Tag Archives: Albert Einstein

Oh, The Insanity

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) submission to the Federal Communications Commission for the FCC’s 2018 Quadrennial Regulatory Review is eye-opening.  You can read it for yourself HERE. It left me shaking my head.

The NAB told the commission that “’local radio stations’ Over-The-Air (OTA) ad revenues fell 44.9% in nominal terms ($17.6 billion to $9.7 billion) from 2005-2020.” Local 2020 digital advertising revenues by stations only increased the radio industry’s total ad revenues by $0.9 billion bringing them to $10.6 billion.

The NAB’s solution to the problem is for the radio industry to become more consolidated.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over

and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

Say What?

Back in the mid 90s, the radio industry was telling anyone who would listen that the problem with the state of radio broadcasting in America was that the industry was made up of little “ma and pa” radio stations/groups which could not scale and if the ownership caps weren’t lifted the radio industry would perish.

Excuse me, but I’ve already seen this movie and how it ends. So, why would doing more of what didn’t work, result in a different outcome.

The Media World Has Changed

I don’t think anyone would contest that the media world we live in has changed dramatically since 2005. Facebook, the world’s largest social media company with over 1.84 billion daily active users, opened its doors on February of 2004. YouTube began in 2005 and Twitter in 2006.

Google, the dominate search engine on the internet, began in 1998 and internet retailing behemoth, Amazon, began in 1994.

The new internet kids on the block that dominate our day are WhatsApp (2009), Pinterest (2009), Instagram (2010), Messenger (2011), SnapChat (2011) and TikTok (2016).

The Top 10 internet companies at the end of 2020 raked in 78.1% of the digital ad revenue ($109.2 billion).

All Ad Dollars Are Green

While we like to break money spent on advertising into distinct categories like digital media, traditional media etc. the reality is the total number of advertising dollars is a finite number and in the end you can’t tell a dollar from digital from a dollar from analog advertising.

“You can’t handle the truth!”

Colonel Jessup

(played by Jack Nicholson in the 1992 film “A Few Good Men”)

Since 2005, many young entrepreneurs have created a better mousetrap to capture those advertising dollars. No one ever made a regulation or a law that prevented the radio industry from doing what any of those internet companies did. The passenger railroad industry never thought of themselves as being in the transportation business but only the railroad business. That’s why it found itself challenged by other means of people transportation, namely the airlines.

The radio advertising industry was born by entrepreneurs that learned how to create a product that attracted a large listening audience, which in turn enabled them to sell audio advertising to companies wishing to expose their product or service to these consumers.

Unfortunately, we found ourselves challenged by new media competition. Initially, it was television, but transistor portable radios, along with car radios, allowed our business to reinvent its programming and flourish once again.

With the advent of the internet, radio was caught flat-footed.

If that were its only problem.

Radio Stations (2005-2020)

In 2005, America had 18,420 radio signals on the air.

  • 13,660 AM/FM/FM Educational radio stations on the air
  • 3,995 FM translators & boosters
  • 675 Low Power FM stations.

By 2020, those numbers increased to 26,001 radio signals.

  • 15,445 AM/FM/FM Educational radio stations
  • 8,420 FM translators & boosters
  • 2,136 Lower Power FM stations

18,330 vs. 26,001

That’s a 41.8% increase in the number of radio stations.

While radio folks were busy trying to steal radio advertising from the station across the street or consolidating with their former competition, the internet folks were focused on selling more advertising. From 2005 to 2020, the sale of digital advertising grew from $12.5 billion to $139.8 billion. That’s an increase of 118.4%.

But during that same time, radio grew its digital advertising footprint by $0.9 billion.

Quantity vs. Quality

When radio regulation began in America under the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) the decision was made by that regulatory body to focus on the quality of radio programming versus the quantity of radio stations they allowed to broadcast. Only people or companies with the economic capital to operate a radio station in the “public interest, convenience and/or necessity” would be allowed to obtain a radio broadcast license.

I believe you could say that the radio industry’s downfall began when we ceased worrying about quality and went with the more signals we license, the better for radio listeners mantra.

Sydney, Australia

Sydney is a major city in the country of Australia with a population of 5.312 million people. There are 74 radio stations on the air in Sydney.

By comparison, Los Angeles (America’s second largest city) has a population of 3.984 million people and 158 radio stations serving its metro.

In July 2021, radio revenues in Sydney were up 11.3% year-on-year according to Milton Data.

The Benefits of Pruning

Gardeners know that pruning is the act of trimming leaves, branches and other dead matter from plants. It’s by pruning a plant that you improve its overall health.

A beautiful garden is one where the plants have been trained to grow properly, to improve in their health/quality, and even in some cases to restrict their growth. Pruning is a great preventative gardening and lawn care process that protects the environment and increases curb-appeal.

The irony of gardening is, the more fruit and flowers a plant produces, the smaller the yield becomes. Pruning encourages the production of larger fruits and blooms.

Why do I share this with you?

I believe that everything in the world is interconnected. You can’t for a moment think that what makes for a bountiful garden would not also make for a robust radio industry.

Today’s radio industry is so overgrown with signals and other air pollution, that it has impacted its health.

Doing more of the same, and expecting a different result is insane.

It’s time to get out the pruning shears.

Less Is More

I believe that the way to improve the radio industry in America, to have more advertising revenues to support quality local services including news, sports and emergency journalism, along with entertainment by talented live performers, is by reducing the number of radio signals.

AM radio is the logical first place to start.

Elsewhere in the world we are seeing that not only the AM band being sunset but the analog FM band as well. The world has gone digital.

American radio has one final chance to get it right by correcting for past decisions, hurtful to radio broadcasting, in creating a new and robust digital broadcasting service.

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Can Algorithms Be Fair?

A while back, I wrote a blog article about “The Fairness Doctrine.” After the January 6th siege on Capitol Hill, many people began wondering if this policy, originally enacted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1949, but then eliminated under President Ronald Reagan, should be re-instated.  

To review, this doctrine required the holder of a broadcast license to both present controversial issues of public importance, and to present these issues in a manner that was honest, equitable, fair and balanced.

In other words, broadcasters were supposed to not only uncover what the people in their broadcast service area should be aware of, but also to present both sides of the issue.

The Fairness Doctrine only applied to radio and television licensees and no other form of media. Even if it was still in place today, it wouldn’t have applied to Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram or any other forms of non-broadcast communication. The problem with social media is that what we read, see, and hear is all controlled by algorithms.

The Challenge of Controlling Algorithms

Unlike most innovations that human beings have designed, algorithms are not static and easily defined. You can’t say that one algorithm is good and the other is evil. They are like a living organism, in that they can learn, adapt and change over time.

Cornell University online behavior scholar, J. Nathan Matias, put it this way:

“If you buy a car from Pennsylvania and drive it to Connecticut, you know that it will work the same way in both places. And when someone else takes the driver’s seat, the engine is going to do what it always did.”

With an algorithm, it changes with each human behavior it comes in contact with and that’s what makes trying to regulate it, from a government standpoint, such a challenge.

Broadcast radio and television was an unknown when it appeared, and government was challenged to regulate it. It used as a model, the regulations that had been developed to oversee America’s railroads. In fact, that’s where the concept of requiring radio and TV stations to operate in the “public interest, convenience and/or necessity” comes from. It’s also why no one has ever been exactly sure of what this phrase actually means when it comes to broadcast regulation.  

Closing the Barn Door

The old saying “It’s too late to close the barn door, once the horse is gone,” might be the type of problem facing regulators trying to bring fairness to today’s internet dominated world.

The European Union’s first go at trying to regulate Google Shopping, demonstrated how the slow moving wheels of justice are no match for the high speed technology of today. By the time regulators issued their decision, the technology in question had become irrelevant.

20th Century Solutions Don’t Work on 21st Century Problems

We all learned in school how America’s Justice Department, and in some cases individual states, broke up monopolies in oil and the railroads. Historically, what government was trying to do was breakup price-setting cartels, and lower prices for consumers. But with entities like Facebook and Google, no one pays to use their service; it’s free!

Promising Technology or Dystopian Reality?

When commercial radio was born a hundred years ago, it was greeted with the same exuberance that the internet was and people thought radio would connect people, end wars and bring about world peace.

Then American radio would give a voice to Father Charles Coughlin, a Detroit priest who eventually turned against American democracy itself through his nationwide radio broadcasts, opening the door for the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine coming into regulatory existence.

A Collaborative Solution

Media regulation in the 21st Century with algorithms that act like living organisms maybe should be regulated in the same way we protect our environment.

As an example, how would you go about improving a polluted river?

“To improve the ecology around a river, it isn’t enough to simply regulate companies’ pollution. Nor will it help to just break up the polluting companies. You need to think about how the river is used by citizens—what sort of residential buildings are constructed along the banks, what is transported up and down the river—and the fish that swim in the water. Fishermen, yachtsmen, ecologists, property developers, and area residents all need a say. Apply that metaphor to the online world: Politicians, citizen-scientists, activists, and ordinary people will all have to work together to co-govern a technology whose impact is dependent on everyone’s behavior, and that will be as integral to our lives and our economies as rivers once were to the emergence of early civilizations.”

-Anne Applebaum and Peter Pomerantsev, The Atlantic, “How to Put Out Democracy’s Dumpster Fire

Now you know why bringing back “The Fairness Doctrine” will not work in a communications world controlled by algorithms.

We need to think differently.

Albert Einstein said it best,

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

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Are We the Solution or the Problem?

albert-einsteinAlbert Einstein said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

I have noticed that when I publish a new article about radio, people seem to fall into a couple of different camps. There are those who say radio’s days are numbered, or over. There are those who think going back to the way it was will solve everything. And there are those who believe “radio” is a concept and not a specific transmission platform, such as the AM or FM bands.

WABC Becomes Talk Radio

In May of 1982 Music Radio 77 – WABC in New York City became a talk radio station. Music sounded better on FM and in stereo than on static filled, mono AM radio. This happened 37-years ago and yet many of us tune in to Rewound Radio every Memorial Day Weekend to listen to WABC, the way it was when we were growing up in the 60s & 70s.

WPLJ is Sold

WABC-FM became WPLJ on February 14, 1971 and by September of that same year it would become one of America’s first AOR (Album Oriented Rock) radio stations.

“Watching All the President’s Men on TCM…thought it might be timely. Loved the reference when Bernstein asked Woodward “if you’re listening to the radio and you don’t hear any commercials for 10 minutes, is it AM or FM?” Kinda sums up the demise of music radio on AM back in the 70s and strongly underlines what’s happening to FM now compared to satellite radio, Pandora, Spotify, etc.” 
–John Sebastian

Now WPLJ has been sold and like a divorce, WABC and WPLJ will no longer be together. Frank D’Elia writes a wonderful personal history of WPLJ on his blog which you can read HERE.

Sadly, he ends his blog article with the following: “I loved the radio business, and it was my home for over 44 years, but today, radio sucks!”

The World Wide Web Turned 30 This Past Week

While it was 37 years ago that the music died on WABC, it was 30 years ago this past Wednesday, that Sir Tim Berners-Lee proposed a global linked information management system that included hypertext. Even more interesting is the fact that Sir Berners-Lee feels a little bit like Frank D’Elia and the current state of his creation. In an article published on the World Economic Forum website titled “The web is 30 years old. What better time to fight for its future?” Sir Tim shares his frustrations and recommendations for fixing things. He writes: “To tackle any problem, we must clearly outline and understand it. I broadly see three sources of dysfunction affecting today’s web:

  1. Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment.

  2. System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of misinformation.

  3. Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse.”

Lots of Change

When I think back to those days when AM radio rocked my world, to today where Alexa serves up whatever my mood desires, things have changed a lot.

Berners-Lee also notes how much the web has changed in the past 30 years and that it would be “defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web, as we know it, can’t be changed for the better in the next 30.”

Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads, wrote recently that “The key to failure is to hang on to the belief that things have to be ‘the way they ought to be.’ The key to success is to be able to deal with things as they really are.”

Which brings me back to the title of this week’s blog article, are we the solution or the problem when it comes to the future of radio?

What are Radio’s Big 3 Areas of Dysfunction?

I’m sure you have your own thoughts on this, but the sense I have from reading articles about today’s radio industry from all over the world, along with reader comments, are that these three things are very important to the future of radio:

  1. Commercials. Radio’s commercial spot loads are too big. The 60 and 30-second ad lengths are over. Radio needs to re-think the way it monetizes itself OTA (over the air) and the creation of radio ads needs to be a specialty in every radio station. Jerry Lee understands this better than anyone in our industry.

  2. Companionship. Alexa is convenient and we even chat with one another, but I don’t consider “her” a companion. Radio needs to fulfill that social need for the listener. I believe NPR has done a spectacular job of fulfilling this companionship role through its variety of informational programs. Companionship is built by live personalities that broadcast from the area being served or focused on like-interests of the target audience.

  3. Quality vs. Quantity. The radio industry is focused on putting more signals on the air, and controlling more existing radio signals by fewer entities, than it is on the content that should be sent over those signals. The original benchmarks or staples of radio are often much more efficiently handled by other platforms. Radio needs to re-think what it can do that others can’t, and then do it. Radio needs to compliment today’s other communications media, as it no longer is the sole source of information for things like weather, traffic, school closings etc.

I would love to hear your thoughts, but even more important, I would love to hear the thoughts of people who don’t listen to radio and what would entice them to return.

The future of radio will be based on attracting the next generations.

We won’t know what they want if we don’t ask them.

“Companies must do more to ensure their pursuit of short-term profit

is not at the expense of human rights, democracy, scientific fact or public safety.”

-Tim Berners-Lee

 

 

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What’s Ahead in Your Life

59Everyone wants to know what the future for them will be. It’s why fortune tellers with crystal balls and astrology forecasts have been so popular.

Lennon Got It Right

John Lennon of the Beatles came closest to predicting the future when he said “Life is what happens while you’re making plans.” I experienced this just recently. I had planned out my talk for the 69th annual New Jersey Broadcasters Association convention and gala in Atlantic City when while on route I received word that my mother-in-law aka “Mom” was taking her last breaths. The two days I had planned were now dedicated to a wake and funeral.

Planning

What is planning but trying to predict the future, trying to create a future you want and manipulating events to try and ensure the future comes out the way you want. At best, planning is shaky; at worst, a big waste of time.

No One Can Predict the Future

Soon every radio company will call their senior managers together for the start of the budget season. Budgeting is the way companies try to predict the future. Only they can’t. Never have. Never will. At best, budgeting is roadmap to where a company would desire to end up when the New Year is over. The Baby Boom (of which I’m a card carrying member) was supposed to create massive unemployment. It didn’t. Even with another unforeseen event – women in the workforce – the labor force in America grew by forty percent while number of jobs grew by fifty percent.

Radio Is Dead

In my working life in radio, I have watched the prognosticators tell me almost every year that the newest shiny thing that had come along would be the end of radio. Like the 8-track tape player, then the cassette player, then the CB Radio (not 10-4, good buddy), then the CD player followed by the CD changer, then the car phone, the MP-3 player, the smartphone, followed by satellite radio and finally streaming audio. So what’s the latest report say about the use of radio by Americans today? It’s the most ubiquitous form of mediated communications on the planet today.

Radio is the leading reach platform: 93% of us listen to AM/FM radio over the airwaves, which is higher than TV viewership (85%), PC use (50%), smartphone use (74%), and tablet use (29%).

Predicting the Future Should Be Dead

VCRs didn’t kill movies. Television didn’t kill books. The internet didn’t kill direct mail (aka junk mail). If you study fractals, what you learn is that they grew out of chaos theory and that theory is based on the unpredictability and randomness of everything. This reminds me of something Paul Harvey used to say when the world confounded him, no use worrying about anything because nothing will turn out alright.

Here’s How to Plan

Planning has always been a singular path in the companies I’ve worked. The problem is people. People are unpredictable. Radio, TV and mediated communications are people businesses. Planning should be a process that includes several possibilities. I always called it “a Plan B, C, D etc.” In other words, you need plans, not a plan. You need to build unforeseen possibilities into your planning process.

Albert Einstein put it this way:

“The universe is not only queerer than we suppose.

It’s queerer than we can suppose.”

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