Tag Archives: Bonneville Beautiful Music

Radio’s Money Problem

Abandoned Radio StationFor the radio listener, your next break is all that matters. Does it speak to your listener? Does it have relevance to your listener’s life right this second? How do you know?

Homogenized America

With the growth of fast food establishments, big box stores and online shopping, one might think that America is now homogenized. That we’ve become a “one size, fits all” society. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Defining Generations

Before we discuss what specific age group goals are, let’s first define those groups.

  • Millennials (ages 18-34)
  • Generation X (ages 35-52)
  • Baby Boomers (ages 53-72)
  • Greatest Generation (ages 73 and older)

I’m part of the Baby Boomer generation, so let me speak about a group that I personally know something about.

Boomer Goals

Harris Poll surveyed 2,002 American adults to learn what we want as we get older. The number one thing was to travel abroad (57%). I know that travel is #1 on my list and that’s why this spring I set out with Sue on a cross-country trip across America that racked up 11,175-miles on our Honda Accord.

The next bucket list item the Harris Poll found was that American’s want to take up a new hobby (52%). In my case, that has manifested itself by working on my blog and volunteering at my church.

The other items on the list were tracking one’s health using a wearable, joining new social circles, living abroad and participating in extreme sports (28% to 3%). What these things all say is that growing older doesn’t mean we have to stop having fun.

Boomer Priorities

I really can identify with what the Harris Poll found as the top priority of aging Americans, spending more time with friends and family (62%). Previously my radio and teaching careers had been my primary focus for over 50-years, but not any longer. Now, being a grandpa is Job One.

Other priorities we have as we age, is the desire to seek out new experiences (51%), which explains our desire to travel and see more of the planet. To travel, one must be healthy and so health and wellness (51%) is also a priority.

Aging Positives

Americans agree that as we age we gain wisdom (65%) and experience (62%). Which begs the question, why do  companies seem to undervalue their senior employees or try to unload them with offers of early retirement and buyouts.

Other positives of growing older are that we feel more trustworthy, independent, are more comfortable in our own skin and feel more in control of our lives.

How Old is “Old?”

I think the answer to the question “How old is old?” has always been a moving target depending on the age of the person being asked that very question. The Harris Poll found that Millennials think old is 67, Generation X thinks it’s 72, Baby Boomers think it’s 79 and the Greatest Generation think it’s 82.

Usually the day after my fitness class, I think it’s my current age.

“Between now and 2029, one Baby Boomer will turn 65 every eight seconds,” says management guru Tom Peters. In his new book, The Excellence Dividend, Peters says “Most firms seem clueless – or worse, even seem to turn their back on the opportunity (of serving this huge population).”

Radio & “the Oldies” Market

Tom Peters is pretty adamant about what companies need to do to serve this segment of the American population.

  • Do a stem-to-stern assessment of the skills, assets, and culture that are needed to serve this market
  • People aged 50 or older have 47-times more net wealth than households headed by a person under age 35

It appears that some companies have done this and are enjoying the profits of their efforts. SiriusXM’s Q3 Conference Call saw that company’s CEO Jim Meyer telling analysts that audio is thriving like never before saying “the entire pie of audio consumption is actually growing.” Net income is up 24%, margins are up 40% and they plan to increase their dividend to investors.

Willy Sutton robbed banks, he said, because that’s where the money was.

The money is with the Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, the very population that was raised on radio.

I’m not saying every radio station needs to cater to this senior segment. Obviously, if radio is to be relevant to the generations following the Boomers, it needs to offer programs that are relevant to this age group too. However, in my travels around this country I’ve heard a minuscule number of radio signals appealing to the money age groups. In my opinion this is a missed opportunity, for the radio industry’s future and its current economic stability.

Another Place, Another Time

I started my radio management career back in early 1980, still in my twenties, as the general manager of an AM daytime radio station that programmed Al Ham’s “Music of YOUR Life.” Next to Rush Limbaugh, Al Ham’s music format was the next best thing one could program on an AM radio station to attract the older audience of that time.

Our FM station in that AM/FM cluster was programming the current top hits of the day, and between us, we pretty much covered all the demographics. The hardest part of attracting new advertisers to my daytime radio station, was convincing them to try it. Once they did, they quickly became regular advertisers because the people we attracted to our programming had the money to buy everything our advertisers sold. My company president always liked to say, “money makes honey,” and my success with this little 1,000-watt daytimer led to my promotion to market manager in Atlantic City running a news/talk AM radio station and a 50,000-watt FM Bonneville Beautiful Music radio station. Both stations were programmed to an older, well-heeled, audience. We were a million dollar cash flowing property.

The Time is NOW

Tom Peters pretty much sums up radio’s action plan by saying, “Cut the B.S. Can the excuses. Forget the fancy reports. Get moving now. Get the job done. On this score, nothing has changed in 50-years, including the maddening fact that all too often a business strategy is inspiring, but the execution mania is largely AWOL.”

Pay attention to the culture inside your radio operation. IBM’s turnaround CEO Lou Gerstner put it this way, “culture is not just one aspect of the game – it is the game.”

And finally, train your people.

“Training is any firm’s single most important capital investment.”

-Tom Peters

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Luck, Signal & Being Unique

123Back before the turn of the century, radio station owners often did market research to find viable programming “holes” in a market. Often it didn’t even take research, just an experienced radio nerd with a sense of what was to be popular. Once identified, the task was simply to put it altogether and hit the air.

Beautiful Music to Lite AC

I was in Atlantic City doing one of Bonneville’s beautiful music formats and Jerry Lee was in Philadelphia doing Bonneville’s Matched-Flow beautiful music format on WEAZ (EZ 101-FM).

Jerry Lee has always been a leader in the radio industry and with the research of Bill Moyes, they moved WEAZ from beautiful music to Lite AC and re-branded the station B101 (with new WBEB call letters too). It was a very gutsy move!

Jerry’s success with the new format saw me take WFPG-FM from beautiful music to Lite AC and re-brand as Lite 96.9 a few years later.

Timing is Everything

The year was 1989. The country would soon be headed into a recession. The format switch at WFPG-FM saw us go from #2 in the 12+ Arbitron Ratings to #1. Even better, we took the #1 positions in all the key buying demos.

As the economic conditions tightened in the early 90s, the number of stations deep being bought in Atlantic City regionally/nationally would go from five to three to one. And WFPG-FM was the one.

We delivered our first million-dollar bottom-line year in 1991. We repeated that performance in 1993. Meanwhile, the other radio stations in the market were just about making ends meet.

Signal, Signal, Signal

In real estate, the key to having a winning property is all location, location, location.

In radio, the key to having a winning property is signal, signal, signal.

WFPG-FM had one of the market’s only 50,000-watt non-directional signals at that time. Two other 3,000-watt radio stations were already programming a light adult contemporary format, but when we put that format on our huge signal, they both bailed, one changing to classical music and the other to classic rock. It left WFPG-FM as the market’s only Lite AC radio station and with the most popular music format at that moment in time.

Me Too

What I’m seeing is too many “me too” stations on the air today.

Me too is not a viable strategy.

The future for any venture in a 21st Century world is to zag when others are all zigging.

Look at any successful enterprise and you will see two things:

1) not everyone loves what they do and

2) they’re famous for what they do. (Think Howard Stern)

Howard would make Sirius Satellite Radio something special and unique. 124It’s why they forked over hundreds of millions of dollars to have Howard join their team.

What happened to the OTA radio station’s when Howard left for Satellite Radio?

They had an Excedrin headache for quite a few years.

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NOT the Music of MY Life

112I read the transcript of the interview Mark Ramsey did with Gordon Borrell about how radio advertisers are less interested in audience and more interested in a buyer. It got me to thinking about my own radio sales experiences over my career.

Live by the Numbers, Die by the Numbers

Anyone who sells in a rated market has probably heard that phrase about what happens when all you sell are your ratings numbers. But what happens in unrated radio markets? How do these folks sell?

Cash Register Rings

Early in my radio career I landed my first general manager position at the age of thirty. It was as GM of an Al Ham formatted “Music of YOUR Life” thousand watt AM daytimer with no pre-sunrise or post-sunset authorizations.

In a market with no audience ratings measurement what we did was create a fan club for our listeners. We then created a fan club book of the names and locations our listeners lived. This book included state representatives, mayors, major business owners and even television & movie stars. It was a pretty impressive foot-in-the-door and helped us to close many sales.

But the way we measured the impact of our advertisers’ radio commercials were in cash register rings. That’s the real measure of R.O.I. (Return On Investment) for local owner/operators.

Does Anybody Really Listen to THAT Music?

I remember calling on the manager of our local Agway store as if it were yesterday. Rick Hurd was his name and he was about as old as I was at that time. He loved contemporary music and the big band selections my station played were definitely NOT his “cup of tea.”

“Does anybody really listen to THAT music?” he always asked. I said “YES, lots of people do and they are the very people who own the big country estates that you should be doing business with.”

After lots of weekly calls, Rick Hurd gave me my opportunity to show what my radio station could do.

Tell Our Advertisers You Heard About Them on “The Music of YOUR Life”

A key component of my marketing strategy was to air on a continuous basis how important it was for listeners of my radio station to tell our advertisers they were listening. We did this in a variety of ways and made sure to keep this type of messaging fresh.

Shortly after Rick began his Agway store advertising on my radio station, I stopped in to see how it was going. He said, “Dick, I still find it hard to believe that anyone enjoys the music you play over the radio, but WOW are those folks ever vocal and passionate about your radio station.” “I hear about your radio station at least once an hour from customers, some of whom I’ve never seen in the store before,” he told me.

How Many Listeners Do You Need to Be Effective?

I won’t ever know how many listeners we had to that radio station, but I do know how many were in our fan club.

The “secret sauce” of our marketing was making sure our audience understood how important it was for them to tell our advertisers they were listening and that they loved our programming and that in order to keep it on-the-air, they needed to patronize our advertisers and tell them what brought them into their place of business.

Bonneville Beautiful Music

Based on the sales success I had with an AM daytimer, my company’s President/CEO promoted me to general manager of his newly acquired Atlantic City radio stations. The AM station was a thousand-watt full-time news & information station and the FM was a 50,000-watt Bonneville Beautiful Music formatted radio station. Both stations appealed to a senior audience.

Atlantic City was a rated market and so Arbitron Ratings were important, especially for the advertising agencies out of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore etc.

But what we really sold was the quality of our audiences and we worked very hard to build personal relationships with all of the buyers.

As general manager, I often went on out-of-town trips with my director of sales to call on the people who bought the advertising. We constantly heard “we’ve never met anyone from any of the radio stations in Atlantic City before.”

Relationships are VERY important in the radio business.

And as Simon Sinek likes to say “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Age Wave

Another factor I employed in talking about the quality of our audience and the tremendous buying power they wielded came from the research of Dr. Ken Dychtwald that he conducted during the period of 1973 to 1979.

In 1986 Dr. Dychtwald coined the term “Age Wave” and formed a company to consult companies on how to market to a mature market.

I devoured Ken’s book and used it to market my Atlantic City radio stations to advertisers.

Key Factors to Consider

The Age Wave http://agewave.com/ website lists four key factors that will reshape supply and demand as the boomers move into maturity. The two that radio should be considering how to leverage are:

  • Boomers will have increasing amounts of discretionary dollars (for many) over the long-term as a result of escalating earning power, inheritances, and investment returns
  • Boomers will undergo a psychological shift from acquiring more material possession and towards a desire to purchase enjoyable, satisfying, and memorable experiences

The future is filled with challenges and opportunities, but then that’s always been the case for those who could see them and were willing to roll up their sleeves.

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Relevancy

82I am a trombone player. Or maybe I should say “was” as it’s been quite a few years since I picked up the horn. Growing up, I knew that was the instrument I wanted to play. Out of all the instruments in the band, trombone was the one that caught my attention and was relevant to me.

76 Trombones

Meredith Wilson’s Broadway smash “The Music Man” is one of my all time favorite musicals. Can you guess why?

In that production, Robert Preston knows to be successful in selling band instruments “you gotta know the territory.” In fact, all of the carpetbaggers knew this. In “The Music Man” the song “Rock Island Line” establishes the rules of selling on the road. In other words, you had to know how to make what you were selling relevant.

And then I heard someone say RADIO

Alan Mason is a programmer that I’ve known for years. I subscribe to his weekly “Mason Minutes” and was thrilled to see Alan promoted to President of K-Love and Air1 as this New Year began. Alan actually assumed his presidency before Trump did.

Alan’s minute recently told the story of celebrating his birthday in a crowded restaurant. You know the scene, you hear lots of conversations but you’re not really paying attention. When Alan said he heard someone say “RADIO” and he heard that clearly.

“It’s funny how our minds are attuned to filter out almost everything except what’s relevant to us. We can be in a crowded ballroom buzzing with people and still hear our own name. It gets our attention and pulls us in,” Alan wrote.

Frost Advisory

I also subscribe to John Frost’s weekly “Frost Advisory” and John must have been as taken by what Alan wrote as I because he made it the subject of his programming memo this past week. John wrote about his friend Eddie who needed to get a passport photo. He went online and found a place all the way across town. It wasn’t until he was on his way home he noticed a camera store near where he lived that took passport photos. He never noticed, because getting a passport photo had no relevance to Eddie, until it did.

Radio Ads

And that’s the way it is with radio ads. The listener never hears them until something that’s relevant to them speaks to them.

Sadly, radio programmers no longer have a say in what commercials air on their radio stations.

I was a general manager before becoming a broadcast professor and even I had lost control of what ads would be placed on my radio stations by (at that time) Google.

Google did a deal with Clear Channel and would insert ads they had sold on all of the stations in my cluster between 2am and 3am in the morning. I wouldn’t even know what they had sold until I heard it on-the-air driving into the station.

I heard ads for restaurants advertising their lunch special for that day and the restaurant was over three hours away from my coverage area. I heard ads out-of-phase air on my AM station in the cluster that were 30-seconds of dead-air. (Out of phase ads means the left and right channels of audio cancel each other out on an AM mono signal.)

Bonneville Beautiful Music

When I moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1984, WFPG-FM was a Bonneville Beautiful Music station. Bonneville had strict guidelines about what content could be added to their music presentation and that included commercials.

Atlantic City’s biggest car dealer did the loudest screaming radio ads you’ve ever heard. We dearly wanted their business but not those screaming ads.

It took lots of meetings but we finally convinced the owner not to “wear a t-shirt to our black tie” radio station over-the-air presentation. We would be the only radio station in Atlantic City to have specially created ads that would perfectly fit the musical content of our format.

I don’t hear that happening on any radio station today.

Relevancy

Today, money talks and nobody walks.

Radio stations appear to take every ad that comes through the door.

When you consider the volume of ads airing on stations these days, one or two ads in that cluster than aren’t relevant might lose the listener’s ear or worse, cause the station to be changed.

WAVV in Naples, Florida is a station that marches to a different drummer. It plays music the owner enjoys and the sound is so unique it can’t be heard anywhere else. It’s why the station doesn’t stream. You have to listen to it over-the-air on your FM radio. But what makes WAVV golden in my book is that the commercial breaks are just as carefully watched over as the music. The ads are about things that listeners attracted by the music will also enjoy. Be it theater, dining, travel, clothing etc.; it’s all relevant.

John Frost ends his article by writing “We throw a bunch of stuff at the wall without using the precise filter of relevance. Start with the listener and work back. What does she care about RIGHT NOW?”

Unless the program director is given the authority to approve every element that goes on the air and insure that each goes through the relevancy test, your product is compromised.

Is what I wrote relevant to your radio station?

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