Tag Archives: COVID19

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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Good Money After Bad

Air Canada (2)Would you invest more money in a company that takes your money and won’t refund it during a global pandemic, instead preferring to hide behind policies designed for the way things used to be before COVID19?

I think not.

The Travel Industry

Let me share with you two stories that happened to me recently involving our 2020 travel plans.

These stories involve an airline and a cruise line. While we realize that both of these industries are being dramatically challenged, the way they handle the short-term will most surely impact their long-term survival.

Royal Caribbean International Cruise Lines

My wife and I planned to visit the only state in the United States neither of us had ever been too before, Alaska. We made plans to cruise to Alaska from Vancouver, BC.

Before our cruise, we would fly to Nevada for my oldest son’s wedding, then drive up to Montana to visit my wife’s daughter and family, to be followed with a drive to Washington state to visit another daughter and family.

On the 4th of July we planned to Amtrak from Washington state to Vancouver, BC and board our cruise ship for a weeklong trip to Alaska. We made plans for off-shore excursions during the cruise and paid for everything in advance.

We planned to fly from Vancouver, BC to Washington, DC to get back home.

Then COVID19 hit and we had to cancel everything.

Amtrak refunded our money, the off-shore excursions company refunded our money, the hotels along the way all accepted our cancellations with no fees, but Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines wouldn’t refund our $500 deposit.

How do you think we feel when they send us new offers to take a cruise with them?

Air Canada

Air Canada was the airline we had selected to fly back home from Vancouver, BC when our cruise returned to port. We paid for business class tickets to get seats with a little extra room. Total cost for two tickets, paid-in-advance on February 5, 2020, $1,185.38.

We booked directly with the airline on their website.

Then on March 10, 2020 we receive notice from Medicare saying that the “CDC is advising older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney diseases, are at a higher risk of serious illness if they contract the COVID19 virus.” That “means that most people with Medicare are at a higher risk,” they wrote.

“Your health, safety, and welfare is our highest priority,” wrote the Medicare email.

It went out to spell out activities that we should not engage in:

  • Avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces with limited air circulation.
  • Defer all cruise ship travel worldwide, particularly if you also have underlying health issues.
  • Avoid situations that put you at increased risk, including non-essential travel such as long plane trips.

But Air Canada doesn’t recognize any of this as a valid reason that I would then go to their website and cancel our two plane tickets on March 23, 2020. Instead of offering a refund, they said we could have a travel voucher to use good through March 30, 2021.

How do you think we feel when they send us new offers to fly with Air Canada?

How do you think this makes us feel about even wanting to visit our neighbors to the north?

COVID19 Closed Border

Currently the border between America and Canada is closed. We couldn’t even get to the Royal Caribbean cruise ship if we wanted, nor could we board an Air Canada plane in Vancouver.

That’s something I don’t remember ever happening in my lifetime.

Would it be fair to say these are extenuating circumstances that call for forbearance of rules regarding customer refunds created before the COVID19 global pandemic?

How Much Is a Customer Worth?

What companies often forget is the lifetime value of a customer when they make decisions in the short-term. Repeat business is the way you build a business.

Sadly, the above mentioned companies won’t be seeing us beating a path to their door.

But worse, they’ve now made ALL cruise lines and ALL airlines suspect about their business practices.

Guilt by Association

I learned this lesson from one of my clients, an AAMCO Transmission repair shop. He told me that a lot of people considered transmission repair places to be underhanded. Stories about putting saw dust in the transmission to temporarily solve a problem and make a quick buck instead of doing the actual work of repairing it.

He said when any transmission shop cheated a customer in anyway, it reflected badly on all transmission repair businesses.

I never forgot that lesson when I became a radio station manager.

Storm Center

When I managed a cluster of radio stations for Clear Channel Radio in Sussex, New Jersey we sold an annual package to our clients that gave them immediate access to our airwaves and website to inform their customers of their reduced or changed hours of operation, due to a snow/ice storm, or if they would be closed completely. It was a solid revenue source for my radio stations and appeared as a line item in my budget.

It took a lot of extra manpower to staff our storm center handling calls from listeners and businesses and getting everything broadcast on our four radio stations and their individual websites.

Then the Clear Channel RIFs came along. (RIF = Reduction In Force) I was told by my regional manager that the company’s new automated online system would replace the need for all those people and not to worry.

When the first storm hit, the system crashed. It happened again during the second storm of the season too. I gave our IT people in New York City a tongue lashing, which got me an angry call from my regional manager telling me to stop calling the people in New York and bothering them with my problem.

I never called New York again.

Instead I walked down the hall to my business manager and told her to refund every dollar our clients had paid us to be a part of our storm center and composed a letter to go with the refund checks saying that due to unforeseen circumstances, we could not deliver on what we had promised. Our company’s new automated system had bugs that were being addressed but that I had no idea when they would be fixed. However, we would still do our best with our limited staff to air their cancellation notices and then post them on our websites at no charge.

I didn’t lose a single advertiser, and proceeded to take this lemon of a situation and turn it into lemonade.

Customer Service

People don’t care what you say your customer service policy is. All the flowery language in the world will never camouflage the actions you take in response to a customer’s problem.

Everyone knows what the right thing to do is, in any given situation.

Best management advice I can share with you is, just do the right thing.

P.S.

When it came time to review my quarterly results against my budget, my regional manager asked why I had gone from $30,000 to zero in storm center revenue. When I told him what I had done, you can imagine he was none too happy about it.

However, our revenues and bottom line for that year both exceeded our budget, proving to me you can never go wrong when you do the right thing.

 

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Where Will You Be in Five Years

50th ReunionIn August 2015, the high school classes of PHS, THS and SJHS held their 45th class reunion. The weather was spectacular and members of all three high schools traveled back to The Berkshires to laugh, reminisce and enjoy good times together. We parted knowing that our next reunion, would be the milestone golden reunion.

I’m sure if anyone had done a poll asking alumni where they would be in five years, they would have responded with something like, I hope to be alive and back home in Pittsfield for the 50th. No one would have answered, stuck at home, avoiding a novel coronavirus, wondering if we’d run out of toilet paper, watching our nation’s cities with protests, reminiscent of the 1960s, seeing unemployment inching its way towards that of The Great Depression and wondering if our retirement savings wouldn’t vanish with another economic collapse. No, none of us were thinking those things.

50 Years Later

Here we are, 50 years later, Sunday June 7th 2020 is the same day of the week it was when we all graduated in 1970, except this time nothing will be like it was 50 years ago. In 1970, the high temperature of the day was 73 degrees, visibility was over 24 miles, winds were blowing at a gentle 5 to 6 miles per hour and the sun was shining brightly.

The 70s

1970 was the year the U.S. Military invaded Cambodia and Laos, George Wallace led a major backlash against racial integration, the Environmental Protection Agency was created under Republican President Richard M. Nixon, an explosion aboard Apollo 13 forced the space craft to make an emergency return to Earth, the first Earth Day to stop pollution was celebrated, Bobby Orr scores an Over Time Win leading the Boston Bruins to a 4-0 sweep of the Stanley Cup over the St. Louis Blues, Casey Kasem debuted “American Top 40” on the radio, you could buy a gallon of gas for 36 cents and life expectancy was 70.8.

We’re Getting Older

That last statistic, life expectancy, weighs heavy on the Class of 1970 for most of us are turning 68 this year and due to COVID19, our 50th Class Reunion in October has been cancelled. The class leaders are hoping it can be held in either the summer or fall of 2021, but for now, everything is up-in-the-air.

50 Years Earlier

All of this is quite a change from June of 1970 when the number one song playing on radios everywhere was “Everything Is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens. 50 years later, things simply don’t appear all that beautiful at the moment.

Speaking of radio, I would begin my radio career in the 10th grade of high school when Dick Taylor WBECthrough a new Junior Achievement program, I would take my first steps into a commercial radio station. I would pass my FCC broadcast license exam six months later, landing a position as a commercial broadcaster.

53 years later, I still am broadcasting on the radio, from my home in Virginia over 105.9 WMEX-FM in New Hampshire and streaming over the internet on TuneIn radio.

I started this media mentorship blog six years ago, writing and publishing articles about broadcasting every Sunday morning.

2020 Graduates

The Class of 2020 finds their graduations being held online, or as a drive-up, like getting a takeout order from a fast food restaurant. The most positive spin on these aborted high school graduations being a lawn sign that read, “They closed the world for us. Congratulations Class of 2020.”

The Clock is Ticking

The Class of 1970 has waited 600 months, 2,609 weeks, 18,265 days, 438,360 hours to celebrate its Golden Reunion, but who’s counting.

Sadly, we have been counting the classmates we’ve lost over these 50 years, 111 for all three high schools, from a three high school graduating class of 891, including the first graduating class for Taconic High School.

We’re Baby Boomers. A generation that was so big that Pittsfield needed three high schools to accommodate us.

We may have been separate back then and even competitive, but today we are one.

Stay Safe Everyone and we’ll see you in 2021.

 

 

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