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Choice Paralysis

57 channelsI sat in on Radio World’s presentation about “Digital Sunrise for AM Radio” hosted by editor-in-chief Paul McLane. The webcast lasted almost two hours and was technically informative.

The question Paul kept asking the presenters about going all digital on AM, was a question he hears numerous people asking him, “has the horse left the barn?” In other words, has the world moved on and does anyone really cares about AM radio anymore.

But that’s not the question that was running through my mind.

Too Many Choices

We live in a world with infinite choices when it comes to audio & video entertainment. Twenty-eight years ago, Bruce Springsteen released his song “57 Channels and Nothing’s On.” The lyrics are very telling of the condition we find ourselves in today.

I bought a bourgeois house in the Hollywood hills
With a truckload of hundred thousand dollar bills
Man came by to hook up my cable TV
We settled in for the night my baby and me
We switched ’round and ’round ’til half-past dawn
There was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on
Well now home entertainment was my baby’s wish
So I hopped into town for a satellite dish
I tied it to the top of my Japanese car
I came home and I pointed it out into the stars
A message came back from the great beyond
There’s fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on
Well we might’a made some friends with some billionaires
We might’a got all nice and friendly if we’d made it upstairs
All I got was a note that said “bye-bye John
Our love is fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”
So I bought a .44 magnum it was solid steel cast
And in the blessed name of Elvis well I just let it blast
‘Til my TV lay in pieces there at my feet
And they busted me for disturbing the almighty peace
Judge said “What you got in your defense son?”
“Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”
I can see by your eyes friend you’re just about gone
Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on

It’s not unusual for people to spend an entire evening going through the program guide on Netflix only to finally retire for the evening having not watched a single program. We’ve all done that.

On just Netflix alone it was estimated in 2015 that it would take a person 34,739 hours to watch everything available on the streaming service. I’m sure that number has grown considerably when you consider in 2019 Netflix introduced 371 series and movies to view.

Add to Netflix more television streaming services like Amazon Prime, Hulu, Apple TV+, Disney+, YouTube and it means choice is not the TV viewer’s problem, it’s choice paralysis. (And maybe also how to pay for it all.)

ALL DIGITAL AM

The question running through my mind about investing in building out an all-digital AM radio service in America is, “why?” When I scan the AM band now, I can hear the same talk shows on station after station. The FM band is no different when it comes to everyone doing the same type of programming.

It has me humming Bruce Springsteen’s song in my head, only with a lot more channels of programming attached to the “nothing’s on” part.

Digital AM seems to be the answer to a question, that listeners aren’t asking.

Less is More

Many businesses fall into the trap of thinking that more products equal more sales and radio certainly can be accused of falling into that trap.

HD Radio was designed to offer a higher quality broadcast signal for AM and FM radio stations. FM station owners didn’t really get interested in HD Radio until they learned they could feed FM translators with HD2, HD3 signals and put more FM analog signals on-the-air in their market.

I learned that the all-digital AM service offers the opportunity for an HD2 signal that could feed another FM analog translator.

What Al and Laura Ries tell us from their research is how this strategy of adding more and more choice becomes a trap and can lead to negative consequences in the long term.

Just One Thing

In media sales, we try to have our clients identify what one thing makes them special and unique. What makes their business so different that consumers will want to come to them instead of their competitors. You may know this process as finding a business’s “unique selling proposition.”

One Good Reason

Back in the day, 66-WNBC put up a billboard that gave radio listeners one good reason to turn their radio dial to 660 AM. It simply said “If we weren’t so bad, we wouldn’t be so good.”

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This one simple sentence captured the essence of both Don Imus and Howard Stern. It was this radio station’s one good reason to listen. It was this radio station’s one good reason to advertise on it.

And speaking of one, I was told by the WNBC Sales Manager that it only took one commercial on Howard Stern for an advertiser to see immediate sales results.

That’s the power of a unique brand.

Misplaced Priorities

Radio had a choice to make in the last decade, to either develop unique powerful brands localized to the marketplace the FCC licensed them to serve, or build out more signals with programming that was virtually hard to tell apart from one another. Unfortunately, the radio industry chose the latter and as a result has turned the business into a commodity.

Something for everyone equals nothing for nobody.

Economics defines a commodity as goods or services that have fungibility, or in other words something the marketplace treats as everything being nearly equivalent to each other, with little regard for who produces it.

This is why radio sales people will often hear advertisers says things like “all radio stations sound the same, now let’s talk about your spot price.”

Perception is reality.

Or should I say that the listener and advertiser’s perception is accurate with the reality today being all radio stations do sound the same.

Elections & Radio Listening

I read an article the other day that said what changes the outcome of any election is turnout. That the way someone wins an election is by getting people, who normally sit it out on the couch, engaged and out to the polls. It’s not getting people to switch party affiliations.

I think radio may have a similar problem.

For the radio industry to be growing again, what radio needs to be focused on, and investing in, are its people and programming, not putting more signals on the air with nothing to hear.

 

 

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Radio’s Brain Challenge

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

Spoiler Alert: probably not

Old Brains vs New Brains

Our brains are wired by our experiences.

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

This is an advertisement for that radio.

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

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

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

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

Classical Music’s Challenge

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

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

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

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

Our Brains Re-wire Quickly

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

On Demand Entertainment

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

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

Is It Real or AI?

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

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

A New Radio Format

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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What a Radio Looks Like in the 21st Century

first iPhone introducedIt was only 11-years ago that Steve Jobs took the stage and held in his hand the future. It was an iPhone.

Many people were skeptical that this device could compete with the very popular Blackberry. I think I may have been one of them, as I was a Blackberry owner/user until 2012.

I quickly realized that I knew how to operate an iPhone, after buying an iPad in the fall of 2011.  All Apple devices share a core eco-operating system that makes learning them fast and easy. My first iPhone was the 4S. The “S” stood for Siri and I quickly learned to use Siri to type all of my text and emails via dictation. In 2017, I upgraded to an iPhone 7.

OK, so I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know. But in just a decade, have you ever stopped to think about the impact that the smartphone has had on our lives and the technology we use?

RADIO

In America today, 29% of households don’t have a single working AM or FM radio. But it gets worse. The percentage of households without a single working AM or FM radio grows to 50% for the 18-34-year-old age group.

Edison Research recently reported that even 63% of heavy radio listeners now consume their audio online. 82% of those listeners own a smartphone and the most commonly downloaded App is Pandora (40%).

For many, a radio in the 21st Century looks like a smartphone.

SMARTPHONES

Crosley AM FM Radio

Often it appears like radio people think they are the only ones who are not affected by the innovations of technology. Such as, no matter what comes along, AM/FM radio will always be there. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking is like sticking your head in the sand.

Let’s think about how smart phones have replaced other “must have” technologies:

  • My Nikon camera no longer goes on vacation with me, it has been replaced by the pictures I take on my iPhone
  • Same for videos using my very expensive camcorders
  • My iPod is now my iPhone
  • My newspaper is my iPhone
  • My calculator is my iPhone
  • My eBook reader is my iPhone (or iPad)
  • My pocket voice recorder is now my iPhone
  • My GPS when on foot is my iPhone, though I still prefer my Garmin SmartDrive 61 in the car
  • My flashlight is now my iPhone
  • My iPhone is my compass, barcode scanner, and portable video player
  • My iPhone is the way I access Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn away from home
  • My iPhone is the way I get both my local weather forecast as well as access weather radar. Weather alerts come in immediately to my iPhone replacing the need for my weather radio.
  • I’ve been a cellphone only household since 2000
  • My smartphone is my household answering machine
  • My smartphone is my alarm clock
  • I no longer wear a wrist watch, as my iPhone is my watch
  • I use my iPhone as a timer when I’m cooking
  • I have my digital library on my iPhone
  • My work and personal calendars are all on my iPhone
  • I keep notes and other records on my iPhone
  • Since I take all my pictures with my iPhone these days, my photo album is also my smartphone. (Note: I have 2-TerraBytes of iCloud storage to back up everything)
  • My entire “rolodex” (contact list) is now on my iPhone (I started with a Day-Timer and went digital in 1989 with a Casio Boss. Then moved to a Palm Pilot. Then to the iPhone.)
  • I check my email when not at home on my iPhone
  • I surf the internet frequently on my iPhone
  • When I call the kids & grandkids, it’s using Facetime on my iPhone
  • My credit cards, plane tickets, show tickets are now all in my Apple Wallet on my iPhone
  • I can even use my iPhone to run my Apple TV as a remote control

SMARTPHONE ADDICTION

A new research study by Pew finds that 54% of U.S. teenagers, age 13 to 17, worry they may be spending too much time on their phones. While they also say they are trying to reduce their smartphone and social media time spent, 56% of teenagers find that doing so makes them feel anxious, lonely, or upset.Group Of Children Sitting In Mall Using Mobile Phones

And it’s no better for parents (and may I add, grandparents). Pew’s survey tells us that we are struggling with the same impulses over the time we spend on our phones and social media, sometimes with even worse results than teenagers.

Adults lose focus on their work and students lose focus in the classroom, by the constant need to check their smartphone.

SMART SPEAKER

echoMost research today indicates that since the introduction of the smart speaker, the device that’s getting a little less use is the smartphone. I would concur that is the case in my home as well. Our 3 Amazon Echoes are the way we access at home radio listening, get flash briefs, find out the time and latest weather forecast.

At home, 100% of our radio listening is streamed through a smart speaker.

Speaking of Voice Command devices, my Garmin GPS SmartDrive 61 is now programmed by my voice and I can add via points while driving simply by telling my Garmin where I want to go next. It’s the best improvement in automobile navigation since the GPS itself.

ON DEMAND

on-demand-cpeWhat the smart speaker and the smartphone have in common, are both devices give the user what they want, when they want it. On Demand is the real game changer of the 21st Century communications world.

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV etc. are delivering on demand television. The smartphone and smart speakers are doing that same thing for podcasts, radio, news, weather and everything else.

Edison Research noted, in their recent research, that the hardware challenge in the home is significant. Getting analog radio back into the home (and I would add, in the very near future, the car) seems unlikely

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