Tag Archives: AM/FM Radio

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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COVID-19, One Year Later

It was just a year ago that I wrote about “The Day the World Shutdown.” So, shall I ask you, “how are you doing?”

For Sue & I, while we were just vaccinated on Friday, the wearing of face masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing is unlikely to change for us for the rest of 2021, if not longer.

Based on my research of pandemics past, I realized very early that this would be about a two year disruption and I suspect that when we say “Happy New Year” and ring in 2022, things will finally be on course for whatever the “new normal” is.

WFH

Working From Home, most often abbreviated as “WFH,” has also changed people’s media habits.

A year ago I wrote that I expected most people would consume their media by streaming it via the internet. The latest research has shown that is exactly what happened. eMarketer data showed that traditional radio broadcasts were eclipsed by digital audio, mid-2020. This week, Edison Research reported, that 30% of all audio listening now occurs on mobile devices; unless you’re between the ages of 13-34, then that number is 46%. Not surprisingly, this age group’s listening to audio on an AM/FM radio receiver is down to only 20%.

Working from home meant that those people who normally listened to AM/FM radio while commuting in their car, were now doing their audio consumption where they live, and 32% of today’s households don’t have a single AM/FM radio in them. However, 44.2% of homes today have a voice activated assistant, like Amazon’s Alexa, to access their favorite audio content.

Audio in Cars

The global pandemic has forced all of us to get used to new ways of doing every little thing, such as shopping online, streaming video entertainment on huge flat screen TVs and asking Alexa for assistance like she had become a member of the family. We’ve become so comfortable with these new Artificial Intelligence (AI) devices that we might start to wonder what life was like before them.

Automobile manufacturers also took notice of this change, like the commercial for a new Buick – or is it an “Alexa on Wheels?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqvEcLWI0ME

I remember when I used to tell advertisers that a car was a “radio on wheels.”

Now I don’t have a new car, but my 2009 Honda Accord has a fabulous sound system that seamlessly connects to my iPhone and streams my audio content in my car. My car radio is locked on “AUX.” (I know I’m not alone.)

The End of Commuting

Bill Gates shocked the world when he predicted in November of last year that 50% of all business travel would never come back and that 30% of the days people spent in an office would likewise disappear forever. McKinsey Global Institute pretty much corroborated Gate’s predictions by adding that 20% of workers would continue to work from home indefinitely.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell, puts it this way, “We’re recovering to a different economy.”

Disney Closing Mall Stores

Disney plans to close 20% of its Disney Stores saying that they’ve seen changes in the ways people shop due to COVID-19 and that the future means people will continue to shop online. As a result, Disney plans to focus on e-commerce, its Apps and social media platforms. Disney says the data shows that the global pandemic increased the speed of change from brick-and-mortar to online shopping by half a decade.

Movies & Streaming

Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek went even further in announcing the company’s future, saying that the days of releasing new movies to theaters for several months before bringing them to their streaming platform, are over. For example, when “Raya and the Last Dragon” hits the theaters this month, it will simultaneously be available on Disney+ for subscribers for an additional $30.

Disney+ has exceeded everyone’s expectations, rapidly growing to over 95 million paying subscribers. The biggest surprise to this streamer of family content was that over 50% of those subscribers don’t have children.

Worst Year in Pay-TV History

2020 was a record year for cord-cutting according to analysis of cable TV subscribers by MoffettNathanson. Cable TV lost six million subscribers dropping cable’s household penetration level to a low, not seen in thirty years. Smart TVs are the primary reason people now stream their video content from the internet.

Award Shows Audiences in Decline

Audiences for the Academy Awards, Grammy’s, Golden Globes and Primetime Emmys have all been in a steady decline since 2000. The first of these 2021 award shows, and a harbinger for those to come, the Golden Globes, set a record low for NBC’s telecast of these awards.

Where Have All the Sports Fan Gone?

You might have thought with people stuck at home, that sports would have seen solid television audiences, but that wasn’t the case. 2020 saw a drop in viewership for practically every sport. Compared with 2019, the NBA Finals were down 51%, the NHL Finals were down 61%, the U.S. Open tennis matches were down 45%. Even the Kentucky Derby recorded its lowest TV audience ever, falling 49% from 2019, to just over eight million viewers.

Television’s biggest audience draw for many years has been the NFL and the Super Bowl, but not this year. The big game’s audience was the lowest it has been in fifteen years.

If Misery Loves Company…

Pro Sports, Harley Davidson and broadcast radio/TV are all suffering from a similar problem, they aren’t attracting the next generation. Generation Z Americans, those born after 1996, just aren’t that into sports, Harley’s and traditional media, like previous generations.

That’s probably why, when the NFL started asking for a 100% increase in TV rights payments, Disney (owner of ESPN) immediately rejected it.

However, streamers, like Amazon Prime and AppleTV+ may give the NFL the money they want, but will those high rights fees manifest in higher premiums for subscribers.

For the maker of “The Hog” and traditional broadcast media, the future is as challenging. Harley Davidson is looking to make their motorcycle line all electric, following the lead of the world’s automobile industry, and hoping it will attract new riders to their brand. Radio/TV broadcasters are also trying to capture new audiences with Apps, streaming and podcasts.

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

-Wayne Gretzky

Anyone who thinks their business will return to the way it was, once COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror, will be hanging the “Gone Fishing” sign out, be down-for-the-count or just plain out-of-business.

It’s time for all of us to be thinking like Gretzky.

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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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Could 2021 Be the Year SiriusXM Adds FREE Channels?

Back in July of 2016, I wrote an article wondering what might happen if AM/FM radio broadcasters woke up one day to the headline “SiriusXM is Now Free.” What made me think about this happening, was I had just read how Angie’s List had announced they were pulling down their paywall and making their service free and available to everyone.

Pay to Play

Call it a subscription, a membership fee or a paywall, what happens when they are eliminated? In Angie’s List’s case, less than one percent of Americans were members at the $40/month fee that had been in place. Paying that fee let people see the reviews of members that they  experienced when doing business with certain businesses or services. But now, everyone could have free access to those same rather substantial reviews, while enjoying the website’s strong, trusted and valuable content.

Why did Angie’s List Tear Down Their Paywall?

Angie’s List is a publicly traded company. Their stock had been down seventy-five percent from the previous three years and management was under pressure to get the stock going back up. By tearing down their paywall, they would increase page views. When page views go up, revenue goes up.

SiriusXM Under New Leadership in 2021

On January 1, 2021, Jennifer Witz takes over from James Meyer as CEO of SiriusXM. Meyer has been leading the satcaster since May of 2004. During his tenure, SiriusXM has grown to having its service playing in 132 million cars, but with only 34.4 million paid subscribers.

Its stock price all-time high was back in February of 2000, over twenty years ago, when it hit $66.50 a share. This past year the stock has traded between $4.11 and $7.40, for an average price of $6.05 a share.

Do you see an Angie’s List type of problem?

Walking a Tightwire

Incoming CEO Witz knows she will be walking a tightwire by making part of SiriusXM free to all radios capable of receiving the satcaster’s signal. The challenge will be to monetize those non-members through ad-supported free channels without cannibalizing paid memberships. SiriusXM grew revenues 7% in 2019 to a record $6.2 billion.

AM/FM radio revenues are projected to fall 17% in 2020, largely due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, but quickly rebounding in 2021 and growing in the years beyond.

Audio Advertising Works

With the dynamic growth of smart speakers, fueled in the United States by Amazon which controls 70% of the home smart speaker market, new interest of advertising goods and services via audio only has increased dramatically.

This should be a boon to AM/FM radio advertising, except for one caveat, the way people consume audio today is vastly different than even ten years ago with eMarketer saying there are 204 million digital audio listeners in the United States today. In fact, listening to digital audio makes up two-thirds of all digital media consumption, second to only digital video viewing based on time spent on this activity.

Moreover, digital audio advertising has been growing at a double digit rate.

Competition for Your Ear

The competition to be in your ear has never been greater. Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, Apple Music, YouTube, podcasts, and audio books are all looking to get a piece of your time and attention.

With this increased focus on digital audio by consumers, advertisers are following in lockstep.

SiriusXM

Which brings us back to where this article started, SiriusXM. The satcaster has long seen AM/FM radio as its main competition and that two-thirds of AM/FM radio’s revenue stream is due to dominance on car radios. It’s simply too tempting not to want to utilize the chip it’s paid to have installed in your vehicle’s dashboard and monetize it in a new way. Doing so would mean an increase in revenues for its shareholders and at the same time the ability to elevate the company’s stock price.

If Apple has taught the world anything, it is that you can’t be afraid to cannibalize yourself if you want to grow your company.  Also, you don’t always have to be first to the party, to come away a big winner. You simply need to provide a superior product.

SiriusXM also enjoys the advantage of knowing who’s listening to what. Here’s how the satcaster puts it:

Jul 6, 2020 — “TRACKING” YOUR ACTIVITIES ACROSS DEVICES AND APPS We receive Listener Usage Data automatically from Internet-enabled devices. If you have a Sirius XM account, we may match the Listener Usage Data we receive to the device or devices associated with your account and thereby with you or your household.”

It’s an obvious advantage over audience estimates provided by a third party ratings company when a digital audio service can tell an advertiser how many people actually were exposed to their advertisement.

For radio sellers in 2021, it’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight.

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Media Convergence, As Cold As Ice

When I was working on my undergraduate degree back in the early 70s, I did a research paper on media convergence. At that time, we thought that convergence would occur around cable television. But not today.

Even in the 90s, the concept of media convergence seemed like the world of Jules Verne. People consumed each source of information, on its own separate platform. Print came in the form of a magazine or newspaper. Radio, via a reception device designed to pick up only AM or FM radio signals and television, through a big picture tube encased in a giant wooden cabinet. It was beyond most of our imaginations that print, radio and television would ever be delivered to us on a single device that we could carry in our pocket; like today’s smartphone.

Even more amazing is the fact that our smartphones can also publish our written thoughts, broadcast our spoken word and even transmit our pictures/videos to today’s global village.

Maybe even more shocking to us as Boomers, is the fact that the Millennial generation doesn’t even have memories of the fragmented media world we grew up with.

How Innovation Changes Our World

In order to try and help media people understand how innovation can change the world as we knew it, let’s take a look at how bringing “cold” to the south set-off a change reaction of change.

Two hundred years ago, if you lived in the south, there was no way to escape the heat. Frederick Tudor, Boston’s “Ice King” would spend a decade figuring out how to transport ice from New England to the south and even around the world. New England’s natural ice would become so treasured, that in the early 1900s, it would become America’s second largest export after cotton.

Then a physician, Dr. John Gorrie, wanted to try to cool the hospital rooms of his Florida hospital, in order to make his patients who were burning up from fever more comfortable in the sweltering heat of the south. Gorrie invented a refrigeration machine, and when he applied for a patent on his invention, he wrote: “Artificial cold might better serve mankind. Fruits, vegetables and meat, would be preserved in transit by my refrigeration system and thereby enjoyed by all.”

When ice fishing, Clarence Birdseye learned how the Inuit Indians of the north flash froze the fish they caught, by leaving them out in the frigid air. This caused their catch to be instantly frozen and allowed the Inuit to keep their catch fresh to eat at a later time. This inspired Birdseye to improve artificial refrigeration to enable the flash freezing of all kinds of produce,  creating the frozen food industry.

Fred Jones, created refrigeration units that could be placed on tractor trailer trucks, shipping containers and railroad cars, allowing for long-haul transportation of perishable goods.

Innovation Eats Its Own

In the 1800s, having an idea to bring cold to a part of the world that was always hot, was considered an insane idea. Everyone thought Frederick Tudor was an oddball. His efforts to perfect the transportation and storage of natural ice at one point put him in debtors’ prison, but his persistence would eventually make him a very wealthy man, until the birth of mechanical refrigeration. Gorrie, Birdseye and Jones would bring an end to the natural ice industry, with their innovations in cold.

Big ideas don’t come from a “Eureka moment.” They come from one person asking themselves, “I wonder if…” From having a hunch that just won’t go away. Big ideas are created from many other people having small, incremental ideas, that then get networked together, and over time become the next big thing.

The Internet

Fifty-one years ago, at 10:30pm, the internet was born with the transfer of one simple message. Charley Kline, a student programmer at UCLA, would type the letters “L” and “O” and electronically send them more than 350 miles to the Stanford Research Institute’s computer in Menlo Park, California. The computer system immediately crashed after they were sent, but a communications revolution had begun.

Now if you think of analog communications as “natural ice” and digital communications as “artificial ice,” you can see it really isn’t unusual for new innovations to extinguish original big ideas.

While today, we’d never consider putting an old fashioned ice box in our modern kitchens, the business of selling ice still exists. I for one, still frequent my local convenience store’s ice box, to pick up a couple of bags of ice cubes for my picnic cooler.

Likewise, I think a need for a few local radio stations may remain, but only if they provide a unique and unduplicated service to their listeners.

But I also believe that the analog communication model will slowly fade into the background as new communication innovations come along and replace it.

AM/FM radio’s days, as we Boomers knew it, are numbered.

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Hold On or Let It Go

Life gives us many challenges.

Sometimes, the hardest thing to decide is when to stick to something and when to let it go.

Traditional media – print, radio and television – are at that moment now. Do they stay the course and hope the “good old days” will come back, or do they let it go and begin inventing and innovating for the future?

Indiana Jones

In 1989, the third Indiana Jones movie was released. The film was a wonderful parable about what’s really important in life. Parables, as you may know, are simple stories used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.

In this film, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” the parable told is about what happens when greed overpowers the soul.

Indy and his dad are searching for the Cup of Christ, the Holy Grail. When Indiana finally holds the treasured bounty in his hands, he is faced with a life or death choice. Does he hold on to the cup or use both hands to save his life, for you see Indiana is in a rather precarious position on the edge of a cliff and can’t do both.

Indy’s father whispers, “Let It Go.”

Radio

2020 for the commercial radio industry is a milestone year. It marks the 100th birthday of an innovation that forever changed the world.

Like Indiana Jones, radio needs to decide, should it hold on to the past or let it go.

Back to Our Movie

After the senior Jones asks his son to “Let It Go,” you can see the terrible anguish on Indy’s face. Both father and son have spent a lifetime searching for the Holy Grail and now Indiana has it firmly in his grasp. To let go of the cup would seem to have made their life’s quest meaningless.

Indiana’s father now says more firmly, “Indiana, Let It Go!” And this time he does.

Movie audiences gasped.

The Lesson

In the end, the father and son journey was never about possessing the Holy Grail. It was about the importance of spending time together, of taking on a challenge that one of them could not do alone, and by building a stronger relationship. The true meaning of life is never about the things we can possess, but about the relationships we can build.  

Radio strength was always about the people creating the magic and not about the delivery system. Unfortunately, the radio industry’s leaders held on to the “cup” instead of its people.

For radio, the really valuable prize is the relationship it can have with a radio listener, and its ability to bring together businesses and services for the betterment of a community.

Is there still time for radio to make this change?

Empty radio studios all across America, as stations run on full automation

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Commercial Radio’s 100th Birthday

Election night at KDKA November 2, 1920

On Tuesday, October 27, 2020, commercial radio will celebrate it’s 100th birthday. It was on this day in 1920 that “the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation, which served as the radio licensing agency of the day, issued the first radio license ever to KDKA,” as told on the station’s website.

Radio Call Letters

Ironically, those famous Pittsburgh call letters – KDKA – don’t stand for anything. They were simply assigned to the station with its broadcast license from a roster maintained to provide identification for ocean going ships and marine shore radio stations. KDKA just so happened to be the next set of call letters up for being assigned with a broadcast license.

WJJW

This story is analogous to what happened at my college back in the 70s. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree from North Adams State College in 1974. During my four years at NASC, I helped to obtain the college’s FCC FM broadcast license and become its first general manager. I vividly remember standing in front of a classroom blackboard with my fellow college broadcasters trying to decide what call letters we wanted the FCC to assign to our station. During this meeting a knock came to the door, and the person who knocked handed me an important letter from the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, DC. I anxiously opened the envelope to find that the FCC had granted our request for an FM broadcast license and had pulled the next set of unassigned call letters off the roster to go with our license. Those call letters would be “WJJW.” And like KDKA, they would stand for absolutely nothing and there again, never changed.

Call Letters

Some of the radio stations I listened to over the years had call letters that represented something, like WLS & WCFL in Chicago. WLS owned by Sears, chose call letters that stood for “World’s Largest Store” and WCFL, chose call letters that stood for “Chicago Federation of Labor,” the name of their union. WCFL proudly called itself “The Voice of Labor” at the top of every hour when it was required to give its call letters and city of license.

Do you know what the call letters for WKBW in Buffalo and KHJ in Los Angeles stood for? WKBW’s call letters meant “Well Known Bible Witness” and KHJ had call letters that stood for “Kindness Happiness & Joy.” Neither radio station would mention the origin of their call letters during their Top 40 days.  

Radio stations I worked for and managed also had call letters that represented something:

  • WBEC – Berkshire Eagle Company (the local newspaper)
  • WBRK – Berkshires
  • WUPE – Whoopee Radio
  • WFPG – World’s Famous PlayGround (Atlantic City)
  • KOEL – the first three letters of its city of license, Oelwein, Iowa
  • WLAN – Lancaster, PA
  • WSUS – Sussex, NJ
  • WOND – WONDerful Radio (Atlantic City)
  • WNNJ – Northern New Jersey

Call letters today tend to have been replaced by other forms of identification, like “Kiss,” “Froggy,” or “The River,” with the only problem being that they’ve lost their unique, one-of-kind identity that call letters branding gave them.

When I say KHJ or WBZ, you immediately know I’m talking about a radio station and that the station is located either in Los Angeles or Boston. When I say “Kiss” or “Froggy” you have no idea of which Kiss or Froggy radio station I’m referring to nor where it is located.

KDKA Covers Its First General Election

Shortly after receiving its commercial broadcast license, KDKA began planning its coverage of that year’s general election results to begin at 6pm on Tuesday, November 2nd, 1920.

Four men would climb to a little shack on the roof of one of the Westinghouse Electric’s buildings in East Pittsburgh to report on the results relayed to that shack via telephone. Leo Rosenburg delivered the results, becoming radio’s first announcer on the first licensed American radio station. You can hear a recreation by Leo of that broadcast HERE

About a thousand people tuned in to hear the broadcast and they would be some of the first people that year to learn that Warren G. Harding had beat James Cox to become the next President of the United States.

Election Night 2020

One hundred years later, election night will be quite different. People will most likely learn of the results via their smartphone, and probably not until all the votes have been counted. Due to COVID-19, we can expect that the vote counting process will take days, or even weeks, before a victor is declared.

Remember, your vote is important. Many recent elections have been decided by the thinnest of margins.

Do your civic duty and please VOTE.

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The Biggest Threat to Local Radio

The latest survey from the RTDNA (Radio Television Digital News Association) shows how precarious the advertising revenue stream that sustains your local radio station is during these global pandemic times.

Of 350 radio managers surveyed, declining revenues were cited by almost 40% of them as the biggest threat to their continued existence.  

Ad Market Recovery Coming in 2021

We’re a little over six months into a global shutdown caused by a novel coronavirus, that is expected to impact our world directly for almost two years, and have lasting impacts that may stay with us for the rest of our lives. It could be very tenuous for local radio stations to be able to survive until a recovery starts sometime in 2021.

As you can see, MAGNA sees most of the recovery occurring with online videos, mobile, social media and search. Traditional media like radio, print and local TV will still find themselves in the fight of their lives.

Last week, I wrote about “The Better Advertising Mousetrap” and how, due to the internet, combined with powerful computers and algorithms, social media was able to sell advertisers, “certainty.” I wrote how the internet had created a new marketplace, that of human futures, at scale, and this was producing trillions of dollars for these internet companies, making them the richest companies in the history of humanity. The real advantage social media has over traditional media is their development of persuasive technology that exploits a vulnerability in human psychology, which even when you know how it works doesn’t inoculate you from its power to change you.

You can read that article HERE

Other Threats to Radio

Radio people, both past and present, bemoan how corporate cuts and consolidation have cut deep into the industry’s ability to innovate its programming. Also, the plethora of media options available to today’s radio listener is overwhelming, especially with the advent of the smart speaker and audio streaming.

Expect that growth in advertising will be in the digital realm, while traditional media like AM/FM radio and TV, barely stabilize.

Gordon Borrell and his associates concur with this outlook in their latest sneak peak of their research.

Social Media

Hootsuite and Altimeter just published their latest report titled: “The Social Transformation.” In it, they say “executives often underestimate social’s economic, cultural, and transformational value. Understanding the true value and potential of social media has become more imperative as organizations look for new possibilities in the post-pandemic economy.”

  • 77% of CEOs report digital transformation efforts have significantly accelerated
  • 70% of CEOs are prioritizing changes to customer behavior as the most important factor setting their future direction (Source: Deloitte)

This report lists three main areas that businesses need to focus on to truly realize the value of social media:

  1. Learn how to tap into social media’s unique ability to develop and deepen relationships across multiple stakeholders.
  2. Realize and extend social media’s ability to drive efficiency and value beyond marketing and communications.
  3. Leverage social media’s existing organizational structure and processes to catalyze digital transformation.

Radio personalities were the industry’s “secret sauce” that help local radio to build deep relationships with its listening audience. Likewise, tenured sales people built similar relationships with local radio advertisers. Sadly, both areas of the business have seen a Reduction In Force (RIFs) that has severed these important relationships forever. Into that vacuum has come social media and its addictive powers to build strong relationships with its users.

Deep Relationships Require Sustain Engagement

The report also reveals that respondents (64%) using social media have found it helps their business to build strong relationships with their customers. Through in-depth interviews, Hootsuite and Altimeter found that “relationships develop with sustained engagements that lead to conversations across multiple channels, not just on social media.”

Holding All the Aces

Traditional media is looking down the barrel of an advertising juggernaut. It’s hard to win when your opponent is holding all the aces.

In 50-years of working in the radio industry, not one of my favorite radio stations knows anything about me. After just 10-years on social media, there’s virtually nothing that these companies don’t know about me.

See the problem?

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The Better Advertising Mousetrap

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

The Social Dilemma

There’s a new documentary on Netflix called “The Social Dilemma” about how social media is impacting our lives, and is truly eye-opening. I encourage you to watch this documentary if you subscribe to Netflix, but especially if you’re in advertising and marketing. In fact, it would pay you to subscribe to Netflix just to view this documentary; it’s that important!

This blog won’t be about many of the important social issues raised in the documentary, but instead I plan to focus on how traditional media, like AM/FM radio broadcasting, is fighting a battle for advertising with the internet companies that isn’t a fair fight. Broadcasters are in essence coming to a gun fight, wielding a knife.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to regular readers of my blog, because back on February 25, 2018, I wrote an article titled “Radio Has an Addiction Problem,” that quoted MIT professor Sherry Turkle’s 1995 book “Life on the Screen, Identity in the Age of the Internet” saying “computers don’t just do things for us, they do things to us, including ways we think about ourselves and other people.” Turkle said that computers weren’t just a tool, but were sneaking into our minds and changing our relationship with the world around us.

Monetizing Social Media

Social media quickly realized that in order to sustain itself it needed to monetize its service. Google’s search engine business was a Silicon Valley marvel for not only harnessing the power of the internet but simultaneously building a revenue engine that grew right along with it. Tim Kendall, now CEO of Moment, was one of the early people at Facebook, charged with coming up with a way to make money. He said that he decided that the “advertising model was the most elegant way.”

Advertising

The advertising business has always been about selling exposure to the people who use the product. Newspapers sold access to its readers, radio sold access to its listeners and television sold access to its viewers.

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted;

the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

-John Wanamaker

Businesses have always wanted to get the biggest bang for their advertising buck, but realized that in the world of advertising, there were no guarantees, that is until social media came along. Mel Karmazin, former broadcasting and satellite radio CEO put it this way when he met with the founders of Google: “You’re messing with the magic of sales.”

Jaron Lanier, who wrote the book “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” explains that what social media is doing more effectively than traditional media is “changing what you do, how you think and who you are…it’s a gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your behavior and perception.” It’s similar to a magician performing slight-of-hand tricks, and making you believe things that aren’t real.

“This is what every business has always dreamt of, to have a guarantee that if it places an ad it will be successful. That’s (social media’s) business, they sell certainty. In order to be successful in that business you have to have great predictions. Great predictions begin with one imperative, you need a lot of data.

The internet has given us a new kind of marketplace that never existed before, a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures. Just like there are markets for pork belly futures, or oil futures, we now have markets that trade in human futures, at scale, and those markets have produced the trillions of dollars that have made the internet companies the richest companies in the history of humanity.”

-Shoshana Zuboff, PhD, Harvard Business School

Author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”

“Any sufficiently advanced technology

is indistinguishable from magic.”

-Arthur C. Clarke

Getting Your Attention

Every company whose business model is to sustain itself through the selling of advertising is competing with other companies for your attention. Traditional media is competing with every social media company to get as much of your time and attention to their platform as they possibly can. Remember, when you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.

The advantage social media has over traditional media is their development of persuasive technology. It’s designed to intentionally apply to the extreme behavior modification in the user, and cause them to take a desired action. It does this through the use of positive intermittent reinforcement, just like a casino slot machine lures you into thinking the next pull of the handle will release its fortune. Social media works to create an unconscious habit, programming you for a deeper level of control than you even realize is happening.

Social media has learned how to exploit a vulnerability in human psychology, which even when you know how it works doesn’t inoculate you from its power to change you.

No longer is social media a tool we use, but is a tool that uses us, creating this technology based environment designed for mental addiction through psychological manipulation.

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

illegal drugs and software.”

-Edward Tufte

Most concerning about this change is that it’s being driven by a technology that’s advancing exponentially. In contrast, our human brain has not really advanced at all over the same period of time. The rate of change is beyond our human comprehension, even for the very people who are designing and building these computer networks.

“The race to keep people’s attention by social media isn’t going away. Our technology is going to become more integrated into our lives, not less. The AI’s (artificial intelligence) are going to get better at predicting what keeps us on the screen.

How do you wake up from the matrix when you don’t know you’re in the matrix?”

-Tristan Harris, Center for Humane Technology Co-Founder

“Whether it is to be utopia or oblivion

will be a touch-and-go relay race

right up to the final moment…”

-Buckminster Fuller

Today, the internet is a more efficient way to sell our attention to advertisers.

Now you know why.

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Radio’s GEN-Z Challenge

GEN ZI recently sat in on the Edison Research webinar about people born between 1996 and 2012, known as GEN-Z.

If you read about this webinar in the radio trades, you would have learned that 55% of these young people listen to AM/FM over-the-air radio. What’s not to like about that?

The reality was, this daily radio listening was only to Over-The-Air FM radio, none of these GEN-Z people ever mentioned listening to AM radio. That’s still a positive, right?

It is, if your only focus is on the immediate future, not future trends.

Generation Z

Today, people aged 8 to 24 make up over 65-million Americans. They are the first truly digital natives, not having known a world without full digital access to content. GEN-Z people are also often called “ZOOMers.” They would rather create their own content than curate other people’s content.

Edison Research points out that Generation Z has only known a world where everything is ON DEMAND, and it’s the growing up in an ON DEMAND world that makes ZOOMers a challenge for OTA radio.

ZOOMer Trends

  • Their smartphones are the center of their media world.
  • 53% of ZOOMers listen to audio streaming daily.
  • They spend 98% more time than the rest of the population watching videos and listening to music on YouTube.
  • Spotify is their go-to music streaming service.
  • Their radio listening is mostly in the car, some at work, but none of it occurs in the home.
  • If they listen to OTA radio, it is on a device that only receives OTA radio signals, not with a digital streaming device.

When Edison Research ran clips of people in this age group talking about their media habits, it was clear FM radio wasn’t their first choice, but the fact that it was available in the car they were riding in or it was playing on a radio that everyone listened to while they were working.

Things Radio Can Do to Attract ZOOMers

Edison suggested that these programming ideas might be a way to attract the GEN-Z audience:

  • News & Information is important to GEN-Z, it’s their social currency.
  • Remind ZOOMers that radio is available on their digital streaming device.
  • GEN-Z wants to change the world, their local communities for the better and OTA radio could be a catalyst for helping them do this.
  • Surprise and delight ZOOMers with your content.

This last point is really about engaging the listener, and showing them you really care. In reality, 74% of your listeners probably don’t care* if your FM radio station disappears, because they don’t think you really care about them. Radio needs to create shared experiences for this age group. Radio needs to show they care.

Shared Values and Shared Purpose

Christian broadcasters and NPR both understand the shared values and purpose of their listeners and base their programming decisions on them. These broadcasters understand that their mission is not to attract everyone to their programming, but to build a loyal audience with those who share their vision of the world.

Using the Edison Research on GEN-Z, how can your radio station inspire and empower the ZOOMers in your community?

How do you learn what the shared values and purposes of the GEN-Z listeners are?

Ask them.

Form a GEN-Z advisory board to learn what’s on their minds and what their vision for the future is. Be willing to focus every aspect of your radio station on what’s important to THEM.

Change doesn’t begin with a slogan, it begins with shared values and purpose, which then inspires people to come together and create a world that is better than they found it.

 

*based on book “Know What You’re For” by Jeff Henderson

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