Tag Archives: Clear Channel

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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Tall Towers in Big Fields

55I worked for Clear Channel for five years. As best as I remember, not a meeting went by that John Hogan wouldn’t say “we’re not about tall towers in big fields anymore.” And as I watch radio companies all across America selling off their radio towers, I think that day has come to fruition.

Introducing the iPhone7

This week on September 7, 2016 the iPhone7 came out and the big news was that it eliminated the headphone jack. The radio industry was in shock. How would NextRadio be heard without the wire that connected the ear buds to the phone since that wire acts as the antenna to receive FM radio through a smartphone with the FM chip activated. Except Apple never activated the FM chip inside any iPhone.

PPM & the iPhone7

Then only two days later, Randy Kabrich published a concern that may be even more important to the radio industry, and that was, how would PPM* work with the new iPhone7? Randy posted this picture with his article iphone7-with-ppm and you really should read all that Randy has to say on the subject with his article on Tom Taylor’s NOW here.

Change is the Only Constant

Jim Carnegie, who founded Radio Business Reports, used to continuously preach to the radio industry you can’t hold back change. If you are to survive you must embrace change.

In the case of wireless headphones, the tipping point has been reached. More wireless headphones are now sold than wired ones. So I don’t think Apple was going out on a limb by eliminating a 19th century technology. I also fully suspect that AirPods will soon become the new “IN” thing.

What Should Radio Be Focused On?

MediaLife Magazine published a really interesting article on the seven important trends that radio should be focused on. You can read the article here. I will give you the “Reader’s Digest” version with some of my own thoughts.

The Future of Big Radio

Radio is best when it’s LIVE & LOCAL. The consolidation of radio has not been the successful business model that investors on Wall Street bought into. Of course the concept of “increasing shareholder value” and radio’s operating in the public interest, convenience and necessity were at odds with one another from day one. I would agree with MediaLife that radio’s future will be via locally managed radio operators.

The Future of Local Radio

Johnny Carson used to say: “If you buy the premise you buy the bit.” In this case if you believe in the demise of big radio, then you will also believe in the rise of local radio. I know right here in Kentucky many locally owned and operated radio stations that are fully engaged in every aspect of the lives of their listeners and they are thriving.

Radio Goes Digital

With radio company after radio company selling off their radio towers, the writing appears to be on the wall that all radio will be delivered digitally and via the internet. Gone will be towers and transmitters and FCC regulations, fees and fines.

Convergence of Media

I remember writing a paper on media convergence when I was in college. That was long before the concept of a world wide web. With the internet all media becomes identical. What difference is there between a newspaper, a radio station or a television station when each of them can do the same thing? What will separate them is the quality of their content.

NAB, NAA and IAB et al.

The coming convergence will really play havoc with media associations. When what once were separate and distinction constituencies will now also converge into a media association.

I remember being in Washington, DC when Senator Gordon Smith came on board at the NAB President. I shook his hand and asked him about the NAB inviting the satellite radio and internet radio operators into our big tent. I said better to have them with us than against us. He nodded and said that was certainly something to think about. (I think he may have just been being kind.)

Radio’s Opportunity

The History Channel did a program on the “100 Greatest Inventions” and number two on the list was RADIO. Number one was the smartphone. The smartphone really replaces many of our other devices. My digital camera lays somewhere gathering dust as my iPhone has been my digital camera since I got it. CD player, iPod etc, have been all replaced by my iPhone for playing my own music collection. My iPhone is my radio and TV too. Newspapers, magazines, books, are also easily accessible on my iPhone. I know I’m not alone in finding that their smartphone has become a very important part of their life. My iPhone is the model 4S. It’s ancient in the eyes of my students. That’s why the new iPhone7 with the 256GB storage, stereo sound, wireless AirPods, water resistant and all the rest has me thinking it’s time to upgrade.

For me, the big change is the size of the phone. I like the size of my 4S. It was just a bit smaller than the Blackberry Pearl it replaced, but the technology leap it offered over the Blackberry was incredible. I’m sure that the size thing is only in my perception and once I advance to the larger screen I will wonder how I lived without it.

No One Goes Backward

History shows that once people adopt something new, they never go back to the way it used to be. We may wax romantically about the good old days, but if we had to trade another time in history for life without our smartphones and wireless internet, I seriously doubt we could make the trade.

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*PPM is a Nielsen’s Personal People Meter. It’s a device used to measure radio listening in the top 50 radio markets in the USA.

Note: Randy Kabrich blogs here: http://blog.kabrich.com/

 

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Day of Reckoning

20There’s an old saying “Nothing lasts forever.” Do you remember flying on TWA or Pam Am? How about shopping at Woolworths? Broadcasters will remember names like Group W Westinghouse Broadcasting, or Taft Broadcasting, or Nationwide, or RKO General that would put the successful Bill Drake Top 40 format (with the non-stop innovations & promotions of 93-KHJ’s Ron Jacobs) in major cities across North America. They’re all now a memory.

In a time of limited radio signals, radio could control its inventory and increase stakeholder ROI by raising rates as it increased the size of its audience. That’s now a memory.

Next came the Local Marketing Agreement (LMA) to soak up all those Docket 80-90 FM signals that were squeezed into the FM band but found themselves economically challenged. More signals meant a new way to make more money. That’s now a memory.

LMAs were “training pants” for the Telcom Act of 1996 that would unleash a consolidation of radio and television ownership like the world had never seen. Companies would rush to acquire as many radio signals as they could as fast as they could. And do what with them? They would figure that out later was the common response. Owning more stations was a way to make more money, until it wasn’t. That’s now a memory.

You might have thought that would have sent a message that there are limits. It didn’t.

Today the game is translators. And the number of radio signals continues to grow, all seeking funding through advertising, just like every other form of media out there today.

So is the ad pie growing? Not according to Adam Levy at Motley Fool who saw advertising drop nearly 4 percent in the second quarter of 2015.

When the advertising pie isn’t getting bigger, two things usually happen: 1) budgets get cut and people lose their jobs and 2) more spots are added to the hour. Unfortunately, all through consolidation and the Great Recession radio companies have been doing both. They are like the Federal Reserve wondering what you do when you already have cut the interest rate to zero to stimulate the economy. Not a fun place to be.

Suggested Solutions

 Not to be all doom and gloom on you, I think there are some things that can be done to turn things around. The first thing is to focus on something and own it. Steve Jobs would put it this way “Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.” The way Jobs took Apple from near extinction to the world’s most valuable company was by his relentless focus on creating a small number of simple and elegant products.

Seth Godin calls it finding and serving your tribe. Radio needs to give up the quest to be all things to all people and learn to be something some people can’t live without.

Some stations can be the national brand in town, but everyone can’t. Likewise if people can get what you do someplace else, then why do they need you? This is the secret of “less is more.”

Radio stations need to have the agility to make decisions on the front line. Top down management is out, front line management is in. Mary Berner, the new CEO of Cumulus gets it. She has been reported in the trades saying “Cumulus will rely less on top-down management and more on letting managers do the job they were hired for.”  She also understands that while IoT (Internet of Things) is the future, it’s not the place Cumulus needs to focus on today. It’s about changing the culture and the way the company operates first. Getting the programming right and improving sales of those radio programs next.

I remember when I starting working for Clear Channel and hired to turn things around in my market, the company had a big push on selling the web and developing that component. I told my sales manager after the conference call ended that was not going to be the case for us. First we needed to get the programming and radio sales on fire and then – and only then – would we begin tackling our web based program. It worked too.

The hardest thing sometimes is not doing things, but figuring out what to stop doing. Jobs was good at this at Apple. You need to invest some serious thought about what you need to stop doing in your radio property. Again, less IS more if done right.

And the last suggestion I have is directed at colleges and universities. We need to be focused on the business model of radio and putting more of a focus on the business side of radio and radio sales. Radio owners and operators I talk with aren’t clamoring for more DJs or news people like they are for more sales people and innovators that will create the next revenue stream for their property.

In the end, your audience size won’t matter if you don’t have a business model to monetize it.

 

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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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