Tag Archives: Beats 1

Jacobs’ Four Questions

15Fred and Paul Jacobs are prolific bloggers; they blog five days a week. Recently, their blog asked four questions about the future of radio. I found them interesting and thought I’d give you my answers to their questions. I’ve provided a link to their original blog post here.

  1. What is radio? I guess I’d have to say my earliest exposure to radio was of the amplitude modulation kind; AM radio. My first radio was a Zenith transistor AM radio with a single earphone. In junior high school, I would build an AM & FM radio station in the basement of my parent’s home and broadcast to my neighborhood. When I went to the FCC field office in Boston to take my FCC license exam when I was in high school the license I would receive said “Radio Telephone Third Class Operator Permit (Restricted Radiotelephone Certificate).” I remember thinking the day I received it, “Why does it say telephone on it?” Nathan Stubblefield, a Kentucky melon farmer and inventor, invented the first radio (many would say). Nathan invented it because he wanted to be able to talk to his wife at home while driving his car. Maybe Nathan and the FCC were just ahead of their time, for today RF goes through the air to our smartphones giving us the ability to send and receive voice, pictures, and data. Today’s pocket computers – smartphones – have synthesized every form of mass communication into a single device. When Apple was putting together the launch of their Beats 1 stream, Zane Low said they spent three months trying to come up with a name to call what they were about to launch. They couldn’t come up with a better name than radio. And that’s what I find teaching at the university. My students basically call everything audio sourced “radio.” Every semester when I poll my students as to what media device they would keep, if they could only keep one, the overwhelming winner is their smartphone. The reason is simple; it allows them to do everything while every other media devices can only do a single application or two. The History Channel did a program on the 100 Best Inventions of all time. Radio was number two. The smartphone was number one. Today’s smartphone is the “transistor radio” of my youth.
  2. What are ratings? I’m a graduate of the Roy H. Williams Wizard Academy and Roy believes that any radio station with about thirty thousand listeners has more than enough to drive business for any advertiser. So what’s the defining measure of a radio station? The quality of the content of its advertising. Ratings were only created for one purpose, to sell advertising. Initially a concept called “applause cards” was used by radio operators. These were simple post cards that could be picked up by consumers at local retailers, filled out, and mailed in. The Association of National Advertisers would hire Archibald Crossley to create a way to discern what people were actually listening to on the radio. Crossley would produce reports from his Cooperative Analysis of Broadcasting (CAB) system. CAB used telephone recall much like Tom Birch did with his Birch Ratings reports. Today, everyone’s hung up on the measurement systems of clicks and clacks of the Internet. Ad Blocking is going to put a real dent into this system that really doesn’t tell advertisers what they wanted to know anyway. The simple fact is no one is measuring what counts. Great creative content gets results and radio needs to invest in employing dedicated copywriters once again.
  3. What is content? I wrote a whole blog post on content that went viral. I won’t re-plow that ground again in this post. If you’d like to read what I wrote, go here.
  4. What is in-car entertainment? I remember when buying a car, one of the options was adding a rear speaker to your AM radio for passengers riding in the back seat. Those were simpler times. I’ve lived through every new device that was going to be the death of radio in the car: 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, CB radios, CDs, CD changers, MP3 players, smartphones, streaming audio. Nothing has. However, the new digital dashboards appear to be so complicated, I fear for the folks who could never stop the blinking 12:00 on their VCRs. The new learning curve to find the radio on new cars might be a problem. My Honda Accord has lots of digital components to my entertainment system, but what I love most is Honda left the volume control knob I can turn. Rick Dees loves rotary pots on his control consoles and will not work a board that has slider pots. 19Crank it up means turning a knob. Radio people are going to have to make sure their car dealers demonstrate, or even set-up for their new car customers, how to find and lock in their local radio stations on these new digital dashboards. If the radio listener can easily find their favorite hometown companion, then they will default to what they know and love best. The reason radio has retained over 92% of its listeners is because all those new media devices mostly took out the new media device that came before it. Free over-the-air radio is unique and special. Let’s all work to keep it that way.

And so that’s my take on Fred and Paul Jacobs “Four Questions for Radio.” What are yours? Please share them with me by writing them into the comment section of this blog. I can wait to read what you have to say.

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Colleges That Give-up Their FCC License

fcc-logoI recently wrote an article for Radio World about the impact of colleges that sold their student radio station’s FCC license had on the pedagogical program at those institutions. You can read that article in Radio World here.

 

 

Today, I’d like to share with you something else I learned in talking with educators from around the country while researching this article. The FM license in every case connected the student station to the community. It was the heart and soul of the operation. When the license was sold and the station would become an online Internet only radio station it lost that connection.

 

Now the irony is that all of these student radio stations didn’t stop broadcasting over the FM band and then become Internet radio stations. No, they already had been streaming on the Internet and had listeners from all over the world in many cases. So why didn’t that continue to sustain these radio stations?

 

Let me make a comparison to help you understand this a little better. When you buy a magazine, do you read only one article and then toss it away or do you turn all the pages and look at other things in addition to that cover story that first attracted your attention and caused you to purchase the magazine? You read, if only skimming, the entire magazine. You spent time with that publication and became a little more invested in it. If you subscribe to the magazine this would be akin to being a P1 listener to a radio station.

 

When you see an article from a magazine online do you read the whole magazine or just the article that captured your attention and then leave? You do what we all do. It’s one and done. No investment in the magazine, just the article.

 

Well, what I learned is that it apparently isn’t all that much different when it comes to student streaming radio stations. It’s more of a hit and run.

 

There’s also a problem with student online radio stations in that they have limited connection capacity in most cases. That means only a limited number of people can listen to the stream, unless the college makes a big investment in expanding the capacity in the number of listeners can be connected at the same time. This is somewhat solved if a student station goes with a large online aggregator like TuneIn or Live365.

 

But let’s be real, when you enter a store and everything in the place is priced the same – FREE – which would you chose? The best you could find. Good Luck student stations.

 

Contrast that with student radio stations that broadcast over FM radio. What you find is that they are now only competing within the local community of service and in that playing field, have a chance to break through and be heard.

 

Over 92% of Americans 12-years of age and older still have the radio habit and listen every week. When it comes to listening to streaming stations on the Internet the percentage of penetration doesn’t come close. And those that do listen to streaming Internet music are very likely tuned to Pandora, if the current data available about such things is to be believed.

 

Another thing I heard was how more and more of these student radio stations were working to get a LPFM license so they could return to the air on the FM radios in their community.

 

When Zane Lowe was getting ready to launch Apple’s Beats1, he told the trades that a big part of the three months leading up to the launch was spent trying to come up with a better name for the new service than radio. They couldn’t do it.

 

Radio is the brand, because it works.

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The Limitations of a Spreadsheet

This is probably going to make me sound ancient, but I remember doing my radio station budget with a calculator, a #2 pencil and a Big Pink eraser. I wasn’t alone; everyone did their budgets this way once upon a time.

In those early days of computers entering the radio station, the first department I remember computerizing was the traffic department. Oh, I so remember our doing that transition.

We were going into our first holiday weekend, that time when traffic needs to prepare five traffic logs for each radio station to get through a three-day weekend. What was supposed to make us fast and efficient saw us spending time going into Saturday to get the logs done. I remember the look on my traffic director’s face. It was one of those “are you going to make me do this again” kinds of looks. (I did)

Computers weren’t really all that fast in those early days, but the promise was clearly there that this would be a better way over time.

Seeing budget time coming up, I said to my business manager, let’s take a course at the local community college in Excel and do our budget this year on a computer. She loved the idea and the two of us went back to school to learn how to use Excel spreadsheets.

We cranked out our first budget and it was amazing. It was clean, easily read and best of all it showed that we were going to have a great year for the company.

Everything was great, until my boss, one of the two owners of the group showed up to review my budget. He was NOT impressed that we had computerized the process. He basically said I don’t care how it looks or what it says, but is it right. He then proceeded to take a calculator out of his pocket and crunch the numbers. Very quickly he found all kinds of errors.

Color me embarrassed.

The bad news was we hadn’t mastered the Excel spreadsheet in our first attempt doing our station budget on this computer program. The good news was we were able to fix all the problems and hand my boss a revised budget for him to take back on the plane to the home office.

The following year, the home office announced that all radio stations in the group were to do their station budget on Excel.

Spreadsheet programs, as it turns out, can allow us to manage a lot of numbers and monitor what’s going on in our businesses. They are invaluable, but not omniscient.

Results can’t be engineered. Just simply knowing the inputs doesn’t allow one to always accurately predict the outputs.

It was Benoit Mandelbrot who first said that economic analysts were too dependent on “Joseph effects” which means things happen in a continuous and predictable model and turning a blind eye to “Noah effects” which creates chaos and completely destroys those same models.

Another way of saying it is that when something doesn’t fit your nice little model, just ignore it. That’s never been a solid plan. It’s why people don’t often see stock market crashes coming or innovations like the iPhone, the Internet and WiFi, but these things always happen and when they do they steer the course of history.

Remember the financial crisis of 2008? Mandelbrot understood how things like this happened. (Noah effects)

In the world of radio today, we have BEATS 1, Pandora, Spotify and others. Over-the-air broadcasters did not see these “Noah effects” on their data driven and ROI focused spreadsheets. They were living in “Joseph world.”

In his new book “Team of Teams” General Stanley McChrystal tells the story of when he took over Special Forces in Iraq. Specials Forces was winning every battle but America was losing the war. McChrystal learned that the problem wasn’t that his teams weren’t doing their jobs right but that they weren’t doing the right jobs.

McChrystal says “In complex environments, resilience often spells success, while even the most brilliantly engineered fixed solutions are often insufficient or counterproductive.” For many radio companies the problem isn’t that they’re not performing to plan, but that the plan itself is flawed. It often is based on assumptions that don’t hold true in every radio market the company operates in.

The answer to this problem is to hire great leaders and let them lead.

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