Tag Archives: CKLW

How is Radio Affected by Being Efficient?

EfficiencyI started my professional radio career in the 10th grade of high school. However, I started dreaming about being a disc jockey for as long as I can remember. I built my own AM/FM radio station in the basement of my parent’s home and broadcast to about a three block radius around my house.

Lots of People

In my early professional days, radio was people, lots of people!

Every aspect of running a radio station required people to make things happen. Sales, bookkeeping, reception, disc jockeys, copywriters, news anchors, reporters, engineers, production and promotions people with layers of management on top of every department, up to the general manager who oversaw the entire operation.

As an example, CKLW a stand-alone AM radio station in the Detroit metro, had 23-people just in their news department. Today that’s about double the total number of people running a cluster of AM/FM radio stations in any metro.

Was radio efficient back then? No.

Was radio effective? YES!

Did radio make money? Tons of it!

The Gatekeepers

What traditional media had back then, were gatekeepers. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television had people charged with making sure there was a good flow of information and entertainment. These people acted as filters, and overtime they developed standards and ethics that all Americans could rely on.

It wasn’t perfect and mistakes were made, but it got us through the 20th Century and unified us as a nation.

The New Gatekeepers

The birth of the internet ushered in a new gatekeeper, the algorithm. Now lines of code would replace people as the filter for what Americans read, see and hear. Unfortunately, these lines of computer code lack transparency in how they filter the flow of information.

Have they been encoded with a sense of civic responsibility? Who knows?

Is the flow of information the same for everyone? No, it has been personalized to our likes and dislikes. It has put each of us in our own information silo.

Bowling Alone

In 1995, Robert D. Putnam wrote an essay entitled “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”. The essay chronicled the decline in all forms of in-person social interchange. What Putnam saw in his research was that the very foundation Americans had used to establish, educate and enrich the fabric of their social lives was eroding. People were now less likely to participate in their community, social organizations, churches, and even their democracy.

This trend has only been accelerated by social media and the internet. The unintended consequences of the internet are, that it has isolated each of us to a web of one. Algorithms have taken what Putnam saw happening in the last century and put it on steroids in this century. All in the name of driving more efficiency.

Efficiency Bubble

The “efficiency bubble” means that efficiency is valued over effectiveness in today’s world. It’s a term coined by Will Lion of BBH advertising.

Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy in the UK, recently shared this personal experience that demonstrated the efficiency bubble.

“The absurdity of the efficiency bubble was brought home to me in a recent meeting with an online travel company. The conversation repeatedly included the mantra ‘the need to maximize online conversion.’ Everyone nodded along. Clearly, it is much more efficient for people to book travel through the website than over the telephone, since it reduces transaction costs. But then someone – not me, I’m ashamed to say – said something revelatory: ‘Ah, but here’s the thing. Online visitors to the site convert at about 0.3%. People who telephone convert at 33%. Maybe the website should have a phone number on every page.”

“Perhaps the most efficient way to sell travel is not the most effective way to sell travel. What, in short, is the opportunity cost of being efficient?”

“Nobody ever asks this question. Opportunity costs are invisible; short-term savings earn you a bonus. That’s the efficiency bubble at work again.”

Consolidation is Just Another Word for “Efficiency”

During radio’s massive consolidation, Excel spreadsheets produced by new minted MBAs screamed a multitude of ways to have radio stations become more efficient. Unfortunately, the fast-lane involved the elimination of tens of thousands of radio jobs.

And it’s still going on as I write this article.

I don’t ever remember anyone asking about “opportunity costs” being sacrificed in the process.

In the last radio property I managed before entering higher education as a broadcast professor, I would spend my final year going to corporate meetings about Reductions In Force (RIFs) and coming home with a thumb drive that had dates to open new pages in an Excel spreadsheet, that listed what people and what departments were to be eliminated next.

It’s my belief that efficient radio chases away listeners, effective radio creates them.

Blame It on Competition

Tech Guru Pete Thiel blames the efficiency chase on competition. “More than anything else, competition is an ideology – the ideology – that pervades our society and distorts our thinking,” says Thiel.

When all radio companies chase the same efficiency metrics, they all end up sounding the same, their websites end up looking the same, and in essence, they’ve turned the creative medium of radio into a commodity.

Deregulation of broadcast, as I wrote about in The Birth of Radio in America article, now has virtually all of the radio stations in a radio market owned by one or two companies.

Radio always stole great ideas from other radio stations around the country, but most often those stolen ideas were massaged and improved upon in the process. Everyone was upping the game through their own creativity lens, and each radio station had its own unique sound.

Unfortunately, along with corporation radio came the concept of “Best Practices”. This would be yet another contributor to the end of personal creativity at radio stations, all in the name of more efficiency.

Emotions

Roy H. Williams, the Wizard of Ads, says we buy things emotionally and justify those buying decisions rationally. The pursuit of efficiency is a rational answer to an emotional problem.

The radio business was never built on Excel spreadsheets and doing what was most efficient, it was built by creative people who touched others emotionally. Be it station imaging, air personalities, promotions, contests, community events, advertising or marketing, radio always went for people’s hearts.

The successful radio stations today still foster those emotions in their listeners and advertisers.

They’re just becoming harder and harder to find.

 

 

 

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Fail. Forward. Fast.

Success FailureIf there is one thing that both college professors and college students have in common, is that they both hate to fail. Professors never want to see their students fail. And students fear failing on many levels.

But failure is a necessary part of success.

Tom Peters

In my sales classes, I showed a short video clip of Tom Peters sharing his favorite slide from his huge slide deck. It reads:

Fail. Forward. Fast.

(“Reward Excellent Failures, Punish Mediocre Successes.”)

Nobody wins by playing it safe.

Nobody learns either.

Woody Allen

Woody cut his creative teeth during the Golden Age of Television writing for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.”

Woody learned “if you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

Radio Innovation

When I was growing up, the radio dial was a cornucopia of innovation.

Every radio station was original and unique.

Sunset would open up the skywave for AM radio listening and I would tune in great radio stations like WKBW from Buffalo, WLS & WCFL from Chicago, CKLW from Windsor-Ontario, Canada and many, many more.

Each of them was unique, a part of their community and provided great companionship.

Then radio began to copy one another.

Imitation, while maybe the sincerest form of flattery, lacks innovation.

Best Practices

With the passage of the Telcom Act of 1996, the radio industry began to rapidly consolidate.

The concept of “Best Practices” would further stifle experimentation and failure by trying to lay a safe, secure foundation for every radio station in these expanding companies to follow.

The new publicly funded corporations quickly learned that funding, not innovation was the way to grow larger. Money gets invested in business models that are familiar.

That’s why the movie industry cranks out so many sequels when they find a hit film.

Failure leads to Innovation

Thomas Edison when asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times inventing his light bulb responded “I didn’t fail 1, 000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Walt Disney is said to have gone bankrupt a couple of times before he became a successful innovator.

In other words, we can learn, grow and become better from our failures.

Radio’s New Heroes’

I’m confident that new blood is flowing into the radio industry that will quickly discard things that aren’t working, try new ideas, innovate and fail, forward, fast.

Everything in life brings risk.

It’s true that you risk failure if you try something bold

because you might miss it.

But you also risk failure if you stand still and don’t try anything new.”

-John C. Maxwell

 

 

 

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What Ronald McDonald Could Teach Radio

Today in America there are more radio stations on the air than at any time in its almost 100 year history. More radio stations are taking to the air every day. That’s a good thing, right? I would argue it’s not.

When I was working for Clear Channel Radio (yes, it was once called that – now it’s iHeartMedia), the President was a man named John Hogan. Hogan came up with a plan to reduce clutter. He called it “Less is More.” On the surface it sounded like a grand plan. However, the devil is always in the details and the devil was Clear Channel was now going to move away from a unit based inventory management system to a one that included half-minute long commercials, ten-second commercials, five-second long commercials it branded as “adlets” and one-second long commercials it branded as “blinks.” In the “blink” of an eye, the amount of units grew and we would learn that people don’t notice the length of commercials as much as they do the number of interruptions they are confronted with. “Less is More” would inadvertently introduce more clutter in the name of reducing clutter.

Well some clown named Ronald McDonald must have been watching us because at the end of last year, McDonalds announced that its menu had become so unwieldy that even the chain’s president had no clue as to how many items it contained.

In his book, “The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less” psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for consumers. That while autonomy and the freedom of choice can be healthy and good for our well being, modern Americans are faced with more choices than any group of people in the history of the planet and all this choice is having the reverse effect.

I remember the headline in Forbes “You Can Now Play 100,000 Radio Stations On Your TV with Google’s Chromecast.” A hundred grand? I have trouble finding enough radio stations I want to listen to, to fill the pre-sets on my car radio and they only give me pre-sets for 6 AM stations and 12 FM stations. I have a 10-minute commute on a bad day, so I don’t do a lot of button pushing.

Edison Research now calls their radio study the “Infinite Dial” because with the advent of streaming audio, we have the ability to listen to radio stations all over the world. I have ten Apps for listening to streaming radio on my iPhone and iPad. Of those, I primarily use three of them the bulk of the time. Of the three, one dominates. That single App now curates over 90 different genres of music. The good news is that I can create a “Favorites” section so I only need to choose from a limited number of genres to match my mood.

When radio began consolidating into clusters, adding HD signals & sub-channels and then streaming, the complexity proved to be a challenge to an ever shrinking workforce challenged with programming and selling all of those product offerings.

Schwartz tells us that modern psychology shows that happiness is affected by success or failure of goal achievement. Radio workers and McDonald’s folks probably aren’t all that happy; not like they once were.

McDonalds last year recorded its worst domestic comparable sales figures in more than a decade. In radio, being even with last year’s numbers was being called the new “up.”

McDonalds plan is to reduce the number of choices, focus on those items they will serve to improve their quality to delight the customer.

Most people’s cable or satellite TV package delivers hundreds of channels and yet, the most common thing people are heard to say “there’s nothing GOOD on to watch.” “Good” being the operative word. What a change from when I was growing up and my biggest problem was a GREAT show was playing on all three television networks; at the same time (days before VCRs and DVRs).

Radio in that same era was exciting, innovative and totally focused on delivering great content. These were the days when a Top40 radio station like CKLW had a 20-person news department on a radio station that was all about music not news. Had an air staff that was refreshed every three hours with a new disc jockey, had an off-air program director, a music director & assistant that did music research, a promotions department & promotions budget, plus consultants all for a single radio station.

Less is more works if more people can focus their attention on less.

Take it from a famous restaurant clown, “Less IS More” in more ways than one.

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