Tag Archives: Cumulus Media

You Can’t Make an Elephant into a Giraffe

Let’s face it, somethings in life are what they are. Giraffe’s have long necks and elephants have big ears, big feet and trunks. Just as pickup trucks were designed for a different purpose than speed boats. So, why do we think that radio can somehow defy the natural order and become something that it was never designed to be?

Work on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

One of the lessons I learned in classes at Clear Channel University* was how people often focus on their weaknesses and try to improve them. However, studies have shown that when we focus on our strengths, we grow faster than when we try to improve our weaknesses. Added benefits to focusing on our strengths are that we become happier, less stressed and more confident.

The cure for constantly falling short of your goals is to work on improving where you’re already strong, rather than on areas where you are weak.

Why Doesn’t Radio Focus on Its Strengths?

Entercom changed its name to Audacy, saying:

“We have transformed into a fundamentally different and dramatically enhanced organization and so it is time to embrace a new name and brand identity which better reflects who we have become and our vision for the future. Audacy captures our dynamic creativity, outstanding content and innovative spirit as we aspire to build the country’s best audio content and entertainment platform.”

-David Field, CEO

Audacy is the fourth largest radio company in America (based on the number of radio stations owned) and just like the top three radio operators ahead of them, none use the word “radio” in their name.

It was in 2010, that National Public Radio announced that it would be using “NPR” as its brand name, even though its legal name remains the same. NPR celebrated its 50th birthday in 2020, the same year that American commercial radio turned 100.

What is it about the name “radio” that has radio station owners and operators distancing themselves from this word?

Finding Your Strengths

If you want to grow your strengths, first you need to identify them. This week, Pierre Bouvard, Chief Insights Officer at Cumulus Media/Westwood One, did a pretty good job of that in his blog. While Pierre was trying to correct some misperceptions about broadcast radio, he also gave us a good place to start with identifying some of its strengths. Here are five Pierre cites:

  1. Radio reaches 88% of persons 18 years of age and older each week in America.
  2. Radio reaches the 60% of Americans who are back in their cars commuting to work every day. (The Radio Advertising Bureau says radio’s reach in the car is 83% in 2021, making it the dominate form of media on-the-road.)
  3. Radio’s audience shares are twenty-one times larger than ad-supported Pandora and ten times that of ad-supported Spotify, according to Edison Research.
  4. Radio delivers an impressive Return On Investment (ROI). Pierre says “for example, for every $1 invested in an auto aftermarket AM/FM radio campaign, there is a $21 sales return.”
5. Radio delivers listeners at all hours of the day, seven days a week.

Radio’s Analog Audience

Lee Abrams posted a short YouTube video back in August 2020 that you might have missed explaining his “PSYCHOGRAPHIC CHART.” If you’re in radio, you should watch it now.   

View the full twelve-minute presentation HERE What I’d like to focus on is the two quadrants that Lee has labeled as “Analog Generation/Culturally Sophisticated & Culturally Unsophisticated.” These people are radio listeners. They were born with and are comfortable with analog media.

Lee makes clear that you can’t satisfy more than one quadrant. Pick one and super serve those people to the point of making what you do appalling to people in the other three quadrants.

The bottom line is that you can’t be all things to all people, but you can be everything to some people. This is really Marketing 101.

But the Future is Digital

Yes, the future of media is digital and it can’t be ignored. But you can’t make radio into something it’s not and never will be. It’s a powerful one-to-many media entity; leverage that.

The Australian Radio Network’s Neuro Lab is doing some interesting research into how a listener’s brain responds to audio, whether it’s coming from the radio, a podcast or streamed.

What should make all radio owner/operators sit-up and take notice is the fact that “radio showed the strongest ability to engage listeners and for extended periods of time, racking up 60% more neural engagement than any other audio format.” Podcasts showed higher levels of memory encoding and streaming was noted for promoting positive attitudes towards brands. You can read the full report HERE

All Audio is Not Created Equal (in the Brain)

Dr. Shannon Bosshard, the neuroscience specialist who conducted this groundbreaking research said, “This is the first time that anyone has demonstrated, from the perspective of the brain, that radio, podcasting and music streaming are processed differently and should be treated differently, in the same manner that audio and audio-visual mediums have been.”

Radio Financed TV

It was the incredible revenue streams produced by broadcast radio that were used to build out the medium of commercial television. TV also stole radio’s stars and programs, leaving the radio industry to reinvent itself and compete with television for advertising.

Today, radio is once again finding itself the “money mule” charged with funding the buildout of digital initiatives, having to sacrifice the very thing that makes radio unique in the process; its personalities. And then, just like with TV, radio has to compete with digital for advertising.

Fred Jacobs in his TechSurvey 2021 revealed how important the Radio Personality is to today’s radio listener.

But this shouldn’t come as a surprise. For generations, the radio personality has been the primary attraction drawing audiences to one radio station over another. At his peak, Dan Ingram on WABC in New York was said to be more popular to the station’s listeners than The Beatles.

Great Radio

In the end, great radio isn’t any one element, it’s all of them – personalities, jingles, promotions, station imaging, community involvement and companionship – that makes a radio station part of a listener’s family. People have favorite movies, but not a favorite movie theater; they have favorite television programs, but not a favorite television station; however, people DO HAVE favorite radio stations.

Remember that. Leverage that. Make money knowing that.

*Clear Channel University was closed in 2009

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What was The Fairness Doctrine?

After the January 6, 2021 siege on Capitol Hill, I began hearing people saying we need to bring back “The Fairness Doctrine,” as if that genie could be put back into the bottle.

But what exactly was “The Fairness Doctrine?”

It was a policy enacted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1949 requiring the holder of a broadcast license to both present controversial issues of public importance, and to present these issues in a manner that was honest, equitable, fair and balanced.

In other words, broadcasters were supposed to not only uncover what the people in their broadcast service area should be aware of, but also to present both sides of the issue.

Operate in the Public Interest, Convenience and Necessity

From the beginning of my broadcast management career, I knew that my number one job was to protect the radio station’s FCC broadcast license to operate. Without a broadcast license, you were out of business. Second, my radio station(s) must operate in the public interest, convenience and necessity of the people in the area we were licensed to serve with our broadcasts.

The FCC created The Fairness Doctrine to ensure that “all sides of important public questions were presented fairly.”

For decades, this doctrine was seen as the keystone of broadcasters fulfilling their commitment to operating in the public interest. Compliance with The Fairness Doctrine was a primary litmus test during the license renewal process.

It was during the 1960s, when I started my radio career, that the FCC increased their enforcement of broadcaster compliance to The Fairness Doctrine. In 1963, the FCC formally stated that the presentation of only one side of an issue during a sponsored program would require that opposing views be given free air time to present their side. That rule became known as the Cullman Doctrine.

Broadcaster’s Free Speech

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that all of this increased oversight by the FCC on a broadcast station’s program content was seen as interference with a broadcaster’s “free speech.”

This would eventually be challenged at the Supreme Court in the Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC decision of 1969, with the high court upholding the constitutionality of the public interest standard in general and The Fairness Doctrine in particular. In their decision, the court stated, “It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.”

The End of The Fairness Doctrine

In 1985, the FCC finally decided that The Fairness Doctrine was incompatible with the public interest. It would eliminate this rule in 1987, and in 2011, the FCC removed the rule that implemented the policy from the Federal Register.

“[T]he Federal Communications Commission should reestablish two principles that formerly served this country well: the public service requirement and the fairness doctrine. Every television and radio station should once again be required to devote a meaningful percentage of its programming to public service broadcasting. The public, after all, owns the airwaves through which signals are broadcast, and the rights-of-way in which cables are strung. And every television and radio station should once again have to follow the fairness doctrine: those with opposing views should have the right to respond to viewpoints expressed on the station.”
― 
Bernie Sanders, United States Senator

Trump Tweets NBC Broadcasts “Fake News”

In October of 2017, President Donald J. Trump tweeted “With all the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”

Broadcast legal experts immediately criticized and dismissed Trump’s tweet as both implausible and having no legal basis.

The American Bar Association’s Legal Fact Check wrote:

“The FCC publishes specific rules and guidelines related to news hoaxes and distortions and bars a licensee from knowingly broadcasting false information concerning a crime or a catastrophe. But the bar or threshold is high. Six days after Trump’s tweet, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said his agency cannot revoke the license of a broadcaster ‘based on content of a particular newscast,’ and cited First Amendment protections of the press. FCC statements previously noted that the commission ‘often receives complaints … that stations have aired inaccurate or one-sided news reports or comments, covered stories inadequately or overly dramatized the events that they cover… (but) the commission generally will not intervene in such cases because it would be inconsistent with the First Amendment to replace the journalistic judgment of licensees with our own.’”

FOX NEWS CHANNEL

The Fairness Doctrine ended during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, however, it’s often wrongly stated that this gave birth to cable’s FOX NEWS CHANNEL. It did not. Cable channels are not, nor have they ever been, regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Similarly, the internet is also not regulated by the FCC.

The Fairness Doctrine only applied to the licenses of broadcast radio and television stations.

A case could be made that the end of The Fairness Doctrine did open the door to the Rush Limbaugh Show, which made its nationally syndicated premiere in 1988. Rush Limbaugh was a savior for AM radio stations, who saw most of their music audiences moving over to FM radio stations, and those advertising dollars moving right along with them.

Limbaugh proved so popular with AM talk radio audiences, that AM radio station owners added more talk shows like Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin and others.

Cumulus Media

Following the siege on our nation’s Capitol in Washington, DC on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, Cumulus Media, the radio syndicator for the Mark Levin Show sent a memo to its talk show hosts to stop spreading rhetoric about a stolen election or face termination.

Brian Philips, executive vice president of content for Cumulus Media wrote in his memo:

“We need to help induce calm NOW (and) will not tolerate any suggestion that the election has not ended. The election has been resolved, there are no alternative acceptable ‘paths.’ If you transgress this policy, you can expect to separate from the company immediately.”

Cumulus Media operates Westwood One, which syndicates Trump-supporting radio talk personalities like Mark Levin, Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino.

Free Speech

I find it ironic that the people screaming the loudest about what Cumulus Media has done is to thwart free speech. It’s not “free speech” to tell lies. United States constitutional law does not always protect false statements under the First Amendment.

Moreover, these same people are usually the ones who say, “Let the market decide.” In other words, let the corporations and companies make those hard decisions.

In this case, Cumulus Media did just that.

iHeartMedia which syndicates Trump-supporter hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity has not publicly announced any similar action for these talk hosts as of the writing of this blog article.

In 2016, SiriusXM suspended conservative talk host Glenn Beck for agreeing with one of his show’s guests who asked, “what patriot will step up to remove Donald Trump from office if he’s elected president and oversteps his authority?” SiriusXM, operator of America’s two satellite radio services, suspended Beck because they worried the conversation might “be reasonably construed by some to have been advocating harm against an individual currently running for office.”

Michael Harrison, who publishes Talkers magazine was sympathetic to the Cumulus memo saying:

“Corporations are responsible for what’s on their air. They have to deal with client feedback. They have to deal with public image and protection of their license. Private corporations can control their platforms, and I believe that in and of itself is an expression of free speech in action.”

I’m all for the Fairness Doctrine, whatever that is.

-George Voinovich*

*George Victor Voinovich (July 15, 1936 – June 12, 2016) was an American politician who served as a United States senator from Ohio from 1999 to 2011, the 65th governor of Ohio from 1991 to 1998 and the 54th mayor of Cleveland from 1980 to 1989, the last Republican to serve in that office.

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