I remember entering Arbitron’s new facility when it opened in Columbia, Maryland. Everything was fresh and new and oh, so very sterile.
One of the managers could be seen chasing people around and chastising them for taping things to the walls or for having a cluttered desk.
This type of order is fine for an automobile assembly line, but not your radio station.
When I moved WLAN AM/FM from its original location in downtown Lancaster, PA to a brand-new facility, I told everyone that their workspace was theirs to decorate as they wished.
I even let everyone pick out their own style and color of desk and chair.
Everyone was excited for moving day to arrive and had been planning for months how they would set-up their new offices.
Studies have shown that when people are allowed to decorate their work place with the stuff and personal knickknacks they love, productivity can increase by as much as 32%. In fact, people are not only more productive, they are also happier and healthier.
Moves can be really disruptive to a business, but when I moved my Lancaster radio stations, we had a record setting year in both ratings and revenues.
Mix It Up
Another way to stimulate innovation and productivity in your station, is to create spaces where everyone bumps into each other on a regular basis.
When Steve Jobs was designing Apple’s new building, he purposely made sure there would be spaces that would cause employees from all sectors to come in contact with one another.
Diversity of thought and ideas come from everywhere and everyone.
So, break down the silos that walls create, and have some space that brings your people together like a tossed salad.
This will be a real challenge as COVID-19 sees more companies allowing their employees to continue to work from home as an option, versus daily commuting to an office.
The Take Away
The key thing to know about creating a productive work environment is this, you can’t dictate it. You have to empower your people to create it for themselves.
People who have power over their workspace tend to be more engaged, productive and collaborative.
Just remember, it can get a little messy at times, but that’s how greatness is birthed.
When the novel coronavirus turned our world upside down, life as we had known it was dramatically changed. About the closest thing I can compare it to was when I made the decision to retire, move from Kentucky to Virginia and get married; again.
Time to Retire
All my life I had witnessed stories in movies and on TV about people retiring. I remember my own dad being forced to retire at the age of 65, because back in the 70s General Electric Company had a mandatory retirement policy. It seemed like something people planned and looked forward to, and now, after a decades long career in broadcasting and then as a professor at a university, I had arrived. My wife and I planned out two years’ worth of road trips to see America from the ground. As a flight attendant for Delta, she had flown over most of the United States, but like me, longed to see it up close and personal; as can only be done from driving the highways and byways of this great land.
Life in Retirement
I will admit that retirement brings with it, major lifestyle changes, and I truly have learned to enjoy all of it. As an example, in the summer, pool aerobics takes place in an outdoor pool bathed in the warmth of the morning sun. What’s not to like about that?
You might think that a retired person’s life couldn’t have changed much when COVID-19 appeared, and the world closed down. Wrong! Those pool exercise programs were terminated, our planned cruise to Alaska via Canada was cancelled as the border between our countries closed, trips to visit our children and grand children were transformed into ZOOM visits and like everyone else we wore masks, used lots of hand sanitizer and took advantage of senior shopping hours (usually from 6-7am) which meant having to get up with an alarm clock once again.
The global pandemic brought lifestyle changes to the world that were as dramatic as retirement. It’s why after sitting in on the latest Fred Jacobs webinar, TechSurvey 2021, it was this single slide that made the most impact on me.
When radio station listeners were asked why they spent less time listening to radio, the number one and two responses were basically the same: Lifestyle Change.
People were spending less time in their cars as many were now working from home, going to school from their bedroom and meals were now being prepared in the house kitchens versus dining out.
Most people listened to traditional radio in their automobile, because it may be the only radio they own and when “Work From Home” (WFH) became the norm, car usage plummeted.
So, what did we do at home while we were sequestered? We streamed everything: movies, TV shows, music, newspapers, magazines, and visiting friends and relatives, were all made possible via internet.
The last time the world saw so many important structural changes as we’re experiencing today, was in the 1920s; a time when commercial radio was born, and a time when people were yearning for change after experiencing a two year global pandemic from the “Spanish Flu.”
Reassessing the Meaning of Life
The disruption brought with COVID-19 has caused many people to really think about what’s important in their life. This great reassessment is going on at all levels of the American economy causing many people to decide if they want to do something different with their lives. People have realigned their priorities when it comes to what’s important to them, and what makes for a happy, fulfilling life.
Sixty-six percent of unemployed people in a recent Pew Survey said they had “seriously considered” changing their field of work, which might help to explain why certain businesses are having a hard time re-hiring workers as COVID vaccinations are re-opening our economy.
Reassessing Media Usage
The sequestering at home saw, according to TechSurvey 2021, that streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ saw a 35% increase in use, followed by a 15% increase in usage of streaming music services like Spotify and Pandora, as well as spending time on social media. Video gaming was up 13% and the radio station that sent these radio listeners this year’s TechSurvey showed a 10% increase.
It’s important to note that the people who love listening to radio, put listening to their favorite radio personality ahead of hearing their favorite music as the reason they listen.
The Lego Lesson
Now you might be thinking that as a radio owner/manager “Ineed to be doing more.” That seems to be human nature when anyone is contemplating how to beat their previous performance; whether that means increasing audience ratings or bottom line revenues.
Let me tell you about a study where participants were asked to modify a structure built with Legos. Most participants added more bricks – our gut instinct that to do better, it will take more of something – but the better strategy it turns out was to remove a few Lego bricks from the structure.
When it comes to improving your radio operation, might you find a better result by subtracting rather than adding? When you keep things simple focusing on those things that made you successful, magic happens.
It was true when radio was born, and it’s even more important today, but don’t take my word for it, listen to what radio listeners say is the main reason they’re still listening in the latest TechSurvey.
Radio’s most important assets are its air personalities.
For 51 weeks out of the calendar year Dick employs his magic pen, using words to bring you his ideas, as well as the latest statistics and always a bit of history on where radio is charting it’s next course, putting together a verbal sound to the industries current color and posture.
I journey with this incredible man weekly, suggesting commas, periods, paragraphs, and sometimes a different word or two to give a new perspective to the blog’s overall composition.
For the second year, Dick has asked me to use his Dias and share my perspective of the most important of all holy days, the Easter season.
My story is very simple; “I have chosen” to be a part of a strong and quiet faith, a faith that has been extensively and greatly tested, but never ever has it faltered.
In my life time I have not known one person that has not muddled their way through pain and the many tall dark cavernous mountain ranges that accompanies these eventual wounds, climbing steep and jagged cliffs with enormous slippery boulders, which always lead to the end result, of being able to overlook the waters of the calm sea.
In the last 100+ years this country went through two World Wars, the 1918 flu pandemic, as well as the GreatDepression consuming the world of our parents and grandparents. But as we look at those bolded words on paper- they literally mean nothing to us, it’s just history.
Now on the other hand, looking at our past year, and the chaotic toxic moments that we’ve lived, “this too is history,” history for future generations to read. So, through this…
What Have We Learned
Every one of us has experienced the fall into Alice’s “rabbit hole.” Covid, nasty politics, a contentious election, needless shootings, drug wars, all leading to provoked anger, outraged anger and even a milder form of pacified anger.
Neighbor pitted against neighbor, battling over whose point of view was right, some to the point of losing a family member or a dear friendship. And in the final analysis we all are no better than the story that made up the Wild Wild West.
When one chooses to walk on this dark side, (and yes, it is a choice) can you honestly say that you are living the 11th commandment,
“That you love one another, even as Christ has loved you.”
Instead of implementing simple words such as, “we agree to disagree. We chose to listen to needless gossiping, encourage bullying by making fun of the other for wearing or not wearing a mask, or voting for someone different than your agenda, downgrading the other and enforcing your righteous ways by making the other see ‘your’ mindset.
Helen Keller, the amazing women that lived in darkness all of her life, never had the time to be mean, and focused her attentions on the positive, sharing a quote with us;
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched;
they must be felt with the heart.”
Now with all this, you are probably bored with these endless words of a Pollyanna, but this is where my story turns.
Here we are, the stormy waters of 2020 are starting to subside and we are now skimming the surface of these waters. You won’t remember how you made it through and in a few years your version of this history won’t even be close to the real truth, but, you managed to survive, some have not, and for some that storm will never be over. But one thing is for certain, when you do completely emerge, you will not be the same person who walked in. That’s what a storm is all about. This is also a definition of Grief. Everything is different, everything will be different, and it’s okay.
“No winter lasts forever; and no spring skips it’s turn”
The very first Easter showed us that Life never ends, and Love never dies.
Making the greatest gift of Easter — hope, renewal and new life
Last May, Dick and I changed our life style, definitely not because we wanted to but because we had to. We are older, retired and not of the mindset to want anything different – same, same worked for us. We definitely had to WORK at change, mentally and physically, but we worked at it together, in very small doses. After a lot of fussing, we realized that we only needed to make two changes, that being the elimination of starches from our diet and walking 2.5 to 5 miles a day. This change has paid off, as we are each both down numerous pounds and have tremendous energy.
The reason I mention this gets back to the content of the article.
One Can Change, If One WANTS To
You’re not going to change the world, that’s literally impossible, but you can change you – work at being that walking lesson, be silent in your beliefs, but be full of Love for anyone and everyone. As we now step to the different version of pre-covid, you have an end result in your possession, seeing that new as “HOPE”.
Let’s look at our neighbor, our co-worker, a great uncle, homeless person, mentally challenged individual, a person of different race, color or culture with a new quiet, peaceful silence, but also take the time to listen to them, they too have a story, there will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself, be at peace with God, but more importantly, keep peace with your soul.
Our warmest thoughts are being sent to you and your treasured family.
Sue & Dick
Susan is a graduate of Concordia University with a degree in Family Life Education and is a Certified Grief Counselor. God joined us together in 2018.
Every night, the music of Enya lulls us off to dreamland. One of our favorite songs is “The Humming.” A line from that song is “only change is here to stay.”
I’ve often written in this blog about the only constant in life is change, and that if you’re not changing your life for the better, you’re changing it for the worse, for nothing stays the same. Nothing.
Changes in Communication
Watching the Ken Burns documentary on “Country Music” it was very clear the important role that radio played in spreading the popularity of this musical genre. But that was then, today the smartphone is at the center of everyone’s life.
The latest from Edison Research now says that 88% of Americans over the age of 12 own and use a smartphone; 250 million, to be exact.
The wireless phone companies will tell you that today we use our smartphones primarily for data. Edison Research tells us that 82% of Americans are now active on social media platforms, the top three being Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
While 32% of homes in the U.S. don’t have a single AM/FM radio in them, 47% now have a smart speaker.
Today, 193 million Americans – or 68% of adults 12 years of age and older – digitally consume audio using one of these smart devices.
AM/FM radio’s last place of dominance is the vehicle dashboard. WFH (Work From Home) eliminated the need to commute for a lot of people, thereby causing them to spend less time with traditional radio in their cars.
McKinsey Global Institute says at least 20% of people currently in the WFH mode won’t ever be returning to an office after the pandemic ends. Just as alarming for radio station owners is the recent report by Edison Research that shows the percentage of people who listen to audio on their smartphone in their cars is now at 50%.
“We’re recovering to a different economy.”
-Jerome H. Powell, Federal Reserve Chairman
Before COVID-19, we already were doing video conferencing and phone calls on platforms like Go To Meeting, Face Time, WebX, or Skype. But then the world was shut down by a novel coronavirus and it was ZOOM that suddenly became the dominant platform for teaching school, conducting government, running our courts, attending church, working from home, celebrating our weddings and birthdays, and just about everything else we used to do in person.
ZOOM is the best example of how fast our world changed when COVID-19 struck.
How did ZOOM do it? By investing the time to know what their video conferencing customer wanted, knowing it better than anyone else and then delivering it best when the critical moment – a global pandemic – arrived.
“Spend a lot of time talking to customers face-to-face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers.”
– H. Ross Perot
Your listeners are changing, your advertisers are changing, your world is changing. So, you’d better be listening carefully to understand how you must change to be relevant to their wants, needs and desires.
Because as Enya sings “only change is here to stay.”
The novel coronavirus has eliminated jobs in less time than it takes to read this sentence. Many of those jobs were going away anyway, but COVID-19 sped up their demise.
For real radio people, the phrase “you haven’t really worked in radio until you’ve been fired at least three times,” taught many of us how to deal with a sudden loss of income.
13 Lucky Years
I moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1984 to take over as general manager of WIIN/WFPG radio stations. At the young age of 32, I was promoted to my second general manager job; a job I would perform successfully for 13 years, until one day the stations were taken over by new owners.
Shortly after the closing, I learned that one of the owners would now become the new general manager, eliminating my position.
I quickly learned that I would receive no severance pay, that my job was ending immediately and that my company car had just turned into a New Jersey Transit Bus if I needed wheels.
My new home with its hefty mortgage was manageable with my former income, but not with an unemployment check.
While searching for my next radio management position, I traveled to a radio conference in Phoenix, Arizona. There I met another radio general manager who had also recently lost his job through a change in ownership. We were in the same situation, except he wasn’t as stressed out over landing his next position, as I was. Here’s what he shared with me that I never forgot.
Live Below Your Income
He told me as he advanced in the radio business, working in larger markets, and increasing his income, that he and his wife bought bigger houses, better cars and added lots of toys to their lifestyle. Each time when another job would end abruptly, he would become panicked and stressed out about quickly finding his next job. But when he moved to Phoenix, he told his wife that they were going to buy an affordable home and adopt a lifestyle they could manage, even if this job ended tomorrow. This time, they would live below their income and “build a rainy day fund.”
Why Don’t We Save?
Dan Ariely is an Israeli-American professor and author. He serves as a James B. Duke Professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. Recently a reader of his Wall Street Journal column asked “Many people I know have lost their jobs during the pandemic, which made me realize I needed to set up an emergency savings fund. But my job is secure so far, so it hasn’t felt very urgent to put money in the account. What can I do to make sure I contribute to my emergency savings every month?”
Dan told his reader “research shows that we are much more likely to save money for a specific personal goal than simply because it’s the right thing to do. The better way to look at this is to calculate how much you need to pay your mortgage or rent for three months, or to buy food for your family etc. When you think of saving as protecting those you love and meeting particular needs, you are more likely to commit to making regular contributions.”
I did something very similar after landing my next position, with the caveat of making the saving part, automatic. I calculated how much I would need to live and then directed the remainder to be automatically direct deposited into my “rainy day savings account.”
Sleep Like a Baby
One of the worst feelings you can have as a parent is not having the finances to take care of your family.
The change in my spending/savings habits gave me real peace of mind and I have slept like a baby ever since. I never felt like I was making a sacrifice either, as I would learn that life isn’t about acquiring more and more things, the secret to enjoying life is learning to appreciate the things you already have.
“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
-from Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince
Pick a Profession, Not a Job
Just as important as financial security, is your health and well-being. For that, you need to be employed in something where you can’t wait to get up every morning.
If you want to become really good at something, you’ll need to spend years honing your craft. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes a person 10,000 hours to really master something, so you better love what you’re doing.
Cleveland radio air personality, Michael Stanley, passed away this week. He wrote a goodbye letter to his WNCX listeners that said in part, “it’s been said that if you love your job then it’s not really work and if that’s really true (and I definitely think it is) then I have been happily out of work for over fifty years!”
I too was fortunate to have found a profession I made into a lifelong career and have enjoyed for over 50 years. Just like it’s important to live below your income level, it’s just as important to spend your days filled with doing things you’re passionate about.
Today, writing this blog and volunteering as a radio personality on a non-profit radio station continues to be my joy and hopefully provides mentorship and entertainment value to others.
Life is not about the destination, for it’s the same for each of us, it’s about the journey.
For Sue & I, while we were just vaccinated on Friday, the wearing of face masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing is unlikely to change for us for the rest of 2021, if not longer.
Based on my research of pandemics past, I realized very early that this would be about a two year disruption and I suspect that when we say “Happy New Year” and ring in 2022, things will finally be on course for whatever the “new normal” is.
Working From Home, most often abbreviated as “WFH,” has also changed people’s media habits.
A year ago I wrote that I expected most people would consume their media by streaming it via the internet. The latest research has shown that is exactly what happened. eMarketer data showed that traditional radio broadcasts were eclipsed by digital audio, mid-2020. This week, Edison Research reported, that 30% of all audio listening now occurs on mobile devices; unless you’re between the ages of 13-34, then that number is 46%. Not surprisingly, this age group’s listening to audio on an AM/FM radio receiver is down to only 20%.
Working from home meant that those people who normally listened to AM/FM radio while commuting in their car, were now doing their audio consumption where they live, and 32% of today’s households don’t have a single AM/FM radio in them. However, 44.2% of homes today have a voice activated assistant, like Amazon’s Alexa, to access their favorite audio content.
Audio in Cars
The global pandemic has forced all of us to get used to new ways of doing every little thing, such as shopping online, streaming video entertainment on huge flat screen TVs and asking Alexa for assistance like she had become a member of the family. We’ve become so comfortable with these new Artificial Intelligence (AI) devices that we might start to wonder what life was like before them.
I remember when I used to tell advertisers that a car was a “radio on wheels.”
Now I don’t have a new car, but my 2009 Honda Accord has a fabulous sound system that seamlessly connects to my iPhone and streams my audio content in my car. My car radio is locked on “AUX.” (I know I’m not alone.)
The End of Commuting
Bill Gates shocked the world when he predicted in November of last year that 50% of all business travel would never come back and that 30% of the days people spent in an office would likewise disappear forever. McKinsey Global Institute pretty much corroborated Gate’s predictions by adding that 20% of workers would continue to work from home indefinitely.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell, puts it this way, “We’re recovering to a different economy.”
Disney Closing Mall Stores
Disney plans to close 20% of its Disney Stores saying that they’ve seen changes in the ways people shop due to COVID-19 and that the future means people will continue to shop online. As a result, Disney plans to focus on e-commerce, its Apps and social media platforms. Disney says the data shows that the global pandemic increased the speed of change from brick-and-mortar to online shopping by half a decade.
Movies & Streaming
Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek went even further in announcing the company’s future, saying that the days of releasing new movies to theaters for several months before bringing them to their streaming platform, are over. For example, when “Raya and the Last Dragon” hits the theaters this month, it will simultaneously be available on Disney+ for subscribers for an additional $30.
Disney+ has exceeded everyone’s expectations, rapidly growing to over 95 million paying subscribers. The biggest surprise to this streamer of family content was that over 50% of those subscribers don’t have children.
Worst Year in Pay-TV History
2020 was a record year for cord-cutting according to analysis of cable TV subscribers by MoffettNathanson. Cable TV lost six million subscribers dropping cable’s household penetration level to a low, not seen in thirty years. Smart TVs are the primary reason people now stream their video content from the internet.
Award Shows Audiences in Decline
Audiences for the Academy Awards, Grammy’s, Golden Globes and Primetime Emmys have all been in a steady decline since 2000. The first of these 2021 award shows, and a harbinger for those to come, the Golden Globes, set a record low for NBC’s telecast of these awards.
Where Have All the Sports Fan Gone?
You might have thought with people stuck at home, that sports would have seen solid television audiences, but that wasn’t the case. 2020 saw a drop in viewership for practically every sport. Compared with 2019, the NBA Finals were down 51%, the NHL Finals were down 61%, the U.S. Open tennis matches were down 45%. Even the Kentucky Derby recorded its lowest TV audience ever, falling 49% from 2019, to just over eight million viewers.
Television’s biggest audience draw for many years has been the NFL and the Super Bowl, but not this year. The big game’s audience was the lowest it has been in fifteen years.
If Misery Loves Company…
Pro Sports, Harley Davidson and broadcast radio/TV are all suffering from a similar problem, they aren’t attracting the next generation. Generation Z Americans, those born after 1996, just aren’t that into sports, Harley’s and traditional media, like previous generations.
That’s probably why, when the NFL started asking for a 100% increase in TV rights payments, Disney (owner of ESPN) immediately rejected it.
However, streamers, like Amazon Prime and AppleTV+ may give the NFL the money they want, but will those high rights fees manifest in higher premiums for subscribers.
For the maker of “The Hog” and traditional broadcast media, the future is as challenging. Harley Davidson is looking to make their motorcycle line all electric, following the lead of the world’s automobile industry, and hoping it will attract new riders to their brand. Radio/TV broadcasters are also trying to capture new audiences with Apps, streaming and podcasts.
“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Anyone who thinks their business will return to the way it was, once COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror, will be hanging the “Gone Fishing” sign out, be down-for-the-count or just plain out-of-business.
It’s time for all of us to be thinking like Gretzky.
My church recently sent its Annual Report for 2020 to all its members. It reminded me that it was on March 13, 2020 that in-person worship service was suspended at our church, along with all other activities because of the highly infectious nature of COVID-19.
Pastor Martha Sims wrote, “In its 267-year history, this congregation has had its share of difficult times; fires and conflicts and even some changes that resulted from the virus of 1918.”
The 1918-1920 global pandemic, often referred to as the “Spanish Flu,” caused my church to end the use of a common cup for communion during services and begin using little individual glasses. While communicants had the option to either continue to drink wine from the common cup or use the new individual glasses, the record shows that people quickly adjusted to the new normal and both methods did not have to be offered beyond that first Sunday morning of the change.
I share this story with you, because setting up those little individual glasses for the communion wine, and then collecting them, washing them and putting them back out again for the second Sunday morning service was something my wife and I participated in as part of our church service. But now I wonder what the future will hold regarding more changes in this and other areas of our church life after what COVID-19 has taught us.
We’ve dined out on only a few occasions, mainly due to traveling, and noticed that restaurants now give patrons a paper menu that is disposed of after orders are taken.
Hand sanitizer is found in every store you go into these days, often with signs asking people to use it upon entering. Might we find these changes remain, post-COVID?
Radio Personalities Broadcasting from Home
Broadcast programming consultant, Gary Berkowitz, hosted his first ZOOM call with radio programmers from throughout the United States and Canada talking about how they’re dealing with the global pandemic in their radio operations. What struck me most was that all of the radio stations had equipped their personalities with high quality microphones, processing, laptops and high-speed internet service to do their shows and/or voice track them from home.
Personalities in places like New York City and Philadelphia were broadcasting from their apartment or basement on some of America’s top radio stations.
One personality said he had to get special permission to go into the radio station to do a special Christmas broadcast, taking calls from youngsters who wanted to talk to Santa, because it wasn’t possible to execute this from his home studio.
A Canadian programmer said his radio group spent about $2,500 per personality to equip them with the best equipment to broadcast from home, and that it has worked out seamlessly with no disruption to any of their radio stations normal programming. Might this become permanent?
Bob Van Dillen
It’s not just radio personalities, but television personalities too. Bob Van Dillen is the meteorologist on HLN’s Morning Express with Robin Meade. Since the pandemic hit, Bob has been doing his weather forecasts from the safety of his home.
I also noticed that some of our local TV anchors and reporters on NBC4 out of Washington, DC are doing this too.
I’ve done a lot of reading about past global pandemics, with the intent of trying to learn how they made permanent changes to the world going forward. What I’ve learned is, there really is nothing to compare with what we’re going through, with those of the past.
Probably the biggest reason this time is so different is the existence of the internet. Never before has the world been able to continue operating to such a large extent by being so instantly connected as we are today.
Almost everything we need, can now be obtained via this communications innovation.
Our last medical appointment with our doctor was done over a ZOOM-like connection. Our weekly church service is broadcast live on Facebook and on-demand recordings are available for later viewing on YouTube. Our church has already committed to continuing video church services even when in-person services can once again take place.
In my home, all of our television viewing is via streaming, using AppleTV, FireTV, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and YouTube.
I access the world of radio, via streaming as well these days by simply asking Alexa for the station or audio content I wish to hear.
Audio Tipping Point Crossed in 2020
While we were all consumed with trying not to contract COVID, the average time spent listening to traditional radio (AM/FM) was surpassed by listening to digital audio.
“ When we change the way we communicate, we change society.” -Clay Shirky
The Future of Radio is to Meet the Listener Where They Are
Today’s audio consumer is more likely to be accessing audio content via digital streaming than through an AM/FM radio set and they are also more likely to want some visual content along with their audio. It will be critical for broadcasters to be offering programming – both audio & visual – that is engaging and delivers what people want.
Broadcasters will have to take into consideration the environment the media consumer is using their product in, and take full advantage of all the technology advances it offers, be it at home, at work or in the car.
In other words, it’s time for broadcast media to start making plans to remodel the way they communicate with their audience. The first question every broadcaster will need to be asking is:
How relevant are we to our media consumer in this environment?
Admit it, 2021 doesn’t feel like anything more than “2020, the Sequel.”
In addition to COVID-19 continuing to mutate and spread around the world, we are getting ready for another Senate Impeachment Trial. We did flip the calendar, didn’t we?
Bruce Mehlman is a Washington, DC attorney who publishes some very insightful PowerPoints. His latest is titled “Crossroads.” I encourage you to take a moment to review the entire slide deck, but if you’re time challenged, here are some key points that Bruce makes. I think you will find these very encouraging.
Reasons for Hope
Bruce found 20 Hopeful Headlines You May Have Missed
Digital Transformation is Accelerating
Mehlman points to nine areas where accelerating digital transformations will improve the world:
Cities & Retail
Wellness & Fitness
The biggest challenge facing us is not COVID-19 or the Economy or even China, but TRUST. When it comes to media, 56% of Americans believe “journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations,” and that should be very concerning for any media professional.
If people don’t trust us for giving them the straight story when it comes to news, what makes you think they will trust our advertisers?
For an ad-supported industry, TRUST is tantamount, which is why last week I wrote about the trust problem with “Subscriber First,” Nielsen Audio’s new policy of only releasing the ratings of subscribing stations to the radio trades. You can’t trust what you see, because you’re not seeing all the stations impacting a radio marketplace. You can read that article by clicking HERE
Recommendations for Leaders at the Crossroads
Mehlman makes five excellent suggestions for the leaders of any business or industry:
Communicate Directly, Truthfully & Often Business is now more trusted than politicians or media outlets thanks to pandemic straight-talk. TRUST begins with telling the truth.
Support Constructive Leaders It’s time to stand up for people who are doing the right thing, stop treating responsible and irresponsible players like they are equals. It’s also important that we engage those we hope to change.
Leverage Your Power Business has become the “4th branch of government” according to Axios. We need to take responsibility and own the impact we’re making on society and not do things we know to be wrong or bad, because we want to put a dollar in our pocket. You have power over what programming you put on your airwaves, and the people you endorse. Set a good example for others by the way you run your business by championing causes that will make a positive difference in your community.
Lead By Example Modern media and politics reward outrage, division and sanctimony rather than pragmatic problem-solving. It’s way past time for change! The documentary “The Brainwashing of My Dad” shows the power we wield. As media companies we need to demonstrate the value of cooperation with others in creating a better world.
We’re All In This Together Doing your part is no longer enough. Societal and global risks threaten to overwhelm our system, demanding collective action. Sometimes you need to go outside of your lane.
I encourage you to click on this link and see the full PowerPoint slide deck that Bruce Mehlman has thoughtfully prepared. You will find it HERE
In November of last year, I wrote a blog titled “Why Make Radio Advertising Harder to Buy?” It was inspired by articles in all the radio trades on how Nielsen Audio was no longer going to provide buyers with any data pertaining to non-subscriber radio stations through their ratings service. It would be as if these radio stations had vanished from their markets.
That sounded pretty scary!
Winchester, Virginia Nielsen Audio Ratings
Well this week, the latest Nielsen Audio Ratings for my radio marketplace were released and it was startling.
Was it possible that the only radio stations impacting the Winchester, Virginia radio market were owned my iHeartMedia or was something missing?
Winchester, Virginia Eastlan Radio Ratings
The answer, as I’m sure you guessed, something IS missing, all the non-subscribing radio stations that put a signal into the Winchester metro don’t appear.
Eastlan Ratings has committed to showing ALL radio stations in its radio listening reports.
The first thing you notice is that iHeartMedia doesn’t have the #1 radio station in the Winchester Metro, Centennial Broadcasting’s WINC-FM/WXBN-FM has that position and by almost five share points.
Nielsen vs. Eastlan vs. Arbitron vs. Birch
Over the years, as I studied the different ratings services, it gave me some sense of how they differ.
When I managed WFPG-FM, a Bonneville Beautiful Music formatted radio station in South Jersey, Arbitron’s diary methodology was very good at finding the older adults that enjoyed this music presentation. When Birch decided to measure the market, their telephone methodology found all the young adults that enjoyed album oriented rock. As you might have guessed, I never purchased a Birch Ratings Report.
When Arbitron and Eastlan measured the same radio market, I noticed they were both good at reporting listening to the dominant, high powered radio stations, but what made Eastlan different than Arbitron was finding listeners of small niche radio signals that never made it to the pages of the Arbitron report.
When Nielsen Audio took over Arbitron, this sampling methodology remained unchanged.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
It seems that the song the big radio owners were singing when announcing the change to “Subscriber First” was Don’t Worry, Be Happy. But when I read the trades, I saw radio advertising buyers were anything BUT happy.
Agency buyers said they expected the ratings reports they bought to be an accurate representation of the market, but if reports don’t show the non-subscriber stations, then those ratings become basically useless.
Nielsen Audio has said that agencies can get all the stations IF they pay more for respondent level data (RLD), according to published reports. But will they?
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
With the start of a brand new year, it appears the first punch has been landed. Non-subscribing radio stations have been erased from Nielsen Audio’s Topline Data, the data used by the radio trades like AllAccess Music Group, Inside Radio, RadioInsight, Radio Ink, and Radio Business Reports. For radio lovers, like me, these published reports are totally useless.
Winners & Losers
The reality is that even if everyone pays to have access to the data, only the very top performing radio stations will enjoy the benefits. Often any station not rated number one or number two – will be paying for data that in the end only helps the market’s “big dawgs.” For many stations, it’s paying big money for nothing in return.
Radio Ad Sellers vs. Radio Ad Buyers
Radio ad buyers want to know who’s listening to what, and when, and for how long etc. And early indicators are showing radio buyers, as a group, are none too pleased with this change. Sadly, the people who appear to have never been consulted about this change, were, radio ad buyers.
“How am I doing?”
-Ed Koch, Mayor – New York City 1978-1989
One of the things I told my broadcast sales students was something I learned from Mayor Koch, if you want to know how you’re doing, ask. Mayor Koch was famous for asking people everywhere he went, “How am I doing?” They told him. And he listened. That’s how he was elected to three terms as New York City’s mayor.
With the country still in the grips of COVID-19, the timing for this change comes at an especially bad moment for the radio industry. Instead of increasing transparency of radio’s impact, it’s making it opaquer.
Might an unintended consequence be for advertisers to try another medium to advertise in that gives them more consumer engagement data?
E-Commerce Usage Explodes
COVID-19 has seen an acceleration of E-Commerce adoption by consumers of all ages. Everything from essential goods to holiday gifts are being bought online, which McKinsey & Company, an American worldwide management consulting firm, says compressed ten years of E-Commerce adoption into three months. Part and parcel with this change is a massive shift in consumer behavior, the type of shift that historically used to take decades to occur. These changes were already in motion before the onset of the global pandemic, but COVID’s impact was like hitting the fast-forward button.
Consumer behavior is moving in the direction of convenience and speed, should radio station operators think it will be any different for the behavior of buyers of advertising? If it gets harder to figure out what a market’s true listening habits are, if it takes more money, more elbow grease to get to the bottom of the audience estimates, do you think they might opt for a new direction?
Ad buyers have never had more choices. Once they invest their ad dollars in a new directions, they may never return.
“There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’:
Illegal drugs and software.”
My good friend and expert radio researcher, Charlie Sislen at The Research Director, poses more questions about the impact this change will make for both subscribers and non-subscribers in his blog and asks: “Is it Nielsen’s primary job to deliver data that properly reflects all radio listening in a local market OR to increase its profits for their parent company and shareholders?”
A long time reader of this blog, who is a major market personality, asked me “in your opinion is there any chance the industry will turn around?” This question assumes that the radio industry is going in the wrong direction. Is it?
The World is Constantly Changing
I often pondered if the town blacksmith ever wondered, as he saw motorcars become more common, if America’s transportation system would one day “turn around” and return to one powered by horses? For many Amish people, horse power remains as vital to their lives as it has always been. Horsepower in our time has been a way we measured the output of our fossil fueled engines, in our motorized vehicles.
We need to realize that changes and evolution are the realities of life. Nothing stays the same. Does anyone think the radio industry is exempt?
I’m communicating with you right now via the internet. When I first started on the internet, it was by using a dialup modem over the same telephone line my house phone used to make and receive telephone calls.
My first internet service was an interactive personal service called “Prodigy.”
Dial-up was very slow, crashed a lot and sometimes it took several attempts to get a phone connection for your computer.
Prodigy’s business model depended on rapidly growing its advertising and online shopping business. It created email and message boards primarily to aid people in shopping, not for general communication between users, which in practice is what it became. Ironically, at a time when long distance calls were billed by the minute, Prodigy’s message boards exploded in popularity with users who would stay connected to the service far longer than projected with the result of driving up Prodigy’s operational expenses and negatively impacting cash flow for its stakeholders.
Prodigy, which began operations in 1984, would finally disappear in April of 2013. (That’s a life span of less than thirty years.) By that time, I had long departed the service for the much more robust America On Line (AOL).
At the end of 2020, my street was wired with fiber optic cable and our house abandoned Xfinity’s copper wire and download/upload speeds of 117/5 Mbps (Megabits per second) for the more symmetrical offering from Glofiber of 300 Mbps upload/download speed for around $15 less per month in cost.
I tell you this because back in the 90s, dialup access to the world wide web was amazing. It was like experiencing AM radio in the days when all that was available were newspapers and magazines to connect daily with the world. We gladly suffered through busy signals when trying to connect our computer modems and never realized how slow our connection speeds were. Like AM radio, it was good for its day but I seriously doubt you would want to return to that type of internet service after you’ve experienced high speed digital via fiber optic cable.
Just in case you are wondering, the 300 Mbps symmetrical connection speed I signed up for is the slowest speed offered. They offer up to 2 Gigabits per second but not being a gamer, I seriously have no need for anything that robust for what I use the internet for.
AM, FM, Streaming
AM radio was incredible 100 years ago when commercial radio service was licensed to begin operating in the United States. AM radio listening was eclipsed by FM radio listening in the late 70s, which is the dominate way most American’s hear broadcast radio. However, we’re now fifty years beyond that time and living in a world where audio listening can be fully customized and on demand whether you want music, talk, the sound of ocean waves, or crickets.
January 2021 is seeing another round of stimulus checks coming out from the Federal government. When Generation Z and Millennials were asked how they planned to spend their $600 check, after some basics like groceries, rent and overdue bills, their next most important expenditure would be for video games/consoles that filled their entertainment passion while they socially distanced at home.
COVID-19 changed the way people bought a new car. As we were all forced to work, play, shop and communicate online, consumers found they could just as easily shop for cars via the internet as well. Moreover, surveys have shown that consumers really liked it and don’t plan to return to the old ways of buying a car. Car dealers, which had been resisting doing business this way for decades, now find themselves having little choice but to embrace this disruptive change or go out-of-business.
59% of Americans say they plan to continue working out in their own home when asked about returning to a physical gym after the pandemic subsides. Among Millennials, that number grows to 81%, according to a survey by The New Consumer.
Interestingly, gyms are now finding themselves in the same situation as arcades. Once upon a time, people went to malls or amusement centers to play video games, but that’s been replaced by playing those games on a video gaming system, like Xbox or PlayStation.
The Power of Talent
I’ve often written that the “secret sauce” of great radio stations are their air personalities behind the mic.
Alexandra Bonetti, a fitness studio owner in New York, observed the bond that fitness clients formed with a particular instructor. This led her to create a tech startup called “Talent Hack.”
When COVID closed down gyms, fitness instructors suddenly found themselves on their own. (Not so dissimilar to the radio industry jettisoning their air personalities.)
Bonetti’s “Talent Hack” allowed fitness instructors to continue to serve their clients and monetize their talents.
It’s in challenging times like these that new business models like Talent Hack emerge.
The New Nature of Work
While technology accelerated the pace of our work lives, it never fundamentally changed the nature of the way we work. However, COVID-19 mandated changes to the nature of work in all industries.
For many, working from home was no longer a luxury but a necessity, due to social distancing.
Once business owners and their employees learned they could do their jobs remotely, real change to the nature of work was in the wind. Now it has been proven that people could work from anywhere, and that epiphany will produce profound changes for our cities, our transportations systems, our communications networks, the work week, and the work day going forward.
Accelerated by this global pandemic, the challenge has become NOT to turn things around, but to implement the changes needed to thrive in this changed world.
More to the point, the question is not whether the radio industry will turn itself around, but rather is it headed in the right direction? And from my vantage point, the jury is still out on that question.