Tag Archives: communications revolution

What Is Localism?

117I read with interest what the new Radio Board Chair of the National Association of Broadcasters, Randy Gravley, had to say in a Radio World interview about what he saw as the issues of concern for the United States radio broadcast industry.

The Most Pressing Radio Business Challenges

On the top of Randy’s list is the rise in streaming services. He feels for radio to be competitive it needs to be on as many platforms as possible but also needs to be delivering content not available elsewhere. It goes back to a real dedication to localism.

What IS Localism, Anyway?

I thought I would go to the flagship radio station owned by Tri-State Communications Inc. based in Jasper, GA to find out. Randy is the president and CEO of Tri-State Communications Inc.

The “Home” page says WJLA 101.1 FM is your source for up-to-date news, sports and community announcements. There was no mention about the radio station being available on any platform other than over-the-air. Likewise, the “About” page tells us that they can be heard in 18-counties in the tri-state area of Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. It also says: “Our signal, which remains constant (unlike AM radio stations that lower the power at sunset and sunrise), reaches our target audience of those thirty years old and older.”

I’m sure all AM broadcasters will appreciate that kind of talk. NOT.

The closest thing I could find to “localism” was that WLJA has a “dedicated, award winning staff with over 150 years of combined broadcast experience” and that they “cover all of the local news from our listening area.”

Local News

So, I went next to the “NEWS” page, which features a drop-down menu of “Local, Sports, Music.”

I started with the Local News and saw that the city of Woodstock was having an eclipse viewing gathering. NOTE: I’m reading this local news on August 31st about an event that already happened on August 21st between 1 and 4pm. I also learned that I could tour the new Northside Hospital Cherokee on Saturday, April 22nd from 10am to 2pm.

Is this an example of localism done right?

Local Sports

The “Sports” page did give me the high school football schedule, but other than a list of sponsors, nothing else.

Local Music

The “Music” page was a list of the “Top 30 Gospel Request Time Songs for 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013.” But it appears these songs are the favorites from a national database not one compiled locally by the radio station.

There was no mention of any local gospel or country groups or any information about where this type of music might be enjoyed locally in live venues.

Local Sales

It was time now to see how the radio station sold itself to local advertisers.

In big red type is said “Home to over 38,000 listeners at any given moment!*” That sounded impressive, but there was that “*” at the end of the statement. The asterisk qualified that claim with the following information: “*As rated by ARBITRON 2007 county by county coverage in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.”

OK, there are some immediate problems with that qualifier. First, it’s 2017 not ten years ago. Second, Arbitron has been gone since September 2013 when it was purchased by Nielsen and re-branded as Nielsen Audio. Other data is sourced as of 2008.

All of these things were found on the radio station’s “Sales” page.

Everything was station focused and not advertiser focused. (Or listener focused)

The sales information didn’t scream “localism” to me. It also offered no information about advertising opportunities via streaming.

In fact, I can’t find on any page anything about being able to hear WLJA 101.1 FM over the internet or via any of the platforms that Randy says are now so critical for radio broadcasters.

Apologies to Randy Gravley

When I started to write today’s blog, I never intended for it to come off looking like a “hit job” on the newly elected Radio Board Chairman. So, I want to apologize to Randy for how negative this article became.

But he’s not alone.

And that’s radio’s BIG problem.

We know what the issues are. We talk the talk, but when it comes to walking the talk, well that’s not happening.

Welcome to radio’s “Kodak Moment.”

Smartphones

77% of all adults in America today say they own a smartphone. That number was only 35% six years ago.

But if you’re looking for the smartphone’s impact on the future, 92% of 18 to 29 year olds today own a smartphone.

Suffice it to say, if your business model doesn’t work on a smartphone, ‘fuhgeddaboudit.’

The NEW Localism

I think the new localism is whatever a person wants, when they want it. Localism no longer means a geographical area. Localism means shared interests.

When a radio station or other mass medium markets itself as being “something for everyone,” it really is saying it’s nothing for nobody.

The future of mass media is reaching the smallest possible viable audience to earn a decent R.O.I. (Return On Investment)

Welcome to the Communications Revolution

What we are seeing in mass mediated communications is a revolution. Like the other worldwide revolutions (Agricultural, Industrial) the impact of this information-driven economic revolution will be enormous.

Unlike the world’s revolutions of the past, this one will explode with exponential speed.

You can see it happening with artificial intelligence (think Alexa or Siri), robotics, self-driving vehicles etc.

Traditional Radio Faces Grim Future

And on August 30, 2017 came a study by Larry S. Miller, Director of the Steinhardt Music Business Program at New York University that says radio is faced with a paradigm shift. He outlines why radio must adapt to the rise of digital.

I know that the NAB and Nielsen have already come out with their side of the story regarding this report by Mr. Miller.

But maybe instead of throwing stones, we should stop living in our own glass houses.

Radio CANNOT survive doing things the way they’ve always done them.

If technology doesn’t seem like magic

It’s probably obsolete.

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Is Radio Ready for a Black Swan?

Once upon a time, radio employed a lot of people. Radio stations that operated 24/7 had to have a live person on duty every hour of every day.

Radio studios were different back then too. There were multiple turntables, cart machines, reel-to-reel recorders and multiple microphones/headphones in every studio. In short, there was lots of redundancy. Radio wasn’t very fragile.

But as technology invaded the radio world, computers would replace just about every piece of equipment in the building; saddest of all were the people. They increased efficiency by a lot.

That’s what disruption does. Disrupts. Everything.

Ironically, there’s a relationship between all this efficiency and fragility. As computers increased efficiency it also increased radio’s fragility.

In those early days, lose a phonograph needle or a cart machine, it was no big deal. However, when you lost a computer, you lost the entire radio station. This drive for efficiency eliminated the redundancy. (Most radio stations today have redundant computer networks to deal with crashes; but not all.)

In New York City, many radio and TV stations left the Empire State building when the World Trade Towers were erected. A couple didn’t. On 9/11 those that kept a redundant transmitter plant in place at the Empire State building were able to stay on the air when those iconic towers came down. That kind of redundancy wasn’t efficient, but it was smart and it made those broadcasters less fragile.

The problem is that in business, becoming more efficient means eliminating human redundancies. That’s been part of our high unemployment problem since the beginning of the digital revolution. All businesses are becoming more efficient through digital ecosystems. It’s these very ecosystems that eliminate lots of jobs.

When systems become more optimized, efficient and complex their fragility increases. Fragile systems often break suddenly and with no warning.

Consolidation contributes to this scenario by stacking optimized, efficient and complex systems into an even larger ecosystem that become top down managed through “best practices” strategies. Unfortunately, the reality of “best practices” is they are often more “average” than they are “best.” Often what’s best for one location, doesn’t translate to best for others. Best practices are really a “one size fits all” situation.

Before you argue that local decisions sometimes also fail (and I would not disagree with you), the failure is quarantined to a single location and does not impact the entire enterprise.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote about all of this in his book The Black Swan.

 “The Black Swan asymmetry allows you to be confident about what is wrong, not about what you believe is right.”

History teaches us the outcome of efficiency and fragility. But like the couple getting married who knows that between one third and one half of all marriages end in divorce is convinced they are the exception, companies operate with this same blind eye to the arrival of a black swan to fly into their path. Or as Taleb writes:

“If you survive until tomorrow, it could mean that either a) you are more likely to be immortal or b) that you are closer to death.”

The world we live in today is changing. No doubt about it. It’s a communications revolution. We can’t operate the way we’ve always done it. Taleb shares this example:

“Those who believe in the unconditional benefits of past experience should consider this pearl of wisdom allegedly voiced by a famous ship’s captain:

‘But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident… of any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.’

-E. J. Smith, 1907, Captain, RMS Titanic Captain Smith’s ship sank in 1912 in what became the most talked-about shipwreck in history.”

If there’s an industry that needs to be thinking about “black swans” and balancing efficiency with redundancy, it’s the radio industry.

People don’t have a favorite McDonalds or a favorite #2 pencil brand, but they do have a favorite radio station.

When a “black swan” swoops in, will you be ready?

Your listeners are depending on you.

Don’t disappoint them.

They love your radio station.

They trust you are prepared for black swans.

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