Tag Archives: AM/FM Radio

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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Would You Like to Participate in Radio Research?

nielsen familyNuVoodoo does some really wonderful research about radio listening. They particularly focus on reaching people who are most likely to keep a radio listening diary or wear a Nielsen Portable People Meter, aka PPM.

During their last webinar, a slide came up quickly in the jam-packed presentation that made me choke on my coffee. It showed how small the pool of radio listeners is that would participate in Nielsen Radio ratings research. An astounding 82% say they would never wear a PPM device and even more listeners say they wouldn’t keep a ratings diary. Ratings Likies 2020

I Was a Nielsen Family

When I was a radio broadcaster, it wasn’t unusual for Arbitron Ratings to ask me about keeping a radio listening diary for a week. Each time I declined because I was actively working in radio.

When I was a broadcast professor at the university in Kentucky, I was approached about keeping a television ratings diary and Nielsen said that being a broadcast teacher was not a disqualifier, so I said “yes.”

I knew that the experience of keeping a ten-day television viewing diary would be one I could share with my students in covering the topic of radio/TV ratings. I was thrilled to be a “Nielsen Family,” even though that thrill quickly dissipated once the survey diary and instructions arrived.

The few dollars Nielsen sent to me with the materials seemed small potatoes for the amount of information they wanted to extract from my viewing habits.

By the end of the ten days, I was sure I’d never want to do this again, and it made me sad because I was a person who should be passionate about doing such work.

A Relative’s Family Wore PPMs

A member of my family living outside of Boston was asked to participate in PPM radio research. The rewards being offered enticed them to say “yes.”

The members of the family ranged in age from 44 to 6.

I remember looking at this 6-year old playing on his swing-set and thinking, Boston radio 6+ radio ratings depended, in part, on little kids like this. It sent a chill down my spine.

Well, the family grew tired of participating very quickly. In the nutshell, they didn’t feel the inconvenience was worth the small reward paid for wearing the PPM devices.

They said the experience hardened them from ever participating in future radio or TV ratings research, besides now they rarely listen to radio anymore with Spotify being the family choice for streaming. The Spotify App keeps track of each member of the family’s listening habits, serving up just what they want to hear.

Ratings Likelies: Rare & Vital

In late June 2020, NuVoodoo fielded their sixteenth Ratings Prospects Study and they write: “we drilled down to the small segment of radio listeners likely to accept a meter or diary from Nielsen. As has been the case in every past NuVoodoo study, when we model for the subset of respondents who would say ‘yes’ to Nielsen, the opt-in rate even among our already research-inclined sample is staggeringly low – with the percentage of likely ratings respondents who spend an hour or longer with radio each day even rarer still.”

That’s pretty disturbing to hear.

Share of Ear

Then the news breaks that COVID-19 has tipped the consumer listening habits to digital streaming. Now 53% listen to on-demand/digital devices versus 47% who listen to linear/non-digital devices, like AM/FM radio. Edison Research began tracking audio consumption on digital devices in 2014 and now, only six years later, people over the age of 13 spend more time with these devices than traditional OTA radio.  Digital Devices Cross 50%

It’s another case of the inevitable happening anyway, but COVID-19 is causing changes to occur on an accelerated time frame.

Edison Research also found in their latest Infinite Dial research that new music seekers are using YouTube for music discovery versus AM/FM radio, 68% to 46%.

Dan Ariely Explains

Dan Ariely is a psychology and behavioral economics professor at Duke University. I first became aware of Dan’s work with his book Predictably Irrational.

Dan explains that “the interruption of everyday life has been an experiment showing that habits aren’t just desires; they’re behaviors cued by reminders in our environment. When we change the way we interact with our environment, a lot of seemingly ingrained habits fade away. Some of them we are better off without, like thoughtless consumption and spending.”

Since the pandemic more people who used to commute to work, began working from home. The AM/FM radio cue for listening was their vehicle’s dashboard radio, but since they were spending less time in the car and more time at home, the device for audio consumption used in the home now became dominant.

While one hopes that once people begin to commute to work again, if that even happens, the old routines – including listening to the car’s radio – might return.

However, many companies, especially the high tech ones like Google, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook, are moving to a permanent WFH (Work From Home) model.

Dr. Ed Cohen

One of the most recent high profile layoffs was that of Dr. Ed Cohen from Cumulus as its VP for Ratings and Research.

Radio Ink asked him about the future of AM/FM radio to which he responded:

“It’s a question of whether (the radio industry is) cutting bone and muscle rather than fat. If the radio industry continues to cut, can we put our best foot forward to not only keep current listeners spending as much time with the medium as they have in the past, but can we also convert light listeners to spend more time with radio? Commercial radio is not a charity and faced with the revenue challenges of (COVID-19), layoffs and furloughs are inevitable, but listeners don’t understand that and don’t likely care. They want to be entertained and informed. If they perceive a degradation of what they expect from us in a world of increased competition from other sources (streaming, podcasts, etc.) some will go elsewhere, accelerating a downward spiral. I hate to sound pessimistic about a medium where I’ve spent nearly my entire career (even my Ph.D. dissertation was about radio) and have no claims to be Nostradamus, but that’s the logical conclusion. I hope I’m wrong.”

Sadly, Dr. Cohen, I think you’ve got it right.

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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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Best of the Blog 2018

73On this last Sunday of 2018, it’s a good time to look back at the year that just past and share with you the Top 5 Most Read and shared blog articles from 2018. Maybe you missed them or perhaps you’d like to read them again.

To date I’ve published 233 articles that have been viewed around the world over 158,000 times. 2018 was the year that my blog visitors crossed the 100,000-milestone.

Most Read Article of 2018

My most read/shared article of this past year was “Corporate FM” published on March 11, 2018. It told the story of Kansas City Filmmaker Kevin McKinney’s movie “Corporate FM” released in 2012. In 2015, the film was re-edited, updated and released on Amazon Prime for viewing nationwide. A link to the film is contained in the article. “Corporate FM” received the most comments of any article I published this year and was widely shared. To read it, click HERE.

Second Most Read Article of 2018

In August, I wrote an article asking the question if the radio industry does itself a disservice in referring to all radio studies as being AM/FM radio, when virtually all of the radio listening today is to only FM radio. I’m sure this article will continue to stimulate reader comments. You can read “AM/FM or just FM” HERE.

Third Most Read Article of 2018

My third most read article received lots of sharing and was republished in several publications. It pondered if “Automation Killed the Radio Star”. When I was growing up, radio built an audience on the personalities who presented the music. Having the right line-up of personalities was key to winning the most listeners in a market. Join the discussion by adding your own thoughts after you’ve read the article HERE.

Fourth Most Read Article of 2018

Radio in America reaches 93% of adults on a weekly basis according to Nielsen Audio. So, the article on “Why Do People Love Radio?” came in as my fourth most popular for the year. The primary takeaway for the radio industry was to focus on what is not going to change in the next 10-years. The “secret sauce” that has led Amazon to dominate retailing. Read the whole article by clicking HERE.

Fifth Most Read Article of 2018

And finally, the fifth most read blog article I wrote and was widely shared was “Radio’s Money Problem.” Between now and 2029, one Baby Boomer will turn 65 every eight seconds. People aged 50 or older have 47-times more net wealth than households headed by a person under the age of 35. The discretionary dollars are with the Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, the very people who were raised on radio. There’s money to be made for savvy radio operators. Read more HERE.

Most Read Articles, Period

Two articles I’ve written continue to see lots of traffic and continue to be far and away the two most read on my blog.

They are “SiriusXM Radio is Now FREE” and “The Day the “Dumbest Idea” Invaded the Radio Industry”.

Both articles have now been viewed over 17,000-times.

The first article I wrote for my blog was “Clear Channel Media & Entertainment becomes iHeartMedia” and it has now been viewed a total of 8-times.

Why I Blog

I blog for broadcasters, educators and students.

I blog to provide media mentorship and to pay-it-forward to the broadcasting industry that I have been a part of for over 50-years.

I’m grateful for the more than 119,230 people from all over the world who have visited to read an article that caught their interest.

FREE SUBSCRIPTIONS

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

 

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Is Radio Biting Off More Than It Can Chew?

caravelle radio broadcast stationThere are lots of items in the news these days about what the radio industry should be doing. Streaming, podcasting, smart speaker accessible etc. The one thing I hear little talk about is, improving the core product and focusing on what the listener is seeking.

The Radio Ecosystem

If you think about it, the radio ecosystem, AM/FM radios, have not seen any real changes in decades. Oh, there was the introduction of HD Radio – introduced around the same time as Apple introduced the iPod (R.I.P. 2001-2014), but listeners never really understood the need for it. HD Radio was embraced by commercial broadcasters when they learned they could feed analog FM translators from HD Radio signals and have more FM radio stations in a single marketplace. This was hardly listener focused and actually chained the radio ecosystem to old analog technology.

What IS Radio?

In the beginning, radio was a way to wirelessly communicate with other people using Morse Code on spark gap transmissions. Guglielmo Marconi built a radio empire on this technology.

David Sarnoff, a skilled Morse Code operator and a Marconi employee envisioned a “radio music box” and wrote a memo about developing a commercially marketed radio receiver for use in the home. It wasn’t until after World War I, when Sarnoff proposed the concept again, this time in his new position as general manager of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), that it would see the light of day.

Sarnoff would demonstrate the power of radio by broadcasting a boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. In just three years, RCA sold over $80 million worth of AM radios, and not soon after created the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).

Federal Radio Commission

America’s first attempt at regulating radio transmission was the Radio Act of 1912, that was enacted after the sinking of the Titanic. This law didn’t mention or envision radio broadcasting.

As radio broadcasting began to grow in the 1920s, then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover would begin the process of trying to regulate the limited spectrum that everyone now wanted a piece of.

The Radio Act of 1927 was America’s first real attempt at regulating radio broadcasting. The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was then formed by this act.

It should be noted that the FRC operated under the philosophy that fewer radio stations, that were well funded and provided live original programs, were better for America than a plethora of radio stations providing mediocre programming. It was an idea that the major radio receiver companies championed.

Federal Communications Commission

In 1934, the Congress took another attempt at regulating broadcasting (radio & TV) as well as all the other forms of communication that now existed. The Communications Act of 1934 created a new regulatory body called the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). By 1934, radio broadcasting had evolved into a highly profitable business. Broadcast educator, Fritz Messere, writes: “Many of the most powerful broadcasting stations, designated as ‘clear channels’ were licensed to the large broadcasting or radio manufacturing companies, and the Federal Radio Commission’s adoption of a rigid allotment scheme, under General Order 40, solidified the interests of the large Broadcasters.”

The biggest and most well-funded broadcasters have been favored since the very beginning. What kept things in check until 1996 was the limit on the number of AM, FM and TV stations a single company could own.

Telcom Act of 1996

Those limits would evaporate with President Clinton’s signing of the Telcom Act of 1996. Radio, as America had known it, would be over.

Now, for the most part, a single owner could own as many radio stations as their pocketbook could afford. Lowry Mays and Red McCombs, founders of Clear Channel Communications, would grow their portfolio of radio stations to over 1200 from the 43 radio stations they owned before the act was signed.

In 2003, Mays testified before the United States Senate that the deregulation of the telecommunications industry had not hurt the public. However, in an interview that same year with Fortune Magazine, he remarked, “We’re not in the business of providing news and information. We’re not in the business of providing well-researched music. We’re simply in the business of selling our customers products.” (Mckibben, Bill (2007). Deep Economy. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. p. 132.)

Radio Zoning The FCC is now considering whether to further loosen up the ownership limits of radio and TV stations in America. FCC Attorney John Garziglia recently wrote:

“If radio stations could be erected like fast-food establishments and grocery stores, with no numerical limits imposed other than a businessperson’s risk tolerance, it would be difficult to argue for FCC-imposed ownership limits on radio. Indeed, a regulatory agency enacting numerical limitations on restaurants and grocery stores would likely not pass legal muster.

But there are widely-enacted municipal limitations on just about every type of local business. The limitations are called “zoning” – the permitting or prohibiting of certain uses in certain areas to protect the character of the community.

The FCC’s radio ownership rules can be thought of as a kind of radio zoning. In the same way as land-use zoning protects a community’s character, the FCC’s ownership rules permit or prohibit certain radio station combinations protecting the amorphous concept of the public interest.

With land-use zoning, communities maintain a distinct character, livability, aesthetic, and economic success by not bowing exclusively to the profit motive of land developers. Allowing several or fewer owners to own virtually all of the radio stations in the country would doom the specialness of our radio industry.”

 

I think John makes some excellent points and I would encourage you to read his complete article HERE.

Biting Off More…

Radio operators today can’t properly staff and program the stations they already own. What makes them think that will change if they own even more of them? Most radio stations are nothing more than a “radio music box” run off a computer hard drive, an OTA (over-the-air) Pandora or Spotify.

Former Clear Channel CEO, John Hogan, introduced the “Less Is More” concept when I worked for the company. While it actually introduced more on-air clutter, not less, the idea was neither new or wrong.

If owning more radio stations was the answer in 1996, then why in 2018 are we worse off than we were then?

Why was Jerry Lee able to own a single station in Philadelphia and dominate that radio market?

Why are many locally owned and operated radio stations some of the healthiest and most revered in America today?

Radio not only needs zoning on the number of radio stations a single owner can control in a market, but the total number of radio station on-the-air in a market. And it needs radio stations that are neglected to be condemned like property owners who let their land go to seed.

The FRC wasn’t perfect, but the concept of “less is more” served America well for many decades. Fewer radio stations that provided high quality, live programming, operating in the ‘public interest, convenience and necessity’ and by virtue of that diversity of ownership, provided diversity of voice and opinions, as well as healthy competition.

 

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Whatever happened to…

Red Sox CapThe other day, we took two of our grandchildren to a wildlife safari park here in Virginia. It was a simply magical day. But that’s not the part of the story I want to share. It is that both kids were wearing their Boston Red Sox baseball caps.

As we were getting ready to leave we met one of the animal caretakers who screamed “YES!” Then a second later, she exclaimed, “They’re both Red Sox Fans!” Instantly, there was a bond between complete strangers.

Purple People

Minnesota Vikings Mower

I’m convinced that Minnesota Vikings fans bleed purple. I know one whose whole wardrobe is virtually branded with Vikings colors and logos; even his lawn mower.

Sports franchises truly understand the power of their brand and building their fan base.

So, whatever happened to this sort of thing with radio stations?

Eazy 101

Eazy 101 receiverJerry Lee recently sold his only radio station, WBEB in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was 55-years ago this past May that Jerry and his partner David Kurtz put the station on the air. It signed on as WDVR. In the 1980s the call letters were changed to WEAZ and the station was branded as “EZ 101.” The station brand was not only well known, but fixed tuned FM radios were given out by the radio station to area businesses to play the station in their stores and offices.

B101 Bee

When the station updated its format, and changed its call letters again, this time to WBEB and branded itself as “B101.1,” giant bees appeared at events all over the “City of Brotherly Love.”

The End of an Era

Marlin Taylor (no relation) was there from the beginning and recently blogged about the station’s sale to Entercom. His article was titled “End of an Era.” You can read it HERE 

Marlin wrote:

“While I pretty much grew up with a ‘Can Do’ attitude…seeing Jerry in action confirmed that staying pro-active and constantly on the offensive were keys to a meaningful and effective life! If you need proof, just take a look at the 55-year track record of the station at 101.1 on the FM dial in Philadelphia.

There’s no question that Jerry was and is a promoter, pure and simple! And, yes, he’s a Futurist…a person who studies the future and makes predictions about it based on current trends and conditions. I would also add…always looking down the road to see what challenges and opportunities lay ahead, then utilizing (his) assets to most effectively counter-act or benefit from them.”

Familiarity

As Jerry changed his brand over the years to keep his station’s programming and image in vogue with the times and his target listeners, he understood the power of familiarity in attracting and keeping a radio audience tuned to his radio station. Mark Ramsey suggests that “familiarity IS preference.”

morefm rebrandingMost recently, Jerry rebranded his station as “101.1 MoreFM.” This change, like all the others, was promoted in every imaginable way and became familiar to listeners virtually overnight.

wobm bumper sticker

Bumper Stickers

Once upon a time, you couldn’t drive in New Jersey without seeing a WOBM-FM bumper sticker on the car driving in front of you. They were everywhere. They made this station VERY familiar and Paul Most, a former GM of WOBM-FM, always used to say “When you can’t be heard, you’ve got to be seen.”

Arbitron Diary

arbitron diaryOnce upon a time, all radio listening was recorded using a diary, kept by a listener for seven days. Years of diary reviews at the Arbitron headquarters in Maryland proved to me that the radio stations most familiar to their listeners got the most “votes” from their fans.

When PPM measurements were introduced, the importance of unaided recall seemed to take a back seat with radio operators. Best Practices in large radio companies replaced the old tried and true ways of doing things. Radio promotion, except for over a station’s own airwaves, was cut from station budgets.

New Media Platforms

The shiniest new media platform on the block is the smart speaker. A recent research study, “The Smart Audio Report” from NPR and Edison Research, showed that traditional OTA radio was seeing the time people spent with radio, being the most disrupted. smartaudio-chartPeople in the survey said traditional AM/FM radio was the thing most replaced by audio listening via their smart speaker.echo

Having now owned three Amazon Echo smart speakers for six months, I can tell you Alexa is very addictive. But she’s also very precise. To have her serve up what you want to hear, you need to say it correctly, in the exact way she is programmed to understand, or else she will serve up some really bizarre things.

My household pretty much matches the research on why audio consumers love their smart speakers: 1) it’s fast, 2) it’s convenient and 3) it provides great choice.

Brand Promotion

In an interactive voice world, if people are familiar with your brand, they will ask for it by name. If not, the digital assistant will make that choice for you. That will make branding more critical than ever.

This means that the way radio promoted itself to its listeners back before PPM – the unaided diary days – will be the way it will need to promote itself in a world of voice control devices.

“Brands are a risk of being marginalized in a voice driven world, so brand marketing may matter even more.” -Bryan Moffett, COO, National Public Media

branding“Brands now have a chance to behave like human beings, talking, understanding, guiding, empathizing…voice is the single biggest vector of emotion, emotion is the biggest driver of preference. This is a true 1:1 marketing opportunity and a chance to build relationships like never before.” -Mark Paul Taylor, Chief Experience Officer, Global DCX Practice, Capgemini

Jerry Lee never deviated from his proven path of spending on promotion and delivering a quality product.

Everything old is new again, when it comes to branding a winning radio operation.

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AM/FM or just FM?

HD FM Radio ReceiverThere’s something that’s been troubling me for some time. It’s the radio industry’s habit of reporting radio listening results by calling it “AM/FM” versus what it really is, virtually all FM radio listening.

Nieman Lab

Who could not be buoyed by this headline from Nieman Lab: “AM/FM radio holds strong for American listeners.”

But is it true?

When I read the ratings reports from both PPM and diary markets, I see an FM world.

Don’t get me wrong, I grew up on AM radio and recognize that almost every market has a heritage AM radio station that still garners a big audience. I’m not blind to the wonderful ratings of 1010 WINS in New York City for example.

But there are only 26 all-news terrestrial radio stations left in America according to Nieman. This popular format is missing from the majority of America’s radio markets.

WTOP

WTOP logoWTOP was built on AM radio. It moved its entire operation over to the FM band and grew its audience, revenues and lowered its listener demographic. People who never heard this radio station on its AM dial position were suddenly newly minted fans of their all news format.

The FCC Saves AM Radio

The FCC’s mission to save AM radio is to give these radio stations an FM dial position using a translator. What are we really saving? The AM band or a particular format that a radio operator created on the AM band and now, to survive, needs to move it, like WTOP, to the FM side of the dial.

WIP

WIP logoFrom my blogging, I get lots of feedback about a variety of things concerning broadcasting. One reader wrote to me about his father, a sports fan, who turned on WIP-FM to hear the latest chatter. WIP-FM was broadcasting a game of no interest to his father, so his son said to him, why don’t you turn on WIP AM610. Sadly, this person wrote the audio was unlistenable. He wrote: “You’d think the FCC would mandate that AM have standards for audio quality in receivers.”

WSM

WSM logoWhen I was living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, I couldn’t receive 650AM WSM in my office, even though my office looked south and my antenna was able to enjoy a full wall of windows. The noise floor both inside my university office as well as around town while driving in my car made the station unlistenable. WSM was once listened to all the way to Louisville in northern Kentucky. Instead, I downloaded WSM’s app and could enjoy the radio station in crystal clear stereo. (I see WSM has stopped subscribing to Nashville Nielsen Audio ratings.)

BBC

BBC logoThe British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) did a review of the range of services it offered on the AM band (called medium wave across the pond) and it included a financial review of all its services too. They concluded the ROI (return on investment) in AM was not there and announced they would be turning off some 13-AM radio stations in January 2018 according to Radio Business Reports.

WHVO

WHVO logoThere’s a great radio operator in Cadiz, Kentucky by the name of Beth Mann. WHVO is her AM radio station at 1480, but if you go on her website, you won’t find any mention of this station being on the AM radio dial. It’s promoted as WHVO 96.5 & 100.9 FM.

Bottom Line

It’s time to face the fact that AM radio needs to be re-deployed for a new service. Current radio station owners should be given a viable FM dial position that replaces their AM service area, and doesn’t require multiple translators to attempt to accomplish this task. (Note: WHVO needs two translators to deliver the signal of its AM 1480.)

It’s time to allow those same dedicated radio broadcasters to sell off their expensive AM tower sites and turn off their AM stations that consume electrical power with no real ROI.

Ecclesiastes 3

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven…”

AM radio’s time has come and gone as the mass communication delivery system it was from the 1920s to the 1970s, much as radio replaced vaudeville.

To put things in perspective, at a time in America’s radio history when the number of FM signals equaled the number of AM signals on the air, 75% of all radio listening was to FM. So, you can only imagine what it’s like today for AM radio listening when FM signals outnumber AM signals by four and a half times in the USA. (FCC BROADCAST STATION TOTALS AS OF JUNE 30, 2018:  4,633 AM signals / 20,758 FM signals)

That’s why I believe we do no service in promoting radio as “AM/FM” and not being honest about where virtually all of the radio listening is really taking place.

Sadly, AM radio is to broadcasting as coal is to power generation. It was the perfect solution in its day.

 

 

 

 

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