Tag Archives: AM Radio

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

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

Radios Go High-Definition

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

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

Remembering 2006

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

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

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

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

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

Solving a Problem That Didn’t Exist

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

Industries Most Disrupted By Digital

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

Elephant in the Room

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

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

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

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

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

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The Thrill is Gone

Like many readers of this blog, I grew up listening to AM radio. It created for me the passion and desire to pursue a radio career while I was still in grade school. As a young child, I remember my parents having a least one radio with the FM band, but scanning that band produced not a single radio station to be heard.

FCC Broadcast Station Totals

Looking through the FCC database, I found that the commission’s Broadcast Station Totals reports begin with December 1968, the same year that my professional radio career began. In America, that report listed 4,236 AM Commercial radio stations on the air with only 1,944 FM Commercial radio stations, and even adding the 362 Education FM radio stations only gets you to about half the number of AM stations.

On March 31, 1994, FM Commercial radio stations outnumbered AM Commercial radio stations 5,001 to 4,933; plus, there were now 1,674 FM Educational stations on the air.

To put things in perspective, when the number of America’s FM signals equaled the number of AM signals, 75% of all radio listening was estimated to be occurring on the FM band.

Today’s AM/FM Radio Landscape

The FCC just issued its March 31, 2021 Broadcast Station Totals report and it shows the number of AM Commercial radio stations is down from 27 years ago by 387 stations; now just 4,546 stations, and FM Commercial radio stations are up 1,681, for a total of 6,682 stations. In addition to the commercial stations, there are now another 4,213 FM Educational radio stations and 8,521 FM Translators & Boosters along with 2,114 Lower Power FM radio stations. That’s a grand total of 21,730 FM signals on the air in America compared to 4,546 AM signals.

What percentage of listening would you estimate is now taking place to AM versus FM in the 21st Century? I’m thinking it’s probably north of 99%.

All Digital AM Authorized

October 27, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorized ALL-DIGITAL AM RADIO in America. The commission’s ruling says that all “AM broadcasters will be able to voluntarily choose whether and when to convert to all-digital operation from their current analog, or hybrid analog/digital signals.”

A quick check of the FCC database shows only 245 AM radio stations currently broadcasting in hybrid analog/digital; six of which either had their license cancelled or were silent.

The issue for the consumer will be having to buy new AM Digital radios, since all their existing AM radios will not be able to receive an all-digital AM signal.

No to Digital AM

Frank Karkota wrote a guest column for Radio World titled “No to Digital AM” in which he listed six reason why he was opposed to the digitization of the AM band. Let me summarize them for you:

  1. Building an AM Digital radio is too complicated
  2. The technology is becoming too complex
  3. Because of the remarkable advancements in analog AM receiver technology, there’s no need to digitize the AM band
  4. The poor recovered audio quality of digital radio
  5. The listening audience will lose some listening options
  6. Most car radios will need to be replaced to permit digital reception

I’m not an engineer, so I’ll leave it up to technical readers to weigh in here, but as a non-engineering radio guy, why would I go through all those hoops when I can simply click on an aggregator like TuneIn.com and stream any radio station I want to listen, to via my smartphone?

The biggest reason why this is a bad idea is that people are not going to spend money buying a single use device to listen to a radio station when there are so many ways to listen to virtually any radio station in the world today on so many other multi-use devices.

Radio’s Biggest Problem

Back in August 2017, I wrote an article titled “Coal Ain’t Coming Back & Neither is AM Radio” which had hundreds of people commenting.

This month Bloomberg reported “Coal Is Getting Even Closer to the End of Its Line” saying that the United States is on track to use less coal than at any point since the 19th century. This graph paints the picture:

Now look at the change in the number of AM radio stations in America over the past thirty years:

Whether we’re talking about coal or AM radio stations, the trendline is spiraling downward.

Radio’s biggest problem, AM and FM, is that it suffers from a deficit of imagining the lives of its listeners. Radio broadcasters are in the communications business, and yet, they are too focused on saving the past instead of focusing on the future of communications.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

-Henry Ford

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them.”

-Steve Jobs

Both Ford and Jobs understood that to win the heart of the customer, you needed to create a future they never even knew they wanted.

The future for radio is creating great audio programming that has people wanting to receive it no matter what platform it is delivered on.

Stop Your Air Talent from Multi-Tasking

It saddens me, that today the radio industry is asking their air talent to multi-task on multiple radio stations. Could you imagine the NFL deciding that their quarterback could also act as the team’s coach at the same time? Never!

The short answer to whether people can really multitask is no. … The human brain cannot perform two tasks that require high-level brain function at once. Low-level functions like breathing and pumping blood aren’t considered in multitasking.

-Chris Adams, ThoughtCo.com

Listen to what a difference it makes when an air personality can focus on one station, one market and communicate one-on-one with the listener, as KHJ Midday Personality Charlie Tuna does in this air check (Courtesy of the Charlie Ritenburg aircheck collection). Click HERE

This is not a morning show air check, but a midday one for Charlie Tuna. Notice how integral he is to the pace and flow of the radio station. He provides a link to the Los Angeles community and companionship to the listener. The on-air production is tight and smooth. It’s a style of radio so hard to hear anywhere today.

It’s the style of radio that launched my 50 year radio career.

Memo to the Radio Industry

 It’s time to bring back the thrill

of listening to Great Radio.

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Your Cell Phone is a Radio

By definition, radio is, a: the wireless transmission and reception of electric impulses or signals by means of electromagnetic waves. b: the use of these waves for the wireless transmission of electric impulses into which sound is converted, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary.

Your cell phone sends signals to (and receives them from) nearby cell towers (base stations) using Radio Frequency (RF) waves. This is a form of energy in the electromagnetic spectrum that falls between FM radio waves and microwaves.

My First FCC License

When I studied for and passed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) test to obtain my 3rd Class Radio-Telephone License, I initially wondered why it said “telephone” on it.

Telephones in 1968 were all wired devices, like in my parent’s house in which our family phone was connected by a copper wire and bolted to the kitchen wall.

When I began to study the history of radio, I learned that an early experimenter in radio broadcasting, Kentucky melon farmer Nathan Stubblefield, wanted to be able to talk to his wife while he was driving his automobile while away from their farmhouse. In those early days, no one had a clue what this new technology would become.

Radio’s Metamorphosis

The podcast “Local Marketing Trends” hosted by Corey Elliot and Gordon Borrell, recently featured an interview with the Radio Advertising Bureau’s (RAB) President/CEO Erica Farber in which she said the radio industry’s sales arm was going through a metamorphosis; today the RAB thinks more broadly, to include all things audio.

Gordon asked Erica if she meant podcasting and streaming audio like Spotify and Pandora, to which she said “Yes.” When might this happen, Gordon asked, to which she responded, “maybe today.”

Farber explained how she feels radio is ahead of the curve in not just delivering content, but in delivering services too. Radio is no longer just about selling thirty and sixty second spots but it’s a very different business now, with radio’s core product today being “delivering results.”

Audio Advertising Bureau

Might the Radio Advertising Bureau change its name to become the Audio Advertising Bureau?

I hope not. Here’s why I say that.

Radio suffers from traditional broadcaster thinking that it needs an FCC license, radio tower, antenna and transmitter which sends a signal out over the AM or FM radio bands. But if you ask a young person, what is radio, they will tell you about their favorite stream or podcast which  they listen to through their smartphone.

Radio is not a dated identifier, it’s very much in vogue in the 21st Century, but what imagine comes to mind when one says the word “RADIO” will differ depending upon a person’s age.

1940s Floor Cabinet Radio (what my parents listened to)
1970s Transistor Radio (the radio of my youth)
21st Century Smartphone used as a radio & a whole lot more (the “radio” I use today)

Apple Music Radio

You might have missed Apple’s August 2020 Press Release about how they were changing the name of their radio service from Beats 1 to Apple Music Radio. In spite of trying to invent a new name for their streaming music offerings, their users called it “RADIO.” And now, so does Apple.

Beats 1, has been Apple’s flagship global radio station since its launch in 2015. Five years later, it’s been renamed Apple Music 1. Oliver Schusser, vice president of Apple Music, Beats and International Content, explained

“Apple Music Radio provides an unparalleled global platform for artists across all genres to talk about, create, and share music with their fans, and this is just the beginning. We will continue to invest in live radio and create opportunities for listeners around the world to connect with the music they love.”Beats

Now is NOT the time for AM/FM Radio broadcasters to abandon the sonic brand known as “RADIO.”

Adapt or Die

When people started streaming over the Internet and calling it “radio,” traditional broadcasters looked down their noses in much the same way that print journalists looked down their noses at the new media platforms like Buzzfeed and Vice Media invading their world.

Traditional media survivors will learn to accept and embrace the new platforms that disrupt the world as we knew it and are creating the world that will be.

An inability to adapt to new platforms is what causes both people and industries to fail.

AM, FM, internet streaming, smartphones, connected cars are all platforms. Radio, newspapers, magazines and the like, are all media products. Understanding this dichotomy is critical.

And so, the challenge for radio is not changing its name, but adapting its product to today’s platforms.

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Will the Radio Industry Turn Around?

A long time reader of this blog, who is a major market personality, asked me “in your opinion is there any chance the industry will turn around?” This question assumes that the radio industry is going in the wrong direction. Is it?

The World is Constantly Changing

I often pondered if the town blacksmith ever wondered, as he saw motorcars become more common, if America’s transportation system would one day “turn around”  and return to one powered by horses? For many Amish people, horse power remains as vital to their lives as it has always been. Horsepower in our time has been a way we measured the output of our fossil fueled engines, in our motorized vehicles.

We need to realize that changes and evolution are the realities of life. Nothing stays the same. Does anyone think the radio industry is exempt?

The Internet

I’m communicating with you right now via the internet. When I first started on the internet, it was by using a dialup modem over the same telephone line my house phone used to make and receive telephone calls.

My first internet service was an interactive personal service called “Prodigy.

Dial-up was very slow, crashed a lot and sometimes it took several attempts to get a phone connection for your computer.

Prodigy’s business model depended on rapidly growing its advertising and online shopping business. It created email and message boards primarily to aid people in shopping, not for general communication between users, which in practice is what it became. Ironically, at a time when long distance calls were billed by the minute, Prodigy’s message boards exploded in popularity with users who would stay connected to the service far longer than projected with the result of driving up Prodigy’s operational expenses and negatively impacting cash flow for its stakeholders.

Prodigy, which began operations in 1984, would finally disappear in April of 2013. (That’s a life span of less than thirty years.) By that time, I had long departed the service for the much more robust America On Line (AOL).

Digital Fiber

At the end of 2020, my street was wired with fiber optic cable and our house abandoned Xfinity’s copper wire and download/upload speeds of 117/5 Mbps (Megabits per second) for the more symmetrical offering from Glofiber of 300 Mbps upload/download speed for around $15 less per month in cost.

I tell you this because back in the 90s, dialup access to the world wide web was amazing. It was like experiencing AM radio in the days when all that was available were newspapers and magazines to connect daily with the world. We gladly suffered through busy signals when trying to connect our computer modems and never realized how slow our connection speeds were. Like AM radio, it was good for its day but I seriously doubt you would want to return to that type of internet service after you’ve experienced high speed digital via fiber optic cable.

Just in case you are wondering, the 300 Mbps symmetrical connection speed I signed up for is the slowest speed offered. They offer up to 2 Gigabits per second but not being a gamer, I seriously have no need for anything that robust for what I use the internet for.

AM, FM, Streaming

AM radio was incredible 100 years ago when commercial radio service was licensed to begin operating in the United States. AM radio listening was eclipsed by FM radio listening in the late 70s, which is the dominate way most American’s hear broadcast radio. However, we’re now  fifty years beyond that time and living in a world where audio listening can be fully customized and on demand whether you want music, talk, the sound of ocean waves, or crickets.

Stimulus Checks

January 2021 is seeing another round of stimulus checks coming out from the Federal government. When Generation Z and Millennials were asked how they planned to spend their $600 check, after some basics like groceries, rent and overdue bills, their next most important  expenditure would be for video games/consoles that filled their entertainment passion while they socially distanced at home.

Car Buying

COVID-19 changed the way people bought a new car. As we were all forced to work, play, shop and communicate online, consumers found they could just as easily shop for cars via the internet as well. Moreover, surveys have shown that consumers really liked it and don’t plan to return to the old ways of buying a car. Car dealers, which had been resisting doing business this way for decades, now find themselves having little choice but to embrace this disruptive change or go out-of-business.

GYMS

59% of Americans say they plan to continue working out in their own home when asked about returning to a physical gym after the pandemic subsides. Among Millennials, that number grows to 81%, according to a survey by The New Consumer.

Interestingly, gyms are now finding themselves in the same situation as arcades. Once upon a time, people went to malls or amusement centers to play video games, but that’s been replaced by playing those games on a video gaming system, like Xbox or PlayStation.

The Power of Talent

I’ve often written that the “secret sauce” of great radio stations are their air personalities behind the mic.

Alexandra Bonetti, a fitness studio owner in New York, observed the bond that fitness clients formed with a particular instructor. This led her to create a tech startup called “Talent Hack.”

When COVID closed down gyms, fitness instructors suddenly found themselves on their own. (Not so dissimilar to the radio industry jettisoning their air personalities.)

Bonetti’s “Talent Hack” allowed fitness instructors to continue to serve their clients and monetize their talents.

It’s in challenging times like these that new business models like Talent Hack emerge.

The New Nature of Work

While technology accelerated the pace of our work lives, it never fundamentally changed the nature of the way we work. However, COVID-19 mandated changes to the nature of work in all industries.

For many, working from home was no longer a luxury but a necessity, due to social distancing.

Once business owners and their employees learned they could do their jobs remotely, real change to the nature of work was in the wind. Now it has been proven that people could work from anywhere, and that epiphany will produce profound changes for our cities, our transportations systems, our communications networks, the work week, and the work day going forward.

Accelerated by this global pandemic, the challenge has become NOT to turn things around, but to implement the changes needed to thrive in this changed world.

More to the point, the question is not whether the radio industry will turn itself around, but rather is it headed in the right direction? And from my vantage point, the jury is still out on that question.

“What you are going to be tomorrow

you are becoming today.”

-John Maxwell

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W A S S – Bumpass

Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 8.57.02 AMSouth from where I live, is a little community by the name of Bumpass, Virginia. As far as I can tell, the FCC have never licensed a radio station to this little community of 8,792 people.

The town was named for John T. Bumpass, one of the first postmasters in the area. Its post office is still in service.

It’s said that George Washington spent the night at Jerdone Castle in Bumpass on June 10th during his 1791 Southern tour as President. One of the many locations to boast “George Washington slept here.”

When I learned of this place, I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to start a radio station in this place. I could hear the top-of-the-hour jingle being sung now: W A S S – Bumpass.

There are only two problems with this fantasy, 1) the FCC has never given out radio station WASS call letters, and 2) it turns out that the proper pronunciation for Bumpass, is BUMP-us. It originates from the French surname Bonpass which means “good passage.”

Oh well, it made me chuckle.

It turns out I’m not the only person in the world that has had fun at the expense of the town of Bumpass.

If Local Radio Didn’t Exist, What Would You Create?

Which brings me to a more serious subject of creating a radio station in the 21st Century. What do listeners really want? Is there an appetite for delivering content over an AM or FM radio signal if one didn’t already exist in that location? How would you fund it? By advertising? Subscriptions? Donations?

What would you program? Talk, music, sports, weather or something else?

If a community doesn’t have a local newspaper or a radio station, like Bumpass, Virginia, how does it know what’s going on in its local area?

NEWSBREAK

Turns out NEWSBREAK, which bills itself as “The Nation’s #1 Intelligent Local News” App serves Bumpass, Virginia. It relies on local content creators to supply it with local news newsbreakand perspectives. It also works with some of the country’s largest newspapers, magazines and television networks to broaden its scope of news coverage.

There is another App, “The Emergency Email & Wireless Network” that says it too covers Bumpass, but neither App really had any news about the goings-on in the town.

The Central Virginian

About thirty minutes up the road from Bumpass is Louisa, Virginia, location of The Central Virginian, a newspaper that provides some peripheral coverage of Bumpass. Though when I checked for the latest news, the most recent story “The Rumpus is Returning to Bumpass,” was published in April of 2018.

Maybe, Bumpass doesn’t generate a lot of news.

Creating Radio Today

Enough about Bumpass, Virginia, let’s tackle the bigger question about creating a radio station for the 21st Century. What would you need , or not need?

  • No need for a building, air personalities would broadcast from their homes.
  • No need for an AM or FM radio license, streaming audio is the future.
  • Some sort of computerized system to handle music, scheduling and advertising (if you chose to go with an ad-supported model).
  • A website that would allow you to stream your content, and deliver other information along with providing listeners a way to communicate with your radio station.
  • Maybe you create a podcast that capsulizes the day’s news and gets updated at specific times, but allows listeners to access it on their schedule.
  • Local doesn’t have to be live, it needs to be kept up-to-date and deliver information not readily available anywhere else that impacts the people of its service area.
  • Musically, this radio station would offer a variety of streaming options, each with the local component linked to its offering.

Actually, this model sounds similar to what many commercial AM & FM radio stations did to get through the spring months of 2020, due to COVID19. Some still are.

The internet is filled with other operators who have developed this type of radio station for their unserved or underserved communities, as commercial radio operators bought up radio signals and moved them into larger metropolitan areas.

wmex fm rochesterTwo such operations that come to mind are: “yourKawarthaOLDIES.com” and “1059WMEX.com” that are filling a gap left by Big Box broadcasters. WMEX-FM kwartha oldiesrecently added an LPFM to its operation, this allows locals in Rochester, NH to hear the station easily when in their cars.

Radio Today – It’s Only Limit is Your Imagination

There’s never been a more exciting or challenging time to be in the world of audio communications. Not since the invention of radio itself, has there been so much opportunity waiting to be discovered.

It just won’t be like it was when I started in radio over fifty years ago.

It’s going to be better!

 

 

 

 

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It Ain’t Over, Till It’s Over

Yogi Berra“It ain’t over, till it’s over,” one of the many phrases made popular by Yogi Berra kept popping into my mind as I sat in on several webinars these past few weeks. COVID19 is not over, so why are people acting like it is? We can expect that we will be living with this virus through all of this year and through most of 2021.

Just because we’re tired of it, doesn’t mean we can let our guard down.

“If the underlying problem is that people are afraid of interacting in close proximity, and they’re afraid to go shopping in certain ways, then the only way to get things back to normal is going to be to solve the public health problem.”

-John Friedman, Brown University economist

Nobody Has the Answers

Whether by reading the broadcast trade publications or watching webinars, it’s become abundantly clear that no one has the answers. Sadly, the radio world seems determined to turn back the clock to the way things were. Whether it be in programming or sales, you simply can’t take the way things were done and put them online. The online world is different and needs to be utilized differently.

The Medium is the Message

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan realized how important the medium carrying a message was to the process of communication. Each medium, be it print, visual, audio, musical etc., will determine how the message is perceived by the person receiving it.

You can’t take a price/item full page newspaper ad and simply print that ad on a billboard.

Every advertising person knows that a billboard message needs to be short, succinct and instantly communicated. For a driver passing by at 65 miles per hour, that means a message of about seven words.

Yet, broadcasters forget the wisdom of McLuhan when they take their over-the-air radio broadcasts and simply stream them on the internet.

The internet is a different medium, and people’s expectations for what they watch, listen to or read on the internet are likewise.

It’s Like Déjá Vu All Over Again

Yogi Berra sure knew how to turn a phrase and expose our follies.

When FM radio was born, the type of radio being done on AM was easily transferred over to this new commercial FM radio band. Why? Because both the AM and FM commercial radio bands came through the same type of receiver, a radio tuner. In other words, they utilized the same medium, the radio set.

But when listening to audio programming over the internet, the listener could be using a computer, a tablet, a smart speaker, a cellphone or any of a multitude of internet connected devices.

Different mediums entirely than AM/FM radio sets and each with different user expectations.

You Can Observe a Lot by Just Watching

Once again, Yogi points the way with his unique turn of a phrase.

As I watched the latest round of weekly webinars, one of the things that became clear was how people were moving to steaming when accessing media in their homes.

ComScore said that WiFi connected homes accounted for 68% of video consumption, with the big five streamers being Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Disney. These five account for 82.5% of the streaming video that’s being consumed.

Likewise, Edison Research’s Larry Rosin points out that radio listening is very much car dependent (mainly due to most cars having an AM/FM radio in the dashboard) and that when people are home, streaming is taking over.

“Radio is mainly an over-the-air product

and not a streaming one.”

-Larry Rosin, Edison Research

Think about that statement for a moment. Edison Research has found that AM/FM radios are vanishing from American homes, with 32% of households no longer owning a single radio set.

So, if people mainly use radio programming only on radio receivers, and those receivers are dwindling in homes, offices and dashboards, the radio industry’s challenge is a daunting one. Listening to audio programming will continue to grow via streaming on non-radio set devices. Radio, as we knew it, is moving in the direction of malls and movie theaters, built for a past generation.

During the stay-at-home months of April and May 2020, audio listening at home rose from a pre-COVID19 49% to 70%. This didn’t mean more OTA radio per se.Share of Ear May 2020

If the way people accessed their audio content was via streaming, they did more of that, and if they still owned a radio set, then they listened to more OTA radio.

If You Don’t Know Where You Are Going, You’ll End Up Someplace Else

And that Yogi Berra saying pretty much sums up the world right now during this pandemic. No one knows where we are going. No one has the answers. This is a period of global disruption.

What history shows us during periods of disruption is, the old ways get destroyed before the new ones get built to take over. However, COVID19 appears to be speeding up the process.

“The future ain’t what it used to be.”

-Yogi Berra

 

 

 

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What Is Normal?

What Is NormalA reader of this blog recently asked me if things would one day return to “normal.” They said that over the past ten years, they’ve moved beyond wondering “why” there have been so many massive changes and disruptions in our lives, pondering now if things will ever settle down.

Will we ever get back to “normal,” or is this our “new normal?”

Is it possible, “never normal,” is where we are headed?

Normal

If you look up “normal” in the dictionary, you will see that as a noun “normal” is defined as “the usual, average or typical state or condition.”

What do you consider “normal” temperature for where you live? What do you consider average as the amount of time you interact with other people? What is the typical state or condition of your car?

When we think about “normal” in this way, we quickly realize that temperatures are constantly changing; by the hour, the day, the week, the month, the year, and so on. When we apply that to personal interactions with others, again you’re probably thinking to yourself things like, are we talking about a weekday, weekend, holiday, vacation etc. And when it comes to your car, its condition changes with every mile you put on the odometer.

In other words, “normal” means things are constantly changing.

When Were Things Ever Normal?

When you really start to think about the concept of “normal,” you quickly realize this thing called normal never existed.

What we have are periods in our lives when things are going well (and we like to think this is “normal”) and other periods where things are completely FUBAR*(we call these times “not normal”).

The truth is, normal life is constant change.

History’s Lessons

History doesn’t repeat, but often rhymes.

Do you think the village blacksmith wondered as cars drove down the streets past his shop, when this “fad” would end and people would return to riding horses or in carriages pulled by horses? I’m sure he did.

In April 1860, pony express moved mail across the country faster than ever before, but for only 18-months before it was then replaced by the wired telegraph.

As wireless telegraphy was born, the wired telegraph would see its challenges.

Morse Code, with the dots & dashes communication method of the telegraph, saw its demise with the transmission of voice and music through the ether.

Television would add pictures to radio’s sound, leading many to predict the end of radio. But radio didn’t end, it changed with the times and was reborn for a new generation of youth who listened to it for hours on transistor radios.

Then the biggest disruption of all arrived, the iPhone. Now this singular device has replaced your cellphone, typewriter, camera, video camera, radio, TV, newspaper, magazine, computer, tablet, flashlight, credit cards, keys, tape recorder, note pad, iPod, GPS, blood pressure monitor and more that I’m sure I’m forgetting about.

Having an iPhone or similar Android device many would call the “new normal.” It’s almost hard to consider a world where, it too, has been replaced by something even better and more essential to our lives.

You Can’t Go Back

I first heard this advice when I was taking a film making course in college. My instructor told the class, be sure you get every shot you need when you’re out filming your movie, because you can’t ever go back and shoot something you missed at a future date. Things change, and nothing will be like it was, the first time you were there.

My film was about glass blowing. The day I was to film the making of a glass vase, the glass blower welcomed me. He was sporting long hair and a beard. The molten glass he was working with that day was green and produced a lovely green glass vase.

I filmed every part of the process of making a vase, from the liquid molten glass in the furnace to the rolling, blowing, shaping, cutting and cooling of the glass into a finished product.

I was so grateful to the glassblower for allowing me to come to his shop and film him that I bought that green glass vase.

Back when I was in school, filming was really shooting on film, 16mm film. That meant shipping the undeveloped film off to Kodak for processing and then waiting for the film to return so I could view it and begin the process of editing the footage into a final 15-minute film.

It wasn’t until I was viewing the rough footage that I discovered some of my shots were out-of-focus. There was simply no way to complete my film without some key parts of the process included.

So, I called up the glass blower and made an appointment to come back to his shop and film those sections I needed.

When I arrived, he had shaved off his beard, gotten a crew cut, and was now working with purple glass.

My instructor, unbeknownst to me, would buy that second purple glass vase to give to me for Christmas that year and to bring home the point that I indeed, “could not go back.” Things always change.

Change

If you’re really honest with yourself, you want change in your life. You want to learn new things, see new movies and TV shows, hear new music, visit new places, watch your children grow up and so much more.

We want change that makes us happy, we don’t want change that doesn’t.

I seriously doubt anyone would want to give up their smartphone that’s connected to the internet, no matter how much we may pine for simpler times.

Change in our lives, is like normal in our lives, it’s individually defined. Others may look at our life and call it abnormal.

Normal is change from sunrise to sunset. Normal is changes in weather and seasons. Normal is also pandemics, being a cycle that can span decades or a century.

What Does This Have to Do with Radio/TV?

OK, this is a blog where I write about radio/TV and you may wonder what any of what I wrote so far has to do with broadcasting, well here it comes.

Jeffrey Katzenberg put it this way, “One thing that’s happened to me in 45-years of being in Hollywood, and in this industry is, I’ve never seen an instance where real quality entertainment hasn’t found an audience.”

While some say “Radio is dead,” or more specifically “AM Radio is dead,” this past April we saw that AM Radio (WOR) was #1 on Long Island, AM Radio (KFI) was #1 in Los Angeles, AM Radio (WBBM) was #1 in Chicago, AM Radio (KCBS) was #1 in San Francisco, AM Radio (WSB) was #1 in Atlanta, and AM Radio (WWJ) was tied for #1 in Detroit. I’m sure there are others, but I think you get my point.

Mr. Katzenberg has it right, when you provide content that people want, they will find you, even if it’s on the AM Radio Dial.

Change is normal and wanting to hold on to the past that has been romanticized in our memories, is normal.

But what never changes is people are born, they age, and they die.

Success belongs to those who can touch the most hearts with their product or service, and make a difference in their lives.

The only way RADIO or TV will lose, is if they do it to themselves.

Broadcasting holds the keys to its success in its own hands.

Will they use them to unlock all they are capable of?

—————————————————————————————

*FUBAR is a military term that means out of working order; seriously, perhaps irreparably, damaged. For a more literal definition of this acronym, Google FUBAR.

 

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Where Have All the Baby Boomers Gone?

Baby BoomerBill Thomas, a media and branding idea expert and broadcast & radio veteran (@BillThomas), shared a link on Twitter to an Ad Week article about three brands that bought ads in Super Bowl 54, targeting the 50+ demo. It’s not surprising, as the author of the article points out, that this is the age group that is most active and ready to spend online. Any guess on what the three brands are, that were targeting this Baby Boomer age group? Do you think it was iHeartMedia, Cumulus, and Entercom? Stay tuned.

Citizen Insight Academy

The City of Winchester holds a Citizen Insight Academy annually, and I signed my wife Sue and I up for the 2020 edition. We’re only nine weeks into this 16-week program and Citizen Insight Academyit’s been illuminating learning about our city and the way it operates. The other evening, we had a session with the city’s Emergency Management and E-911 departments.

You can imagine my reaction when the head of the E-911 department began her talk with “People don’t listen to the radio anymore, but they’re really into social media.” She went on to say how she grew up listening to the radio but how other forms of communication, like social media, have replaced that habit. Much like smartphones have replaced people’s landline telephones.

She told us that most calls into the city’s 911 switchboard come from wireless phones versus landlines. The percentage was something like 75% wireless to 25% landline. I myself have been a cellphone only household for over a decade, and our class of 35 had only about four people who still have a landline.

Traditional Radio Stations Have Lost Faith of Listeners

If I thought our city’s 911 Director was tough on radio, the BBC’s head of radio and education, recently said “Radio as we’ve always known it, has lost the faith of listeners.” He explained that “where once it was everything, now it is not. In fact, for many listeners, it is no longer their default.”

BBC Chief

BBC Radio Chief, James Purnell

In 1920, when commercial radio service began in America, you were lucky if you had a single choice for wireless communication. In many localities, you might have only had radio service after sunset via the AM skywave phenomena.

As more radio stations came on the air, Americans began to develop a radio habit. Radio listening was something we did while working, riding in the car or while we were at play. It provided the audio accompaniment to our lives. But everything’s changed. Now radio stations need to create an experience that earns a place in someone’s day.

NuVoodoo on Media Addictions

I wasn’t surprised to see NuVoodoo releasing some data from their latest research that shows all age groups today are addicted to their Smartphones. But what caught my eye was how Millennials, Gen X and Gen Z groups were more addicted to a favorite FM or AM radio station than Baby Boomers.

NuVoodoo Addiction to Media 2020

Which got me to thinking, why were the very people who grew up with radio and few other choices, be the age group least engaged with the medium today?

Boomers Know Great Radio When They Hear It

Real Don Stelle

The Real Don Steele

Baby Boomers grew up during a time when great radio personalities dominated the airwaves. Broadcasters like Harry Harrison, Robert W. Morgan, Larry Lujack, Dan Ingram, The Real Don Steele, Ron Lundy and so many more filled our lives with information, entertainment, community and companionship. It was a time when radio stations had local news teams, great promotions, exciting radio jingles, stationality and air personalities. Personalities, so important in our lives that we wanted to meet them more than the recording artists that created the music they played.

Radio for Baby Boomers isn’t like that anymore, so they’re moving on.

The boomer generation now embraces smartphones, smart speakers and social media with a vengeance, taking all their dollars to spend right along with them. Baby Boomers hold around 70% of the disposable income in the United States and they make up 50% of sales for all consumer package goods.

The Big Three

So, who were the media companies that want to gain a larger share of the 50+ demo? The ones that know that Baby Boomers are the most active and ready to spend their dollars online?

Google, Amazon and Facebook, that’s who.Facebook Amazon Google Logos

Facebook advertised during a Super Bowl television broadcast for the very first time in 2020. They hired as pitchmen, Chris Rock (54) and Sylvester Stallone (73). Both men are iconic celebrities and are part of this powerful consumer demographic, the 50+ audience.

Meanwhile, radio continues to jettison the very people that connects them with their local audience, the radio personality.

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Best of the Blog 2019

DTB Best of the BlogOn this last Sunday of 2019, it’s tradition to look back at the year just past and share with you the Top 5 Most Read and shared blog articles of 2019. Maybe you missed them or perhaps you’d like to read them again.

To date I’ve published 281 articles that have been viewed 188,000-times around the world.

Most Read Article of 2019

My most read article of this past year was “What’s the Purpose of a Radio Station?

It was published on September 8, 2019 and examined how the role of radio has changed since it was founded almost 100-years ago.

Today’s communications company needs to clearly define its mission and needs to earn the trust of all of its stakeholders. That means building trust between its employees, advertisers and listeners.

We need to stop thinking of “radio” as AM or FM.

We need to think of radio as being the audio leader for creating an environment for convening and supporting groups.

We need to be preparing for a future that is still coming into focus.

Read why this article was the most read of 2019 HERE

Second Most Read Article of 2019

After I sat-in on a webinar in April of this year, I wrote an article lamenting how the radio industry doesn’t think anyone over 55 matters. The world economic forum said for the first time in the history of the world, there are more people living today over 65 than there are under 5. The article was titled “You’re Not Talking to Me.”  The amount of reads and comments almost tied that of the article above. You can read it HERE

Third Most Read Article of 2019

Readers loved learning about radio’s “super power” that will allow it to cut through the plethora of media choices in the 21st Century. The question radio broadcasters need to be asking themselves is, why aren’t they leveraging radio’s most powerful asset? The article was titled, “A New Direction for Broadcast.”

The article created a lot conversation about radio’s mission for the future. You can read it HERE

Fourth Most Read Article of 2019

We all know that all traditional media is having to deal with disruption. The question posed by this article from June of this year was, “Is Radio Being Disrupted or Simply Lacking the Human Factor?

Radio needs a visionary leader.

Let’s consider what Steve Jobs gave Apple upon his return, and leading the company out of near bankruptcy; a vision. Jobs then backed up his vision with management fortitude and people with the technical skills to make the new Apple vision a reality. It was those human factors that carried Apple to become one of the most valuable companies in the world.

Imagine that same kind of leadership for radio in the 21st Century. Read more HERE

Fifth Most Read Article of 2019

We live in a world of “more, more, more.” In the article that kicked off 2019 in January, I pondered the question: Can we have too many radio stations on-the-air? The article was titled “Too Much Is Not Enough.”

The value of a broadcast license was being a limited commodity, and as such being granted spectrum on the public’s airwaves benefitted the community, the advertisers, the listeners and the broadcasters.

The internet has created an infinite radio dial and has challenged the value of an FCC broadcast license.

The FCC’s inability to protect the AM spectrum from the myriad of electrical devices that produce an ever increasing noise floor, has doomed the future of the senior band as it closes in on a century of service.

Unless something is done, I fear the FM band will suffer a similar fate.

The article drew a lot a response and you can read it again HERE

Most Read Articles, Period

Two articles I’ve written, continue to see quite a bit of traffic and continue to be far and away the two most read on my blog. They are “SiriusXM Radio is Now FREE”  and “The Day the “Dumbest Idea Invaded the Radio Industry”.

Both articles have now been viewed over 18,000-times.

The record holder for any of my articles, for the most reads in a single day is “We Never Called It Content.” 3,587-people read that article when it was published on Sunday, September 6, 2015. To date, the article has registered 4,901-reads and 67-comments.

Why I Blog I blog for broadcasters, educators and students. I blog to provide media mentorship and to pay-it-forward to the broadcasting industry that I have been a part of for over 50-years. I’m grateful for the more than 142,000 people from all over the world who have visited my blog site (https://DickTaylorBlog.com) to read an article that caught their interest.

FREE SUBSCRIPTIONS You can subscribe to this blog for FREE and get a copy of each week’s article delivered to your email IN BOX every Sunday morning. To subscribe, simply go to the bottom right-hand corner on your screen and click on the FOLLOW button. (If you’re accessing this blog via mobile phone or tablet, that button may not be visible, so be sure to do this on a computer or laptop.)

Thank You for reading, next week I will begin my sixth year of blogging with all new articles.

Together we can all learn from one another by sharing our experiences, knowledge and wisdom. Feel free to contribute your thoughts to the discussion in the comments section, I read every one of them.

Happy New Year!

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