Tag Archives: COVID19

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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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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