Tag Archives: Apple

A War on Talent

When iHeartMedia wooed away Kurt Alexander aka “Big Boy” from Emmis’ Power106 to their Real92.3 it was a big deal in more ways than one.

The top performing radio station for Emmis was their one station in Los Angeles, KPWR. That is until Alexander departed for KRRL-FM across the street. His leaving impacts both ratings and revenue.

It reminds me of the walking across the street of Scott Shannon in New York City. Shannon left WPLJ where he had been a morning fixture at the station for 23 years to take over mornings at WCBS-FM. Unlike Alexander in LA, Shannon didn’t go head-to-head with his former radio station but to a different format than the one he had just left. However his impact on both stations is much the same. WPLJ went down and WCBS-FM captured the #1 position beating WLTW for the first time.

At a time when the major radio companies are saying things like “flat is the new up” the only way for a company to grow its revenues when the revenue pie isn’t growing is to re-divide how the existing pie is being cut up. To do that means to raid another company’s talent in an effort to increase their ratings while decreasing market competition.

If we look at how talent gets created we find it’s not a quick process. In the case of Alexander, Emmis spent 20 years and millions of dollars turning him into a morning radio star. Shannon has been at the radio game since his army days, tenaciously practicing his craft to become the hall of fame legend he is today.

Radio is not about transmitters, buildings, music etc. it’s about people. People make the radio business fun; personalities behind the microphone and personalities on the street selling the ads. Strong personalities on both sides of the mic are what make for a winning radio station. Neither can be taken for granted.

Emmis didn’t think they were taking Alexander for granted. Heck they were paying this former body guard $1.45 million along with some sweeteners, but iHeartMedia was willing to up the ante to $3.5 million (which Emmis reportedly was willing to match). But what evidently Emmis couldn’t match were the other perks that a company the size of iHeartMedia could create that a company the size of Emmis could not.

The BBC has also been subjected to a talent raid. Apple enticed presenter Zane Lowe to join their iTunes Radio division which led to several more following Lowe to the Cupertino based company. The BBC has a worldwide reputation for great programming, programming talent and the discovery of new music.

The audio entertainment world is like the animal kingdom where the small animals get eaten by the bigger animals in the food chain of life.

Competition for talent that has proven it draws a big audience, not just on-the-air but also online and through social media has never been more sought after. Competition for talent that can package, present and close advertising sales also has never been in more demand.

It’s a war on talent. Good for talent, but an Excedrin headache for small operators battling the big boys; made all the more difficult in a lackluster advertising environment for many radio operators and an ever increasing amount of radio signals vying for that shrinking advertising pie.

The radio dial – including online streamers – may have become infinite, but the revenues that support it have not.

Radio Darwinism has escalated to the global village.

3 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

Remember When Radio Was Agile?

Have you heard about the latest management movement?  It’s called “Agile” (but it can also be called “Scrum”).

Actually, to be more accurate, there’s “management” and then there’s “Agile.”  They are not one in the same.  Another way to picture them is one is a vertical style of management and the other is a horizontal style of operating.

The vertical style is familiar to anyone working in one of today’s highly consolidated public radio companies that own hundreds of stations.  The top of the management pyramid says “jump” and the troops respond with “how high?”  You may also find that the company circulates a “Best Practices” manual and wants every station to implement it even though a person on the front lines may wonder if these are “best practices” in their particular case.

The military model was the genesis of the vertical style of management.  New York City’s tall vertical skyscrapers are literal structures of top-down management.

Then I started reading about Agile.  Agile is a horizontal mindset.  Everyone in a company is working towards the same goals and on an equal plane.  The planning and execution is a shared endeavor all designed with one goal in mine and that is to delight a customer.

While both vertical and horizontal styles are business models and the purpose of a business is to create a customer (and ultimately a profit), the radical difference is vertical puts that profit goal front and center and has everyone focused on achieving that goal.  The horizontal style says if we delight our customers, then the profits will follow.  The customer is front and center and the focus of everyone who works at the company.

I’ve worked with couple of the big consolidators and I’ve heard the CEO’s message of how much the stakeholders had invested in the company and how we all needed to be focused on reaching or exceeding our goals.

But that’s not the style of radio I entered.  Back in my early days, the radio station; often owned by folks who lived and were active in the community, the focus was on our listeners and our advertisers.  Everyone in the radio station worked towards the same goals of delighting our two constituencies.

We didn’t call it “Agile” or “Scrum” but doing GREAT radio and operating in the public interest, convenience and/or necessity.  OK, not to get too Pollyanna, there was a vertical structure of sorts – a GM, PD, SM – but we all worked side-by-side in the same building and everyone did whatever was needed to be done to delight our customers.  It was a team effort.  It was a horizontal style of operating.

What changed was the Telcom Act of 1996.  That new law would change the face of radio through massive consolidation of radio stations.  All of these little horizontal operating enterprises would be stacked one on top of another until we had a vertical style of operating.  Now a group of folks would declare they were “the adults in the room” and start passing out thumb drives filled with spreadsheets full of revenue goals.

Nowhere were there discussions of delighting the customers.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has made it abundantly clear that Apple is not always going to do things that simply fatten the bottom line and that if you are an investor in Apple that doesn’t like that way of operating, maybe you should invest your money someplace else.  Apple is going to delight the customer  – as Steve Jobs so simply stated – by making insanely great products.

How’s that focus on the customer working out for Apple?  Very well, thank you.  Apple has posted the largest net quarterly profit in history. Not in just Apple’s history but in the history of the world.

Radio is a fabulous business!  Radio entertains, informs and is there in times of emergencies to hold a community together.  But radio performs best when it is operated horizontally and not vertically.

Mary Meeker in her most recent “Internet Trends report at Re/Code” had a slide in her 180-slide deck that spoke most passionately I think to this concept of operating horizontally.  That slide was titled “Diversity Matters….It’s Just Good Business” and here is what the body copy of the slide said:

            “One of the things I have learned about effective decision making is that the best decisions are often made by diverse groups of people.

Saying or hearing these words is magic…..

‘That’s really interesting.  I had never thought of that way before.  Thank you.’”

That sure sounds to me like Mary was making a plea for companies to re-think how they operate and level the playing field by moving to a horizontal style of operating.

The reason the radio industry was so attractive to Wall Street investors was because it was a high cash flowing business that appeared easy to operate.

My roller skating coach used to tell me “Dick when you make it look easy, then you’re doing it right.”  Radio used to be doing it right.  It’s really a lot harder than it looks.  It’s time to go back to that way of operating.

OR – you can continue doing things the way you did last year and watch “flat revenue growth be the new up.”  Doesn’t sound like the radio industry has much to lose by changing their ways.

The good news is there are radio operators who are returning to the business that see the opportunities in the horizontal approach to radio station operations.  It’s a movement that will not only be good for the radio industry but the listeners and advertisers served by the industry.

It’s called Win-Win-Win.

3 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

Radio’s Challenge

David Goldberg pa1ssed away on Friday, May 1st at the age of 47; too soon to be sure. He was an Internet radio pioneer having created LAUNCHcast in 1999 which evolved into Yahoo! Music Radio. Until his passing he was CEO of SurveyMonkey and he was married to the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. He was very savy about our Internet connected world.

Brad Hill in RAIN wrote that in 2005, Goldberg was the RAIN keynote speaker. To put his words into perspective, you should know he spoke just before the iPhone was first launched. For it was the iPhone that really launched what we now refer to as the smartphone and mobile music revolutions, that would provide Pandora with its launchpad. Hill wrote that Goldberg said:

“We hope that 10 years from now almost no one is accessing Yahoo services on a PC. It needs to be in my living room, in my car, on my cellphone. This will affect the change in replacing the CD, as well as moving music off of broadcast radio which is also what we believe will happen.”

Fast-forward to Pandora’s latest earnings call and Hill reports that Pandora execs said:

“We really want to replace broadcast radio for music discovery. We believe music will migrate off of terrestrial radio to the services we are offering because we can deliver the music consumers want, when they want it, where they want it. CDs will be replaced by on-demand subscription services. ‘Personalization’ and ‘community’ features will be key ways we’ll be able to deliver the right music to people at the right time, on devices, on a global basis.”

And Pandora is not alone in this quest. Spotify recently reported a market cap more than twice that of Pandora’s in the neighborhood of $8 billion to pursue their quest of being the world’s music provider. (Contrast that to America’s largest radio group iHeartMedia $20+ billion in debt.)

The world is also watching Apple. It made a $3 billion acquisition of Beats and is working on its iTunes streaming audio product. More about Apple in a moment.

Then Fred Jacobs authors a column talking about “Moodstates.” Jacobs’ latest Techsurvey continues to find how much emotion plays a role in broadcast radio listening. Jacobs writes:

“While consumers enjoy hearing their favorite songs, personalities, and information, mood plays a role why they continue to come back to AM/FM radio stations. In our research, it is often in the form of companionship, mood elevation, and escape.”

I’m a big fan of Rewound Radio and their weekly Saturday feature “The DJ Hall of Fame.” What I’ve personally found is that I’m not so enamored with just listening to old tapes of radio broadcasts from the 60s & 70s – I can hear this music anywhere, including my own CD library – but hearing the air personalities that provided me with hours of companionship, mood elevation and escape. And I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’m a member of a couple of DJ groups on Facebook and we all experience these same emotions.

This fact evidently hasn’t been lost on Apple. Apple has been raiding the talent at the BBC. Zane Lowe was their first hire. Lowe is known as a trend-spotter. He’s also a presenter (they don’t call them disc jockey’s in jolly old England) that builds a strong rapport with his listeners. At least three more folks from this BBC talent tank have announced they are joining Lowe at Apple.

Unlike Pandora or Spotify, it appears that Apple plans to put the personality into their streaming. Could Apple be the first to do for today’s generation what Dan Ingram, The Real Don Steele, John Records Landecker, Bob Dearborn, Ron Lundy etc did for my generation? Put the personality front and center in music presentation?

Horizon Media undertook a comprehensive study on the impact mood plays in effective audio advertising. As the results of what they’ve learned are implemented, the placement of those advertising dollars under Horizon’s control will be affected.

Back to Goldberg’s 2005 RAIN Keynote, he predicted that over-the-air radio would be reduced to a mostly-talk medium.

            “We don’t believe music will continue to be broadcast on analog radio,” Goldberg said.

A survey that I conducted with the 300 radio stations in Kentucky showed that local radio stations planned to take their talk programming more locally originated and less national syndicated talk. It also showed that no local music research was being done, but that national charts were being relied upon along with consultants and music programming service providers.

All of this comes at a time when the CEO’s of public radio companies report they’re facing strong headwinds on their advertising revenues. Radio is being attacked from all angles.

Not since the introduction of television back in the 50s has the radio industry faced such a big challenge. We are living in revolutionary times in the communications industry.

Commercial radio is 95 years old. When television presented its challenge it was only in its 40s. Still a young medium with lots of new blood entering its doors with a vision for a new kind of radio.

Boss Radio was born on 930AM-KHJ in Los Angeles and News Radio was born on 1010AM-WINS in New York City both in 1965. But even the new radio formats that were born in that era are now 50 years old.

I challenge my broadcast students to create the radio that will be meaningful for them and their generation. But for those students to have that chance, the owners of radio stations will need to open their doors and let them innovate.

Will radio pick up the challenge?

1 Comment

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio

Are We Losing the Next Generations?

Growing up in western New England, the transistor radio would impact my life and career. Radio has been in my blood as long as I can remember, but it would be my Zenith transistor radio that would first allow me to explore new stations, new music, new personalities and new ways of delivering content without the supervision of my parents. My transistor radio and ear piece would make me the master of my own radio dial.

Growing up, it seemed like most radio markets had two radio stations battling for the teenage ear. WPTR and WTRY out of Albany, New York’s capital district would be mine. Each of those radio stations would bring their mobile studios to our county shopping center and broadcast LIVE. It was such a thrill.

Hartford had WDRC and WPOP. Boston had WMEX and WRKO. Philadelphia had WIBG and WFIL. Chicago had WLS and WCFL.

New York City would finally be a battle between WMCA and WABC for the Top40 crown in the Big Apple.

What made traveling around in my folk’s car so exciting was that each of these radio markets and radio stations were special and different. The personalities, the promotions, the station jingles and yes, even some of the music was unique to each station and market. Local and regional bands could be heard hoping to be discovered and go national with their music.

Radio stations all did music research back then and printed weekly surveys charting how the hits were doing from week to week with local listeners.

That was then, this is now. Larry Rosin at Edison Research says that today “virtually no radio stations perform formal research for music among teens nor target teens directly in their marketing strategy.”

I’ve sold “old people radio formats” where the presentation was quick to point out that what advertisers should be focused on is not the age of the audience but the amount of money they control and have as discretionary to spend as they wish.

I’ve also sold “young people radio formats” where we pointed out that kids are the masters of convincing their parents and grandparents to get them anything they wanted, so please don’t focus on how young they are. I mean once my boys were out of the house, I no longer went to Mickey D’s and ordered “Happy Meals.” (That made me very happy!)

Radio has always focused on the “family reunion demo” aka 25-54 adults; though that demo is shifting upwards with the aging baby boomers to 35-64 adults.

When Radio Disney was born and focused on little tykes, it appeared there was now a radio operator ready to pick up the torch for young people listening to radio. But then radio was shocked the day Disney announced it was selling all but one of its owned and operated Radio Disney stations. Radio Disney basically operated on AM radio. AM radio is no longer used for music listening by the public and so was Disney just abandoning AM radio for FM radio? No. Radio Disney had established a strong beach front on two audio delivery mediums; SiriusXM and online listening. (It also benefits from the Disney TV Channel on cable, satellite and streaming via the Net.)

It should also be noted that around the time Radio Disney was coming into existence that the radio ratings company known at that time as Arbitron began to measure listening audiences down to age 6+ with their new PPM device where as the diary previously only measured “adults 12+.” When Nielsen bought Arbitron and rebranded the radio ratings service Nielsen Audio it kept the 6+ listening metric. Nielsen also now is trying to establish a listening service that will measure all audio listening consumption across all platforms. Can you see where this is going?

Radio listening is a habit. My father never acquired it. I was raised on it. My sons were raised on it. But I see my grandchildren are holding iPad-like devices and easily navigate their parents’ iPhones.

You would have thought that with more radio stations on-the-air in America than at any time in history there would be more variety than at any time in our history, but that’s not the case. There’s actually less variety.

After launching two Smooth Jazz formatted radio stations and falling in love with the artists and their music I now can only hear this music streamed online. So like my grandchildren, I’m forming a listening habit that doesn’t require a radio; just my iPad or iPhone.

I believe the future is going to be all about being the best at something, not necessarily garnering the most people. Radio was always about getting the most ears. Everything was based on CPP (cost per point), but in a world of infinite choice, the best will dominate.

Radio can play in this world if programming is turned back over to people who program their passions to others just like themselves.

Steve Jobs made Apple into the world’s most valuable company by focusing on design (in radio, that’s programming) and making products that he and his team wanted to have for themselves (building a radio station that you not only own, but love to listen to yourself).

Radio is either going seize the day or have a seizure.

4 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio

Who’s in Their Ear?

When radio was first introduced, to listen to it, you needed to wear headphones. Radio was one-to-one and very intimate. As the technology evolved the radio speaker would change the medium from one-to-one to group listening. Radios were expensive. If you owned a radio you shared it. A family would gather around the radio and listen together. Families would transfer this together media habit to TV and the transistor radio would become the refuge of teenagers who wanted to go in a different direction.

Zenith Transister Radio

My first radio was a Zenith transistor with a little ear piece for one ear. I would go to bed and turn it on under the covers and listen to “the world.” It was all AM radio and after sunset, the DX’ing of the nighttime skywave would always bring a new radio station into my ear to savor.

In the mid-70s the Boombox would be introduced to America and these radios grew both in size and the amount of bass they 1could produce. By the 80s they could be as big as a suitcase and carrying them around on your shoulder was a status symbol.

Go to a beach resort, and whether you were walking the boardwalk or on the beach, radios were blasting music from every direction.

When Y2K didn’t impact our fully computerized radio stations, we all breathed a short-lived sigh of relief because it was quickly followed by a new threat; the iPod and ear buds. Once again listening to music became a very personal activity.

The ear buds would transfer to the iPhone and iPad. The introduction of the iPhone6 may have killed the iPod, but not the use of headphones or ear buds to listen to your audio.

So what exactly are all those people listening to? lady listening with ear buds

The latest research from Edison Research says American Teens are spending more time with streaming audio services from places like Pandora and Spotify, than they are listening to either streaming AM/FM radio or over-the-air radio. Edison reports this finding in their fall 2014 “Share of Ear” report.

Remember it was my generation that grew up hooked on radio & TV that were credited with eroding newspaper readership. (Full disclosure: I read all my news online using my computer, iPad or iPhone.)

It’s not all bad news for AM/FM radio. It is still popular Edison tells us “by a significant margin among all other age groups.” So where did the teens go? Pureplay Internet streamers. What do they love most? The ability to skip a song they don’t like.

That’s really not hard to understand. I love my DVR for a similar reason. Especially when it comes to award shows. I never watch them live anymore. I record them for later viewing and I can watch a 3+ hour awards show in about 20 minutes time. I skip all the bad parts.

In fact, I rarely watch anything on TV live anymore. Everything is recorded so I can control it. So is it any surprise that teenagers once they are given this kind of control will ever want to give it up. A new habit is being formed.

The other aspect about pureplays that AM/FM radio could be addressing is their complete focus on the quality of their streaming product. What I’m hearing is a clean commercial insertion. Nothing gets cut off in the middle or repeated multiple times in the same long break. Pureplays deliver their commercial messages in a style that compliments the music programming; in a way that actually has you enjoying listening to the commercial message.

The teenagers have moved their listening to streaming and podcasts. The spectrum auction being held by the Federal Communications Commission is all about creating more wireless connections for all kinds of mobile devices.

I live in South Central Kentucky. I can stream my iPhone into my car’s seven speaker sound system through Bluetooth and everywhere I drive it’s clean and clear with no dropout or buffering. It’s scary good. It’s as easy to do as turning on my car’s audio system. Nothing to plug in or connect. It happens automatically.

South Central Kentucky is also blessed with some excellent over-the-air radio stations. So they very effectively compete, in my opinion, with streaming. But I wasn’t raised on streaming. I also like a good air personality.

The next generation is being raised on streaming that they have some power over to skip things they don’t wish to hear. Reminds me of the old saying “How are you going to get the kids back on the farm, after they’ve seen New York?”

baby listening to ear buds

2 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio

The Problem with Digital Radio

The problem with digital radio is FM radio. FM radio is loved by the consumer. They don’t find anything wrong with FM radio (other than too many commercials). With no perceived need to change, the FM radio listener doesn’t. That’s not just a problem for radio station owners in America, but all around the world.

I often like to compare the start of HD Radio with the introduction of the iPod by Apple. Both happened about the same time. One has sold hundreds of millions of units and now is no longer made, and the other is HD Radio.

Interestingly enough, the introduction of digital audio broadcasting was born around the same time as the World Wide Web. It was born before MP3s and iPods. Born long before the advent of Smartphones and Tablets and yet, digital in the world of over-the-air radio transmission is still waiting to get traction with the consumer.

FM radio commanded 75% of all radio listening in America back in the 1980s when the number of AM and FM radio stations in America numbered about the same. So it’s no surprise that over three decades later that FM dominates when the number of FM radio stations, translators (FM stations) and LPFM (FM stations) far outnumber AM radio stations that are on-the-air today in the USA.

Across the pond, the British government was planning to switch that country’s radio listening from FM analog to digital when the penetration of digital radio listening reached 50%. They thought that would happen by 2015. Currently digital radio listening in England stands at only 36% and the government has now wisely put off setting a new date for this transition.

The problem in England goes beyond just radio sets in homes and cars. British folks also can listen to FM radio on their Smartphones. Unlike here in America, the FM chip that comes inside Smartphones has been turned on. These chips remain in the off position in America with no way for a Smartphone owner to turn it on without “jailbreaking” their phone which is illegal. The members of parliament aren’t about to turn off a system that serves around 25 million listeners, if they want to get re-elected.

I own one HD Radio. My local NPR FM radio station broadcasts with 100,000 watts on their analog FM signal. It’s crystal clear and comes in everywhere I go. They simulcast their NPR and other talk programming on their HD Radio signal too. That is plagued with dropout and a short range in terms of where I can pick it up. The same HD Radio that picks up the digital broadcast of my local NPR radio station also has an FM tuner (but no AM tuner). I can switch between the analog FM and digital FM, and to my ears they sound about the same. And therein lies the problem. No perceived difference other than one goes great distances with no drop out and the other is HD Radio.

At this point in time, what seems clear is that is FM radio isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. AM radio station operators would benefit by having a similar FM signal that delivers the same coverage area as their AM license provides sans the sky wave effect. Giving them a low power translator is an insult in my opinion. All Smartphones should have their FM chips turned on. NextRadio should be embraced by FM broadcasters. All broadcasters need to focus on their content and make sure that whether it’s over-the-air or over-the-Internet, it’s of the same high quality and offers all of the same content on both.

I’ve never heard an FM radio listener complain about the quality of their signal and what they do complain about, isn’t being focused on by broadcasters. We have no time to lose.

FM radio has the delivery system in place. Take advantage of it to serve, entertain and inform.

7 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio