Tag Archives: Bob Christy

Who Will Keep the Light On?

Hudson Athens LighthouseIt was the radio commercial that planted Motel 6’s “We’ll keep the light on for you,” in your brain. The frequency and repetition of that phrase, along with a well-crafted and ever changing script always kept you wondering what Tom Bodett was going to tell you next, that you already didn’t know about this motel chain.

Lighthouses

Long before there were wireless communications at sea, the lighthouse was the way sailors kept their ships on course and away from danger.

Lighthouse keepers kept these sentinel beacons operational through the darkness and all kinds of weather. Lighthouses, those keepers thought, were never going away.

And they haven’t.

But with lighthouse keepers, today’s technology has basically eliminated the need for them.

Radio Stations

Radio stations are also not going away, but the need for radio personalities, for staffing of any kind on weekends, nights and holidays, has.

Radio stations and lighthouses are both communication centers people depend on. Often for their life.

Bob Christy recently wrote about “Real Life in the Fire Zone…” about his own personal experience during the California wildfires near his home in Southern California. He told of the incredible radio coverage provided by two Los Angeles radio stations, KFI AM640 and KNX AM1070. Due to the fires, they had no wired communication in their home. Bob said he dug out an old boom box, loaded it up with batteries and tuned in the AM radio news and news/talk stations for updates about the fires.

Like a lot of us Boomers and members of the Greatest Generation, Bob grew up on AM radio. But I wondered if many who might have benefitted from the coverage even knew about those AM radio stations or if they even had any type of OTA radio in their home.

Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society

My older brother is active in the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society. He’s also a photographer and in addition to working as a volunteer at the HALPS, he travels frequently around the world seeing and photographing lighthouses.

The annual season for touring Hudson-Athens Lighthouse concluded this fall. The lighthouse is located in the middle of the Hudson River between Hudson, New York and Athens, New York. The Coast Guard has an automated LED light on the lighthouse that is still used by ships to navigate that part of the Hudson River but no person physically is needed to man the light. In fact, no person has been needed for years due to technology.

This historic lighthouse, like almost all lighthouses around the world, are maintained by local volunteers that love and care for these critical communication centers of the past.

I wondered if one day, something similar might be the case for some of America’s heritage radio stations, maintained as museum pieces, as another part of communications history.

Amazon

I often hear radio people say things like “Radio will never go away.” I think lighthouse keepers probably said that sort of thing once too. The navigational beacons remain, but the nature of what used to be called a lighthouse, does not. All that’s needed today is an automated LED beacon mounted on any kind of tall structure.

At an all-hands meeting in November, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was asked by an employee about the future of the company, to which Bezos stunned his people by responding, “Amazon is not too big to fail, in fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail.

If such a thing could happen to the world’s biggest online retailer, what makes us think it would never happen in our industry?

Prolonging Amazon’s Demise

Bezos said, the key to prolonging the demise of Amazon was to “obsess over customers and to avoid looking inward, worrying about itself. If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end.”

I remember when one of the radio station clusters I managed was taken over by one of the big C companies and the company leader told us that we should be focused on making money for the company. It was 180-degrees from the kind of radio I was raised on, where if you took care of your employees, your listeners and your advertisers, the company would get their reward in the end from doing those other three things right.

Where Will They Come From?

Sometimes when we look at another industry or occupation, it gives us insight into the future of our own specialty.

In America, the last officially manned lighthouse was the Boston Light. The United States Coast Guard manned it until 1998. During the last twenty years, volunteers have maintained the light and given tours.

What these volunteer groups are now finding is that with each passing year, fewer and fewer people are doing more and more of the work. New volunteers are increasingly harder to find and often depart quickly when they learn of all the work needed to keep these facilities operational.

And sadly, some of these lighthouses may soon be closing their doors for good due to lack of interest.

It Can Happen Here

There are lessons to be learned from both the story of lighthouses and Amazon.

Will the leaders of radio take a Jeff Bezos approach to the radio industry’s future or end up like lighthouse keepers?

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What’s Radio’s Why?

WHYSimon Sinek says people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Watching the live streams of the 2018 Radio Show sessions and reading all of the reporting on the meetings in Orlando this past week, left me asking the simple question: “What’s radio’s why?”

College Kids on Radio

The RAIN Conference in Orlando put four college kids from the University of Central Florida on stage and asked them about their radio listening habits.

Spoiler Alert: They don’t have any radio listening habits.

These four students said things like “radio is obsolete,” “there’s no need for radio,” and “it’s very rare that I listen to radio.”

To these kids, radio doesn’t have any “why.”

What does?

YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify…in other words things that stream what they want, when they want it.

Write The Wrongs About Radio

George Johns and Bob Christy are getting together to write a blog aimed at fixing radio, by writing about the things they hear radio is doing wrong.

“(Radio) has to evolve to be relevant in today’s world,” they write. “There has been almost no evolution in radio (and) what George and (Bob) want to do is challenge radio to evolve and become relevant again.”

They write the  3 basics of great radio are: 1) be professional, 2) be interesting and 3) be entertaining.

The 25-54 Demo

Fred Jacobs wrote about the fabled radio demo of 25-54, also known as, the “family reunion demo.” It never really existed, except as a way for an agency buyer to get the C.P.P. (Cost Per Point) down for a radio station they really wanted to place their client on.

You would have thought as the number of radio signals increased, that the variety of programming choices would have too, but the reverse happened. Radio offered less choice of programming and music formats. As Fred writes, “broadcast radio surrendered its Soft AC, Smooth Jazz and Oldies stations to SiriusXM and streaming pure-plays.”

Millennials are not kids. I know, both of my sons are part of the millennial generation. They are both well-entrenched in successful careers and raising families.

The college kids referenced earlier are part of Generation Z. And those kids don’t know (or care) what radio even is. They don’t even know what life was like before smartphones. And smartphones have really replaced just about every other device Millennials and Boomers grew up with.

Norway Turns OFF Analog Radio

Norway is a country of about 5.5 million people. Norway turned off their FM signals almost a year ago and went all digital using DAB+. So what’s happened to radio listening in Norway?

Jon Branaes writes, “Norwegians still choose radio when they think it’s worth choosing. Radio has not lost our biggest fans but the more casual listeners.”

Norway has also seen FM listening replaced by internet delivered radio, which grew significantly after turning off analog FM signals. They expect smart speakers to contribute to even more of that type of listening in the future.

The Takeaways

Radio first needs to know its “WHY.” Then it needs to communicate it, clearly and simply or suffer the consequences.  Bud Walters of Cromwell loves to say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Until the radio industry figures this out, getting new people to listen (or former listeners to return) will be a challenge.

“FM is not the future. DAB+ (digital broadcasting) can keep radio relevant in a digital future of endless choices.” But Jon Branaes adds, “Radio must respond with its core strengths – being live and alive, useful and present in listener’s lives.”

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Mister Radio

mr rogersI didn’t grow up watching “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.” The television in my family’s house was connected to two different antennas that each picked up a single television station. One TV station was affiliated with the NBC television network and the other with the CBS television network. My childhood mentor was Captain Kangaroo. Bob Keeshan’s broadcast was on commercial television, so I was also exposed to products such as pre-sweetened Kool-Aid, where the “sugar, sugar, sugar…is already in it.” Sad, that I remember that sell line over 50-years later, more than any other lesson taught by that show.

Fred Rogers

I think I really became aware of the impact that Fred Rogers’ telecast made on children when in 2003 my oldest son Chris called me and said, “Dad, today’s a very sad day, Mister Rogers died.”

But my quest to learn more about this man really came about when I viewed the documentary on Netflix called “Mister Rogers & Me: A Deep & Simple Documentary Film.”

“I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.”

-Fred Rogers

Deep & SimpleDeep & Simple

Fred Rogers learned of this concept from a friend, mystic, activist and author in Durham, North Carolina by the name of Bo Lozoff. Bo wrote a book titled “Deep & Simple.” I bought a copy of the book from the Human Kindness Foundation, which Bo and his wife Sita founded. I wanted to read about the three core tenets of a deeper life that inspired Mister Rogers.

$20 Million Testimony

rogers-pastoreOn May 1, 1969, Fred Rogers appeared before Senator John Pastore’s Senate committee to explain why they should continue to fund PBS (Public Broadcasting System) for another term at a cost to the taxpayers of America of twenty million dollars. If you’ve never seen Mister Rogers’ testimony, I encourage you to stop, and take a moment to view it now. Click HERE

Spoiler Alert, Senator Pastore gave PBS its $20 million funding.

Be Real

What Fred Rogers did before the Senate hearing, was the same thing he did on his TV program, in interviews and in life. He was himself. He was being real.

His truthfulness and sincerity were never in question.

2002 Dartmouth Commencement Speechdartmouth-rogers

In May of 2002, Fred Rogers was invited back to his alma mater, Dartmouth, to give that year’s commencement address. It was powerful in its deep and simple message. Here are some of the things he said that day, that I feel have importance to the radio broadcasting industry.

Mister Rogers told one his favorite stories about the Seattle Special Olympics, where nine contestants, all of them physically or mentally disabled, were to run a 100-yard dash.

The starting gun fired and all of them began to run. One little boy stumbled, fell and hurt his knee. He began to cry. Hearing him cry, the other eight children turned around and ran back to him. They picked him up, linked arms and all joyfully crossed the finish line at the same time.

What makes this story so powerful, Fred Rogers told the graduates, was that

“Deep down, we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win, too. Even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.”

Radio used to operate with this everybody wins type of esprit de corps, a feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty, to its staff, its advertisers and its community of license.

You Are Unique

Fred told the graduates that day that each one of them is unique and special. No one will ever be like them.

Radio stations used to be unique and special when I was growing up. DX’ing (listening to distant AM radio signals via the night skywave) was a cornucopia of theater for the mind. Every station was unique. Every radio personality was special. To not listen to any one of them left the radio listener with a sense of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

Choices

Fred Rogers said that he was very much interested in choices.

“What it is, and who it is, that enable us human beings to make the choices we make all through our lives. What choices led to ethnic cleansing? What choices lead to healing? What choices lead to the destruction of the environment, the erosion of the Sabbath, suicide bombings, or teenagers shooting teachers. What choices encourage heroism in the midst of chaos?”

Radio has been constantly faced with choices over its nearly 100-years.

When television was born, radio chose to move in new directions and created new kinds of programs that would engage the next generation of listeners.

“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

-from Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince

What’s Essential About Radio?

In the 21st Century, who’s asking this question? What’s essential about radio today? What’s essential about the people who broadcast over your radio station?

Fred Rogers told those Dartmouth students that commencement day, they were graduating because of the people who helped them become the people they are.

“Anyone who has ever graduated from a college, anyone who has ever been able to sustain a good work, has had at least one person, and often many, who have believed in him or her. We just don’t get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others,” said Mister Rogers.

bill gableThis past week, news spread that Brother Bill Gable had died. For many of us, it was the time he broadcast over The Big 8 – CKLW out of Windsor-Ontario, Canada that endeared him to our hearts. His best friend, Pat Holiday shared a story about what made Brother Bill and the rest of the air personalities at CKLW essential radio listening. Pat wrote:

“Each day on CKLW the big deal was the show opener. We’d all try to outdo each other. No, ‘Hi…how you doing?’ stuff. It HAD to be larger than life. We’d all do our best to do some crazy or funny or amazing thing to set the tone for the rest of the show. Something mesmerizing. So much that you’d think, ‘Holy shit that was great. How am I going to top that?’”

This is in such stark contrast to what we hear over the radio today.

George Johns shared a blog post from his radio friend Bob Christy that was titled “It’s Over…” The blog was written by Bob after he had spent a couple of hours listening to New York City’s #1 radio station. You can read the complete blog article HERE 

The essential element for most radio listeners, the air personality, was throttled to four mic breaks per hour. Worse, the personality sounded uninterested according to Christy and the only local story he shared was ripped off the internet.

Bob ends his post by asking, “So is it fair to judge a station by listening to one break or for ‘only a few hours,” hell yes it is. The audience will give you one shot, you better be ready and make it count.”

Won’t You Be My Listener?

Radio has choices. It will either work to become essential in people’s lives again, or it won’t. Will it continue down the path of being shallow and complex, or return to its roots, being deep and simple? Great radio is more than anything you can see, hear or touch. Great radio is community and companionship. Great radio is LIVE and engaging to its target audience.

Great radio is created by dedicated radio people who spend every waking hour focused on delivering great radio.

I wish for the people in today’s radio industry to possess the wisdom, strength and grace to make the choices the industry needs, to make it the best radio it can be, going forward.

 

 

 

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