didn’t make the sale.
The Pitfalls of Poor Listening
Everyone can benefit from developing better listening skills, not just sales people.
Writer Charles Swindoll once found himself with too many commitments in too few days. He got nervous and tense about it. “I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at mealtimes and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions through the day,” he said. Before long, things around Swindoll’s home started reflecting the pattern of his hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable.
“I distinctly remember after supper one evening, the words of our younger daughter, Colleen,” Swindoll said. “She wanted to tell me something important that had happened to her at school that day and she began hurriedly by saying ‘Daddy, I wanna tell you somethin’ and I’ll tell you really fast.’
Suddenly realizing her frustration, Swindoll told his daughter, “Honey, you can tell me and you don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.”
Swindoll says he never forgot her answer, “then listen slowly.”
Are You Listening?
While it’s easy to listen, listening well is hard, but it is a skill well worth your investment in learning how to do. I’m still working at it for myself.
To our peril we’d rather hear ourselves talk, then listen to someone else.
Learning to listen well requires discipline, effort and intention. The average human has an attention span of 8-seconds and today’s world offers more distractions and competition for our attention than at any time in history.
Being a good listener can open you up to new information that could be beneficial to you.
Now here’s the irony about becoming a good listener, good listeners are often told they’re good conversationalists.
Good listeners make friends, sales and are always welcomed wherever they go.
Become a good listener and a new world will open before you.
It was the radio commercial that planted Motel 6’s “We’ll keep the light on for you,” in your brain. The frequency and repetition of that phrase, along with a well-crafted and ever changing script always kept you wondering what Tom Bodett was going to tell you next, that you already didn’t know about this motel chain.
Long before there were wireless communications at sea, the lighthouse was the way sailors kept their ships on course and away from danger.
Lighthouse keepers kept these sentinel beacons operational through the darkness and all kinds of weather. Lighthouses, those keepers thought, were never going away.
And they haven’t.
But with lighthouse keepers, today’s technology has basically eliminated the need for them.
Radio stations are also not going away, but the need for radio personalities, for staffing of any kind on weekends, nights and holidays, has.
Radio stations and lighthouses are both communication centers people depend on. Often for their life.
Bob Christy recently wrote about “Real Life in the Fire Zone…” about his own personal experience during the California wildfires near his home in Southern California. He told of the incredible radio coverage provided by two Los Angeles radio stations, KFI AM640 and KNX AM1070. Due to the fires, they had no wired communication in their home. Bob said he dug out an old boom box, loaded it up with batteries and tuned in the AM radio news and news/talk stations for updates about the fires.
Like a lot of us Boomers and members of the Greatest Generation, Bob grew up on AM radio. But I wondered if many who might have benefitted from the coverage even knew about those AM radio stations or if they even had any type of OTA radio in their home.
Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society
My older brother is active in the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society. He’s also a photographer and in addition to working as a volunteer at the HALPS, he travels frequently around the world seeing and photographing lighthouses.
The annual season for touring Hudson-Athens Lighthouse concluded this fall. The lighthouse is located in the middle of the Hudson River between Hudson, New York and Athens, New York. The Coast Guard has an automated LED light on the lighthouse that is still used by ships to navigate that part of the Hudson River but no person physically is needed to man the light. In fact, no person has been needed for years due to technology.
This historic lighthouse, like almost all lighthouses around the world, are maintained by local volunteers that love and care for these critical communication centers of the past.
I wondered if one day, something similar might be the case for some of America’s heritage radio stations, maintained as museum pieces, as another part of communications history.
I often hear radio people say things like “Radio will never go away.” I think lighthouse keepers probably said that sort of thing once too. The navigational beacons remain, but the nature of what used to be called a lighthouse, does not. All that’s needed today is an automated LED beacon mounted on any kind of tall structure.
At an all-hands meeting in November, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was asked by an employee about the future of the company, to which Bezos stunned his people by responding, “Amazon is not too big to fail, in fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail.”
If such a thing could happen to the world’s biggest online retailer, what makes us think it would never happen in our industry?
Prolonging Amazon’s Demise
Bezos said, the key to prolonging the demise of Amazon was to “obsess over customers and to avoid looking inward, worrying about itself. If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end.”
I remember when one of the radio station clusters I managed was taken over by one of the big C companies and the company leader told us that we should be focused on making money for the company. It was 180-degrees from the kind of radio I was raised on, where if you took care of your employees, your listeners and your advertisers, the company would get their reward in the end from doing those other three things right.
Where Will They Come From?
Sometimes when we look at another industry or occupation, it gives us insight into the future of our own specialty.
In America, the last officially manned lighthouse was the Boston Light. The United States Coast Guard manned it until 1998. During the last twenty years, volunteers have maintained the light and given tours.
What these volunteer groups are now finding is that with each passing year, fewer and fewer people are doing more and more of the work. New volunteers are increasingly harder to find and often depart quickly when they learn of all the work needed to keep these facilities operational.
And sadly, some of these lighthouses may soon be closing their doors for good due to lack of interest.
It Can Happen Here
There are lessons to be learned from both the story of lighthouses and Amazon.
Will the leaders of radio take a Jeff Bezos approach to the radio industry’s future or end up like lighthouse keepers?
Sadly, it’s that time of the year when radio station budgets are being finalized and staffs are being cut before the start of a new year.
Hubbard Radio’s Chicago VP/GM Jeff England recently told the trades, “As technology evolves, we have to look for ways to use it to our advantage. The difficult decision to reduce staff is an effort to remain competitive in a very challenging environment.”
The large radio companies are faced with the same challenges that America’s large car companies are faced with, a rapidly changing marketplace.
GM’s CEO, Mary Bara, announced that General Motors would be shuttering seven plants around the globe to focus on increasing production of new electric vehicles. More than 14,000 GM workers will be out of a job as the company laid them off without any warning.
An outraged GM worker told the press, “You’re going right into Christmas. You’re looking for a celebration and that’s not there now.”
Sadly, I’ve known lots of radio people who can identify with how the workers at closing GM plants feel. I am one of them, as Clear Channel showed me the door without warning, just before Christmas 2009.
What makes these plant closings so impactful to their communities is not just the GM workers out-of-work, but the additional downsizing in the support businesses in those communities and elsewhere. As many as seven more people, for every GM worker, could see their jobs eliminated at businesses such as food services, retailers, healthcare, etc. All the businesses that broadcasting depends on for advertising.
Focused on the Future
Mary Bara, in a statement, said of GM’s decision to close some of its plants, “The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future. We recognize the need to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences to position our company for long-term success.”
Is this any different than what any other industry, including broadcasting, needs to be doing?
Top Tech Trends for 2019
I just sat in on a Juniper Research webinar about the “Top 10 Tech Trends for 2019” and it was mind numbing in many ways.
I try to stay up on the latest trends, but I must admit I needed a second browser window open during their presentation to understand what the heck they were talking about. They were using terms like chatbots, loot boxes, RPAs, RCSs, etc.; like these were common everyday terms.
Here’s what I learned about tech’s future as it may impact radio and broadcasting:
Intel is working with China’s Alibaba (an internet service that connects buyers with sellers) to develop artificial intelligence to enhance EDGE computing power in the internet of things. China is a huge market for American companies. In the case of General Motors, they didn’t build car assembly plants in China to ship those vehicles to America, they built them to sell vehicles in China. In the first nine months of 2018, GM sold 2.7 million cars in China compared to 2.6 million cars in all of North America.
Amazon’s digital voice assistant, Alexa, will be deployed in more devices. Currently voice assistants are in 9% of the households worldwide according to Juniper Research. That percentage is even higher in developed markets and VA’s will become a service-led market going forward.
5G wireless will enable RCS (Rich Communication Services) that will compete with services like Facebook messaging and is expected to bring people back to messaging directly via their smartphones, due to a more vibrant, media-rich platform. RCS is the successor to SMS text messaging that we now use.
Digital Advertising in 2020
Salesforce Research in their latest insights into the new era of advertising and media buying report says that:
“Consumers and business buyers receive more messages, through more
channels, then ever before. Cutting through the noise requires advertisers
to deliver hyperpersonalized messages that resonate at the individual
level. Now, advertising is undergoing a transformation — the biggest
revolution since the launch of digital ads in the 1990s — driven by data.
To effectively reach audiences and interact with them in a smarter, 1-to-1
manner, advertisers must connect and make sense of a myriad of data
sources. Of course, achieving this requires a shift in dynamics; advertising
and marketing can’t live in vacuums. Technology can’t be an afterthought.
The winners in this new era will coalesce the right teams and technologies
to harness data, more precisely track their efforts, and measure progress
to evolve their strategies at the pace of the consumer.
Dominant channels — and thus budgets — are shifting, too. Increasingly,
advertisers will rely on major platforms under the Google and Facebook
umbrellas to deliver their messages. And success isn’t measured only by clicks and impressions, but also lifetime customer value.”
Salesforce says that advertising and marketing are converging, and that the same team now performs both functions and shares the same budget. Companies now are over the tipping point (57%-59%) internalizing their ad spend decisions for Facebook/Instagram and Google search. 94% of companies now use Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM) data to target their advertising. The main benefactors of this change are Facebook and Google, with an estimated 66% of digital ad spend going to just these two.
Click HERE to get your copy of the full report from Salesforce.
Strategy, Tactics and Radio’s WHY
I asked the question in the fall of this year, “What’s Radio’s Why?” I asked that question because it often appears that radio is employing lots of tactics without first having a grand plan; a strategy.
GM and Ford both see a future where SUVs, trucks and electric vehicles will be their primary focus. Ford plans to eliminate all but two of its car lines and GM announced that it would be terminating many of its car models too. Both of these car companies have a future strategy, and I would contest, have found their “why.”
In order to have a profitable strategy for radio, the industry must first answer what its WHY is, and that it fits into the needs, wants and desires of a 21st Century listening audience.
It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving and you’ve probably had too much to eat. It won’t be much longer before it’s time to make New Year’s resolutions and many will again make losing some of those extra holiday pounds their goal in 2019.
But, that’s not the “weight” problem I want to address today.
Actually, it’s America’s WAIT problem.
Everyone’s in a Hurry
I guess one of the benefits about being retired is that it gives you a chance to hit the pause button on your life and bear witness to everyone else around you. Unfortunately, what I’m seeing is a world where everyone’s in a big rush to get somewhere. On the highways, traveling the speed limit, makes one feel like a road obstruction.
Once upon a time, I used to push the speed limit. I even had a radar detector on my dashboard. But all that darn thing did was make me anxious. It gave off lots of false alarms and I finally got rid of it. No one seemed to get pulled over for going 5-miles over the speed limit, I thought, so who needs a radar detector anyway.
Then I got a GPS. I quickly learned that going 5-miles under the speed limit got me to my destination about the same time and I could drive all the way using cruise control, hardly ever touching the gas or brake. Driving everywhere has become such a pleasure.
Maybe everyone should have a GPS to show them slowing down is a positive, and makes our highways a safer place for everyone.
America’s wait problem extends to so many places.
Disney offers a fast pass at their parks to allow patrons to get into their favorite attractions faster. Supermarkets offer self-checkouts or carts with handheld scanners to allow their customers to get in and out of their markets quicker.
Sheetz (a gas/convenience store chain in our area) sent me a post card asking if I’d like to download their App because, as they put it “lines are overwaited.”
Pandora, Apple and Spotify offer listeners a “skip button” to bypass songs they don’t want to hear, and allow them to get to the next song faster. They all seem to limit this feature to about six songs an hour and users think this limit is too low from what I’m reading.
Short Attention Spans
Short attention spans seem to be affecting everyone these days. It’s probably the underlying cause of “America’s Wait Problem.”
Technology Enables Wait Problems
I remember having a six-transistor radio as a youth. It had two dials on it, one for volume and the other to change the AM frequency the unit could receive. Our television set at that time was connected to two antennas on top of our house, one for the NBC TV station and the other for the CBS TV station in our area. If you wanted to change TV stations, you got off the couch to turn the dial.
Then, radios got presets for the growing number of AM and FM stations that were on the air, and television sets got remote controls and became connected to a cable that offered a myriad of TV channels.
Today, the NFL offers a channel that keeps switching to every scoring drive around the league.
If you didn’t have a short attention span as a child, you’re acquiring it as an adult in today’s media world.
Why Most Songs are 3 to 5 Minutes Long
The first records were 78s. They were called that, because the discs spun around at 78 revolutions per minute. The 10-inch 78s could hold about 3-minutes’ worth of music and the 12-inch 78s could hold about 4-minutes.
In 1949, RCA introduced the 45-rpm discs with those huge holes in the middle. Like the 78s, these new records also could only hold about 3 to 4-minutes’ worth of music.
In spite of the fact that as technology took away such time constraints, artists knew if they wanted radio airplay, they had to keep their songs in that 3 to 5 minute zone.
Oh sure, there were exceptions; “Hey Jude” by the Beatles and “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris come to mind. Back in the day many DJs called them bathroom break songs.
Some radio operators in Canada and Australia tried cutting song lengths in half, saying it was because their “listeners attention spans suck.” A format called “QuickHitz” launched in the USA in 2012 and limited the length of every hit song played to just 2-minutes. John Sakamoto, a staff reporter for Canada’s STAR newspaper wrote: “Once you get over the initial outrage, it actually makes perfect sense. Our attention spans are short, four minutes seems like an eternity, therefore something designed to capture our attention — say, a pop song — should be twice as good at half the length.”
SPOILER ALERT: That Calgary radio station John wrote about quickly abandoned the format calling it an “interesting experiment.” You can read the rest of the story HERE.
Wait a Minute
And there, in essence, is our problem as a society today. We can’t wait. Not even a minute.
We want it, when we want it, on the device we want it on, and we want complete control over it, once we have it.
This is the 21st Century media challenge for all of us.
On this Sunday before Thanksgiving, I’d like to take a time-out from my normal blogging topics and reflect on all of the things in my life I have to be grateful for. Hopefully, it will bring to mind similar thoughts about your life this past year and those things you have to be grateful for too.
First and foremost, I’m grateful for Sue Flynn Towley, the love of my life, who will become my life partner this coming Saturday.
I’m grateful for our thirteen wonderful grandchildren. Each one of them special, healthy, happy, and loved.
I’m grateful for our two sons and four daughters who’ve welcomed each of us into the family.
I’m grateful for my two older brothers and Sue’s older sister that have known each of us individually, since birth, and have been our support system in good times and bad.
I’m grateful for accepting myself for exactly who I am, and how I’m changing with age.
I’m grateful for still having a boundless curiosity and desire to never stop learning and growing.
I’m grateful that I’ve learned how to slow down and savor each morsel of daily life. Life is not about getting to the finish line first, but about enjoying the journey.
I’m grateful that through sharing, I can add value to others’ lives.
I’m grateful for knowing, at an early age, the two career paths I wanted to travel – radio for over four decades and college teaching for nearly a decade – and being able to do both.
I’m grateful for a successful media mentorship blog that has reached over 118,000 people from all over the world, continues to grow, and allows me to pay-it-forward to the next generation of broadcasters.
I’m grateful for all the wonderful people I’ve met on this journey called life, people who were only strangers until we said “hello,” and then became friends for life.
I’m grateful for having enough.
I’m grateful for God’s love.
I’m grateful for YOU.
There are lots of items in the news these days about what the radio industry should be doing. Streaming, podcasting, smart speaker accessible etc. The one thing I hear little talk about is, improving the core product and focusing on what the listener is seeking.
The Radio Ecosystem
If you think about it, the radio ecosystem, AM/FM radios, have not seen any real changes in decades. Oh, there was the introduction of HD Radio – introduced around the same time as Apple introduced the iPod (R.I.P. 2001-2014), but listeners never really understood the need for it. HD Radio was embraced by commercial broadcasters when they learned they could feed analog FM translators from HD Radio signals and have more FM radio stations in a single marketplace. This was hardly listener focused and actually chained the radio ecosystem to old analog technology.
What IS Radio?
In the beginning, radio was a way to wirelessly communicate with other people using Morse Code on spark gap transmissions. Guglielmo Marconi built a radio empire on this technology.
David Sarnoff, a skilled Morse Code operator and a Marconi employee envisioned a “radio music box” and wrote a memo about developing a commercially marketed radio receiver for use in the home. It wasn’t until after World War I, when Sarnoff proposed the concept again, this time in his new position as general manager of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), that it would see the light of day.
Sarnoff would demonstrate the power of radio by broadcasting a boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. In just three years, RCA sold over $80 million worth of AM radios, and not soon after created the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).
Federal Radio Commission
America’s first attempt at regulating radio transmission was the Radio Act of 1912, that was enacted after the sinking of the Titanic. This law didn’t mention or envision radio broadcasting.
As radio broadcasting began to grow in the 1920s, then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover would begin the process of trying to regulate the limited spectrum that everyone now wanted a piece of.
The Radio Act of 1927 was America’s first real attempt at regulating radio broadcasting. The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was then formed by this act.
It should be noted that the FRC operated under the philosophy that fewer radio stations, that were well funded and provided live original programs, were better for America than a plethora of radio stations providing mediocre programming. It was an idea that the major radio receiver companies championed.
Federal Communications Commission
In 1934, the Congress took another attempt at regulating broadcasting (radio & TV) as well as all the other forms of communication that now existed. The Communications Act of 1934 created a new regulatory body called the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). By 1934, radio broadcasting had evolved into a highly profitable business. Broadcast educator, Fritz Messere, writes: “Many of the most powerful broadcasting stations, designated as ‘clear channels’ were licensed to the large broadcasting or radio manufacturing companies, and the Federal Radio Commission’s adoption of a rigid allotment scheme, under General Order 40, solidified the interests of the large Broadcasters.”
The biggest and most well-funded broadcasters have been favored since the very beginning. What kept things in check until 1996 was the limit on the number of AM, FM and TV stations a single company could own.
Telcom Act of 1996
Those limits would evaporate with President Clinton’s signing of the Telcom Act of 1996. Radio, as America had known it, would be over.
Now, for the most part, a single owner could own as many radio stations as their pocketbook could afford. Lowry Mays and Red McCombs, founders of Clear Channel Communications, would grow their portfolio of radio stations to over 1200 from the 43 radio stations they owned before the act was signed.
In 2003, Mays testified before the United States Senate that the deregulation of the telecommunications industry had not hurt the public. However, in an interview that same year with Fortune Magazine, he remarked, “We’re not in the business of providing news and information. We’re not in the business of providing well-researched music. We’re simply in the business of selling our customers products.” (Mckibben, Bill (2007). Deep Economy. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. p. 132.)
Radio Zoning The FCC is now considering whether to further loosen up the ownership limits of radio and TV stations in America. FCC Attorney John Garziglia recently wrote:
“If radio stations could be erected like fast-food establishments and grocery stores, with no numerical limits imposed other than a businessperson’s risk tolerance, it would be difficult to argue for FCC-imposed ownership limits on radio. Indeed, a regulatory agency enacting numerical limitations on restaurants and grocery stores would likely not pass legal muster.
But there are widely-enacted municipal limitations on just about every type of local business. The limitations are called “zoning” – the permitting or prohibiting of certain uses in certain areas to protect the character of the community.
The FCC’s radio ownership rules can be thought of as a kind of radio zoning. In the same way as land-use zoning protects a community’s character, the FCC’s ownership rules permit or prohibit certain radio station combinations protecting the amorphous concept of the public interest.
With land-use zoning, communities maintain a distinct character, livability, aesthetic, and economic success by not bowing exclusively to the profit motive of land developers. Allowing several or fewer owners to own virtually all of the radio stations in the country would doom the specialness of our radio industry.”
I think John makes some excellent points and I would encourage you to read his complete article HERE.
Biting Off More…
Radio operators today can’t properly staff and program the stations they already own. What makes them think that will change if they own even more of them? Most radio stations are nothing more than a “radio music box” run off a computer hard drive, an OTA (over-the-air) Pandora or Spotify.
Former Clear Channel CEO, John Hogan, introduced the “Less Is More” concept when I worked for the company. While it actually introduced more on-air clutter, not less, the idea was neither new or wrong.
If owning more radio stations was the answer in 1996, then why in 2018 are we worse off than we were then?
Why was Jerry Lee able to own a single station in Philadelphia and dominate that radio market?
Why are many locally owned and operated radio stations some of the healthiest and most revered in America today?
Radio not only needs zoning on the number of radio stations a single owner can control in a market, but the total number of radio station on-the-air in a market. And it needs radio stations that are neglected to be condemned like property owners who let their land go to seed.
The FRC wasn’t perfect, but the concept of “less is more” served America well for many decades. Fewer radio stations that provided high quality, live programming, operating in the ‘public interest, convenience and necessity’ and by virtue of that diversity of ownership, provided diversity of voice and opinions, as well as healthy competition.