Tag Archives: Dan Ingram

P E R S O N A L I T Y

In 1959*, Lloyd Price released the song “Personality.”

It was about a girl and what made her special.

Here’s a sample:

            ‘Cause you got personality

            Walk, with personality

            Talk, with personality

            Smile, with personality

            Charm, with personality

            Love, with personality

With the exception of a daypart or two, it’s what most radio lacks today – PERSONALITY.

Rewound Radio

Every Saturday, Rewound Radio, a streaming-only radio station features its “DJ Hall of Fame.” They are air checks of some of America’s best radio personalities, like Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy, Robert W. Morgan, Charlie Tuna, The Real Don Steele and so many more. While everyone of the personalities I just mentioned are now in radio heaven, their recorded radio shows sound as vibrant and exciting as ever. That’s why people from all over the globe dial in to hear them, and not just radio people, radio listeners who grew up with them.

People like me.

Techsurvey 2022

So, it wasn’t really a surprise when Fred Jacobs gave us a sneak preview of his latest research on why people listen to over-the-air (OTA) radio.

People today listen to OTA radio for the very same reason that they always have, to hear their favorite radio personality. The unfortunate thing is, the radio industry talks the talk, but doesn’t really walk the talk.

Radio’s ultimate strength as a medium is dependent

on the power and popularity of its personalities.

-Fred Jacobs

Club DJs

When I walk the boardwalks in New Jersey, Delaware or Maryland in the summertime, you can’t help but be very aware of how important it is for each club to have a popular DJ. Club DJs get people dancing, having fun and spending their money in that particular club for hours.

The longer club patrons stay, the more money club owners make.

The reality is the role of a Club DJ could be easily automated and the music would be non-stop, but it is the special magic a live personality delivers that makes all the difference. Great performers make people feel things. They deliver an emotional experience that can’t be duplicated by automation.

“People are always neglecting something they can do

in trying to do something they can’t do.”

-Edgar Watson Howe

Living in a VUCA World

The world today is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous; it’s a VUCA existence. Many businesses are told they must innovate or die.

In radio’s race to stay relevant, it tries to compete with streaming audio services, where at best it can only be second best when it plays on their terms. What OTA radio should be heavily investing in is the development and promotion of outstanding, compelling, relatable radio talent.

“Treat talent with respect.

They are the reason radio remains so important.”

-Lori Lewis

Family Feud

Sue & I love watching Family Feud with Steve Harvey. This TV game show debuted on ABC on July 12, 1976 with host Richard Dawson. It would be broadcast for nine years before the network pulled the plug,  but would continue to air periodically over the following decades. The show has had six hosts, but only its original host and the current host have seen the show be an audience hit.

In fact, it was when Steve Harvey took over as host in 2010, that Family Feud was finally resuscitated. His hosting abilities with his stand-up comedy and radio background has the audience always wondering what he will say next and almost always producing laugh-out-loud moments on the game show. It also doesn’t hurt that Steve Harvey is as nice as he seems. Being genuine is always an asset in the media world.

I said there were six hosts of this show over the years, Richard Dawson was the first and Steve Harvey is the current host, but you probably can’t name the other four without looking it up on Google. And that’s my point.

Personalities are the difference maker.

Radio leaders talk a good game when it comes to telling us how important local talent is to the power of great radio, but it’s time they put their investment monies where their mouths are, by hiring and training the next generation of radio performers.

It’s time for the radio industry to focus on a change that matters.

Family Feud Hosts: Richard Dawson, Ray Combs, Louie Anderson, Richard Karn, John O’Hurley and Steve Harvey.
*Note: an earlier version of this post stated the date of Lloyd Price’s hit record “Personality” as 1957. It was updated to 1959 after a reader pointed out this error.

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Is it LIVE or AI?

One of the loyal readers to this blog, wrote and asked me what I thought the future looked like for the combination of radio and Artificial Intelligence (AI). In today’s blog, I will consider that very question.

Is it Live, or is it Memorex?

I remember when the audio quality of tape recorders became so improved with audio reproduction, that the question of the day was, “Is it live or is it Memorex?” Memorex was a company established in 1961 for selling magnetic computer tapes. In the 70s Memorex moved into producing quality audio tape for recording music and voice.

TV commercials at that time featured Ella Fitzgerald singing a note that shattered a glass, while simultaneously being recorded on an audio cassette. The recorded audio would then be played back and the recording would also shatter a glass, to which the announcer would ask, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?”

Is AI Going to Replace Voicetracking?

Then Radio Ink published a story that got many of the people in my radio, podcasting and other social media groups talking about, titled “Is AI going to replace voicetracking?”

Voicetracking technology has been used to replace live radio personalities for decades, but what AI presents the industry with is the possible ability to bring back the big name radio personalities.

Dan Ingram, Larry Lujack, Robert W. Morgan, The Real Don Steele…

Imagine your radio market’s favorite radio personality returning to the airwaves. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

A company called WellSaid Labs has created dozens of human voice avatars where all one needs to do to get them to talk, is type text into a computer and the voice will say it.

Imagine how having a creative person, who has studied the style of an iconic personality, and then creating new, contemporary material to be delivered in that personality’s voice might sound.

Netflix Research

Now you might be wondering why anyone would want this type of technology. Well, Netflix now streams content worldwide and buys new content from producers all over the world. Much of that content is produced in the country’s native language and so Netflix has to show that content with either subtitles or voice-dubbing the dialog with voice actors speaking in the language of the country the material will air in.

It might not surprise you to learn that when Netflix has offered viewers two ways of viewing  a program, Americans in particular, prefer voice-dubbing to subtitles. (I know I do.)

To speed up the process of voice-dubbing and to have voices that sound the same as the original actors, companies like WellSaid are developing artificial intelligence technology that by voice sampling can then re-create the voice automatically.

ALEXA

I already have conversations with Alexa and have wondered what she might sound like as a DJ on a radio station, haven’t you?

The afternoon DJ on KCSN, Andy Chanley, has been on-the-air there for over 32 years. Now using a robot DJ named ANDY (Artificial Neural Disk-Jockey), Chanley’s voice will continue to be heard in many places throughout Southern California. During a demonstration for Reuters, reporters say that Chanley’s AI voice was hard to distinguish from his human voice.

You can listen to these computer generated voices WellSaid has created for yourself by clicking on this link: https://wellsaidlabs.com/?#actors-preview-list

Is Your Favorite DJ Already a Robot?

WellSaid says its voice avatars are doing more than just DJ work, they are being used extensively in corporate training material and the creation of audio books.

Do I think I will live to see radio’s great personalities coming back to life? No, because I think there will be too many legal issues that might complicate that from happening anytime soon.

But I do think that original voice avatars, teamed up with creative content developers, might just come into existence sooner than we imagine and provide us with an entirely new form of radio entertainment.

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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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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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Where Have All the Baby Boomers Gone?

Baby BoomerBill Thomas, a media and branding idea expert and broadcast & radio veteran (@BillThomas), shared a link on Twitter to an Ad Week article about three brands that bought ads in Super Bowl 54, targeting the 50+ demo. It’s not surprising, as the author of the article points out, that this is the age group that is most active and ready to spend online. Any guess on what the three brands are, that were targeting this Baby Boomer age group? Do you think it was iHeartMedia, Cumulus, and Entercom? Stay tuned.

Citizen Insight Academy

The City of Winchester holds a Citizen Insight Academy annually, and I signed my wife Sue and I up for the 2020 edition. We’re only nine weeks into this 16-week program and Citizen Insight Academyit’s been illuminating learning about our city and the way it operates. The other evening, we had a session with the city’s Emergency Management and E-911 departments.

You can imagine my reaction when the head of the E-911 department began her talk with “People don’t listen to the radio anymore, but they’re really into social media.” She went on to say how she grew up listening to the radio but how other forms of communication, like social media, have replaced that habit. Much like smartphones have replaced people’s landline telephones.

She told us that most calls into the city’s 911 switchboard come from wireless phones versus landlines. The percentage was something like 75% wireless to 25% landline. I myself have been a cellphone only household for over a decade, and our class of 35 had only about four people who still have a landline.

Traditional Radio Stations Have Lost Faith of Listeners

If I thought our city’s 911 Director was tough on radio, the BBC’s head of radio and education, recently said “Radio as we’ve always known it, has lost the faith of listeners.” He explained that “where once it was everything, now it is not. In fact, for many listeners, it is no longer their default.”

BBC Chief

BBC Radio Chief, James Purnell

In 1920, when commercial radio service began in America, you were lucky if you had a single choice for wireless communication. In many localities, you might have only had radio service after sunset via the AM skywave phenomena.

As more radio stations came on the air, Americans began to develop a radio habit. Radio listening was something we did while working, riding in the car or while we were at play. It provided the audio accompaniment to our lives. But everything’s changed. Now radio stations need to create an experience that earns a place in someone’s day.

NuVoodoo on Media Addictions

I wasn’t surprised to see NuVoodoo releasing some data from their latest research that shows all age groups today are addicted to their Smartphones. But what caught my eye was how Millennials, Gen X and Gen Z groups were more addicted to a favorite FM or AM radio station than Baby Boomers.

NuVoodoo Addiction to Media 2020

Which got me to thinking, why were the very people who grew up with radio and few other choices, be the age group least engaged with the medium today?

Boomers Know Great Radio When They Hear It

Real Don Stelle

The Real Don Steele

Baby Boomers grew up during a time when great radio personalities dominated the airwaves. Broadcasters like Harry Harrison, Robert W. Morgan, Larry Lujack, Dan Ingram, The Real Don Steele, Ron Lundy and so many more filled our lives with information, entertainment, community and companionship. It was a time when radio stations had local news teams, great promotions, exciting radio jingles, stationality and air personalities. Personalities, so important in our lives that we wanted to meet them more than the recording artists that created the music they played.

Radio for Baby Boomers isn’t like that anymore, so they’re moving on.

The boomer generation now embraces smartphones, smart speakers and social media with a vengeance, taking all their dollars to spend right along with them. Baby Boomers hold around 70% of the disposable income in the United States and they make up 50% of sales for all consumer package goods.

The Big Three

So, who were the media companies that want to gain a larger share of the 50+ demo? The ones that know that Baby Boomers are the most active and ready to spend their dollars online?

Google, Amazon and Facebook, that’s who.Facebook Amazon Google Logos

Facebook advertised during a Super Bowl television broadcast for the very first time in 2020. They hired as pitchmen, Chris Rock (54) and Sylvester Stallone (73). Both men are iconic celebrities and are part of this powerful consumer demographic, the 50+ audience.

Meanwhile, radio continues to jettison the very people that connects them with their local audience, the radio personality.

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DJs Get Paid More than Real Musicians

Wolfman JackI was reading an article in Medium about “How Platform Capitalism Devalued the Music Industry,” when I came to this comment from electronic pop artist Grimes – currently dating Elon Musk – “DJs get paid more than real musicians.”

As the blowback continues to reverberate from the recent “employee dislocations” by iHeartMedia, of hundreds of their disc jockeys across America, I wondered who were these highly valued DJs Grimes was talking about.

World’s Highest Paid DJs

Turns out that Forbes published a list in July of what Forbes called “The World’s Highest-Paid DJs of 2019.”

chainsmokers

The #1 highest paid DJs are “Chainsmokers” earning $46 million in pre-tax income over the past year.

Who?

If that was the first thought that flashed across your brain, you’re not alone. The Chainsmokers are made up of Drew Taggart and Alex Pall.

#2 was “Marshmello” at $40 million, #3 was “Calvin Harris” at $38.5 million, #4 was “Steve Akoi” at $30 million and rounding out the top 5 was “Diplo” at $25 million. Forbes actually ranked the top 15 and you can see the whole list HERE.

None of these DJs are on your local radio station. They are all club DJs.

The Chainsmokers signed a three-year exclusive residency deal with Wynn Nightlife in Las Vegas that has the pair performing only in nightclubs at XS and Encore Beach Club in Vegas in 2017. The pair is such a draw, that agreement has been extended until 2021. The group also records EDM albums and released their first single in 2013.

Club DJs

marshmelloChristopher Comstock, aka “Marshmello,” signed with the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas taking up residency at their Kaos Dayclub and Nightclub.

Marshmello entertains from a rotating DJ booth shaped like his signature cylindrical marshmallow mask. If you’d like to see him in action, here’s a link to a YouTube video

This year coming in at #3, “Calvin Harris.” He previously had been the #1 highest paid DJ for six consecutive years.

Absent from the list are over-the-air radio DJs.

Radio’s Highest Paid

It should come as no surprise that Howard Stern reigns in the top spot with an income north of $90 million. But he’s on satellite radio.

The top earner on terrestrial radio is Rush Limbaugh, who recently announced he’s battling advanced lung cancer. Then comes Ryan Seacrest, Sean Hannity and Glen Beck, all syndicated talk radio hosts.radio sign

What’s the attraction of all of these personalities?

Grimes puts it this way, “It’s kind of like Instagram or whatever. [Listeners] don’t want the real world.” Great personalities give us an escape from our world and make us feel like we are a part of their lives.

Great Radio

Radio provides the listener with community and companionship through the stories it tells and music it plays.

Harry Harrison, New York City’s Morning Mayor, recently passed away at age 89. He was a New York City DJ Legend, broadcasting over WMCA, WABC and CBS-FM for the majority of his radio broadcasting career.

Cousin Brucie was invited to share his memories of Harry and why he was so loved by Big Apple radio listeners. Brucie said it was all about making the members of the radio audience feel like family. It’s all about talking to people and being out in the community Cousin Brucie & DTwith them, touching their hands. In fact, the host said, when Brucie showed up at NBC4  to do the segment, people who work at the TV station came to see him and gave Brucie a hug. Something that rarely happens when guests appear on the program.

I know how they feel because, one Saturday night, that’s exactly what I felt like when I had the opportunity to spend a night in “Cousin Brucie’s Place” at SiriusXM.

The Power of the DJ

The common thread, whether we’re talking about a popular club DJ or radio DJ, is their ability to bring people together, engage in the same thing at the same time and make us feel like we are welcome and belong.

Harry Harrison told his listeners that “every brand new day should be unwrapped like a precious gift” and he always wished his listeners the very best, “because that’s exactly what you deserve!” Ron Lundy greeted his listeners with “Hello Luv,” Dan Ingram called his listeners “Kemosabe,” and everyone was a “cousin” with Brucie.

The biggest casino operators know how important the DJ is in bringing people into their dance clubs. A great club DJ can read the room and know exactly the right mix of music to play to get everyone involved and have a good time.

That same magic built great radio on thousands of local radio stations across America. It can’t be replaced by artificial intelligence and algorithms.

Real local radio knows how to read the community and provide exactly what it needs at that moment. All great radio is local and relevant.

DJs become your best friend.

Is there anything better than hanging out with your best friend?

 

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Has Radio Become a Commodity?

commoditiesBy definition, a commodity product lacks a unique selling point. Two examples of what I mean are lettuce and pencils. No one has a brand favorite of either. To the consumer of both, they’re all the same. Commodities are interchangeable with other products or services, widely available, and therefore undifferentiated except maybe by price.

How about Radio?

Recently, an administrator of a radio group that I’m a member of on Facebook posed this question to the group “Rick Sklar once said jocks are like spark plugs and can be replaced with another one. What do you think?”

Now for those readers that may not be familiar with the name Rick Sklar, he became program director of WABC – 770AM in New York City in 1963. With WABC’s clear channel signal, a tight playlist that targeted teenagers and air talent which included Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy, Harry Harrison, Cousin Brucie, Chuck Leonard and Charlie Greer, Sklar made Music Radio 77 into the most listened to radio station in North America from the mid 60s to the late 70s.

Needless to say, the comments by former air personalities in the group took issue with this “spark plug” analogy, me included.

Unique Air Talents

One-of-a-kind radio personalities built radio into the listener favorite that it’s enjoyed for nearly a century. More recently, there’s Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern (who said he was influenced by Arthur Godfrey), Paul Harvey, Super Jock Larry Lujack, Robert W. Morgan, The Real Don Steele, Dave Maynard, Joel Cash, Dale Dorman, Larry Justice, Jackson Armstrong, Salty Brine, Bob Steele, Dickie Robinson, Danny Neaverth, John Records Landecker, J.J. Jeffrey, Bill Bailey, Big Ron O’Brien, Don Imus, Bob Dearborn and so many more. Those are just some of the names that inspired me to pursue a 50-year radio career.

Each of these radio personalities is unique and the shows they presented attracted an audience that was loyal to their style of broadcasting. They were anything but, a commodity.

Computer Automation

With the advent of computer automation, the concept of voice-tracking was born. Now a few disc jockeys could be heard on-the-air over a multitude of radio stations across America. Unfortunately, this meant that customizing their radio shows to a particular radio market had to be eliminated and the DJ patter had to be appropriate for all markets the program was airing in. It became watered down and because all big box radio operators were employing the same “Best Practices,” the ownership of the station really didn’t matter as everything began to sound the same.

Contests became nationally oriented, jingles (if there were any) all sounded the same, and playlists, which once reflected regional differences and artists, were now homogenized.

On Air production, which was once an art form in and of itself, was now also computerized. The result being a disjointed, sloppy and anything but smooth radio experience.

The result of all of this was radio being turned into a commodity.

Culture Shock

“Technology is enabling great gains in convenience and diversity,” says Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University. “What is being lost is a sense of magnificence.”

He goes on to say

“It is possible we will look back on the present day as a special time when both patterns of cultural consumption could be enjoyed in tandem and enriched (by) each other. But I suspect not. As today’s over-50 crowd slowly passes away, and our experiences fade from collective memory, I wonder if the world might be in for a bigger cultural shock than we currently realize.”

 

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Radio’s Brain Challenge

radio on brainI often wonder if today’s youth would gravitate to the style of radio that attracted me to make radio broadcasting my career for five decades. Would they be attracted to a Dan Ingram, Robert W. Morgan, Dave Maynard, Ron Lundy, The Real Don Steele, Big Ron O’Brien, Larry Lujack or any of the countless other personalities that so influenced me as I was growing up?

Spoiler Alert: probably not

Old Brains vs New Brains

Our brains are wired by our experiences.

Those of us who grew up in the 60s, most likely had a transistor radio that only received Zenith RadioAM radio. Mine was a Zenith Royal 50 that came with an ear phone, that allowed me to listen to the Red Sox while in elementary school or to radio stations from far, far away after it was ‘lights out’ and I was supposed to be asleep.

This is an advertisement for that radio.

I saw it in Bristol, Tennessee at the “Birthplace of Country Music Museum.” I’m finding that a lot of my career memories are now museum pieces.

My brain was originally wired for AM radio, then FM stereo radio and all of the great radio personalities, promotions and stationality of that era.

More recently my brain has been wired for streaming audio and the convenience of playing anything that fits my mood via an Amazon Echo.

But anyone who has grown up in a world where streaming audio has always been there, has had their brain wired for only this kind of world, not the world of the 20th Century.

Classical Music’s Challenge

Classical music venues, including radio stations, are searching for new audiences as their current audience gets older.

With the typical American adult spending eleven-plus hours-a-day connected to media, today’s musical consumer can’t help but have their brain wired in a new way. Most of that listening is via computer speakers or wireless ear buds, not known for delivering the highest quality sound, but very convenient.

Classical music aficionados are all about quality of sound, so huge sums of money are spent building acoustically perfect auditoriums that often are in locations that are anything but easy for people to access.

People want to listen to music everywhere; in cars, on buses, on trains & planes, and while walking on busy city streets. They don’t mind that the sound quality is less than perfect because convenience for them rules.

Our Brains Re-wire Quickly

To give you an example of how quickly our brains can be re-wired, V.S. Ramachandaran did an experiment where test subjects were shown a group of black dots on a white page. After studying the dots, participants soon began to see the form of a dog. MRI scans were used during the process and monitored participant brains being re-wired. Once the dog was seen, participants could not look at the paper again without immediately seeing a dog. Their brains had been re-wired that quickly.

On Demand Entertainment

I’ll admit it, I want my entertainment – audio or video – immediately available when I want it. My radio and television habits are nothing like they were when I was growing up when the only media I could see or hear came through the ether.

Initially cable TV and the TV remote control re-wired my brain for television viewing, but nothing has impacted my home media entertainment habits like streaming and on demand. Be it audio entertainment via our Amazon Echoes (now numbering 3) or video entertainment via Apple TV or Firestick, everything now is on demand to match our mood thanks to streaming via the internet.

Is It Real or AI?

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has gotten so sophisticated that they are “paving the way for “deepfake” videos, content that falsely shows people saying and doing things they never said or did,” says CNBC.

Just the other week I read where James Dean, who died 64 years ago, will be starring in an upcoming movie about the Vietnam War. This has been made possible by the use of computer-generated imaging of James Dean.

A New Radio Format

Larry LujackThat got me to thinking that maybe a new radio format could be created bringing back deceased personalities like Robert W. Morgan, Dan Ingram, The Real Don Steele, Big Ron O’Brien, Ron Lundy, Larry Lujack among other greats by using the power of artificial intelligence. These incomparable radio personalities would “live again” via talented writers and programmers who would tell them what to say. Can you imagine how it might sound?

It would be like the “DJ Hall of Fame” on Rewound Radio, only the weather forecasts, the news, the community events etc. would all be current and up-to-date.

Which brings me back to how I started this article, would the radio listeners of today listen? Would their brains be so completely re-wired that they wouldn’t find it appealing? I fear they wouldn’t. Just as Vaudeville shtick stopped appealing to the generations of audiences with access to movies, television and radio.

In the end, doing something new means doing something fundamentally different.

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If you’d like to know more about how advanced Artificial Intelligence has become, watch this five and a half-minute YouTube video. AI can clone your voice after listening to it for just 5-seconds. Click HERE

And for a really deep dive on how AI will change our future in ways we never imagined, watch this two-hour FRONTLINE report from PBS HERE

 

 

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Radio Has an Addiction Problem

listening_to_radioHave you heard the latest? People are addicted to their smartphones. “We now see smartphones as dangerous for young minds,” writes Jean-Louis Gassée in a Monday Note.

More than 30 years ago MIT professor Sherry Turkle postulated that computers weren’t just a tool, but were sneaking into our minds. In doing so, they would change our relationship with the world around us.

Smartphones are Mobile Computers

Turkle would continue her thoughts on this subject in a 1995 book “Life on the Screen, Identity in the Age of the Internet” saying “computers don’t just do things for us, they do things to us, including our ways we think about ourselves and other people.”

Smartphones plus Social Media

When our mobile computers are married to a social media site like Facebook, things get really sticky. Sean Parker, a founding partner at Facebook, wrote about the problem after he left the company saying, “[Social Media] literally changes your relationship with society, with each other…It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it is doing to our children’s brains.”

Time for Apple to Build A Less Addictive iPhone

The NY Times published an article by Farhad Manjoo that made the case for a less addictive iPhone. Can you imagine someone writing that broadcasters should be making TV or radio less addictive? That watching too much TV or listening to too much radio might be bad for our brains.

Broadcasters today find they have a different problem. They have lost the addictive luster of the past.

The Amazon Addiction

“For many businesses, Amazon is simultaneously a sales channel, a potential service provider and a competitive threat,” says Forrest Research. For broadcasters, Amazon is attacking our retail advertising revenue, by undermining the very businesses we sell to. Today Amazon is the go-to website for retail search, surpassing Google.

Trying to compete with Amazon is a retail challenge. The very retailers’ broadcasters depend on for their revenue.

Retailers measure how well they’re doing by their bottom line.

Amazon is all about increasing top line sales growth. (Wall Street hasn’t demanded Amazon to be profitable yet.)

See the problem?

Trying to beat the Amazon model is a race to the bottom with pricing for our advertising customers.

Free shipping, two-day shipping, lowest prices, biggest selection, customer ratings etc. are among the things making Amazon addictive.

People Made Radio Addictive

Over the years, radio has had personalities that made the medium addictive like Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Dan Ingram, Larry Lujack, Robert W. Morgan, Jess Cain, Dale Dorman, Paul Harvey and many more.

Once upon a time, music formats could be addictive, but today’s access to streaming audio is challenging that beachfront.

Alexa Doesn’t Know My Local Radio Station

My local radio stations are called KISS (WKSI-FM) and WINK (WINC-FM). When I ask Alexa to play either KISS-FM or WINC-FM, I get the Los Angeles KIIS-FM or the WINK-FM licensed to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

When I asked Siri the same questions, she couldn’t help me play anything. Siri told me, “Sorry, Dick, I can’t help you with that on your iPhone.”

When your branding is not unique, these new consumer voice activated devices don’t have a clue what you’re trying to ask them. They either make their best algorithm guess or just throw in the towel.

Broadcast Station Call Letters

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) solved this problem early in broadcasting by assigning each broadcast station its own unique call letters, but broadcasters abandoning those identifiers for branding like Kiss, Froggy, Hot, and others, that are duplicated all across the country, is now a problem in a voice activated world. But it’s not just the brand not being unique, the programming is likewise just as non-unique.

Don’t Be Generic

No one ever became addicted to a generic.

Addiction stimulates parts of the brain that trigger craving and longing, that release habit-forming, feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins.

Your iPhone does that for you.

You voice activated smart speaker does too.

Broadcasting is show business.

Which do you think stimulates the part of the brain that causes addiction? The show part or the business part?

Answer that question correctly and you’re on your way.

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People Attract People

110One of my favorite activities each Memorial Day Weekend is to listen to WABC Rewound streamed over Rewound Radio. What makes this weekend so special is that people from all over the world are listening to the stream at the same time. It’s a coming together of people of all ages to celebrate one of the greatest radio stations America ever produced.

Why WABC Rewound is So Popular

This year, I streamed WABC Rewound driving back to Virginia after spending a couple of weeks in my home state of Massachusetts. Over 7-hours and four states, the stream via my iPhone7 pumped through my Honda Accord’s premium 7-speaker, 270-watt audio system was rich, full and continuous without buffering or interference of any kind. That all by itself is something to note. Streaming audio today is becoming seamless.

But it wasn’t the music that attracted me, though the records are the “music of my life” from my days in high school, college and as a disc jockey. No what attracts me – and everyone else that faithfully tunes in each year – are the personalities.

Herb Oscar Anderson, Bob Dayton, Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy, Bruce Morrow, Charlie Greer, Bob Lewis, Chuck Leonard, Johnny Donovan, Harry Harrison and George Michael, plus the newscasters that delivered news every hour.

We are attracted to the people. People we grew up with.

The New Yorker magazine wrote back in 1965 that listeners to WABC were part of the WABC family. We were “cousins” of Cousin Brucie. We were part of the Ingram tribe as he called us “Kemosabe.”

Mornings went “all the way with HOA” as New York’s morning Mayor Herb Oscar Anderson started our day before Harry Harrison moved from WMCA to WABC.

Contests, Features & Promotions About People

WABC invited listeners to vote for their “Principal of the Year” (16-million votes cast in 1964), mail in for a “Kissin’ Cousin Card” or a “Kemosabe Card” (drawing in 150,000 requests in a single week).

Herb Oscar singing “Hello Again” live on the radio and reading lost dog announcements, celebrating birthdays.

Each personality became a member of the family. Your family. And like a member of the family, you took them everywhere you went. To the lake, on a picnic, in your car, to wake up with or go to sleep with. They were companions and we were part of their community.

Father Peter Gregory

“Without people, there wouldn’t be a priesthood,” was the often-heard proclamation of Father Peter Gregory of St. Charles Church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Father Peter has been the pastor of St. Charles for nearly three decades. “The church is people,” he told a reporter who interviewed him on the eve of his retirement.

I bring up Father Peter because at a time when many churches in Pittsfield have closed their doors due to a lack of followers, St. Charles is doing quite well.

It’s not the most glamorous of structures – other churches in the city I might rate more inspirational – and it’s not in the best neighborhood, no what it has had is a spiritual leader that believed in people and whom people believed in right back.

A Mount Rushmore Sized Opportunity for Radio

I love reading the weekly Mid-Week Motivator articles from a good friend and former consultant of some of the radio stations I managed, Tim Moore.

Recently Tim asked “Why is Talent Development in Neutral?”

He wrote that his life’s education seems to have been about understanding the challenges and concepts of what it takes to be a winner. It meant he would constantly be looking for character and excellence in people who hadn’t found it yet.

The irony about today’s radio, Tim says, is “glaring opportunity, constricted by the inability or lack of will on the part of many companies and their leaders to insist on the culture of better.”

Air talent goes un-coached while radio has a huge opportunity to build relationships with its listeners. Building the same kind of bond, I had with the personalities of WABC, WKBW, WTRY, WPTR, WBZ, WRKO, WDRC, WBEC, WBRK, WLS, WCFL and so many more.

Focus Groups

Over the years, I’ve been to many diary reviews and a few focus groups. What you see are the attraction of radio listeners to radio personalities.

While a particular format may be what initially attracts a listener to a radio station, it’s the radio personality that is the glue that will cement the listener’s loyalty.

Tim says” It’s the personality of a station that locks-in listeners’ interest and daily habit.” “The implications are simple, obvious, yet largely ignored: without better talent (defined as more relatable, interesting, and reciprocal people on the radio) we are treading water,” says Tim.

Who Influenced Dan Ingram, The Real Don Steele, Dale Dorman or…?

Most radio people my age grew up with the most talented and engaging radio personalities to grace the airwaves of American radio. They were our teachers. They were available for us to listen to and mentor under 24/7, 365-days a year.

In addition to them, we had program directors – many of them off-air – who coached us and inspired us to be better.

I’ve often wondered about the iconic radio personalities that did it first. Who did they learn from? How did they become the engaging, relatable, interesting personalities that attracted our ears like metal to a magnet?

And can a talent voice-tracked over multiple radio stations ever be as compelling to not just listeners but to the next generation to want to pursue radio as a career?

Again, Father Peter understood his church’s most valuable asset, it’s youth. “It’s the kids and youth who are the future of our church,” he said. “I’m now dealing with kids whose parents I had as kids.”

The Community Band

Once upon a time, every community in America had at least one town band. Most of them are long gone.

When I was managing a radio cluster in Lancaster, Pennsylvania I came to know and love the New Holland Band of New Holland, Pennsylvania.

The band was not only strong and vibrant, but performed at a level that would have made John Phillip Sousa proud. Its concerts are very well attended and it’s produced some of this country’s finest musicians, some of whom now perform as part of the President’s band.

Why did the New Holland Band not just survive but continues to thrive? It understood it’s all about people. The band’s members are made up of a diverse group of professional, semi-professional and student musicians. The oldest member of the band has been a member since 1959 and the newest member since 2016. It’s this blending of youth with experience and wisdom that keeps the New Holland Band fresh, contemporary and relevant.

Junior Achievement

It was the initiative of one of my hometown radio stations (WBEC) that convinced the Junior Achievement to create a JA Radio Company.

Junior Achievement was founded in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1919 by Theodore Vail of AT&T, Horace Moses of Strathmore Paper Company and Massachusetts Senator Winthrop Murray Crane (who’s family paper company, Crane and Company make the paper all U.S. currency is printed on).

The JA website states: “Junior Achievement is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their future, and make smart academic and economic choices. Junior Achievement’s programs—in the core content areas of work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy—ignite the spark in young people to experience and realize the opportunities and realities of work and life in the 21st century. Our Purpose: Junior Achievement inspires and prepares young people to succeed in a global economy.”

WBEC’s management realized that getting high school students actively involved with the radio station would engage their parents, siblings, families and friends too. Many of them who owned local businesses. It was both mentoring a new generation of radio broadcasters as well as leveraging the people attract people principle.

Human Development

As Tim Moore says “Human development is the essence of life. Weak excuses such as ‘we don’t have the time to develop talent’ are just chin boogie.”

All my radio life, I’ve invested my energies in the development of people. Many of them today are owners and managers of their own broadcast operations.

I’m also proud to have spent the past seven years of my life as a broadcast professor paying-it-forward to a new generation of broadcasters.

Radio is a people business.

It will never attract people to its product like it once did without a serious commitment to talent development.

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