Tag Archives: COVID19

What Do Radio Broadcasters & Almond Farmers Have In Common?

Last week, an article in The Atlantic titled “The Well Fixer’s Warning: The lesson that California never learns,” was a terrifying read about the water supply used to irrigate the almond orchards on the farms of Madera County. So many of the farm’s wells were coming up dry and the farmers were puzzled as to why water flowing out of their wells had been reduced to a trickle and were mostly producing sand.

Matt Angell is not only an almond farmer himself, but owns Madera Pumps, a company that drills wells and repairs well pumps. He knows that droughts, like the California sunshine go hand-in-hand, and as John Steinbeck wrote: “no one (forgets) the last drought faster than the farmer.”

Since the middle 1970s, almond farmers have persevered through at least five droughts and their solution to the problem was always the same – BUILD MORE DAMS.

BUILD MORE DAMS

Those three words stopped me cold. Who else thinks like this? Radio people, that’s who.

Today in America, there are now 26,076 radio stations on the air, 2,500 of these stations are broadcasting in HD which adds another 2,100 multicast radio channels to the mix. That’s about a 93% increase in the number of radio signals from when I started in high school.

The radio industry and almond farmers, have both felt that the way to grow is by adding more and more and more. Almond farmers added more acreage of almond trees and radio owners added more signals.

Aquifers

The dam reality was the San Joaquin River already had a half-a-dozen dams diverting its water, so the next solution to obtaining more water for almond irrigation was to drill down to the aquifers beneath the farmlands. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the farmers of Madera County to pump out the easily available ground water and see their wells coming up dry. As they were drilling deeper and deeper into the earth, a hidden lake beneath the farmlands was discovered in 2014. It was shocking to see it pumped dry in only seven years.

Angell noted that the snow on the mountain had melted two months earlier than “normal,” and the water level of the San Joaquin river was so low, it was now nothing more than a series of unconnected ponds as well as the wells – residential, business and farming – all over the community were running dry.

The reality is, the Madera County underground water table is one of the most over-tapped aquifers in the West, and all those wells had depleted the underground water source, causing the aquifer to collapse.

The Advertising Pie

It was before the COVID19 pandemic gripped our world, Gordon Borrell hosted a webinar back in early 2019 and told of how the media pie (the radio industry’s aquifer, if you will) is over-tapped.

To put things in perspective, Gordon shared how an over-populated media landscape is impacting local advertisers.

  • 1,300 daily newspapers, 6,500 weeklies
  • 4,700 printed directory books
  • 4,665 AM radio stations, 6,757 commercial FM radio stations
  • 1,760 Class A TV stations
  • More than 1,000 cable systems with local sales staffs
  • 660,000 podcasts were actively produced in 2018
  • 495 NEW TV shows were introduced last year in addition to what’s already on
  • PLUS, local ad sales are taking place on Facebook, Google and Amazon

Same Old Answer

Despite the fact that the water from the aquifer and river was being depleted by droughts, climate change and being over-tapped, the almond farmers’ answer was always the same, said Mark Angell, “Plant more almonds and pistachios. Plant more housing tracts on farmland. But the river isn’t the same. The aquifer isn’t the same.”

Listen to radio owners, and they will tell you they too need more and more radio signals in order to stay viable, despite the fact that the advertising pie is finite and media supported by advertising continues to expand exponentially.

“I used to use the word unprecedented to describe what we’re doing to the land,” said Angell, but “now I use the word biblical.” Is it any different for radio broadcasters?

The Solution

For the nut farmers of Madera County, the solution is a hard pill to swallow, it’s “to figure out a way to retire one million acres of the six million farmed, “otherwise, we’re looking at a race to the bottom,” said Angell.

For radio broadcasters, Gordon Borrell said the solution to the future of media expenditures would be a process of “thinning the herd.”

The way advertising buyers are responding to a world of media abundance, Borrell says, is by:

  • Decreasing the number of companies from which they buy advertising from 5 to 3.5, and
  • 90% of their media buys are being made with companies who can bundle traditional and digital advertising.

Killing the Golden Goose

Do you remember the Aesop fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs? Let me refresh your memory of this tale. It’s about a farmer that was poor. One day he makes a startling discovery when he finds a golden egg in the nest of his pet goose. Skeptical at first, he has the egg tested and finds that it is indeed made of pure gold. Even more amazing, each day this farmer awakes to find that his goose has laid another golden egg. In very short order, this poor farmer becomes fabulously wealthy. But then his wealth brings greed and impatience. No longer satisfied with just one golden egg per day, the farmer cuts open his goose to harvest all of its golden eggs at once only to find the goose is empty inside. With a now dead goose, there will be no more golden eggs laid.

In remembering this fable, it sounded so familiar to the world of radio broadcasting and almond farmers. Both possessed a wonderful “goose” that laid daily “golden eggs.”

Unfortunately for almond farmers, in wanting more, they are killing their water supply, and for broadcasters not wishing to wait for each day’s golden egg, cut open their goose beginning with the Telcom Act of 1996, that allowed them to own as many radio stations as they basically wished.

The moral of Aesop’s fable is if you focus only on the golden eggs and neglect the goose that lays them, you will soon be without the very asset that produces the golden eggs.

The radio industry’s quest for short-term returns, or results, took their free FCC licenses and ruined them by not maintaining the balance between the production of desired results and the production capacity of the asset.

Aesop’s fable is the very principle of effectiveness. It’s a natural law. Like gravity, you don’t have to believe in it or understand its principles, but you can never escape its effects.

Radio broadcasters probably saw the moral of the fable being the more geese you own, the more spots you add to the hour, the more effective your R.O.I. (Return On Investment) will be.

Almond farmers saw the moral of the fable as planting more trees, install more powerful pumps to withdraw more water and watch your R.O.I. grow.

But ironically, it is the principle of “Less Is More” that in the end rules the day.

To be truly effective, you need to maintain the balance of what is produced (golden eggs/revenue) and the producing asset (your goose/radio station/almond trees).

Everything in excess

is opposed to nature.

-Hippocrates

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Sales is the Transference of Confidence

Here are three short stories for you to ponder.

Story #1

The other night a radio salesperson was in a restaurant. Business was a little slow, so he struck up a conversation with the owner who told him that she had used radio advertising for a restaurant she had owned back in California, and it didn’t work, and she didn’t intend to use radio ever again.

He told the owner that he and his wife had been in another restaurant in town a couple of days ago, and the service and food were both terrible. But, rather than never go to another restaurant again, he and his wife decided to try her place, where they found just the opposite. He suggested to her that just because radio didn’t work for her in one situation, there is no reason why she should conclude all radio advertising doesn’t work.

That radio sales person had a new client by the time they paid for their meal.

Story #2

Another radio salesperson was calling on a jewelry store. She had made several calls on the owner and was in the middle of a presentation when the owner suddenly asked her, “Have you ever bought anything from us?” She replied, “No, because you never asked me to.” She finished her radio advertising presentation. He signed up.

Story #3

Another radio sales person was calling on a car dealer who said, “I don’t like your radio station. I’ve never liked it and I don’t listen to it.” The radio salesperson responded, “I don’t care if you ever listen to us, for you see, we have a lot of people who do listen and like my radio station, and right now your advertising isn’t reaching any of them. But we are telling them about your competitors.” The car dealer was a little taken aback, but proceeded to get serious, and is now on-the-air.

Be Confident

Sales is the transference of confidence.

In each of these short stories, a radio salesperson was confident about their radio station delivering results. They were also prepared for such objections.

COVID-19 has shaken everyone’s confidence.

It’s never been more important that radio sellers “Be Confident.”

Preparation

Prepare, prepare, prepare.

There is no substitution for preparation.

As famed Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz put it,

“Everything is won or lost in the preparation stage.”

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Build Your Rainy Day Fund

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.

NJ Transit

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.

Job Hunting

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.

Enjoy your journey.

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COVID-19, One Year Later

It was just a year ago that I wrote about “The Day the World Shutdown.” So, shall I ask you, “how are you doing?”

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.

WFH

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.

Automobile manufacturers also took notice of this change, like the commercial for a new Buick – or is it an “Alexa on Wheels?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqvEcLWI0ME

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.”

-Wayne Gretzky

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.

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It’s Groundhog Year

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?

Crossroads

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:

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Government
  • Research
  • Cities & Retail
  • Workplace
  • Wellness & Fitness
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Transportation

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

“Don’t give them what you think they want.

Give them what they never thought was possible.”

Orson Welles, actor, director, screenwriter & producer

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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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Furloughs Turning into Permanent Job Losses

Furloughed PermanentlyBIA Advisory Services conducted a rather insightful webinar at the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic. While every media sector was predicting huge downturns in sales revenues, what struck me most were comments like, ‘but radio sales executives are the most pessimistic,’ or ‘23% of radio sales people don’t feel theyEeyore & rain cloud will be employed by the same company in six months.’

Why were radio people so gloomy? Is it because the radio industry attracts Eeyores or because radio people were being the most realistic?

Furloughs

Shortly after the global pandemic shut down the world, companies started talking about furloughs for employees. All types of industries were issuing press releases about how they planned to furlough “x,” “y,” or “z” number of employees.

Now by definition, a furlough is supposed to be a temporary layoff. It certainly sounds much less benign than being told you are terminated, fired, riffed or axed. Furloughs gave people hope they would soon return to work and a lifestyle of the way it was. But was that being disingenuous?

I remember when I was a manager in Clear Channel, the company’s top management would tell us to never let a good emergency go to waste. In other words, use the emergency as a cover to do things you already wanted to do, but could now do much more quickly, using the emergency as the reason.

“For a lot of those furloughed workers, a non-trivial number will have no job to go back to, because the company they worked for will have failed or will need fewer workers than they used to,” says Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve economist.

An article in Forbes, quoting an Associated Press story put it this way, “Call it realism or pessimism, but more employers are coming to a reluctant conclusion: Many of the employees they’ve had to lay off in the face of the pandemic might not be returning to their old jobs anytime soon. Some large companies won’t have enough customers to justify it. And some small businesses won’t likely survive at all despite aid provided by the federal government.”

Entercom Converts Some Furloughs into Layoffs

This was the headline in late June in RadioInsight. How many furloughs were converted or how many markets were affected, is not known.

Radio Business Reports carried the first news of this occurring inside Entercom back in April. RBR quoted Entercom Communications President/CEO David Field’s memo to employees which said, “We are doing everything in our power to minimize the number of layoffs through shared sacrifice across the organization, but we will still need to eliminate or furlough a significant number of positions.”

And Entercom was not alone in having to take a serious look at its business in light of the quick and sudden changes brought on by a global pandemic with no vaccine and no treatment options.

Poynter on Newsroom Layoffs, Furloughs and Closures

In an article, Poynter has been updating regularly, sadly admitting that it’s “getting hard to keep track of the bad news about the news right now. But we have to. Here’s our attempt to collect the layoffs, furloughs, and closures caused by the coronavirus’ critical blow to the economy and journalism in the United States.”

At the end of June 2020, here’s what Poynter had for the impact on radio journalism:

You can keep up with the Poynter updates by clicking HERE

Radio’s Advertising Lifeblood

mom & pop shopYour local radio station, like your hometown newspaper, depends on local businesses and their advertising dollars. Eighty to ninety percent of their ad revenues come from local businesses, those small “mom & pops,” as we like to call them.

So, when I saw this headline in The Atlantic,The Small Business Die-Off Is Here,” my heart went into my throat.

Annie Lowrey writes, “The great small-business die-off is here, and it will change the landscape of American commerce, auguring slower growth and less innovation in the future.” What Lowrey tells us is that the small and mid-size businesses had less than two weeks’ worth of cash on hand making it impossible for them to cover rent, insurance, utilities and payroll for any sustained amount of time.

Many business owners have found help from Uncle Sam to be too little, too late. Every Closedday we see another local business decide to close down permanently rather than sink further into debt.

Lowrey writes, “The short-term effects of this disaster are clear: When businesses liquidate, they lay off workers, who spend less in their local economies, making other businesses weaker, necessitating further layoffs. Business failures thus act as an accelerant in a downturn, making temporary damage permanent. This is a central reason why many economists do not expect a sharp, V-shaped rebound to the current recession, but a long, slow, U-shaped recovery.”

AARP on What Comes Next

In the June 2020 edition of AARP Bulletin Abraham Madkour, Sports Business Journal, writes “I don’t see any timeline where athletic events have packed stands. Nobody wants to be around 75,000 people.” So, sports radio stations are going to be really content challenged, which means listener challenged, which translates into advertising challenged.

AARP goes on to say the Saturday night dinner and a movie is now on the endangered list as is your local mall, department stores, and most other retailers. It’s an “extinction event” for local media ad dollars,” says Ken Doctor, media analyst, who adds, “In a world where nobody is going out, age-old diversions are going bye, bye.”

There’s No Place Like Home

Turns out the safest place to be, is in your own home.

WFHPeople are adapting to working from home, home schooling their children and doing things like baking, learning to play a musical instrument, streaming their audio, video and print content. Our habits are changing and it’s quite likely they will become permanent.

“It’s hard to guess the depth of the downturn, but it will be the worst since the Great Depression,” says Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Permanent Changes

Crystal balling the future is always a risk. No one really knows what lifestyle changes will become permanent and which ones will slowly fade away.

I tried to get some sense of permanent change following the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919 and found there was little to be gleaned because that pandemic broke out during WWI leading into a roaring twenties, followed by a Great Depression, and then WWII. It really gives us little information about the impact the pandemic ended up having because other events trumped its effects.

Broadcast media didn’t begin as a commercial entity until after the pandemic was in the rear view mirror, so there’s no way to tell what the impact might have been. The Asian Flu (1957) and Hong Kong Flu (1968) killed about 2 million and 4 million people worldwide during the 20th Century, but the disruption to our daily lives doesn’t even live in my memory.

If nothing else, COVID19 is and has been a disruption to Earth’s global village economically. Axios reports that a research report from UBS predicts that 100,000 brick-and-mortar U.S. retail stores will close by 2025, in a trend that started before the pandemic and has accelerated amid coronavirus-related shutdowns.

In 2017, as the radio industry news was filled with employees being RIF’d (Reductions In Force), I wrote an article to help people deal with being let go entitled, “Is Your Iceberg Melting?” You can read that HERE

Beyond COVID19

So, what might a media future look like?

Frederick Filloux asked his college journalism students for their thoughts and I will summarize them for you here:

  • Smaller, staff-owned outlets where employees are multi-talented and master a whole palette of tools like data-driven storytelling, video production, infographics and a deep proficiency in social media.
  • Rethinking the ownership and the revenue models. Audience centric business models, but not ad-supported ones. Frederick’s students believe that the advertising supported business model is outdated. The future will involve carefully vetted sponsorships.
  • Explanatory media, that is fact-checked and establishes itself with an expertise against misinformation. These students say, expertise is urgently needed in today’s media world.
  • Print is over. Tomorrow’s media students believe that anything printed embodies the ancient world. COVID19 is only accelerating its demise.

I think COVID19 is going to hasten a rethink about all ad-supported media. Traditional media, born of advertising, will be greatly challenged.

Based on the recent findings of Gordon Borrell, it already is.

Screen Shot 2020-06-30 at 11.21.16 AM

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It Ain’t Over, Till It’s Over

Yogi Berra“It ain’t over, till it’s over,” one of the many phrases made popular by Yogi Berra kept popping into my mind as I sat in on several webinars these past few weeks. COVID19 is not over, so why are people acting like it is? We can expect that we will be living with this virus through all of this year and through most of 2021.

Just because we’re tired of it, doesn’t mean we can let our guard down.

“If the underlying problem is that people are afraid of interacting in close proximity, and they’re afraid to go shopping in certain ways, then the only way to get things back to normal is going to be to solve the public health problem.”

-John Friedman, Brown University economist

Nobody Has the Answers

Whether by reading the broadcast trade publications or watching webinars, it’s become abundantly clear that no one has the answers. Sadly, the radio world seems determined to turn back the clock to the way things were. Whether it be in programming or sales, you simply can’t take the way things were done and put them online. The online world is different and needs to be utilized differently.

The Medium is the Message

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan realized how important the medium carrying a message was to the process of communication. Each medium, be it print, visual, audio, musical etc., will determine how the message is perceived by the person receiving it.

You can’t take a price/item full page newspaper ad and simply print that ad on a billboard.

Every advertising person knows that a billboard message needs to be short, succinct and instantly communicated. For a driver passing by at 65 miles per hour, that means a message of about seven words.

Yet, broadcasters forget the wisdom of McLuhan when they take their over-the-air radio broadcasts and simply stream them on the internet.

The internet is a different medium, and people’s expectations for what they watch, listen to or read on the internet are likewise.

It’s Like Déjá Vu All Over Again

Yogi Berra sure knew how to turn a phrase and expose our follies.

When FM radio was born, the type of radio being done on AM was easily transferred over to this new commercial FM radio band. Why? Because both the AM and FM commercial radio bands came through the same type of receiver, a radio tuner. In other words, they utilized the same medium, the radio set.

But when listening to audio programming over the internet, the listener could be using a computer, a tablet, a smart speaker, a cellphone or any of a multitude of internet connected devices.

Different mediums entirely than AM/FM radio sets and each with different user expectations.

You Can Observe a Lot by Just Watching

Once again, Yogi points the way with his unique turn of a phrase.

As I watched the latest round of weekly webinars, one of the things that became clear was how people were moving to steaming when accessing media in their homes.

ComScore said that WiFi connected homes accounted for 68% of video consumption, with the big five streamers being Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Disney. These five account for 82.5% of the streaming video that’s being consumed.

Likewise, Edison Research’s Larry Rosin points out that radio listening is very much car dependent (mainly due to most cars having an AM/FM radio in the dashboard) and that when people are home, streaming is taking over.

“Radio is mainly an over-the-air product

and not a streaming one.”

-Larry Rosin, Edison Research

Think about that statement for a moment. Edison Research has found that AM/FM radios are vanishing from American homes, with 32% of households no longer owning a single radio set.

So, if people mainly use radio programming only on radio receivers, and those receivers are dwindling in homes, offices and dashboards, the radio industry’s challenge is a daunting one. Listening to audio programming will continue to grow via streaming on non-radio set devices. Radio, as we knew it, is moving in the direction of malls and movie theaters, built for a past generation.

During the stay-at-home months of April and May 2020, audio listening at home rose from a pre-COVID19 49% to 70%. This didn’t mean more OTA radio per se.Share of Ear May 2020

If the way people accessed their audio content was via streaming, they did more of that, and if they still owned a radio set, then they listened to more OTA radio.

If You Don’t Know Where You Are Going, You’ll End Up Someplace Else

And that Yogi Berra saying pretty much sums up the world right now during this pandemic. No one knows where we are going. No one has the answers. This is a period of global disruption.

What history shows us during periods of disruption is, the old ways get destroyed before the new ones get built to take over. However, COVID19 appears to be speeding up the process.

“The future ain’t what it used to be.”

-Yogi Berra

 

 

 

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Efficiency vs. Resilience

Rick SklarOn November 9, 1965, around 5:21pm in the afternoon, WABC listeners heard something unusual coming through the speakers on their battery powered transistor radios. WABC was playing Jonathan King’s “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon,” but it sounded different. It sounded like it needed a shot of Geritol, as the recording turned slower and slower. Even WABC’s famous chime was off key, and popular afternoon personality Dan Ingram tried to make fun of what was happening. You can hear that moment by clicking HERE.

The 1965 Northeast Blackout

As it was happening what no one knew, was that the power grid was collapsing. Inside Dan Ingram’s studio, the lights were flickering, the music cartridges were playing at slower and slower speeds and the journalists in the WABC newsroom were beginning to see the wire services report that city after city along the Eastern seaboard were going dark.dan ingram 1965

From Maine to New Jersey, America was experiencing a regional power grid failure. Many radio stations without emergency generators were silenced, but WABC was still on the air due to the station’s transmitter facility being located in Lodi, New Jersey. New Jersey was on a different power grid than New York City.

WABC would rush Dan Ingram to Lodi with a stack of records and have him continue his show from there.

Rick Sklar & Building Resilience

Rocking AmericaRick Sklar wrote in his book “Rocking America” that the blackout helped him to focus his attention on technical reliability. “A station can have the best mix of music and the top jingles, but if the tapes break, the cartridges jam, or the music fidelity is off, the ratings (aka audience) begin to evaporate,” Sklar wrote.

Early in his tenure as the program director at WABC, Sklar would be frustrated by the technical obstacles that got in the way of his building Music Radio 77 into the #1 radio station in The Big Apple.

Lessons Learned at NASA

When America was ready to put a man on the moon, Sklar decided he wanted to be there for that significant moment in history.

He was fascinated by the confidence of NASA that they would land men on the moon and bring them back home safely. He was envious of their certainty and of their equipment and systems to get the job done. He wanted to attain that same kind of certainty for WABC when he returned home to New York.

In drilling down mission control’s engineering confidence, he learned that NASA used triple measurement and triple backup on everything. Sklar would learn from Walter Häusermann, the man who designed the guidance systems for the V-2 rockets, and those of the Apollo command module, “If two of the three readings on any measurement agree, we assume that it is the third meter and not our readout that is at fault.”

WABC Builds Resilience

When Rick Sklar got back home, he began to implement what he had learned at NASA, in the operations at WABC. He built two identical main control rooms and made sure a production studio could act as an air studio if needed. He built the studios with eight cart machines, instead of the previous five, three being ready in case of a failure of any of the primary five machines. He had every one of the two thousand-odd cartridges that made up the WABC sound, duplicated for each studio. The studio to transmitter broadcast land lines were broken into a northern and southern route from the main studios to the transmitter site in Lodi, with a microwave link as the third method for delivering programming to the transmitter.

George Michael WABC in NASA inspired studio

George Michael at WABC in NASA inspired air studio (photo by Frank D’Elia)

Rick Sklar had thoroughly reviewed every element of the operation and implemented ample redundancy to insure a consistent and reliable delivery system for his programming.

Resiliency in People

There’s only so much repetition in equipment that can protect you from disruptions, in order to truly have a “fail-safe” operation, you must have good backup people.

And there’s the real rub in today’s radio world. Where are the people?

As I wrote in last week’s blog, Good Money After Bad, the need to build efficiency in my Sussex, New Jersey radio property saw the elimination of not only full-time employees but the backup people so critical in providing the over-the-air and online services so necessary during times of winter storms.

Global Pandemic

COVID19 is revealing the tradeoffs between building operating systems for efficiency, versus resiliency. These tradeoffs have been occurring in all areas of corporate America, not just broadcasting. This pandemic presents us all with opportunities to rethink of how prepared we are to handle a Black Swan Event. It also has shown us ,simply doing things the way they’ve always been done, isn’t necessarily how they can be done or should be done going forward.

Resiliency and efficiency are polar opposites and every business needs to mind its bottom line and deliver a profit to stay in business. The leaders will learn to invest in resilience efficiently.

Look for that to be the in demand skill in all companies as we digest the lessons of this global event.

 

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