Tag Archives: COVID-19

Will the Radio Industry Turn Around?

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?

The Internet

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).

Digital Fiber

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.

Stimulus Checks

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.

Car Buying

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.

GYMS

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.

“What you are going to be tomorrow

you are becoming today.”

-John Maxwell

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2021 the Beginning of a New Year and Decade

Last year at this time, we were debating whether 2020 was the end of the second decade of the 21st Century or the beginning of the third decade. (Spoiler Alert: it was the end. Decades start with 1 and end with 0.)

I remember being anxious for 2019 to end, but after the challenging year that 2020 became, I couldn’t for the life of me remember why 2019 was so bad. So, I decided to look back to find out what was happening. These are only some of the highlights that made 2019 an anxious year for me, and others.

United States Government Shutdown

On January 3, 2019 Democrats took control of the United States House of Representatives. Hopes were high that they would end the government shutdown. The shutdown had now been going on 22 days, leaving 800,000 employees unpaid, becoming the longest in U.S. history.

College Admissions Scandal

We learned of a college admissions scandal where around 50 people had been accused of bribery and fraud to secure admission to elite colleges for their children. The scandal featured two familiar faces, actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. (I’ll never think of “Aunt Becky” the same way again.)

Huffman would serve 14 days in prison, fined $30,000 and be required to perform 250 hours of community service for her involvement in the scandal. Loughlin and her husband would continue to fight into 2020 before settling with prosecutors, heading off to jail and paying fines.

The Mueller Report

What seemed like forever, 2019 was the year that Robert Mueller finally turned in his report on the 2016 Presidential election after a nearly two-year investigation on whether the Trump Campaign helped Russia interfere with our election. Attorney General William Barr would reduce the report’s findings to a four page letter to Congress that in essence said ‘there’s nothing to see here.’

Hats Get Thrown into Presidential Race for 2020

By the time Joe Biden threw his hat into the ring, announcing he was running for President in 2020, 20 candidates, the largest field of presidential candidates in U.S. history, were now all running against the incumbent, Donald Trump. It was in May of 2019, that Gallup’s tracking poll measured Trump’s approval rating at the highest of his presidency thus-far, 46%. (It never got any higher than 49%.)

That same month we also learned via the New York Times, that Donald Trump has lost $1.17 billion from his various businesses from 1985 to 1994, a far greater amount than previously known, and more than any tax payer in U.S. history.

Measles Outbreak

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June reported that there were 971 cases of measles in the United States, the highest level in more than 25 years.

Jeffrey Epstein

Billionaire financier and registered sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, is taken into federal custody in New York on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to traffic minors in Florida and New York. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta would resign amid the controversy over his prosecution of Epstein in 2007, which raised lots of questions about how this case had been handled. Epstein, only months later, would be found dead in his jail cell.

NYC Blackout

Manhattan’s West Side was hit with a blackout, occurring exactly 42 years after the New York City blackout of 1977 that would also plunge much of New York City into blackness.

Election Security Blocked

Less than 24 hours after Special Counsel Robert Mueller warned of the continued threat of interference to America’s elections, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocks legislation designed to improve election security in the United States.

The Phone Call

In September, the inspector general of Intelligence, Michael Atkinson, communicates to the House Intelligence Committee that a whistleblower had issued an “urgent” and “credible” complaint involving an apparent July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian president Zelensky. This phone call would lead to the Impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump in January of 2020.

Opioid Crisis

America’s opioid crisis would see Purdue Pharma file for bankruptcy in response to lawsuits related to its participation in the crisis.

Impeachment Proceedings Announced

The end of September would see the announcement by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, that the House would begin a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that an IRS employee had filed a whistleblower complaint saying an unnamed political appointee at the United States Department of the Treasury tried to interfere with the tax audits for President Trump or Vice President Mike Pence.

On October 31, the U.S. House of Representatives votes 232 to 196 in favor of formally proceeding with an impeachment inquiry against President Trump. The first formal hearings to begin in November.

At those hearings, Gordon Sondland, the United States Ambassador to the European Union,  testified that there was a quid pro quo in the Ukraine scandal, pushed by Rudy Giuliani and ordered by Trump. The White House announces that President Trump will not participate in the House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing on December 3.

On December 18, the House votes to forward two articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate, accusing him of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. Donald Trump became only the third U.S. president to be impeached by the House.

2019

Looking back, there was little wonder why we were all looking forward to the end of 2019 and the start of 2020. Little did we know what lay ahead or that we would long for the way many of the things had been in the year just past.

We knew there would be an Impeachment trial in the Senate, but we never imagined our world would be closed down by a global pandemic and that the most powerful nation in the world would be brought to its knees in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 and dying of the novel coronavirus.

2021

Which brings us to not just the start of a new year, but the start of a new decade. We’re not out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot. Dr. Anthony Fauci believes the worst is yet to come. December became America’s deadliest month yet for COVID-19.

On top of that, our ‘make-believe economy,’ where there’s no such thing as risk, can’t go on forever, and according to Axios Markets editor Dion Rabouin, Wall Street knows it.

Creating New Habits

Experts in the study of human behavior tell us, that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit. On average, it takes about 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.

It was in March of this year that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, that was over 305 days ago.

If this lasts another six months, another 180 days, that would mean that we have been living with the new habits due to COVID-19 for 485 days. Does anyone seriously think that the new habits we’ve formed over that period of time will suddenly vanish?

Permanent Changes

This is not a blog about politics. It’s a media mentorship blog.

The big takeaway in today’s article is that the changes that have taken place during 2020 are becoming permanent. You can’t plan for the future by thinking life will return to the way it was in the first decades of the 21st Century. Hotels, for example, are now renting hotel rooms to people to use as an office, allowing them to get out of their house, but still remain COVID safe. Now that’s being creative! And if they can do it, what can your industry do?

We think too much and feel too little.

-Charlie Chaplin

So, take a moment to reflect on how the year just passed has changed you.

  • What did you love about the changes 2020 brought (no more commuting?).
  • What would you leave out or what would you do more of in 2021 to improve your career, and your life?
  • What did this year teach you, about yourself, your work, your life, your priorities?
  • What were you most grateful for?
  • Were you able to find happiness in things you previously overlooked or took for granted?
  • How will the things you learned in 2020, benefit you in 2021?

Think of 2021 as the year for letting go of the past.

Letting go of what was, is the way we create the space for building what can be.

Are you ready?

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Best of the Blog 2020

It’s been my tradition on the last Sunday of the year, to look back at the year that has just past and share with you the Top 5 Most Read and shared blog articles of the past 52-weeks. Maybe you missed them or perhaps you’d like to read them again.

To date, I’ve published 334 articles that have been viewed over 218,000-times around the world.

Most Read Article of 2020

COVID-19 and the global pandemic completely obliterated our 2020 travel plans. But in November, we decided we could just as easily isolate ourselves in a mountain cabin as in our own home and so we traveled to Mount Airy, North Carolina, more affectionately known as “Mayberry USA,” the home town of Andy Griffith.

While there, I discovered the most unique and historic local radio station; WPAQ. Radio in Mayberry USAwould become 2020’s most read blog article.

Sue, (my wife and the editor of this weekly blog) and I are big fans of “The Andy Griffith Show,” TV’s second most popular sitcom behind “I Love Lucy.” Mount Airy embraces the spirit of Mayberry, a time when the most important question of the day was what the special was at the diner.

Read why this article touched the hearts of so many HERE

Second Most Read Article of 2020

Even before COVID-19 would turn radio furloughs into permanent layoffs, the radio industry was eliminating people. What were called RIFs (Reductions In Force) back in 2009, were now being called “dislocations.”

The article, Dislocation is the New RIF would see the most comments of any I had written in 2020 and come in as the second most read and shared article of the year. It was published on January 19, 2020.

Read why the radio industry, so many of us fell in love with and made a career of, is melting away HERE

Third Most Read Article of 2020

Let’s face it, radio sellers have always had to be the best in the business. You couldn’t see, touch, smell or taste radio advertising, it could only be consumed by the ear. But the power to plant the seed of an idea through the ear, can be the most powerful of all the senses when used correctly.

That’s why, when Nielsen announced in 2021, it would only list radio stations in its reports that subscribed to its service and not the audiences of the entire radio market of stations. I along with many others, felt that buying radio advertising would become much more difficult. It’s why I wrote Why Make Radio Advertising Harder to Buy?

Read more about Nielsen’s new “Subscriber First” policy that begins in a matter of days from now HERE

Fourth Most Read Article of 2020

The fourth most read and shared article of 2020, I didn’t even really write. What I wrote about was a simple poem written by Kitty O’Meara, dealing with the 2020 global pandemic, that was being widely shared on social media and labeled as something written about the 1918-1919 global pandemic and how history was repeating itself. My article was a takeoff on a radio feature Paul Harvey made famous, called “The Rest of the Story.” I know you will enjoy this wonderful poem by Kitty titled And the People Stayed Home.”

You can read it HERE

Fifth Most Read Article of 2020

Sue and I are baby boomers. We grew up with radio. I made it my career. So, when our city’s 911 Manager stated, “people don’t listen to radio anymore, but they’re really into social media,” and the head of the British Broadcasting’s Radio division said “radio, as we’ve always known it, has lost the faith of listeners,” I knew I had to write about it in an article titled Where Have All the Baby Boomers Gone?

Sadly, the radio industry continues to jettison the very people that connect its stations with the listening audience, the radio personality.

You can read the article HERE

Most Read Articles, Period

Two of the articles I’ve written over the past five years continue to garner traffic. They are “SiriusXM Radio is Now FREE” and “The Day the Dumbest Idea Invaded the Radio Industry”.

I actually updated my article on SiriusXM, when I read about the incoming 2021 CEO’s plans to consider offering some ad-supported channels that would be receivable by all SiriusXM radios and would not require a subscription. You can read that follow-up article HERE

The record holder for any of my articles, all 334 of them, continues to be “We Never Called It Content”. Over 3,500 people read and shared it the day it was published on Sunday, September 6, 2015 and to date, just shy of 5,000 people have read it and 68-people have left a comment about it. Read it HERE

Why I Blog

I blog for broadcasters, educators and students. I blog to provide media mentorship and to pay-it-forward to the broadcasting industry that I have been a part of for over 50-years. I’m grateful for the more that 164,000 people from all over the world who have visited this blog (https://DickTaylorBlog.com) and have read an article that caught their interest.

FREE SUBSCRIPTIONS

You can subscribe/follow this blog for FREE and get a copy of each week’s article delivered to your email IN BOX every Sunday morning. To subscribe, simply go to the bottom right-hand corner of your screen and click on the FOLLOW button. (If you’re accessing this blog via mobile phone or tablet, that button might not be visible, so be sure to do this on a computer or laptop.)

Thank You for reading, next week I will begin my seventh year of blogging with all new articles.

Together we can all learn from one another by sharing our experiences, knowledge and wisdom. Feel free to contribute your thoughts to the discussion in the comments section. I read every one of them.

Happy New Year!

Dick & Sue

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Commercial Radio’s 100th Birthday

Election night at KDKA November 2, 1920

On Tuesday, October 27, 2020, commercial radio will celebrate it’s 100th birthday. It was on this day in 1920 that “the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation, which served as the radio licensing agency of the day, issued the first radio license ever to KDKA,” as told on the station’s website.

Radio Call Letters

Ironically, those famous Pittsburgh call letters – KDKA – don’t stand for anything. They were simply assigned to the station with its broadcast license from a roster maintained to provide identification for ocean going ships and marine shore radio stations. KDKA just so happened to be the next set of call letters up for being assigned with a broadcast license.

WJJW

This story is analogous to what happened at my college back in the 70s. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree from North Adams State College in 1974. During my four years at NASC, I helped to obtain the college’s FCC FM broadcast license and become its first general manager. I vividly remember standing in front of a classroom blackboard with my fellow college broadcasters trying to decide what call letters we wanted the FCC to assign to our station. During this meeting a knock came to the door, and the person who knocked handed me an important letter from the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, DC. I anxiously opened the envelope to find that the FCC had granted our request for an FM broadcast license and had pulled the next set of unassigned call letters off the roster to go with our license. Those call letters would be “WJJW.” And like KDKA, they would stand for absolutely nothing and there again, never changed.

Call Letters

Some of the radio stations I listened to over the years had call letters that represented something, like WLS & WCFL in Chicago. WLS owned by Sears, chose call letters that stood for “World’s Largest Store” and WCFL, chose call letters that stood for “Chicago Federation of Labor,” the name of their union. WCFL proudly called itself “The Voice of Labor” at the top of every hour when it was required to give its call letters and city of license.

Do you know what the call letters for WKBW in Buffalo and KHJ in Los Angeles stood for? WKBW’s call letters meant “Well Known Bible Witness” and KHJ had call letters that stood for “Kindness Happiness & Joy.” Neither radio station would mention the origin of their call letters during their Top 40 days.  

Radio stations I worked for and managed also had call letters that represented something:

  • WBEC – Berkshire Eagle Company (the local newspaper)
  • WBRK – Berkshires
  • WUPE – Whoopee Radio
  • WFPG – World’s Famous PlayGround (Atlantic City)
  • KOEL – the first three letters of its city of license, Oelwein, Iowa
  • WLAN – Lancaster, PA
  • WSUS – Sussex, NJ
  • WOND – WONDerful Radio (Atlantic City)
  • WNNJ – Northern New Jersey

Call letters today tend to have been replaced by other forms of identification, like “Kiss,” “Froggy,” or “The River,” with the only problem being that they’ve lost their unique, one-of-kind identity that call letters branding gave them.

When I say KHJ or WBZ, you immediately know I’m talking about a radio station and that the station is located either in Los Angeles or Boston. When I say “Kiss” or “Froggy” you have no idea of which Kiss or Froggy radio station I’m referring to nor where it is located.

KDKA Covers Its First General Election

Shortly after receiving its commercial broadcast license, KDKA began planning its coverage of that year’s general election results to begin at 6pm on Tuesday, November 2nd, 1920.

Four men would climb to a little shack on the roof of one of the Westinghouse Electric’s buildings in East Pittsburgh to report on the results relayed to that shack via telephone. Leo Rosenburg delivered the results, becoming radio’s first announcer on the first licensed American radio station. You can hear a recreation by Leo of that broadcast HERE

About a thousand people tuned in to hear the broadcast and they would be some of the first people that year to learn that Warren G. Harding had beat James Cox to become the next President of the United States.

Election Night 2020

One hundred years later, election night will be quite different. People will most likely learn of the results via their smartphone, and probably not until all the votes have been counted. Due to COVID-19, we can expect that the vote counting process will take days, or even weeks, before a victor is declared.

Remember, your vote is important. Many recent elections have been decided by the thinnest of margins.

Do your civic duty and please VOTE.

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The Play’s the Thing

William Shakespeare wrote “the plays the thing” in his famous play “Hamlet.” Actually, Hamlet says “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” Shakespeare had Hamlet planning to catch the king red-faced when confronted with his evil deeds presented in the play. In other words, he hoped to expose the king’s guilty conscience.

It’s my first week back from a little R&R, so I thought I’d try to convey a more optimistic tone.

SPOILER ALERT: This week’s blog has nothing to do with radio, television etc. but everything to do with life in troubled times.

The Plague

Alright, maybe this doesn’t sound like I’ve struck the right cord, but please bear with me.

From late 1592 until early 1594, people living in London were dealing with the bubonic plague, a scourge that had been around for thousands of years . The plague during these two years would kill more than 10,000 Londoners.

London was home to William Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. So, when the plague was ravishing London, much like COVID-19 is ravishing the United States, everything closed down.

All of the theaters of London actually closed down for a full year to prevent the spread of the black death. This occurred in the midst of Shakespeare’s career and life.

Good Times Don’t Last, but Neither Do the Bad Times

When the plague subsided, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre re-opened, people starved for entertainment lined up for his productions. Gate receipts were huge and inspired the Bard of Avon to write “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In fact, Shakespeare used his plague experience as source material in “Romeo and Juliet.” You might remember the scene where Friar John is sent to deliver a message to Romeo about Juliet’s fake death, but due to being suspected of living in a plague infected house, Friar John is quarantined and never completes his delivery.

When the plague’s second wave during Shakespeare’s lifetime came in 1603, he continued to write his plays, completing “King Lear” and “Macbeth” as 30,000 more Londoners would perish. They would become some of his best loved productions.

Living with a Pandemic

William Shakespeare lived his whole life in the shadow of the bubonic plague and along with another influential Elizabethan playwright, Thomas Nashe, shared the view that there might never be a medical solution to the plague. Steven Greenblatt, professor of Humanities at Harvard writes that both men would focus their words on what they felt was an even greater plague, that of “being governed by a mendacious, morally bankrupt, incompetent, blood-soaked and ultimately self-destructive leader.” Writing in The New Yorker Greenblatt states:

“But the strange thing about these lines from “Macbeth” is that they are not intended as a description of a country in the grip of a vicious plague. Instead, they describe a country in the grip of a vicious ruler. The character who speaks them, Ross, has been asked how Scotland fares under Macbeth, who is nominally the country’s legitimate king. But everyone suspects what is the case, that he has come by his exalted position through underhand means: “I fear / Thou play’dst most foully for’t.”

The results have borne out the worst suspicions. In office, Macbeth has ruthlessly pursued his enemies and betrayed his friends. Egged on by his “fiend-like” wife, he will do anything to make himself feel perfectly secure—“Whole as the marble, founded as the rock.” But, though he always finds people willing to carry out his criminal orders, he only ever feels more anxious: “cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in / To saucy doubts and fears.” And, under increasing pressure, calculation gives way to raw impulse, the reckless confidence that his instincts are always right: “From this moment / The very firstlings of my heart shall be / The firstlings of my hand.”

So, it would seem, we are living in times not so different than those of Shakespeare and we should strive to produce our own best work in these most troubled of times.

Build Character

Overcoming adversity is character  building. It shapes us into who we are and who we will become. It creates the confidence to overcome and the learning mechanisms to deal with the things that don’t go our way.

Create Resilience

Learning to deal with and address adversity is what creates resilience.

-Jim Haudan, Co-Founder and CEO, ROOT

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What Will a Post-COVID-19 World Be Like?

While this global pandemic has caused everyone a lot of heartache, due to missed family events, vacations, employment and educational disruptions, it has also forced us to make some changes we might want to keep when COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror.

Work From Home (WFH)

Working from home, for those whose job permitted it, eliminated daily commutes. Just this one change has meant giving those families more time together, more money to save or spend on other things and more life satisfaction overall. For our environment, the reduction in fuel consumption has been a plus as well.

Home: The Place for Dinner & a Movie

Staying at home has meant that our giant screen TVs have become our movie screens. This hasn’t been lost on film makers, as they are now making movies more readily available to watch at home.

Additionally, retailers and food providers are now competing to deliver their goods to your home as fast as Amazon Prime does.

Road Trip America

Since COVID-19 has seen countries around the world take down their “Welcome Americans” signs, we’re discovering America’s great outdoors. RVs & camper sales are up, and the nation’s parks and campgrounds are full, as we take to the woods where social distancing has always been part of the experience.

Restaurants & Broadband

While dining al fresco is fun and provides social distancing for diners, many cities are closing down their main streets to vehicle traffic in order to make them both pedestrian and dining friendly.

Much like we are using our smartphones to order restaurant take-out, high speed internet service is now essential for work, education and entertainment in our homes.

Small Business Survival

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets, writes that “small businesses are losing confidence in their survival.” We’re six months into this global pandemic and American small business is nowhere near returning to “normal.”

The current unemployment situation reveals that in every state, more people are unemployed than jobs available. That means moving to another state won’t make a difference for an unemployed person because the same problem has hit every single community in the country.

K-Shaped Recovery

Maybe more worrisome is that we are seeing a K-Shaped Recovery, taking place due to COVID-19. Which means a recovery where the rich become richer, the big become bigger, the poor become poorer, and the small become extinct.

We’re seeing this now with Wall Street’s growth, versus Main Street’s demise.

Following the “Great Recession” of 2008, we saw something similar happen as America went through recovery. Though it happened gradually and occurring almost unnoticed by many,

This global pandemic is the equivalent of pouring gasoline on a fire, it acts like an accelerant. Things that were going to come to pass in time, are now happening at warp speed.

While big box retailers and Wall Street are dancing with delight, mom-and-pop shops and local service establishments are fighting for their very survival.

Local Radio & Newspapers

Having a K-Shaped Recovery means that local media enterprises, that depend on Main Street for their advertising revenue, will suffer the same consequences.

Big media companies having more access to the technology that’s playing a role during COVID-19 will shape the recovery. Big media companies are less dependent on Main Street, as the bulk of their revenues originate on a regional and national level.

The same inequality that has been bifurcating American society since the early 80s and has made achieving revenue goals for local media companies more difficult with each passing year, is reaching a tipping point with COVID-19. The very rapid evolution of society during this global pandemic is exacerbating inequality; of people, businesses, health, education, and opportunities.

Even after we have discovered therapeutics and/or a vaccine to deal with COVID-19, the way the world was pre-COVID won’t be returning.

The answers to the challenges of the future will not be found in the past.

The truth is that we need to continually innovate how we innovate if we expect to ever return to an era of renewed productivity growth.

-Gregg Satell

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First Things, First

covid-19If someone had asked you, “Where do you see yourself in 5-years?” I seriously doubt anyone could have imagined they would be smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic. But that’s where we find ourselves at this moment in time.

No matter what you may think will return us to the life we had before COVID-19, nothing even begins to change until we have two things: therapeutics to cope with this novel coronavirus and a better understanding of how this dastardly disease can be squashed like a bug. In the meantime, everything else we try is merely a Band-Aid on the problem.

TRUST

A good radio friend posted on LinkedIn a graphic from the Radio Advertising Bureau (source: Kantar 2017)  “Trust in News” purporting radio to be the medium, Americans turn to for trust.

Radio & Trust

Well, we are now half-way through 2020, and I wonder what relevance that this research conducted in 2016 and published in 2017 has in a COVID-19 world. Probably, slim and none.

In fact, the NRRC (Network Radio Research Council) is recommending that all network/national buying and selling be based on the Fall 2019 Nationwide survey, and not those surveys conducted since the start of COVID-19, saying “the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented divergence of traditional patterns of media consumption, including AM/FM listening and the streaming of audio.”

If we can take to the bank anything from the world we are living in now, it’s that anything pre-COVID-19 is now FUBAR*.

How COVID-19 Has Changed Our Media Consumption

Since the onset of this global pandemic, the home broadband bundle has significantly been changed. Most consumers are adopting a stand-alone broadband service and not bundling it with Pay-TV or home phone or even their mobile phone. Why is this happening? Researchers say with another recession looming, people are watching all of their pennies.

With people working from home (WFH) and driving less, Out-Of-Home (OOH) media has been clobbered. Revenue projections for the Billboard industry show it will be down over 19% in 2020, compared to radio (down 13.7%) and local television (down 12.4%), according to MAGNA. Before COVID-19 hit, OOH was one of the fastest-growing and most stable linear media channels. Zenith thinks that OOH revenue will be down even more, predicting it to be down 25% in 2020.

Nieman Lab writes “Radio listening has plummeted. NPR is reaching a bigger audience than ever. What gives?” And the answer is, 2020 is the year that NPR will make more money from underwriting on its podcasts than it will from its radio programs.

Follow the Money

Local radio is very dependent on Main Street, but Main Street is in the cross-hairs for defaults, bankruptcies and evictions due to COVID-19.

Much like NPR is experiencing with its online products, retailing is becoming an online activity with American consumers. Economists knew that many cities had a retail footprint that was too big for the local consumer economy to support. COVID-19 merely accelerated things.

In fact, COVID-19 has created a quantum leap for e-commerce in 2020. What was projected to take place over years, has been compressed into a few months.

The United States Census Bureau reports that in the second quarter of 2020, e-commerces retail sales in America rose 31.8% from the first quarter and were 44.5% above the same period in 2019. The Census Bureau says that compared to the share of total retail sales, e-commerce sales grew as much in three months as it had over the past five years.

We are living a period of rapid technological change. Columbia Business School economist Laura Veldkamp says, “We are changing the way business is getting done, we’re changing the way we’re shopping and the way we’re eating – we’re changing the way we’re having meetings.” She points out that:

“the pandemic, like the Depression and World Wars I and II, is fundamentally altering people’s tastes. Some businesses will be left behind, as consumers get accustomed to videoconferencing instead of commuting, and buying groceries and other goods online instead of braving stores, malls and restaurants.”

Unemployment Tsunami Ahead

Economists are worried what’s ahead when it comes to unemployment in America. They see exponential growth in claims for the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program and a weakening U.S. labor market. The PEUC has grown from 27,000 people on April 11, 2020 to 1.3 million as of August 1, 2020. Worse, the number of PEUC recipients has stayed at over 1 million people for four straight weeks and has actually been increasing each week.

“The real tsunami is coming,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “My guess is at this point hiring in the industries that have been hit hard is going to abate.” Plus we know that United Airlines plans to furlough 3,900 pilots, Delta 2,000 pilots and American Airlines are alerting their employees to furloughs of 19,000 companywide.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index declined in August for the second consecutive month hitting a new pandemic low. Consumer optimism, along with their financial prospects also declined. Both are continuing on a downward path.

The Long Road Back

Economists see a long road back for the United States economy. A National Association for Business Economies (NABE) survey of 235 members July 30-August 10, 2020 showed that 60% predict that it will not be until the second quarter of 2022 (or later) that our economy may finally rebound to where it was in 2019, pre-COVID-19.

Economy Rebound

The Party’s Over

When you’re having a good time, it’s hard to call it a night and leave a party. Sometimes it’s due to FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and other times, it’s because no one likes to see good times come to an end.

The Oracle of Omaha – Warren Buffett, puts it this way:

‘They know that overstaying the festivities — that is, continuing to speculate in companies that have gigantic valuations relative to the cash they are likely to generate in the future — will eventually bring on pumpkins and mice. But they nevertheless hate to miss a single minute of what is one helluva party. Therefore, the giddy participants all plan to leave just seconds before midnight. There’s a problem, though: They are dancing in a room in which the clocks have no hands.’

Commercial broadcasters, by and large, have enjoyed the radio broadcasting party of the 60s a little too long. So many of the programming models haven’t really changed since the days when I was still a disc jockey, yet the world has changed, and changed exponentially.

Radio broadcasters, like NPR, that have embraced a vision of where media consumption is headed, are seeing their investments paying off.

Those that haven’t changed, are finding today’s environment extremely challenging.

Local radio’s fortunes have always been tied to Main Street, not Wall Street.

COVID-19 has disrupted Main Street’s business model.

The old rules don’t apply any longer, but, we don’t really know yet if this is another giant bubble or the future of our world.

Realizing that the time horizon for answers could be two years out, one wonders, will you be able to survive till we have the answers?

 

*A military term defined as F’d Up Beyond All Recognizability

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Radio’s Moment in Time

Fleming

Sir Alexander Fleming

Like it or not, we’re making history. 2020 will be a year studied by future generations when it comes to, what to do and what not to do, when faced with a global pandemic.

History only gives us two prior events that don’t even come close to what we’re going through today, the 1918-1919 flu pandemic and the 2008 financial crisis. COVID-19 is so much more than either one of those for a multitude of reasons.

1920 Commercial Radio is Born

Following the two-year 1918 flu pandemic, commercial radio would be born in November 1920 with the licensing of Westinghouse’s KDKA in Pittsburgh.

Beside radio, the list of inventions that would shape America in the 1920s were the automobile, the airplane, the washing machine, assembly lines, refrigerators, electric razors, instant cameras, jukeboxes and television.

TV wouldn’t really take hold until after the end of World War II.

Transistor Radio

In the 1950s when TV invaded American homes, and pushed the radio out of the living room, there were many who prophesied about radio’s demise. What would give radio new life was the invention of the transistor radio and the placement of radios in the dashboard of automobiles.

One of the songs of my youth was by Edwin Starr, a song called “War.”

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, why’all

War, huh, good god
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing, listen to me

While I can’t say I disagree with the inhumanity of war, saying it was good for “absolutely nothing,” is to not acknowledge the volume of technology we enjoy today that was developed as a direct result or evolved from military conflict.

War accelerates technological developments on a global scale.

Penicillin

One of the most important inventions of the 1920s was the development of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming, a Professor of Bacteriology at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. Sir Fleming’s studies of bacteria led to the creation of an antibiotic that kills bacteria and prevents them from growing and multiplying.

Because Sir Fleming wished to get penicillin into the hands of as many of the sick who desperately needed this antibiotic, Fleming never applied for a patent.

One sometimes finds, what one is not looking for. When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.

— Alexander Fleming

Ironically, it wasn’t until after the bombing of Pearl Harbor that mass production of penicillin would occur. By D-Day in 1944, penicillin production had been ramped up to produce enough of the antibiotic to treat all the wounded in the Allied forces.

Prioritizing People

If history teaches us anything, it’s that Americans win when policy makers prioritize people. The GI Bill for example, gave returning veterans a chance to acquire skills, and seize educational opportunities that would have been difficult for them to pursue on their own.

Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines and its first CEO, built his airline on the principle of prioritizing people. Forbes wrote:

For almost 30 years we’ve been asking, “What if you could build a company that is as human as the human beings in it? What if you could create a culture that inspires passionate people to come to work fully awake, fully engaged, firing on all cylinders because they know they are doing epic work?” 

What if you could create a culture that inspires people to come to work, fully engaged, firing on all cylinders?

Herb did it.

Kelleher said, “I’d rather have a company bound by love than a company bound by fear,” and for 46 consecutive years Southwest Airlines growth and profitability showed what that can produce. Sadly, Herb Kelleher passed away at age 87 in 2019.

If there’s any industry that’s been hard hit by COVID-19, it’s the travel and leisure industry. So, how is the current management of Southwest handling this business crisis? On July 26, 2020 Southwest management announced it will not furlough or lay off any workers on Oct. 1, the first day it is allowed to, per its CARES Act terms saying, “We have no intention of seeking furloughs, layoffs, pay rate cuts or benefits cuts through at least the end of the year.”

Where Are We Headed?

No matter what business or industry you’re in, we’ve reached that moment in history where it’s time to focus on where we want to go and not where we’ve been.

The COVID-19 global pandemic is a war on our health. Like military conflicts, it is causing the world to change at an accelerated pace.

The challenge for all of us is to seize the moment and not be afraid to reimagine every aspect of our lives. How and where we live, how we educate the next generation, what our business models should look like, and how we embrace diversity and talent on a global scale. It’s our moment in history to let go of the past.

100 Years of Commercial Radio in America

2020 marks the 100th Anniversary of America’s Radio Broadcasting Industry. In the 1950s, television forced radio to re-invent itself and become the industry that many people, like myself, grew up with and made our career.

I’m sure the radio people of the Golden Age looked down their noses at how radio was changed by my generation, but we created a communications  product that reached virtually every American.

COVID-19 and the internet are forcing radio to do that once again.

As Walt Disney famously said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

What’s your dream for this moment in time for radio?

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Would You Like to Participate in Radio Research?

nielsen familyNuVoodoo does some really wonderful research about radio listening. They particularly focus on reaching people who are most likely to keep a radio listening diary or wear a Nielsen Portable People Meter, aka PPM.

During their last webinar, a slide came up quickly in the jam-packed presentation that made me choke on my coffee. It showed how small the pool of radio listeners is that would participate in Nielsen Radio ratings research. An astounding 82% say they would never wear a PPM device and even more listeners say they wouldn’t keep a ratings diary. Ratings Likies 2020

I Was a Nielsen Family

When I was a radio broadcaster, it wasn’t unusual for Arbitron Ratings to ask me about keeping a radio listening diary for a week. Each time I declined because I was actively working in radio.

When I was a broadcast professor at the university in Kentucky, I was approached about keeping a television ratings diary and Nielsen said that being a broadcast teacher was not a disqualifier, so I said “yes.”

I knew that the experience of keeping a ten-day television viewing diary would be one I could share with my students in covering the topic of radio/TV ratings. I was thrilled to be a “Nielsen Family,” even though that thrill quickly dissipated once the survey diary and instructions arrived.

The few dollars Nielsen sent to me with the materials seemed small potatoes for the amount of information they wanted to extract from my viewing habits.

By the end of the ten days, I was sure I’d never want to do this again, and it made me sad because I was a person who should be passionate about doing such work.

A Relative’s Family Wore PPMs

A member of my family living outside of Boston was asked to participate in PPM radio research. The rewards being offered enticed them to say “yes.”

The members of the family ranged in age from 44 to 6.

I remember looking at this 6-year old playing on his swing-set and thinking, Boston radio 6+ radio ratings depended, in part, on little kids like this. It sent a chill down my spine.

Well, the family grew tired of participating very quickly. In the nutshell, they didn’t feel the inconvenience was worth the small reward paid for wearing the PPM devices.

They said the experience hardened them from ever participating in future radio or TV ratings research, besides now they rarely listen to radio anymore with Spotify being the family choice for streaming. The Spotify App keeps track of each member of the family’s listening habits, serving up just what they want to hear.

Ratings Likelies: Rare & Vital

In late June 2020, NuVoodoo fielded their sixteenth Ratings Prospects Study and they write: “we drilled down to the small segment of radio listeners likely to accept a meter or diary from Nielsen. As has been the case in every past NuVoodoo study, when we model for the subset of respondents who would say ‘yes’ to Nielsen, the opt-in rate even among our already research-inclined sample is staggeringly low – with the percentage of likely ratings respondents who spend an hour or longer with radio each day even rarer still.”

That’s pretty disturbing to hear.

Share of Ear

Then the news breaks that COVID-19 has tipped the consumer listening habits to digital streaming. Now 53% listen to on-demand/digital devices versus 47% who listen to linear/non-digital devices, like AM/FM radio. Edison Research began tracking audio consumption on digital devices in 2014 and now, only six years later, people over the age of 13 spend more time with these devices than traditional OTA radio.  Digital Devices Cross 50%

It’s another case of the inevitable happening anyway, but COVID-19 is causing changes to occur on an accelerated time frame.

Edison Research also found in their latest Infinite Dial research that new music seekers are using YouTube for music discovery versus AM/FM radio, 68% to 46%.

Dan Ariely Explains

Dan Ariely is a psychology and behavioral economics professor at Duke University. I first became aware of Dan’s work with his book Predictably Irrational.

Dan explains that “the interruption of everyday life has been an experiment showing that habits aren’t just desires; they’re behaviors cued by reminders in our environment. When we change the way we interact with our environment, a lot of seemingly ingrained habits fade away. Some of them we are better off without, like thoughtless consumption and spending.”

Since the pandemic more people who used to commute to work, began working from home. The AM/FM radio cue for listening was their vehicle’s dashboard radio, but since they were spending less time in the car and more time at home, the device for audio consumption used in the home now became dominant.

While one hopes that once people begin to commute to work again, if that even happens, the old routines – including listening to the car’s radio – might return.

However, many companies, especially the high tech ones like Google, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook, are moving to a permanent WFH (Work From Home) model.

Dr. Ed Cohen

One of the most recent high profile layoffs was that of Dr. Ed Cohen from Cumulus as its VP for Ratings and Research.

Radio Ink asked him about the future of AM/FM radio to which he responded:

“It’s a question of whether (the radio industry is) cutting bone and muscle rather than fat. If the radio industry continues to cut, can we put our best foot forward to not only keep current listeners spending as much time with the medium as they have in the past, but can we also convert light listeners to spend more time with radio? Commercial radio is not a charity and faced with the revenue challenges of (COVID-19), layoffs and furloughs are inevitable, but listeners don’t understand that and don’t likely care. They want to be entertained and informed. If they perceive a degradation of what they expect from us in a world of increased competition from other sources (streaming, podcasts, etc.) some will go elsewhere, accelerating a downward spiral. I hate to sound pessimistic about a medium where I’ve spent nearly my entire career (even my Ph.D. dissertation was about radio) and have no claims to be Nostradamus, but that’s the logical conclusion. I hope I’m wrong.”

Sadly, Dr. Cohen, I think you’ve got it right.

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W A S S – Bumpass

Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 8.57.02 AMSouth from where I live, is a little community by the name of Bumpass, Virginia. As far as I can tell, the FCC have never licensed a radio station to this little community of 8,792 people.

The town was named for John T. Bumpass, one of the first postmasters in the area. Its post office is still in service.

It’s said that George Washington spent the night at Jerdone Castle in Bumpass on June 10th during his 1791 Southern tour as President. One of the many locations to boast “George Washington slept here.”

When I learned of this place, I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to start a radio station in this place. I could hear the top-of-the-hour jingle being sung now: W A S S – Bumpass.

There are only two problems with this fantasy, 1) the FCC has never given out radio station WASS call letters, and 2) it turns out that the proper pronunciation for Bumpass, is BUMP-us. It originates from the French surname Bonpass which means “good passage.”

Oh well, it made me chuckle.

It turns out I’m not the only person in the world that has had fun at the expense of the town of Bumpass.

If Local Radio Didn’t Exist, What Would You Create?

Which brings me to a more serious subject of creating a radio station in the 21st Century. What do listeners really want? Is there an appetite for delivering content over an AM or FM radio signal if one didn’t already exist in that location? How would you fund it? By advertising? Subscriptions? Donations?

What would you program? Talk, music, sports, weather or something else?

If a community doesn’t have a local newspaper or a radio station, like Bumpass, Virginia, how does it know what’s going on in its local area?

NEWSBREAK

Turns out NEWSBREAK, which bills itself as “The Nation’s #1 Intelligent Local News” App serves Bumpass, Virginia. It relies on local content creators to supply it with local news newsbreakand perspectives. It also works with some of the country’s largest newspapers, magazines and television networks to broaden its scope of news coverage.

There is another App, “The Emergency Email & Wireless Network” that says it too covers Bumpass, but neither App really had any news about the goings-on in the town.

The Central Virginian

About thirty minutes up the road from Bumpass is Louisa, Virginia, location of The Central Virginian, a newspaper that provides some peripheral coverage of Bumpass. Though when I checked for the latest news, the most recent story “The Rumpus is Returning to Bumpass,” was published in April of 2018.

Maybe, Bumpass doesn’t generate a lot of news.

Creating Radio Today

Enough about Bumpass, Virginia, let’s tackle the bigger question about creating a radio station for the 21st Century. What would you need , or not need?

  • No need for a building, air personalities would broadcast from their homes.
  • No need for an AM or FM radio license, streaming audio is the future.
  • Some sort of computerized system to handle music, scheduling and advertising (if you chose to go with an ad-supported model).
  • A website that would allow you to stream your content, and deliver other information along with providing listeners a way to communicate with your radio station.
  • Maybe you create a podcast that capsulizes the day’s news and gets updated at specific times, but allows listeners to access it on their schedule.
  • Local doesn’t have to be live, it needs to be kept up-to-date and deliver information not readily available anywhere else that impacts the people of its service area.
  • Musically, this radio station would offer a variety of streaming options, each with the local component linked to its offering.

Actually, this model sounds similar to what many commercial AM & FM radio stations did to get through the spring months of 2020, due to COVID19. Some still are.

The internet is filled with other operators who have developed this type of radio station for their unserved or underserved communities, as commercial radio operators bought up radio signals and moved them into larger metropolitan areas.

wmex fm rochesterTwo such operations that come to mind are: “yourKawarthaOLDIES.com” and “1059WMEX.com” that are filling a gap left by Big Box broadcasters. WMEX-FM kwartha oldiesrecently added an LPFM to its operation, this allows locals in Rochester, NH to hear the station easily when in their cars.

Radio Today – It’s Only Limit is Your Imagination

There’s never been a more exciting or challenging time to be in the world of audio communications. Not since the invention of radio itself, has there been so much opportunity waiting to be discovered.

It just won’t be like it was when I started in radio over fifty years ago.

It’s going to be better!

 

 

 

 

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