Tag Archives: Amazon Echo

Less Is More

When I was a market manager for Clear Channel, the company president introduced a new concept for reducing our commercial load, he called it “Less Is More.” It sounded good on the surface, however instead of reducing on-air clutter it introduced shorter length commercials. Each of my radio stations now aired ads that were as short as 5-seconds down to 1-second in length. This meant more ads could be run in a spot break. For example, the time it would take to run four minute length commercials, with Less Is More stations could now run six half-minute commercials or twelve 15-second commercials etc. Listeners don’t consider the length of a commercial break, but the number of different elements that air in a break.

Radio Commercials

If there’s one thing radio listeners tend to always agree on, when it comes to improving the radio listening experience, it’s reducing the number of commercials. That means the number of ads that air in a single commercial break, as well as the total number ads broadcast each hour.

Clear Channel recognized this listener issue, but by introducing shorter length ads, the “Less Is More” initiative added more elements to each stop-set. To the radio listener, the amount of clutter increased and in essence, made their favorite radio stations less listenable.

Commercial Free Radio

It was in 2008, when New York’s CD 101.9 WQCD dropped its Smooth Jazz format to switch to playing rock music with the new call letters WRXP.  Not finding any radio station in the greater New York City area that programmed the Smooth Jazz format, I would search online and discover Sky.FM.

They offered more than one flavor of Smooth Jazz music programming and it quickly filled my appetite for this musical genre. They only stopped the music twice an hour, once to tell me that I could hear this music without interruption by becoming a premium subscriber and the other announcement was about how they were looking to hire more IT personnel.

Those were the only two announcements and they lasted about 30-seconds in length, but over time, it was like Chinese water torture; so, I went online to find out how much it would cost to become a premium subscriber, learning it would cost me only $49/year. But that wasn’t all, that fee also increased the audio quality of the stream .

I was hooked and remained a subscriber, only leaving the service when I got my first Amazon Echo and Radio Tunes (formerly known as Sky.FM) wasn’t available on the service.

Recently a reader of this blog, told me that he listened to commercial free Radio Tunes on his Amazon smart speakers and I’m a subscriber once again.

My wife Sue loves Pandora and for Valentine’s Day 2022, I bought her Pandora Premium. This is their top service, it’s commercial-free and offers listeners the ability to ask for any song and immediately hear it. Plus she still can listen to any of Pandora’s wonderfully curated channels and skip any songs she doesn’t like.

Repetition Breeds Acceptance

I often hear people say they get tired of hearing the same songs over and over. Yet, successful radio stations often employ strategies that can seem counter-intuitive. They achieve the more variety music position by playing fewer songs. They reach a larger audience by targeting and focusing on a more narrowly defined audience.

By subscribing to Pandora and Radio Tunes we didn’t eliminate music repetition, we eliminated the programming elements that interrupted the music. It’s the music repetition of our favorite songs that actually attracts us.

In fact, I remember when Sirius and XM were still two separate subscription satellite radio entities, the most listened to commercial free music channels on both of them were HITS 1 and Top 20 on 20; both of which had the highest music repetition.

Dave Van Dyke, the President & CEO at Bridge Ratings Media Research, said that globally there are 3.6 music streamers for every paid subscriber. So, don’t completely count commercially supported radio out yet.

Great Radio Ads

When I was managing radio stations in Iowa back in 1999, my two sons came to visit. Before they left, they made what you might think is an unusual request, they wanted to know if I could make copies of the radio commercials my stations aired and put them on a cassette to bring back with them to New Jersey.

I also remember being at a house party and the radio station providing the music entertainment was largely background, until they stopped the music to play some commercials, and everyone would hush the conversation so they could listen. Yes, the radio ads this station created were that good.

I’m a graduate of The Wizard of Ads Wizard Academy in Austin, Texas. Roy H. Williams has been teaching radio folks for years about what makes an effective radio ad. Following Roy’s lessons, my advertisers have been very successful.

Radio commercials aren’t bad.

Bad radio commercials are.

Radio’s secret ingredient is the radio personality. Great radio talent has been effectively telling their listeners about all types of businesses, products and services for decades.

I need go no further than radio’s greatest salesman, Paul Harvey.

I own two BOSE Wave Radios because of Paul Harvey. What makes this so amazing is that I listened to him broadcasting on an AM radio station, but Paul was selling me a radio that would play FM stereo and CDs with the highest fidelity.  

While Paul Harvey was a news commentator, he called himself a salesman. His audience knew that he used the products and services he advertised. Harvey personally wrote the radio commercials he would broadcast.

Among his many accolades, the one Paul Harvey was most proud to have received was being named “Salesman of the Year.”

Paul Harvey loved his advertisers, saying “I am fiercely loyal to those willing to put their money where my mouth is.”

Creating great radio, means leveraging the power of the medium to deliver an engaged audience for its advertisers. That means reducing the number of ads in a commercial cluster and reducing the number of ads per hour, making sure every ad is about the listener and their life.  

Tomorrow has always been better than today.

And it always will be.

-Paul Harvey

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Why I Stream ALL My Radio Listening

Twelve year ago, radio broadcast engineer Tom Ray, penned these words: “Unless we give Joe Consumer a reason to go out and purchase an HD Radio for his car – until he can obtain it easily and at a reasonable cost, and a device that works – I fear HD Radio is going to go the way of FM quad and AM stereo, relegated to the scrap pile of history.”

Tom Ray wrote his article for Radio World when he was the vice president/corporate director of engineering for Buckley Broadcasting/WOR Radio in New York City. He was a strong and vocal supporter of HD Radio and his WOR was one of the first AMs on the air with an HD Radio signal. So, any broadcaster that read Tom’s article, “HD Radio Shouldn’t Be This Hard,” should have taken it as a wake-up call about steps the radio industry needed to take to stay relevant in their listeners’ lives.

Buying a New Car in 2010

Tom is a loyal Ford customer, so when his Explorer went to the automobile graveyard with 230,000-miles on it, Tom wanted to get a new Ford Escape, equipped with HD Radio. The only problem was, Ford wasn’t putting HD Radios into their Escapes, instead, they were pushing Satellite Radio. (Tom noted that his wife listened only to Satellite Radio in her car, saying “in her opinion there is nothing worth listening to in New York’s Hudson Valley, 50 miles north of New York City.)

This should have been yet another radio industry wake-up call about its future.

I encourage you to click on the link and read what Tom Ray wrote a dozen years ago about how difficult it was to put an HD Radio into a new car which, at that time, didn’t offer OEM HD Radios and how he, as a broadcast engineer, was totally frustrated trying to install an aftermarket one.

Streaming Radio at Home

Since Christmas 2017, when my wife gave me my first Amazon Echo smart speaker, our Echo family has quickly grown to four of these devices. There is nowhere you can be in our home and not ask Alexa for something.

Since 2017, all of our in-home radio listening is via streaming.

While we also occasionally streamed radio in the car, on all of our road trips from 2018-2021, SiriusXM always seemed to be offering a 3-month free listening trial that I can honestly say we enjoyed the listening to. But, I’ve never been a subscriber, because other than road trips I spend very little time in the car.

Streaming Radio in the Car

In October, while enjoying my latest free 3-month trial for SiriusXM radio, I decided it was time to bring my in-house streaming radio habit into both of our cars. We own a 2006 Subaru Forester and a 2009 Honda Accord.

The Subaru doesn’t have an AUX input, the Honda does.

Streaming in the Subaru was accomplished with a Blue Tooth receiver that will broadcast on any FM frequency (88.1 works best). In the Honda, this same device’s output was plugged into an AUX receptacle.

The result is, as soon as either my wife or myself enters one of our cars, the Nulaxy KM18 immediately pairs with our iPhones. I installed the AINOPE Car Phone Holder Mount to hold our phones, and keep them easily assessible to control whatever we would like to listen to.

Total cost for each car: $33.43. Time to install, virtually nil. I just plugged the Nulaxy KM18 into a power port and it was operational. The AINIOPE holder easily clamps to an air vent on the dashboard and holds any smartphone.

Unlike the nightmare that Tom Ray experienced back in 2010 trying to put HD Radio into his car, this installation by me, a non-engineer, was a piece of cake.

A Call to Action

I recently sat in on a Radio World webinar called “A Call to Action, radio’s existential battle for the dash.” Paul McLane, Managing Director of Content/Editor in Chief of Radio World at Radio World/Future U.S., hosted the webinar and did an excellent job. However, one particular piece of information shared during the presentation that I thought was crucial was, how Mercedes Benz was equipping their vehicles’ radio screens with the following pre-sets: SiriusXM, FM, AM and TuneIn Radio.

TuneIn Radio is the App I use for most of my radio listening, but why was it chosen by Mercedes Benz? Turns out the answer is, “TuneIn’s radio stations can be accessed worldwide in 197 countries on more than 200 different platforms and devices.” TuneIn says it “provides the displaced radio listener a connection to home with local, national, and international stations anywhere they go and on any device.”

In other words, why would any audio consumer need DAB, DAB+, Digital Radio Mondiale, HD Radio, AM or FM when they can receive any radio station in crystal clear audio via streaming?

With the exception of the proprietary content offered by SiriusXM, everything else is available via streaming at no charge.

Cellular Plan

Now it goes without saying, that streaming consumes data. Each cellphone service provider offers different plans and different price rates. My wife and I are on Verizon’s unlimited phone/text/data plan. We have no landline phone in our home and our iPhones are our lifeline to being connected with each other, our family, our community and the world.

I’ve found streaming radio in our cars provides us with audio quality that is pristine. There’s no buffering or dropout, and it’s been a more reliable signal than AM, FM or SiriusXM radio, especially when traveling through tunnels.

Streaming Apps

I thought you might be interested in knowing what streaming Apps I have on my iPhone, here’s the current list:

  • TuneIn Pro
  • Audacy
  • Pandora
  • Spotify
  • Amazon Music
  • NPR ONE
  • YouTube
  • Simple Radio
  • StreamS
  • Apple Podcasts
  • AccuRadio
  • 650AM WSM
  • Stitcher

Why I Prefer Streaming My Radio

We live far enough away from Washington, D.C. that radio signals for WTOP or WETA experience lots of noise and dropout, depending atmospherics, sometimes making them totally unlistenable. However, their streams are always crystal clear.

This fall Sue and I escaped to Cape Cod for a week and when I get on the peninsula, I love turning on WFCC – Cape Cod’s Classical station – 107.5 FM. Now with streaming radio, I can dial up WFCC on my TuneIn radio App and listen when we’re back home in Virginia.

Full disclosure, I am the midday DJ on WMEX-FM in Rochester, NH. But even if I weren’t on the station, WMEX-FM would be my #1 pre-set for streaming. Gary James, the station’s morning man and program director, puts together a music mix that I find absolutely fabulous. It’s the music of my life.

Which brings me to another important point, radio today is global. No longer is your radio station competing just with other local stations, but radio that is streaming from anywhere on planet Earth.

Streaming also makes it possible for ON DEMAND spoken word radio, also known as Podcasts, to be easily available in the car.

Simington on Streaming

FCC commissioner Nathan Simington recently addressed Ohio broadcasters saying, “content delivery power had shifted away from broadcasters – stations and networks – and toward ‘online platforms,’ something he thinks the FCC needs to recognize in its quadrennial review of media ownership regs.”

He warned that:

  1. “Online media platforms are growing rapidly and threaten dominance over traditional media platforms; and
  2. Broadcast advertising revenue has flatlined, having been siphoned off from higher margin online platforms.”

The Future is Streaming

88% of the world’s population now uses mobile broadband as its main source of internet access, and nearly 90% of homes in the United States now have internet streaming. 2021 saw an estimated 22% ad industry growth rate, which Magna Global said was “the highest growth rate ever recorded” by this agency, beating a 12.5% growth rate recorded in the year 2000. The caveat however is, digital dominated traditional advertising raking in 64.4% of the growth in ad spending.

RAIN reports “The U.S. recorded music industry will exceed a 48-year revenue record set in 1999 (based on current estimates),” all coming from revenues paid by streaming music services.

The Harvard Business Review recently published “4 Principles to Guide Your Digital Transformation,” by Greg Satell, Andrea Kates and Todd McLees. In it, the authors wrote, “digital transformation is not just about technology. We’re desperately in need of a shift in focus. Leaders must inspire and empower their entire organization to boldly reimagine their work environment, customer needs, product offering, and even the purpose of the enterprise.”

Tom Ray was the proverbial “canary in the coal shaft” back in 2010, with few paying attention. Sadly, based on the early news coming out of the 2022 CES in Las Vegas, nothing has changed.

We’re living in a communications revolution,

bringing about changes that will be both

permanent and irreversible.

Revolutions never maintain or preserve the status quo.

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What I Recently Witnessed About Radio Use

Sue & I just returned from a seven week trip out west to visit our children and grandchildren who are living in Nevada, Montana and Washington. For me, our trip would also be a chance to witness how radio is used (or not used) in three different households, as well as in hotels, businesses and public transportation. What I would witness, was concerning.

Nevada

In Nevada, I noticed that for a household of seven, not a single radio was to be found. Audio was accessed by asking Alexa (Amazon Echo) to play something or a particular playlist was sent wirelessly to speakers via someone’s iPhone. Everyone, even the very youngest grandchild, who’s five, had their own iPhone.

In a house where both parents work, and can be called out at any hour of the day, this type of communications for all family members becomes a necessity.

Radio listening, if done at all, was something only done when in the car. Television, was connected to a cable bundle and only CNN or Netflix seemed to get viewed. The grandkids spent most of their time playing video games on the house computer, game console or their iPhones.

Montana

Here a Sonos home speaker system had been installed in the home. I found that two different local radio stations (country & classic rock) were programmed into rotation, along with an Amazon Echo smart speaker. Our grandkids called up songs they wanted to hear by asking Alexa to play them, so in the week we spent, Alexa was pretty much the default choice for anything musically played.

Television programs were all streamed via YouTube TV.

Radio pre-sets in the car were set to several country stations, several classic rock stations, several contemporary music stations and an oldies station. In all, 22 different radio stations were loaded onto the pre-sets. I added KBMC to that pre-set list when we borrowed the car a couple of times. KBMC programs a variety of jazz and classical music.

Washington

Our stay in the State of Washington took place on Whidbey Island. The only radio signal licensed on the island plays regional Mexican music and the majority of its content is in Spanish. So, it wasn’t surprising to find the pre-sets on the car radio did not include KNZW – La Zeta 103.3.

What was surprising was to see that all the pre-sets were to HD1 signals in this Mazda 6 sedan. (It appears Mazda has their radio default to HD signals and you have to toggle it off to get FM signals.) Since the island is just across the water from Seattle, all of the pre-sets were to Seattle radio stations. The two that dominated the listening in the car were KSWD (Audacy’s 94.1 The Sound) when mom was behind the wheel and KQMV (Hubbard’s Movin’ 92.5) when either of the grand kids got control of the radio. However, what is dispiriting to witness is how frequently the radio stations get changed whenever something comes on that they don’t wish to hear. When commercials come on, the station gets changed. Likewise, when songs they don’t like come on, the station gets changed. It’s like watching football using the Red Zone.

Here again, not a single radio receiver was to be found inside the home.

The Bus & Hotels

When we departed Whidbey Island, we took a bus into Seattle. On the bus we listened to KSWD 94.1 The Sound out of Seattle. It provided a nice sound track for the ride and the bus driver never changed the station for the two hours it took to reach our destination.

Every hotel room we stayed in featured flat screen TVs but none had a radio. The old clock radios have been replaced by digital clock/USB charging stations for our iPhones, iPads and laptop computers.

Summing It All Up

I realize there is nothing scientific about this, it’s all anecdotal, but it was a dose of reality that confirms much of the research I’m reading about today’s radio landscape.

No one in our seven weeks on the road tuned into any AM radio station. FM, was radio to everyone, but then, only in their vehicles. Listening to radio in the home was not possible, because there was only one radio in any of the homes we stayed at and that was in the garage.

HD Radio sounds great, but in all honesty, the one family that had this easily accessible in their car, probably didn’t know that’s what they were listening to and it certainly wasn’t the reason they were listening to any particular station.

With the exception of our two hour bus ride, radio exposure could be measured in short segments, that only happened to occur because the radio comes on with the ignition switch. Sadly, changing radio stations occurs constantly, so any commercial content never gets heard.

Likewise, businesses we frequented either had their own franchise “radio station,” like Walmart Radio or streamed a music channel from some other music service they subscribed to.

In our travels, we didn’t see a TV commercial, billboard or bumper sticker for any radio station. Lots of shirts and sweatshirts promoting lots of things, but not one for any radio station.

Radio, it would appear, has become the Rodney Dangerfield of media.

“We don’t get no respect.”

But then maybe, it’s a self-inflicted situation

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I Want It Now

I want it nowGrowing up telling mom or dad that I wanted something now, got the usual response of “you will have to work for it” or “you’ll get it when it’s ready.” Learning that good things come to those who wait was part of my maturing process.

But not any longer.

Google

I remember when I wanted to know about something, I either had to spend some time going through our family’s World Book Encyclopedia or take a trip to the library. But not any longer, I just Google it.

Alexa

I’ve been able to stream radio around the world for years, but it never became easier than when Alexa entered my world. Now, anything I want to know or hear, I simply ask Alexa, and that little genie in my Echo serves it up. My wish is Alexa’s command.

FOX TV

Remember when we used to have television seasons? Every fall, I couldn’t wait for TV Guide to arrive to plan out my TV viewing strategy.  ABC, NBC and CBS would introduce lots of new shows every fall and it was a big deal.

Then FOX changed things up while working to become America’s fourth television network. FOX began introducing new shows during the summer, and winter break, while ABC, NBC and CBS were showing re-runs.

Now new television programs are a year-round affair. Gone are pilots, re-runs and the fall season being the only time networks introduce brand new shows.

Netflix

But the most dramatic change to the introduction of a new television series happened five years ago when Netflix started releasing an entire season’s worth of shows, all at the same time. Netflix now gave viewers a choice in how you could watch a new season. You could watch on a weekly basis, watch a new episode every night, or binge watch the entire season.

Binge watching became the preferred method.

Disney+

Which is why I was surprised to hear Disney+ announce that it would be releasing its new shows an episode a week. History has shown with many different products and services, that you can’t go back to the way things used to be. I wish the mouse house good luck.

Knowing Your Audience

Netflix spends a lot of time trying to understanding what their subscribers want and like. They’re adamant that releasing an entire season all at once won’t ever change. They cite two reasons for this:

  • TV viewers have moved away from appointment viewing in droves, preferring to watch shows ON DEMAND, often by binge watching, and
  • 2) Netflix has found that people tend to watch only one show at a time. In other words, once a Netflix viewer finds a television series they like, they will watch all the episodes of that program before moving on to another show.

Netflix knows a happy customer remains a paying customer.

Reflecting on my own Netflix viewing habits, I would have to agree that I’m hooked on the concept of ON DEMAND television viewing and when I start a Netflix TV series, I watch the entire series, usually several episodes a night, until I’ve finished it. I’ve watched Downtown Abbey that way twice now.

Radio vs Podcasting

GoldsteinIs there a lesson for radio broadcasters from what I just shared about television viewing habits? I think there is. Programmer Steve Goldstein puts it this way, “Traditional radio – by design – is a lean-back business. Podcasting is a lean-in business.” That perfectly describes the difference between Netflix (lean-in) and broadcast (lean-back) commercial television.

These changing media habits are not just a temporary thing.

These changes in how people want to access and use media are the future, and we can’t wish the past back, no matter how much we might want to.

Goldstein says a podcast needs to be “thumb stopping.” By that he means the listener doesn’t exit the program and move on to something else with a press of their thumb.

Because of push button pre-sets, radio stations know all too well how easy it is for car radio listeners to change stations when something they don’t want or like comes on. Today, it’s in the car where most broadcast radio listening takes place.

Sadly, radio operators aren’t acknowledging this reality in the digital world.

Mad Men

Matt Weiner, the creator of the Mad Men television series that played on A & E, said that if he ever approached Netflix to run one of his shows, he would try to convince them to release the episodes on a weekly basis.matt weiner

It’s the same kind of thinking old timers in radio might suggest when they talk about how to make radio great again.

What would Netflix tell Mr. Weiner if he pitched his idea of releasing his programs a week at a time?

“He would lose,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s content chief.

Radio should think of this reality as its “canary in the coal shaft” moment.

 

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Streaming & Podcasting

computers streaming & podcastingI’ve been thinking about these two forms of audio for some time now. With each new article published about streaming, we see how more and more people are listening to music in this way. The smart speaker has certainly contributed to the growth of music listening via streams, and the smart speaker growth is exploding.

I know with my own experience by getting my first smart speaker as a gift, to now owning three of them, how it’s totally changed how I listen to music.

And then there’s podcasting, a way for the spoken word to be communicated.

Radio versus Streaming & Podcasting

Radio for most of my life was a way to hear both music and the spoken word. It was curated and delivered in fresh and exciting ways by a variety of radio stations across the country.

Unfortunately, radio delivered programming on its timetable, not the listeners.

As VCRs came into the television world, I remember hearing, why isn’t there a device like that for radio? There actually was, I owned one, but it never really caught on like the video devices did.

The VCRs and DVRs changed how people consumed their television programs, and essentially did away with the concept of “Must See TV” turning it into “must record TV.”

Netflix

Then along comes Netflix, and the concept of On Demand TV viewing was born.

One might argue that Blockbuster started it with video rentals, but it still really didn’t impact American viewing habits like streaming video did.

Again, Netflix disrupted people’s viewing habits when it would release an entire season of a TV series all at once. Gone was the need to come back week-after-week to see a program. Now, a new type of TV consumption was created, the binge-watch.

Broadcast versus Streaming

What’s really changed in our consumption of TV and radio is our ability to control what we see and hear, and when we want to see and hear it. In other words, On Demand is the media consumption process of the 21st Century.

I stream 100% of my television viewing. I can watch a program live, or start the show from the beginning if I arrive late, or just view it whenever I want, at another time through On Demand viewing.

Streaming TV has trained us, and now the smart speaker is taking our new media consumption habit and making audio listening just as easy to consume in this manner.

Alexa is ready, willing and able to play any genre of music that I want to hear, on a moment’s notice. She has more song selections than my own personal CD library and it’s so much easier to ask Alexa to play a song for me than try and find the CD that a song is on, and then load it into my CD player.

Podcasts

Complete honesty here, I’m not a fan of podcasts. I don’t know why, I’m just not. The only one I ever listened to in its entirety was the first season of the podcast Serial, and that was mainly due to a long 13-hour car drive, and my ability to download all the episodes onto my iPod to play in my car.

However, I do know that younger folks are really getting into podcasts and this segment will only grow as the spoken word genre finds a way to promote its wares.

The Looming Audio Battle

What I do see on the horizon is radio being drawn and quartered by streaming audio for music, and podcast audio for the spoken word. Both types of audio programming are easily called up via smart speakers and available On Demand.

Curated programming, as has been the staple of broadcast radio, will be challenged to compete.

Professional Radio & Amateur Radio

Radio won’t die, it has a future, but I see it bifurcating in the following ways:

  • There will be professional broadcasters and amateur broadcasters.
  • I see the future of radio looking something like the difference between professional and amateur theater. For example, the difference between Broadway and community theater; where the former are professional paid actors, and the latter is made up of talented volunteer locals with an insatiable love of theater.
  • The advent of low power FM radio stations is the first toe-in-the-water that points in this direction for amateur radio personalities who volunteer their time and energy.
  • Some of these volunteers will come from the ranks of retired or “dislocated” professional radio personalities and some will be members of the community that always thought it would be fun to be on-the-air.
  • What seems to be disappearing are local radio stations in the middle, ones that used to be ad-supported by local businesses, who now find themselves displaced by big box stores and online shopping.
  • The newspaper industry is the canary in the coal shaft for ad-supported media. Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charles Munger points out that, “Technological change is destroying the daily newspapers in America. The revenue goes away and the expenses remain and they’re all dying.” However, Munger does feel that papers like The Wall Street Journal and New York Times will most likely survive.
  • Newspapers have been cutting staff like crazy but it’s done little to turn things around. Radio is following in print industry’s footsteps as “employee dislocations” are occurring at all the major broadcasting companies.

Does any of this make sense to you?

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are.

Please post your thoughts on comments section of this blog article, so that others may read them and hear different opinions.

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How Do You Spend Your Time?

U S Music Industry Revenues 1H 2019When this pie chart was posted on social media, it immediately captured my attention, by showing where the United States Music Industry is making its money. You can read the Mid-Year 2019 RIAA Music Industry Revenues Report HERE.

Total revenues were reported to be growing at 18%, with 80% of the industry revenues coming from streaming. By comparison, the radio industry ended 2019 up 2% and the inflation rate for the United States for 2019 was 1.7%.

Going Apple

I’ll admit, I was late to the Apple party. When I was a broadcast professor at Western Kentucky University, Steve Newberry, EVP with the National Association of Broadcasters, and I were having lunch one day, Steve asked me if I had an iPad. I said “no, and I didn’t know why I needed one.” Steve said, well I can’t explain it, but once you get one you’ll wonder how you lived without one. So, I got one. It would be my second Apple device, the first being an iPod Classic. I purchased my iPad2 on Black Friday in November 2011.

Blackberry to iPhone

I had owned a Blackberry Pearl “smartphone” since my days as a Market Manager at Clear Channel, I loved all it could do and I loved its compact size. But in less than a month of owning and enjoying my iPad2, I would upgrade from my Blackberry to an iPhone4S in January 2012. In 2015 I would switch my university desktop computer from a Dell to an iMac, and today I have added Apple TV for streaming my video entertainment.

One of the wonderful things about the Apple operating systems are that once you know how to operate one, you can operate them all, and they are very intuitive.

iTunes Match

When I got my iPhone4S (the “S” stood for Siri and it was the first introduction of voice command, that has since been joined with offerings by other companies such as Amazon’s Alexa and “Hey Google”), I immediately added a couple of other Apple services like iCloud and iTunes Match.

iCloud backs up all my data and iTunes Match makes it easy for my music library to be available on all my Apple wireless devices, which in 2012 was my iPhone4S and iPad2.

iTunes Match is an annual subscription service, that for me, renews every November for $24.95.

This year after it renewed for 2020, I realized that since owning my Amazon Echoes, I really never use my music library on iTunes anymore. It so much easier to just say “Alexa, play…”

Streaming

I’m sure I own more AM/FM radios than you, unless you’re also a radio geek, then you might own as many as me or even more. But these days, the radios throughout my house broadcast whatever I stream via my Whole House FM Transmitter.

I may stream music from Amazon Prime or Pandora or from one of my favorite internet radio stations, but I never change the dial position on any of my radios because I simply need to tell Alexa to change what I’m streaming from virtually anywhere in my house. (That device has incredible ‘hearing.’)

When we go to bed, one of the things Sue and I especially enjoy is asking Alexa to play some of our favorite songs. Alexa’s the only “DJ” I’ve ever known to not only take requests but play them for you as soon as you ask her to.

You Are No Longer in the Radio Business

This year during Radio Ink’s Forecast 2020 this year, Scott Flick told the audience “Whether you like it or not, you are no longer in the radio business, but the audio business.” Today, the competition is not another radio station or even another media source, but the competitive landscape is for people’s time. We live in a world where a plethora of options can fill our time.

Relevancy Replaces Local

What is local to you? The price of gas at your local pump? The price of goods at the place you shop? The quality of the air you breath or the water you drink? I’m sure you answered, they all are. And chances are not any of them are produced locally, but somewhere else in the world.

Local today is planet earth.

What will make any media property worth a person’s time will be how relevant it is to the person accessing it.

Relevant radio will be one that is closely connected with its audience.

 

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Radio’s Brain Challenge

radio on brainI often wonder if today’s youth would gravitate to the style of radio that attracted me to make radio broadcasting my career for five decades. Would they be attracted to a Dan Ingram, Robert W. Morgan, Dave Maynard, Ron Lundy, The Real Don Steele, Big Ron O’Brien, Larry Lujack or any of the countless other personalities that so influenced me as I was growing up?

Spoiler Alert: probably not

Old Brains vs New Brains

Our brains are wired by our experiences.

Those of us who grew up in the 60s, most likely had a transistor radio that only received Zenith RadioAM radio. Mine was a Zenith Royal 50 that came with an ear phone, that allowed me to listen to the Red Sox while in elementary school or to radio stations from far, far away after it was ‘lights out’ and I was supposed to be asleep.

This is an advertisement for that radio.

I saw it in Bristol, Tennessee at the “Birthplace of Country Music Museum.” I’m finding that a lot of my career memories are now museum pieces.

My brain was originally wired for AM radio, then FM stereo radio and all of the great radio personalities, promotions and stationality of that era.

More recently my brain has been wired for streaming audio and the convenience of playing anything that fits my mood via an Amazon Echo.

But anyone who has grown up in a world where streaming audio has always been there, has had their brain wired for only this kind of world, not the world of the 20th Century.

Classical Music’s Challenge

Classical music venues, including radio stations, are searching for new audiences as their current audience gets older.

With the typical American adult spending eleven-plus hours-a-day connected to media, today’s musical consumer can’t help but have their brain wired in a new way. Most of that listening is via computer speakers or wireless ear buds, not known for delivering the highest quality sound, but very convenient.

Classical music aficionados are all about quality of sound, so huge sums of money are spent building acoustically perfect auditoriums that often are in locations that are anything but easy for people to access.

People want to listen to music everywhere; in cars, on buses, on trains & planes, and while walking on busy city streets. They don’t mind that the sound quality is less than perfect because convenience for them rules.

Our Brains Re-wire Quickly

To give you an example of how quickly our brains can be re-wired, V.S. Ramachandaran did an experiment where test subjects were shown a group of black dots on a white page. After studying the dots, participants soon began to see the form of a dog. MRI scans were used during the process and monitored participant brains being re-wired. Once the dog was seen, participants could not look at the paper again without immediately seeing a dog. Their brains had been re-wired that quickly.

On Demand Entertainment

I’ll admit it, I want my entertainment – audio or video – immediately available when I want it. My radio and television habits are nothing like they were when I was growing up when the only media I could see or hear came through the ether.

Initially cable TV and the TV remote control re-wired my brain for television viewing, but nothing has impacted my home media entertainment habits like streaming and on demand. Be it audio entertainment via our Amazon Echoes (now numbering 3) or video entertainment via Apple TV or Firestick, everything now is on demand to match our mood thanks to streaming via the internet.

Is It Real or AI?

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has gotten so sophisticated that they are “paving the way for “deepfake” videos, content that falsely shows people saying and doing things they never said or did,” says CNBC.

Just the other week I read where James Dean, who died 64 years ago, will be starring in an upcoming movie about the Vietnam War. This has been made possible by the use of computer-generated imaging of James Dean.

A New Radio Format

Larry LujackThat got me to thinking that maybe a new radio format could be created bringing back deceased personalities like Robert W. Morgan, Dan Ingram, The Real Don Steele, Big Ron O’Brien, Ron Lundy, Larry Lujack among other greats by using the power of artificial intelligence. These incomparable radio personalities would “live again” via talented writers and programmers who would tell them what to say. Can you imagine how it might sound?

It would be like the “DJ Hall of Fame” on Rewound Radio, only the weather forecasts, the news, the community events etc. would all be current and up-to-date.

Which brings me back to how I started this article, would the radio listeners of today listen? Would their brains be so completely re-wired that they wouldn’t find it appealing? I fear they wouldn’t. Just as Vaudeville shtick stopped appealing to the generations of audiences with access to movies, television and radio.

In the end, doing something new means doing something fundamentally different.

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If you’d like to know more about how advanced Artificial Intelligence has become, watch this five and a half-minute YouTube video. AI can clone your voice after listening to it for just 5-seconds. Click HERE

And for a really deep dive on how AI will change our future in ways we never imagined, watch this two-hour FRONTLINE report from PBS HERE

 

 

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Is Radio Prepared for The Future

Radio & CobwebsIn a lot of ways, the future is here, now.

All of the things we knew were coming back at the turn of the century have become reality.

But the radio industry continues to try to adapt.

Great Companies Don’t Adapt, They Prepare

When I saw that headline on a blog article by Greg Satell two years ago, it resonated with me because it made me realize that the radio industry wasn’t prepared for the 21st Century. It was trying to adapt the past to the present and hoping that it would sustain them going into the future.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to create the future by focusing on the present.

“The truth is,” writes Satell, “that companies rarely succeed by adapting to market events.”

“Firms prevail by shaping the future…but it takes years of preparation to achieve.

Once you find yourself in a position where you need to adapt, it’s usually too late.”

-Greg Satell

Marconi & Sarnoff

Each generation has its great innovators, so It’s always a challenge to say who makes a greater contribution to changing the world.

Marconi gave us the wireless, a one-to-one form of communications that transformed the world.

Sarnoff innovated the radio as a form of mass communication, giving us a one-to-many instant communication service of news, entertainment and advertising supported radio.

What we can be certain of, each person who creates the future is one who overflows with boundless curiosity.

Investing in Research

All of the Big 5 Tech companies (Amazon, Facebook Microsoft, Google and Apple) invest heavily in research. Each of them, in their own way, has made themselves indispensable from our daily lives.

Recently, a daily newsletter I read called “While You Were Working,” asked its readers which of the Big 5 Tech Companies they could survive without. Here are the results of that survey:

Which Big 5 tech company do you think it would be easiest to live without?

Facebook  70.71%
Apple  14.14%
Amazon  7.35%
Microsoft  5.74%
Google  2.06%

Probably not surprising that Facebook was the choice folks said they could live without by a wide margin.

For five weeks, Kashmir Hill, a writer for Gizmodo, decided to see how she would deal with giving up today’s technology by blocking one of the Big 5 from her world. In her sixth and final week, she decided to go cold turkey and blocked them all. How did that go? Well I think the title of her article said it all, “I Cut the ‘Big Five’ Tech Giants From My Life. It Was Hell.”

Hill compared her experience to that of an alcoholic trying to give us booze. And that life without them makes life very difficult as we are so dependent on them.

I’m not sure any of us really understands how married we are to these Big 5 Tech Companies or how hard it would be for us to give up even one of them, let alone to give them all up.

Listening to Radio

One of the interesting side-bars of the article Hill wrote was that by not having Alexa, Spotify audio books, podcasts or other such services on her Nokia feature phone, what she could receive, unlike with her iPhone, were radio broadcasts and that allowed her to listen to NPR while doing her daily run.

But how sad that listening to radio only seems to be an option when all other options are eliminated.

Investing in the Core Product

Some of the differences between the Big 5 Tech companies are what non-core areas they invest their research money into, like self-driving cars. The one thing they all take very seriously, however, is plowing the lion’s share of their research budget into their core competencies.

In my sales class, I used to tell my students that people don’t buy half-inch drill bits because they want them, they buy them because what they want are half-inch holes. In other words, you will be successful when you invest your time solving your customers’ problems.

Radio Research

Most radio research dollars are spent on one thing, audience measurement. Unfortunately, that’s research that studies the past performance of a radio station, not the present moment. Virtually no radio research money is spent on preparing the ground for the future.

We all know that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the next big thing. Alexa, in your Amazon Echo, is the perfect example.

How is the radio industry preparing its employees to acquire the skills they will need to excel in an AI world? Artificial Intelligence is a force that will impact the communications industry in the years to come.

Broadcasting has been living off of its seed corn for too many years, while the technology industries have been focused on solving our customer’s problems by investing in them for years, even decades.

Broadcasters can’t create the future by continuing to focus on the present.

Innovation, will require investment in research that, imagines new possibilities.

 

 

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Alexa, Let’s Go for a Ride

alex in a ford carRadio’s last bastion of domination is the automobile (aka SUV, pickup truck etc.). In the home, voice activated devices are replacing AM/FM radios. I own 3 Echos, and Alexa has become a real friend of the family.

So, when I saw this television ad for the new Fords and how the drivers went from talking to Alexa in their house to talking to Alexa in their car, while they were driving, I saw the future of AM/FM radio for America’s Road Warriors.

Watch the ad HERE

Voice Activated Christmas

The results are in and as of December 31, 2018, 66 million voice activated devices are now firmly entrenched in America’s homes. The big winner is Amazon’s Echo aka Alexa which has a 70% share of the market. Google’s Home has a 24% share and Apple’s HomePod is third with just 6% home penetration.

Ironically, in my own home, I quickly went from one Amazon Echo in 2017 to three in a matter of a couple of months. Virtually all of my internet connected electronics are Apple products, but Amazon is my go-to place to shop. The price of entry for my first Echo was under $30. By contrast expect to pay Apple $349 for their HomePod.

The latest research from the Consumer Intelligence Research Partners* (CIRP) also found that 35% of the owners of these voice activated devices own more than one. That’s about double from only a year ago, so it’s pretty clear that these devices are not collecting dust but are actively being used.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see where once the average American household had about 5 AM/FM radios in their home, the Echo or Home VAD is taking their place. (Today 21% of American households don’t have a single AM/FM radio in them. For households headed by 18-34 year old adults, that number without a single AM/FM radio rises to 32%.)

Alexa is The New Radio

I wasn’t surprised to read that iHeartMedia’s Bob Pittman was calling Amazon’s Echo the new radio. What I was surprised to learn, was Pittman saying that iHeart helped with the development of Alexa. I had never read or heard that before. Which begs the question, why isn’t more attention being paid to the streams of over-the-air (OTA) radio by the industry?

A better question might be, can the same programming techniques that have been used by OTA radio, simply be transferred to internet streams?

Marshall McLuhan

“The medium is the message,” was coined by Marshall McLuhan in 1964. What McLuhan postulated was that the form of a medium becomes part of the programming that is being transmitted. A symbiotic relationship is created by which the very medium that is conveying the program, influences how a person perceives it.

Another way of thinking about this might be, what a person’s expectations are for a particular media experience. We would not expect to see commercials laced through a movie being seen at a theater, but the same movie shown on commercial television laced with commercial interruptions, while maybe annoying, would not be unexpected or a surprise.

However, pay television like Netflix and Amazon Prime have changed the TV viewers expectations about watching television in two ways, no commercial interruptions, and a whole season of episodes released at once and not dribbled out a week at a time.

The internet likewise has changed audio listening expectations with Pandora, Spotify, RadioTunes, Apple Music and Amazon Music to name but a few streamers. Stream one of these and listener expectations of this internet delivered medium, are very few or with no commercial interruptions. Moreover, should you want to know the name of the song and artist, you simply ask while the song is playing, and are immediately given that information. OTA radio rarely tells you what the name of a song is, or who’s the artist.

In fact, the listener expectation using a voice activated device is that you can get anything immediately, simply by asking for it. Everything is at your command and delivered on demand.

For the audio listener, it’s like the difference between having air conditioning or not having air conditioning. Once you’ve enjoyed having central air, you won’t ever want to go back to not having it.

What’s the Listener’s Expectations?

The challenge for the radio industry is creating content that fits the listener’s expectations for the medium they are accessing the content on.

OTA radio is a one-to-many delivery system. Everyone is served the same thing at the same time.

The internet, streamed through a device like Amazon Echo, is a personalized listening experience. Everyone gets it served up the way they prefer it.

Trying to have a single source originating content for both OTA and online, compromises both.

 

 

*CIRP based its findings on a survey of 500 U.S. owners of Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod, surveyed from Jan. 1-11, 2019, who owned one of these devices as of Dec. 31, 2018.

 

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CES 2019

Dave - 2001 .jpgI wasn’t at CES 2019. In fact, I’ve never been to CES.

But after reading the reports on this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, I feel like I was there 50-years ago via Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 motion picture phenomena “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Technology Integration

The Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) did a special video they called “Bonus Report of C-Suite Radio Exec’s attending CES” and some of the comments those radio executives made is what made me feel like I’d seen this “movie” before.

Steve Goldstein

Steve said that what he’s marveled at over the years is how media is continually being integrated. He said only a couple of years ago, there was virtually no mention of smart speakers, and this year it’s not only a device exploding in the home, but now is coming into the car too. Goldstein thinks this voice activated technology is important because these devices are not radios, but audio devices and radio stations, as audio content producers need to re-imagine how they will sound and feel like on these devices. And he added, “it’s happening fast!”

Dennis Gwiazdon

Before recently moving to Las Vegas to manage the Beasley Media Group radio stations in that city, Dennis ran the top radio stations in Nashville, TN. When I was teaching at the university in Kentucky, Dennis was an annual guest in my Broadcast Capstone Class.

Dennis said of his visit to CES 2019 it helps radio broadcasters to think about where things are heading and to plan for the future.

Technology today is making our lives simpler by our ability to talk to our devices and connect ourselves to things we used to have to physically operate. Gwiazdon told the RAB that he lives in a smart home in Las Vegas and it’s fascinating to him how he can walk around his house, talk to it and make it do whatever he wants it to do. “I don’t have to touch a light switch, I don’t have to adjust the thermostat, when I come home I can have a routine set-up that will have everything ready for me when I walk through the door.”  “I’m living in that experience now, “said Dennis.

I’m Sorry Dave, I’m Afraid I Can’t Do Thathal 9000

And it was Dennis’ comments that brought to mind the astronaut named Dave in “2001: A Space Odyssey” that when his space pod was trying to re-enter the mother ship and Dave asked the HAL 9000 computer system to open the pod bay doors. Here’s a link to that memorable moment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARJ8cAGm6JE

HAL’s response to Dave was “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” The reason was that the HAL 9000 computer could not only respond to voice commands but, it turned out, could also read lips and knew what Dave and his fellow astronaut were planning on doing. They were planning on taking the HAL 9000 off-line because they suspected the computer was making mistakes.

The HAL (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) 9000 was basically artificial intelligence that was designed to learn, grow and protect itself from attacks. HAL sensed he was coming under attack and was trying to protect itself from the humans.

iPhone 4S

iphone 4s

Oh, it all seemed so innocent back in 2012 when I switched from my Blackberry to my first iPhone. It was the iPhone 4S. The “S” stood for Siri. Siri was my first voice activated assistant.

I found that I used Siri mainly for dictating text messages and emails rather than trying to type things into the phone’s touch screen. Siri did a pretty good job too.

Occasionally I asked Siri to tell me a joke or look something up for me, but not often.

Alexa

So now it’s 2019 and I have Siri on my tablets, my MAC, and iPhone 7. I have three Amazon Echo’s with Alexa, and in my car, my Garmin Smart Drive responds to my voice commands.  It sends me instant traffic information and detours when necessary, along with important weather alerts and breaking news.

I really feel like Dave in 2001, controlling so much of my world with just my voice.

It’s quite addictive and it happens very fast.

I hope they don’t ever turn against me.

Artificial Intelligence

Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have both warned that AI (artificial intelligence) could potentially be very dangerous. Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke certainly showed my generation why, back in 1968. AI is about building machines that think for themselves and grow in their intelligence. It’s what will make a world of self-driving cars, and so much more, possible.

Elon Musk has written:

“The pace of progress in artificial intelligence is incredibly fast. Unless you have direct exposure to groups like Deepmind, you have no idea how fast – it is growing at a pace close to exponential. The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five-year timeframe. 10 years at most.”

On Demand

The world we live in today is one of “On Demand.” The future belongs to those who can create what people want and deliver it when they want it.

The consumer won’t have it any other way.

It’s not an attack on radio broadcasters. It’s the future. Here. Now.

 

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