Tag Archives: 650AM WSM

Why Make Radio Advertising Harder to Buy?

The headline in Radio Ink proclaimed, “No More Free Ride For Non-Subscribers.” It was a news story about how Nielsen Audio was no longer going to provide buyers with any data pertaining to non-subscribing radio stations through their ratings service.  It will be as if these radio stations vanished from their markets.

Ratings Gathering Costs Money

I can understand the perspective of both Nielsen Audio subscribers, as well as Nielsen itself as an audience ratings provider. If there weren’t subscribers there would be no money to pay Nielsen to gather this data in the first place. Subscribers don’t wish to see those radio companies not paying and then enjoying the benefits of data gathered. Likewise, Nielsen wants to be able to garner the biggest bang for their ratings gathering dollar by trying to force all radio operators to be a participant in the process.

So, on the surface, why would anyone object to this change coming in January 2021?

Winners & Losers

The reality is that even if everyone pays to have access to the data, only the very top performing radio stations will enjoy the benefits. Stations placing out of the top five or ten– often any station not rated number one or number two – will be paying for data that in the end only helps the market’s “big dawgs.” For many stations, it’s paying big money for nothing.

Nielsen vs. Eastlan

In those markets where both Nielsen and Eastlan measure radio listening, we see all the stations in the Eastlan report’s cover page giving a total radio listening perspective for that  market, but with a Nielsen Audio report, we only see subscribing stations. In 2014, Nielsen ceased reporting non-subscribing radio stations from the “topline” numbers it provides to the radio trade publications and newspapers.

For anyone who grew up in radio, having radio stations that are impactful in their market not be listed seems sacrosanct; like not seeing 650AM WSM appear in the ratings for Nashville. When this became Nielsen’s policy, I stopped looking at their ratings reports, since I knew they were incomplete and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Eastlan Ratings, on the other hand, includes every radio station in their topline numbers in every market they do audience measurement. However, if anyone wanted to drill down the data to a more granular level, then they would need to subscribe to the report, and that seems fair.

Of these two radio ratings companies, I find Eastlan’s philosophy to be more valuable to the radio industry and the selling of radio advertising.

Subscriber First

Nielsen is calling their new policy “Subscriber First.” But will the result be a positive for Nielsen subscribers if it makes radio advertising more difficult for people to buy?

Radio ratings are, after all, only estimates. Estimates of what people ages 6 and older are listening to on their radios, smartphones and other audio devices.

Unlike my subscription to Netflix, Amazon Prime, PBS, or The Washington Post, where I am actually counted as paying for a service that I receive, radio ratings are attempting to estimate listening based on a small sample of people, and then extrapolate those results as the habits of an entire marketplace population.

Radio listening estimates  are not perfect, and as a radio manager, some of my radio stations have taken a “ratings bullet” and seen a precipitous drop in reported listening, even when nothing in the market changed to cause such a drop. History taught me that patience was in order and that things would return in the next ratings period; which they always did.

Radio Station Owners vs. Radio Advertising Buyers

It’s radio’s buyers who really want to know who’s listening to what, and when, and for how long etc. And it appears that radio buyers, as a group, are none too pleased with this change in ratings reporting. I’m reading quotes like “as a long-time client, not being consulted before a final decision was made is quite troubling,” and “ we feel like we will no longer be receiving the data we originally contracted for – a full view of radio listening in measured markets.”

Radio station owners, on the other hand, feel that non-subscribing radio stations should not have anyone know the true impact their radio station is having in a measured market. Those stations should be made to “pay to play,” or simply disappear.

Customer Friendly?

It seems like the timing of this change could not come at a worse time for the radio industry. With so much of its business impacted by COVID-19, making radio’s reach more transparent instead of opaque should be the order of the day.

I’ve read that Nielsen estimates two thirds of its agency subscribers won’t have access to any data regarding non-subscribing radio stations. Might these agencies just also cease being subscribers to radio ratings? Is this really the direction we want things to head in?

I think not.

Nielsen’s change, from my vantage point, will potentially reduce the level of confidence buyers will have about buying radio advertising. It’s a path of erosion that could negatively impact the entire radio industry.

The Better Advertising Mousetrap

Ralph Waldo Emerson is said to have coined the phrase: “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” When it comes to advertising, social media has built the better mousetrap, and you and I are helping them to improve it every day.

I wrote a blog article on social media’s ability to manipulate our attention, wants and desires for the benefit of their advertisers. It should give any radio broadcaster pause. You can read that article HERE

The reality is, today the internet is a more efficient way to sell our attention to advertisers.

When radio makes buying the medium more difficult, buyers have other choices, and once they invest more heavily in them, they may never return.

“There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’:

illegal drugs and software.”

-Edward Tufte

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We Are the Choices We Make

WSM(15)From my earliest days, I knew what I wanted to do in life. Drive a car, fly a plane and be a disc jockey.

I know, they don’t seem like big hairy audacious life goals, but to an eight year old, they were.

Disc Jockey

You might be surprised to learn that the goal of becoming a professional disc jockey on an AM radio station came first. I actually had to have my mom drive me to the radio station and pick me up after my shift and I’m sure it was a kick for both of my parents to hear their youngest son on the radio.

My mother was a radio listener. My father never was.

Driver’s License

By the time I got my driver’s license and was graduating from high school, my radio work had earned me enough money to buy my first car and head off to college.

My course of study in college was in physics and education. I was on the path to becoming a teacher. My parents didn’t feel that becoming a full-time disc jockey was a career with any future and wanted me to have a college degree and a career I could fall back on.

While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I worked to get an FCC license for an FM radio station for my college and became the first general manager of WJJW 91.1FM. Between classes I DJ’d on my college radio station, and on weekends, holidays and summers, earned money working in professional radio.

I never had a student loan and between my radio work and playing a trombone in professional marching and concert bands, I not only paid for my college education but saved some money too.

1968 was when minimum wage paid the most money per hour in the history of the minimum wage law in America. You can’t do what I did on minimum wage today.

Airborne

Flying a plane wouldn’t happen until 17-years later. I was promoted to general manager of WIIN-AM/WFPG-FM in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The previous general manager had worked out a trade deal with our local airlines, which also provided our news/talk AM planeradio station with local traffic reports during beach season. When I took over the job, everything was already in place for flying lessons and I took advantage of the arrangement and learned to fly.

Soloing a plane over the South Jersey Shore Beaches in the summer time on the weekends was such a thrill.

Teaching

IMG_3351Whenever people would ask me what I wanted to do next with my life, my answer was always the same, teach. Yes, I wanted to teach at a college or university the very profession that I had spent my entire working life doing, radio.

When Clear Channel was doing major RIFs (Reduction In Force) in 2009, I one day found myself with a surprise visit from my Regional Vice President. For the past year, I had spent being told who I needed to terminate next in my radio stations and I knew this time it was me. It was the worst year in radio I ever had.

The good news was, I saw in Radio Ink that Western Kentucky University was looking for a broadcast professor to teach sales, management, history and other radio/media courses. The position perfectly described my background and because of my two college degrees, both in education, I knew I had found the final path of my professional life.

I moved to Kentucky. Helped Dan Vallie to create the KBA/WKU Radio Talent Institute and over the course of seven years did research on the future of radio, along with creating this very blog, that I’ve been writing weekly for over five years.

Disc Jockey, Second Act

Before retiring from the university, Joe Limardi, then operations manager for WSM 650AM in Nashville, invited me to come to Music City and do a radio shift on The Air IMG_2368Castle of the South. Joe Limardi had been a guest professional broadcaster in my Capstone Class at WKU and it was during his lectures with my students that I learned that Joe had grown up listening to me on the radio back in our hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts on WBEC 1420AM. Joe always thought of me as a disc jockey and little did I know I inspired him to pursue a radio career.

IMG_2352I had not been behind the mic on a radio station in 35-years. I had a 10-minute lesson in how to run the control board from Joe and then was off on my own to do the next four hours on The Legend WSM.

Soloing on WSM that day was a thrill, one I had not had since my flight instructor got out of the plane one day and said, “Take it around by yourself.”

But my disc jockey second act didn’t end that day, I continue to do a VT midday shift (EST) on WMEX-LP out of Rochester, NH and heard worldwide on TuneIn Radio.

One thing is clear, we are the choices we make.

Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do it.

 

 

 

 

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Dream Along With Me…………………. (My Plan to Save AM Radio)

26I’ve been reading all the opinions about the FCC’s proposal to change the rules regarding America’s 77 Class A (formerly known as clear channel) licensed radio stations. Supposedly, all being done to “revitalize” the AM broadcast band. Like giving AM radio stations an FM translator does nothing to revitalize AM radio listening, neither – in my honest opinion – does this bright idea either.

The FCC’s plan is to allow AM radio stations to retain their daytime power at night, politically correct though it may be the laws of physics play by no such rules. And we don’t have to wonder about the consequences, because to some extent this type of thing has already been initiated with 1,000/250 licensed stations maintaining a full 1,000 watts day and night, and it didn’t work.

First, I don’t have a dog in this fight. So what I’m about to say is not to benefit one side or another. These are my own opinions.

My first GM job was running a daytime 1,000 watt radio station with no pre-sunrise or post-sunset authorization. We signed on with local sunrise (7:15am in the winter) and signed off at local sunset (4:15pm in the winter). I was at my desk before my radio station went on the air about half the year and I remember writing commercial copy for an advertiser I’d sold that day as my radio station was playing the Star Bangle Banner to sign-off for the day.

When that carrier was turned off, WBT from Charlotte, NC would come booming in.

I know the pain of being a small radio operator.

Today, such a radio station has probably obtained a 250-watt FM translator and has its programming appearing on local FM radios in addition to their AM signal. Ever listen to any of these radio stations? I have, when I take road trips. I’m listening to their AM signal but they only identify themselves by their FM dial position.

The History of Clear Channel Signal Radio Stations

The clear channel signal designation goes back to the Radio Act of 1927 and the creation of the Federal Radio Commission (FRC). The FRC immediately went about creating a number of national “clear channel” AM radio stations that would be superior in quality broadcast content and with enough power to be heard over an entire region. Their signal would be on a frequency that would have no competition. Lower power AM radio stations would be relegated to a complex system of frequency sharing.

The FRC was later replaced by the Communications Act of 1934 and the establishment of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC was put in place to be the “cops” of the people’s airwaves and protect those airwaves from being misused or interfered with in any way.

Less Is More

The FRC operated under the belief that it would be better for America to have fewer radio stations of higher quality than lots of radio stations that were mediocre.

The FCC, mainly through deregulation, has lost that mission. For broadcasters it meant less oversight – which they didn’t mind – but it also meant that the FCC wasn’t looking out for their interests when it came to policing things that might interfere with the AM broadcast band. You see the FCC regulates (or not) those things that now are the bane of AM radio. Things that, like Mother Nature’s lightning, interfere with AM radio signals – light bulbs, power lines, computers etc.

I Grew Up On AM Radio

By the way, it was lightning’s interference with AM radio that was the impetus for Edwin Howard Armstrong to invent frequency modulation or FM radio. FM is how the audio gets to your TV set.

It was AM radio that I grew up on. It was AM radio that attracted me to a radio career that spanned over forty years. And I believe that AM radio should be preserved, because it is low tech and is the signal most likely to be around after some event that takes out everything digital – which today is just about everything.

However, I also ran a news/talk AM radio station once that people depended on in emergencies and that was the problem. They didn’t think about it any other time. So I’m very aware that to be viable, a radio station needs to program something that people want/need even when there’s no emergency affecting their lives.

How To Save AM Radio

So here’s my “bright idea” to save AM radio. Eliminate Class B, C and D AM radio stations, sign these signals off and let them make their current FM translators their whole radio station. First, they will be able to liquidate the land their AM antenna farm sits on and at the same time reduce their operational costs. They already are identifying by their FM translator’s dial position and local residents have most likely made the switch.

For America’s Class A (formerly known as clear channel class stations), I proposed a HUGE power increase, like to 250,000, 500,000, 750,000 or a million watts for these current 77 stations. I would also propose a study be done of AM radio stations, not currently licensed as Class A being reviewed for such a designation, but with a power of say only 50,000 or 100,000 watts to deal with specific geographies and locations of America.

I’m Not a Radio Engineer (But I’ve Stayed at a Holiday Inn)

There’s simply no way to put the “noise genie” back in the bottle that causes AM radio such grief. My hope would be (and you radio engineers feel free to weigh in here and set me straight) is that by removing a lot of the AM radio clutter caused by other AM radio stations and increasing the power of the few remaining stations, we might cause these stations to be really listenable in more (most?) situations.

I would also regulate these new high power radio stations in the same way that the FRC proposed when they established them. These would be stations that would create original programming. They would be operated by entities that would operate in the public interest, convenience and necessity. They would be a low tech backup in a high tech world. They would have the scarcity of competition that should make them economically viable because of their attractiveness to advertisers. They would tie the country together in the event of a disaster. If a local dominant AM radio station was taken out by a disaster, the other high power stations, not similarly affected would be able to be heard and assist the affected area.

This situation happened years ago in Kentucky when floods put Louisville under water and Nashville’s 650AM-WSM stepped in to provide residents with the information they needed.

AM radio that provides solid information and yes, even entertainment, would get listeners. But even more importantly, it would provide America with a life-line in times of emergencies that digital communications has been shown to fail.

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