Tag Archives: 93 KHJ

When TV Disrupted Radio

97I grew up with TV.

Essentially, we were “born” in the same year.

I don’t remember a time when TV didn’t exist.

TV was supposed to put radio out-of-business. It was the “great disruptor.”

Why TV Didn’t Put Radio Out-Of-Business

While I loved my TV shows and even remember planning my life around TV GUIDE and the new fall shows, I still fell in love with radio and wanted to be a radio personality since elementary school and my first Zenith transistor radio.

Radio for me was never about Jack Benny or Groucho Marx or Amos & Andy or radio dramas like Orson Welles “War of the Worlds.”

Radio was exciting execution, engaging personalities and the best of new music from all genres.

Radio was addictive because it was so engaging.

Disruption Knows No Loyalties

It’s reported that as this decade began only 67 of the original Fortune 500 companies were still in business. Welcome to the 21st Century of Disruption.

The reality in today’s world of accelerating change is that the very success that rockets a company to raving success usually becomes the dagger that runs through its heart when the market environment shifts. Then new firms take over and former leaders fade into the history books.

The business truth is eventually every business sees its model fail.

Radio’s New Business Model after TV

Can you imagine a more difficult time than when TV swooped in and stole all of radio’s programs and talent? It was a time when people said things like “The last person to leave, please turn off the lights on your way out.”

It was a dark time for radio.

But not for all.

Only those who couldn’t see their way past the way it had been.

New broadcasters were quick to develop new formats.

1965 saw the birth of BOSS RADIO in Los Angeles with Bill Drake & Ron Jacob’s 93-KHJ.

At the same time 1010-WINS in New York would pioneer the all news format and everyone would know the phrase “You give us 21-minutes and we’ll give you the world.”

These new broadcasters would be the ones that inspired me to want to be a radio guy.

The Transistor Radio

Radio took advantage of the transistor radio. The youth of my day would all want a transistor radio of their very own and radio owned the youth generation.

The Car Radio

As we grew older and bought our first car, the car radio was a MUST HAVE accessory.

Movies like American Graffiti would romance the glory of the young and their radio.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

Today’s 21st Century finds radio with a new disruptor, the internet. It’s not a new product but an ecosystem.

Amazon and Walmart sell many of the same products and are quite competitive on price. The big difference is Walmart is a brick and mortar ecosystem and Amazon is internet based.

For radio to compete the industry needs to have a vision for how its product fits into a complex network of components, systems and user experience.

That’s the 21st Century radio challenge. (TV faces the same challenge.)

Today’s radio must seamlessly fit into a listener’s life on any platform the listener uses.

Disruption will crash and burn any business model that wants to hold onto the past.

Disruption will clear a path for those who are innovative, nimble and responsive to a changing marketplace.

For those broadcasters, the opportunities are limitless.

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Your Idea Is Ugly

44Ever had someone say that to you? How did it make you feel?

Well, all ideas start out as ugly.

Ed Catmull, CEO of Pixar writes in his book Creativity Inc. that early in the creative process every movie Pixar has ever made sucked.  They all start out as “ugly babies” that are “awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete.” And that’s OK, because the public never sees these “ugly Pixar babies.” Catmull says it’s the company’s job to protect these original, fragile ideas from being judged too quickly. They understand that great ideas aren’t born; they are created from ugly ones.

Ideas Are Born Ugly

The problem today is too many ugly ideas are released to the world while they are still ugly. No one has invested the time, love and attention to craft them into something great. Or, just as bad, ideas not ready for broadcast are put on-the-air piecemeal. Radio is famous for doing this sort of thing when they change music formats and start off with 10,000 songs in a row. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. So why put something on the air that is not going to be what it will be when it’s finished?

Practice, Practice, Practice

You don’t see a Broadway show open without there being a lot of practice first. You don’t see any type of performance art take to a stage without practice. “All of showbiz except for radio has rehearsals,” observes programming genius George Johns. Why is that?

When Did Radio Stop Rehearsals?

Ron Jacobs, the first Boss Radio PD in America at 93/KHJ writes in his book KHJ Inside Boss Radio that before the new KHJ launched, every air personality and board engineer spent two weeks practicing for the station’s debut. “Every word and every nuance was critiqued on the fly by Jacobs and (Bill) Drake,” said Boss Jock Gary Mack. “More up! More energy! Faster! I remember the distinct odor of flop sweat. But every day got better, and we made our mistakes off the air,” said Mack.

The entire original Boss Jock air staff was all seasoned radio professionals by the time they were hired to launch the new KHJ. But they all had to attend “Boss Jock Kindergarten” before they could go on the air. Boss Jock Tommy Vance put it this way, “I was to spend six hours a day doing it (practicing) until he (Jacobs) decided I would be ready for the real thing. He would be listening in his office. If the red phone rang, pick it up and listen to every word he said – very carefully. Take notes and follow his directions to the letter. Jacobs left me in my Boss Jock kindergarten.”

“Six hours every damn day I played the records. Read the commercials. Again and again, and yet again. The red phone never ceased ringing. Criticism was heaped upon me hour in, hour out. I began to picture Jacobs as the force behind the Spanish Inquisition. As the Marquis de Sade. Jack the Ripper. Eventually I was let out of the bag and given the six to nine pm shift,” said Vance.

That Used To Be Us

This was the way radio worked once upon a time. Nothing went on the air unrehearsed. Everything that went on the air was screened to insure it would meet the standards set by the station. “Ugly babies” were nurtured until they became great ideas that became great radio stations.

Great radio takes work. Great radio is exciting to listen to. Great radio gets results.

Let’s make radio great again.

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Day of Reckoning

20There’s an old saying “Nothing lasts forever.” Do you remember flying on TWA or Pam Am? How about shopping at Woolworths? Broadcasters will remember names like Group W Westinghouse Broadcasting, or Taft Broadcasting, or Nationwide, or RKO General that would put the successful Bill Drake Top 40 format (with the non-stop innovations & promotions of 93-KHJ’s Ron Jacobs) in major cities across North America. They’re all now a memory.

In a time of limited radio signals, radio could control its inventory and increase stakeholder ROI by raising rates as it increased the size of its audience. That’s now a memory.

Next came the Local Marketing Agreement (LMA) to soak up all those Docket 80-90 FM signals that were squeezed into the FM band but found themselves economically challenged. More signals meant a new way to make more money. That’s now a memory.

LMAs were “training pants” for the Telcom Act of 1996 that would unleash a consolidation of radio and television ownership like the world had never seen. Companies would rush to acquire as many radio signals as they could as fast as they could. And do what with them? They would figure that out later was the common response. Owning more stations was a way to make more money, until it wasn’t. That’s now a memory.

You might have thought that would have sent a message that there are limits. It didn’t.

Today the game is translators. And the number of radio signals continues to grow, all seeking funding through advertising, just like every other form of media out there today.

So is the ad pie growing? Not according to Adam Levy at Motley Fool who saw advertising drop nearly 4 percent in the second quarter of 2015.

When the advertising pie isn’t getting bigger, two things usually happen: 1) budgets get cut and people lose their jobs and 2) more spots are added to the hour. Unfortunately, all through consolidation and the Great Recession radio companies have been doing both. They are like the Federal Reserve wondering what you do when you already have cut the interest rate to zero to stimulate the economy. Not a fun place to be.

Suggested Solutions

 Not to be all doom and gloom on you, I think there are some things that can be done to turn things around. The first thing is to focus on something and own it. Steve Jobs would put it this way “Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.” The way Jobs took Apple from near extinction to the world’s most valuable company was by his relentless focus on creating a small number of simple and elegant products.

Seth Godin calls it finding and serving your tribe. Radio needs to give up the quest to be all things to all people and learn to be something some people can’t live without.

Some stations can be the national brand in town, but everyone can’t. Likewise if people can get what you do someplace else, then why do they need you? This is the secret of “less is more.”

Radio stations need to have the agility to make decisions on the front line. Top down management is out, front line management is in. Mary Berner, the new CEO of Cumulus gets it. She has been reported in the trades saying “Cumulus will rely less on top-down management and more on letting managers do the job they were hired for.”  She also understands that while IoT (Internet of Things) is the future, it’s not the place Cumulus needs to focus on today. It’s about changing the culture and the way the company operates first. Getting the programming right and improving sales of those radio programs next.

I remember when I starting working for Clear Channel and hired to turn things around in my market, the company had a big push on selling the web and developing that component. I told my sales manager after the conference call ended that was not going to be the case for us. First we needed to get the programming and radio sales on fire and then – and only then – would we begin tackling our web based program. It worked too.

The hardest thing sometimes is not doing things, but figuring out what to stop doing. Jobs was good at this at Apple. You need to invest some serious thought about what you need to stop doing in your radio property. Again, less IS more if done right.

And the last suggestion I have is directed at colleges and universities. We need to be focused on the business model of radio and putting more of a focus on the business side of radio and radio sales. Radio owners and operators I talk with aren’t clamoring for more DJs or news people like they are for more sales people and innovators that will create the next revenue stream for their property.

In the end, your audience size won’t matter if you don’t have a business model to monetize it.

 

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Bring Back the Radio Hackers

We never called them that back in the early days of radio’s reinvention period after the birth of television in the 1950s, but that’s what they were.

Radio from the beginning basically was a medium that killed Vaudeville. Radio enticed the performers of Vaudeville to bring their acts to this new mass medium. The sales pitch went something like this: you won’t have to travel every day of the year, sleep on trains and eat your meals on the run. When you move your act to radio, you will be able to go home every night to your family and have a “normal” life. And you’ll make more money!

Not all performers would make this transition. The downside to moving their act to radio was that no longer could they have one act that they could perform night after night. On the radio, they needed a new act every performance. That’s a BIG CHANGE.

When television came along, the successful radio acts moved to TV and radio needed a new idea.

Enter the Hackers

 Alan Freed would hack the term Rock ‘N’ Roll and become the first famous disc jockey introducing a new venue for radio.

Todd Storz and Gordon McLendon aka “the Maverick of Radio” would hack the idea of Top 40 radio introducing a tighter playlist and higher repetition of the biggest hits. After observing teenagers playing the same songs over and over in a juke box.

Better Practices

 Today’s world is infested with the concept of “Best Practices.” It can be a stifling thing when it comes to creativity.

Today’s radio was born out of hackers that were constantly thinking up “Better Practices.” Ron Jacobs and Bill Drake certainly did at Boss Radio in Los Angeles with 93 KHJ. John Rook did it in Chicago with both WLS and WCFL. Rick Sklar did it in New York at Music Radio 77 WABC. Plus there were so many others in all size markets. Radio was different everywhere you listened because it was being hacked in so many wonderful ways. It was exciting to turn on your radio and hear what was going to come out next.

Insanity

 The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. We have a lot of that kind of stinking thinking today and I’m sure you’ve heard all the reasons for why this is the path some of our biggest broadcasters are taking. As the radio business grew from a mom and pop business to the behemoths of today a ritual of “Best Practices” replaced hacking.

Today’s Economy is a Hacker Economy

 We live in a world where it seems everything has been turned upside down by the World Wide Web, the Internet and mobile Apps. The power is shifting from the big to the nimble; the hackers. Learn to hack or be attacked by those that hack.

Radio is not exempt from this shift. And it doesn’t have to lose.

Radio has what everyone else would love to own, a mass audience. Radio today is delivering the largest mass audience of all the mediums.

It’s why every entity trying to play in the audio medium calls itself “radio.” Pandora Radio, Spotify Radio, TuneIn Radio, RadioTunes, Beats 1 Radio etc. What radio folks have that these folks don’t have is a broadcast signal that is ubiquitous and a listening habit that has been cultivated over many years.

However, what those pure plays have that radio is missing are hackers.

Radio needs to stimulate agility, creativity and take risks.

Stop thinking about where you want to be in 5 years and start thinking about what problems you want to solve most right now. The winners will be those most able to adapt.

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Radio’s Challenge

David Goldberg pa1ssed away on Friday, May 1st at the age of 47; too soon to be sure. He was an Internet radio pioneer having created LAUNCHcast in 1999 which evolved into Yahoo! Music Radio. Until his passing he was CEO of SurveyMonkey and he was married to the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. He was very savy about our Internet connected world.

Brad Hill in RAIN wrote that in 2005, Goldberg was the RAIN keynote speaker. To put his words into perspective, you should know he spoke just before the iPhone was first launched. For it was the iPhone that really launched what we now refer to as the smartphone and mobile music revolutions, that would provide Pandora with its launchpad. Hill wrote that Goldberg said:

“We hope that 10 years from now almost no one is accessing Yahoo services on a PC. It needs to be in my living room, in my car, on my cellphone. This will affect the change in replacing the CD, as well as moving music off of broadcast radio which is also what we believe will happen.”

Fast-forward to Pandora’s latest earnings call and Hill reports that Pandora execs said:

“We really want to replace broadcast radio for music discovery. We believe music will migrate off of terrestrial radio to the services we are offering because we can deliver the music consumers want, when they want it, where they want it. CDs will be replaced by on-demand subscription services. ‘Personalization’ and ‘community’ features will be key ways we’ll be able to deliver the right music to people at the right time, on devices, on a global basis.”

And Pandora is not alone in this quest. Spotify recently reported a market cap more than twice that of Pandora’s in the neighborhood of $8 billion to pursue their quest of being the world’s music provider. (Contrast that to America’s largest radio group iHeartMedia $20+ billion in debt.)

The world is also watching Apple. It made a $3 billion acquisition of Beats and is working on its iTunes streaming audio product. More about Apple in a moment.

Then Fred Jacobs authors a column talking about “Moodstates.” Jacobs’ latest Techsurvey continues to find how much emotion plays a role in broadcast radio listening. Jacobs writes:

“While consumers enjoy hearing their favorite songs, personalities, and information, mood plays a role why they continue to come back to AM/FM radio stations. In our research, it is often in the form of companionship, mood elevation, and escape.”

I’m a big fan of Rewound Radio and their weekly Saturday feature “The DJ Hall of Fame.” What I’ve personally found is that I’m not so enamored with just listening to old tapes of radio broadcasts from the 60s & 70s – I can hear this music anywhere, including my own CD library – but hearing the air personalities that provided me with hours of companionship, mood elevation and escape. And I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’m a member of a couple of DJ groups on Facebook and we all experience these same emotions.

This fact evidently hasn’t been lost on Apple. Apple has been raiding the talent at the BBC. Zane Lowe was their first hire. Lowe is known as a trend-spotter. He’s also a presenter (they don’t call them disc jockey’s in jolly old England) that builds a strong rapport with his listeners. At least three more folks from this BBC talent tank have announced they are joining Lowe at Apple.

Unlike Pandora or Spotify, it appears that Apple plans to put the personality into their streaming. Could Apple be the first to do for today’s generation what Dan Ingram, The Real Don Steele, John Records Landecker, Bob Dearborn, Ron Lundy etc did for my generation? Put the personality front and center in music presentation?

Horizon Media undertook a comprehensive study on the impact mood plays in effective audio advertising. As the results of what they’ve learned are implemented, the placement of those advertising dollars under Horizon’s control will be affected.

Back to Goldberg’s 2005 RAIN Keynote, he predicted that over-the-air radio would be reduced to a mostly-talk medium.

            “We don’t believe music will continue to be broadcast on analog radio,” Goldberg said.

A survey that I conducted with the 300 radio stations in Kentucky showed that local radio stations planned to take their talk programming more locally originated and less national syndicated talk. It also showed that no local music research was being done, but that national charts were being relied upon along with consultants and music programming service providers.

All of this comes at a time when the CEO’s of public radio companies report they’re facing strong headwinds on their advertising revenues. Radio is being attacked from all angles.

Not since the introduction of television back in the 50s has the radio industry faced such a big challenge. We are living in revolutionary times in the communications industry.

Commercial radio is 95 years old. When television presented its challenge it was only in its 40s. Still a young medium with lots of new blood entering its doors with a vision for a new kind of radio.

Boss Radio was born on 930AM-KHJ in Los Angeles and News Radio was born on 1010AM-WINS in New York City both in 1965. But even the new radio formats that were born in that era are now 50 years old.

I challenge my broadcast students to create the radio that will be meaningful for them and their generation. But for those students to have that chance, the owners of radio stations will need to open their doors and let them innovate.

Will radio pick up the challenge?

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How to find RADIO sales people

I worked in the radio industry for over forty years. In that time, I attended a lot of meetings, conferences and worked with radio companies owned by “mom & pop” to iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel).

The most often heard question everywhere I went was “How do I find people to sell for my radio station(s).”

Well I have good news and bad news for you. The bad news is, it’s going to get worse. So what’s the good news? You’re not Google.

I was drawn in by an interesting article called “5 Reasons You May Not Want to Work for Google.”  It makes some excellent points from the employee’s point of view. But the bigger question is WHY do so many people aspire to work for Google?

Google has created a powerful employee brand. Google did this by building a culture. The culture then virally spreads the good word about working at Google.

Radio has been good at building cultures over the years. I just finished reading Ron Jacob’s “KHJ – Inside Boss Radio” and Ron pulled back the curtain on this iconic radio station from its Top40 birth in 1965.

Just like Google, KHJ created a powerful employee brand. Every disc jockey aspired to work there. Every performer wanted their record played on KHJ. KHJ went from being the misfit of RKO General (its owner) to becoming the economic engine that would lead the entire media company. It even out-billed KHJ-TV9 in Los Angeles.

Think KHJ’s general manager asked “How do I find people to sell for my radio station?”

When I was managing WFPG in Atlantic City I was often asked where I found my sales people. I used to joke that it was easy, because the station was located in front of a bus stop and we’d just abduct them while they were waiting for the bus. The real answer was, we created a powerful employee brand in South Jersey.

We had the reputation of being a fun, professional and winning place to work. We had applications coming in on a weekly basis for just about every position.

Sitting just a short expressway drive from Philadelphia, many rookies would be told to head for Atlantic City and WFPG to learn the business. We had earned the reputation for producing top talent both on-the-air and in sales.

Most radio stations are afraid to lose people to bigger radio stations in larger radio markets, but not us. We knew that only enriched our employee brand. Word gets around quickly that you’re the path to radio’s big show. That type of buzz helps to keep your pipeline of great candidates full.

Every employee I hired, I told “Tell me where you want to go and I will do my best to get you there.”

I tell my students today what I told my employees for years: “what will you do this quarter that you can add to your resume of successes?” Success only happens if you plan to be successful.

Now you may be wondering if I ever lost a sales person to another radio station in my market and the answer is yes. I lost sales people to other stations when they were offered the job of sales manager or general manager. I celebrated their good fortune right along with them.

I also remember some people who left because they thought all radio stations operated the way we did only to learn that they didn’t. Some of those people returned and became even better employees than when they left.

It’s never been more important for radio station owners to focus on creating a strong employee brand. A recent study by the Career Advisory Board says 93 percent of hiring managers feel they can’t find the right talent for their jobs. The job applicant pool hasn’t been this lean since 2008. You can’t stop the aging process of 77 million Baby Boomers set to retire and the brain drain that will be created as they walk out the door.

The companies that put their focus on creating a strong employee brand will be the winners.

Remember, if you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes.

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Attention to Detail

I just finished reading Ron Jacob’s book “KHJ Inside Boss Radio.”  It’s an excellent read and I highly recommend it.  It’s out of print, but a new & improved Kindle version is now available from Amazon that brings in more detail about the birth of this legendary Los Angeles Top 40 radio station.

May 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Boss Radio – 93 KHJ.

One of the really unique aspects of this book, that will have any radio geek savoring, are the volume of memos written by Ron Jacobs and sent to his Boss Jocks; Robert W. Morgan & The Real Don Steele among them.

Ron Jacobs competed against Bill Drake in Fresno, California. When Drake was hired by RKO Radio to turn things around at their decrepit AM 930 “K-indness H-ope & J-oy” he hired the guy who gave him the most competition; Ron Jacobs. Together they would launch a new contemporary sound on the radio and Top 40 Radio would never be the same.

Ron Jacobs later in life would interview Bill Drake and that’s also quite an interesting read.

What I learned as I poured though the memos Ron Jacobs wrote over his four years at KHJ was his tremendous attention to detail. Ron was a talented air personality in his own right, but he never did an air shift at KHJ. I asked Ron that very question and he said the only time he was ever heard on KHJ was in a promotional bit involving his most famous summer promotion “The Big Kahuna.” What Ron DID do was listen to his radio station. Relentlessly.

Think about that for a moment; one radio station and disc jockeys with 3-hour air shifts and a program director that wasn’t on the air.

Ron worried about EVERYTHING. He also dreamed up incredible promotions for the station; so many in fact, that a new one might be beginning before the current one ended. Oh and Ron told me he had a $50,000/month promotions budget (1965-1969).

RKO had two media properties in Los Angeles in the 60s; KHJ-TV9 and 93-KHJ. All the money was made on KHJ-TV, until the team of Jacobs/Drake launched Boss Radio. The station became so successful that it would out-bill the TV property and of course, the format would be placed all across America on other RKO owned and operated radio stations (The Drake Format).

But it’s not just radio that has lost this attention to detail. A headline caught my eye that read “And then there were none.”  It was a news story about how the copy desk at The Cincinnati Enquirer was no longer going to be staffed.

For those of you, who may not be familiar with what a copy desk is or does at a newspaper, let me explain. The copy desk is where the copy editors work. Copy editors read over the copy composed by journalists for things like spelling, punctuation, grammar, usage and a continuity of style that make a newspaper’s published prose look polished and professional. Copy editors also ask those awkward questions like: Is this clear? Is this right? Is this plagiarized? Is this libelous? Is this a story? Is this true?

Sounds like a lot of attention to detail, much akin to what I read in the memos of Ron Jacobs to his Boss Jocks.

I’m sure there are similar stories in TV land too.

Watching the Golden Globes the other night, I couldn’t help but notice the TV winners were from places like Amazon, Netflix, Showtime and HBO, and not ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX et al. What separated the winners from the losers? I would profess it was attention to detail.

If TV viewership, newspaper readership, radio listenership are down, might it be the fault of the decision of trying to save your way to success?

I’m sure you know of a TV station, newspaper or radio station that sees the world differently. Pays attention to detail and owns the loyalty of their audience.

Call me naïve, but I believe if you build a media property with attention to detail, they will come.

It’s a universal law of success.

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