Tag Archives: Dan Mason

Radio & Traveling – Then & Now

Version 2Sue and I just returned from an eight-week, 11,175-mile cross country road trip across America traveling through 23-states. Seeing America from the car has been a Bucket List item for both of us. Our jobs have had us seeing this great land from the air; mine as a radio manager and educator/consultant, and Sue’s as a flight attendant.

Radio Then

Since my earliest days, traveling anywhere meant an opportunity to hear new sounds emanating from my radio. Every station had its own unique style and programming presentation.

I remember a trip to Millinocket, Maine that got me giggling, hearing the local newscaster struggling to pronounce a foreign country’s name or the names of their leaders. I remember hearing records that I’d never heard played on the radio before. It sounded like Maine.

Years later on a return trip to Millinocket, this radio station now aired mostly syndicated programming. It didn’t sound like Maine anymore.

Radio Now

A road trip Sue & I took to Key West, Florida last fall taught us that finding radio stations we would enjoy listening to was a real challenge. The variety of formats boiled down to mainly, R&B/Hip-Hop, Classic Rock, Country, Religious or Public Radio on FM and Sports or Conservative Talk Radio on AM.

But that wasn’t our biggest problem, cruising down the highway at 65-mph, it was when we found a station we enjoyed, it wouldn’t be more than 5-minutes before we found it being interfered with by another FM radio station making our original station virtually unlistenable.

So, before we drove out of our driveway in Virginia for our two-month long road trip we signed up for the two-month free trial of SiriusXM radio.

Community & Companionship

Dan Mason nailed it when he said radio is all about community and companionship. Take either away and you’ve lost what radio is all about.

Our road trip’s daily drives between destinations took place during the midday. Local radio stations we heard were all in full automation mode. Some were voice-tracked, many were not. They offered no companionship.

Pat St. John

However, when we pushed our SiriusXM button on the dashboard, we would hear the end of the Phlash Phelps morning show and four more hours of Pat St. John; ALL LIVE.Pat_st._john

They talked to us. They shared listener phone calls. We felt part of a large community called the United States. We heard about weather for where we were going next or weather for places we had just visited. We heard about other people’s travels and made notes about places we might want to visit.

We even learned from Pat a function that’s on our iPhones we didn’t know even existed, called “announce” that says the name of the person calling you. We both activated it on our iPhones at the next rest stop.

As a radio jingle lover, Pat St. John has a large variety of jingles he plays during his show. He even had his grandson on the program.

McDonalds or Burger King

Over our many miles, we saw lots of fast-food places. McDonalds and Burger Kings were everywhere. We didn’t need to wonder what the food was like at either of them, we knew. We basically avoided them and opted instead for a local restaurant.

And it made me realize that something similar had happened to radio.

I could turn on a station in any city, in any state, and in short order tell you whether it was iHeart or Cumulus. The Best Practices formatics were served up like fast-food. Consistent, reliable, predictable and automated or syndicated.

We even stopped in to visit some radio friends and their radio stations to take a tour. What we saw were empty studios and computer automation running each station.

Mount Rushmore

We’ve always wanted to see Mount Rushmore. It did not disappoint. But it also made me realize that the reason we both wanted to take this road trip adventure was to visit places, people and things that were one-of-a-kind.IMG_0836

We listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City. We rode the Hooterville Cannonball in Jamestown, California. We climbed aboard Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose” in McMinnville, Oregon (still the world’s largest amphibious aircraft). We went to Yellowstone, America’s first national park and walked around Devil’s Tower, America’s first national monument.

Everything on our list was something special, unique and one-of-a-kind.

Innovation

Touring the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, I couldn’t help but note some correlations between cars and radio.

The Ford Model T came along at the same time massive oil strikes were being hit in Texas; cheap cars and abundant cheap energy.

Radio was reborn after the introduction of television due to the invention of the transistor – that made radio very small and very portable – as well as its introduction in the automobile dashboard. It was a time when commuting from the suburbs to the city for work became the rage.

One innovation drives another.

Car Guys & Radio Guys

If you’re a car guy, you most likely want to make your car go faster.

If you’re a radio guy, you want your radio station to have more power.

Crosley got his WLW up to 500,000-watts (from his original 20-watt station) from 1934 to 1939.

It’s why AM broadcasters fought for and received power increases for their 250-watt Class C AM radio stations to broadcast with 1,000-watts full-time. What ultimately occurred was that the AM radio noise floor increased.

Now we see it happening again on FM with the drumbeat for Class C4 FM radio stations.

This too, won’t end well.

It also misses the point of what makes radio something people want to hear.

The Best Radio

Paul McLane just wrote the forward for latest edition of the textbook “The Radio Station.” In it he said “Radio is best when it engages, provokes, entertains, informs us.”

I quite agree with Paul, adding Dan Mason’s thought that radio is best when it serves a community and provides companionship.

In the end, if you were to ask me, “what does great radio sound like,” I’d have to say, “you know it when you hear it.”

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History’s Technology Rhyme

Transistor Radio, Car Radio and Rock & Roll

Transistor Radio, Cars & Rock ‘n Roll

I’ve written before how history never repeats itself, but usually rhymes. So when I was reading an article in the NY Times about “Tech’s ‘Frightful 5’ Will Dominate Digital Life for Foreseeable Future” it hit me. Here was how history was rhyming when it came to communications. Fasten your seat-belt, this will get bumpy.

What this article’s author Farhad Manjoo wrote was how Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft (others include Netflix in this mix) came along at a perfect time to roll up their user base. They were in the right place, at the right time in other words.

Geoffrey G. Parker, a business professor at Tulane University has co-authored a book called “Platform Revolution” where he explains how these tech companies were able to ride the perfect wave of technology change – that being a decrease in the cost of IT, an increase in connectivity and the introduction/fast adoption of mobile phones.

And when it comes to advertising, these companies are in the right place to leverage digital marketing and enjoy most of the benefits of this growth area as well. In fact, since there is a sense that these major digital companies will receive most of the online advertising monies, traditional media – like radio & TV – could see advertising monies return to them.  Let’s hope that happens.

So, where’s the rhyme in this story? Well consider this other time in communications history when television burst onto the scene after the end of World War Two in the 1950s. Radio, a lot of people thought, would cease to exist. Radio’s stars, programs and advertisers, to a large measure, jumped into television. Radio had to find a new act.

Radio was in the right place, at the right time for the birth of three things when TV came along; the transistor radio and the car radio. Both of these technology advancements would be the savior of radio along with one other important development; rock ‘n roll.

Radio was in the perfect place to ride the baby boomer youth wave of rock music, cars and transistor radios. Television grew in large measure by scarcity, only two or three television networks and few TV stations.

When broadband came along, that scarcity factor went poof. Radio now sees its dominance in the car being challenged by a digital dashboard.

The newest radio format to have come into existence – all sports/talk – is now 29 years old. Clearly, innovation in the radio world has stalled.

The good news is radio in America has more reach than any other form of mass media. The bad news is it sees annual erosion of its TSL (time spent listening). This can be fixed. To do this, radio needs to address the very factors that are causing its TSL to erode.

The thing most often heard from consumers about what they dislike about radio are its commercials. Yet, commercials don’t have to be a tune-out factor. No one tunes out the Super Bowl when it’s a blowout because they want to see what other clever commercials might still be coming on their television.

Most radio stations long ago did away with their copywriters. These masters of the spoken word who can craft a story about businesses need to be enticed back into the radio business at every radio station.

The number of commercials in a break needs to be reassessed by the radio industry as well. You can’t kill the goose that lays your gold revenue egg and expect it to continue to lay you golden eggs.

Bring back personalities. They not only sell the music (the record companies need you!); they sell your station and through live reads, your advertisers’ products and services.

Those who remember Paul Harvey News & Commentary will tell you that page two (his first live read commercial) was always something you turned up the radio for. I remember reading Paul Harvey brought in more money for the ABC Radio Network than everything else they did. And everyone loved Paul Harvey’s commercials and bought the products he talked about.

I think retired CBS Radio President Dan Mason said it best when he said this about radio:

“Without community and companionship, we have nothing.”

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Out, damn’d spot!

28Lady Macbeth says this line in Act 5, scene 1. The line has made for ironic jokes and marketing schemes. The Bard’s lady, where the blood spot becomes dyed into her conscience and where the king and queen persist in imagining that physical actions can root out psychological demons, Shakespeare’s Macbeth is an exposition of how wrong they are.

This all came back to me when I read about former CBS Radio President Dan Mason speaking at Radio Ink’s Hispanic Radio Conference in March about how many radio spots should run in a typical hour of radio programming; his answer was 8 to 10 units. Whereas the typical radio station these days is running 14, 16, 17 (or more) units every hour and Mason says that’s probably too much.

On Twitter Radio Ink tweeted “Is Dan Mason correct? You should be playing 8-10 units per hour.” I tweeted back “YES.” To which Dan Mason tweeted back “@DickTaylor @RadioInk not easy to execute in today’s environment but this is the goal we have to work toward!” And to which I then responded, “@radiodanmason @RadioInk Agreed. No one ever said it would be easy. But moving in this direction needs to be the industry goal.”

Then the next day Radio Ink printed this headline as their lead story “We Would Pay More For Shorter Stopsets,” from ad agency executives Blair Overesch and Jeff Chase of Walz Tetrick Advertising in Kansas City. Their clients include the World Champion Kansas City Royals and Dairy Queen. They bemoan how their clients become lost in long horrible-sounding commercial clusters.

The Birth of the Radio Ad

When the commercial radio was born in 1920 the only way operators of radio stations could figure out to support the expenses that came with running a radio station was by the sale of radio advertising. They copied the model of newspapers and magazines of that time. And here we are almost a hundred years later and nothing has really changed in this business model, except the birth of the Internet. The Internet of Things (IoT) has been the big disruptor of just about every business model.

Look Outside Your Industry for New Ideas

It’s said that Henry Ford came up with the idea of the automobile assembly line when he visited the meat packing plants of Chicago. There he witnessed how cows were disassembled. It was done on a disassembly line. And so the story goes that Ford had an “Ah hah moment.”

Radio needs an “Ah hah moment” when it comes to its business model. But what could it possibly be? Where would we go, as an industry, to find this new business model? Not in the world of ad supported media, that’s for certain.

Casino Gambling & Changing Business Models

Casinos in America started in Nevada in 1931. New Jersey would be the second state in America to legalize casino gambling in 1978. So for almost half a decade, Nevada – Reno & Las Vegas – had a monopoly on this type of gambling activity. New Jersey would also enjoy a boom from casino gambling during the 80s and early 90s as the seaside resort saw a new casino opening up every year. Casinos made money on gambling. Period.

What changed was the wave of states legalizing casino gaming all across America in their search for new revenue sources. Vegas and Atlantic City would find that trying to live off of just gambling handles was quickly eroding. Their business model was being disrupted.

The Most Profitable Resort in Las Vegas

Can you guess which Las Vegas casino makes the most money? It’s not located in the heart of the “The Strip” where thousands of visitors walk by every day. It’s actually Wynn Resorts.

Billions of dollars move through Las Vegas every year. Casino operators do everything they can think of to have visitors gamble away as much of their money as possible while they are in Vegas. But Wynn changed the casino business model for his properties. Steve Wynn decided that with the explosion of casinos across America, he needed to move in a new direction. He needed to become less dependent on high rollers sitting at gaming tables for the bulk of his revenue. Non-gaming activities at Wynn’s Wynn & Encore Casinos account for 67% of the company’s revenues.

Focused On the User Experience

Steve Wynn is totally focused on the visitor or user experience when he builds a casino. He gives his full attention to every detail. This type of focus can be seen in the Bellagio, a casino Steve Wynn built over 16 years ago and has since sold. It’s number two in revenues in Vegas.

Becoming Less Dependent on Advertising

The smart radio operator will take a chapter from Steve Wynn’s playbook and move their stations off of full dependency on the ad supported business model. Steve Price at Townsquare Media appears to be doing just that with ad supported radio at the hub of their strategy. Price said he wants Townsquare to be the largest local digital content business, the largest live event business, and the largest digital marketing services business in their radio markets. Chairman and CEO Steven Price says, “We believe our diversified strategy remains sound, demonstrated by the stability of our local advertising business and the outsized growth in our other businesses.  In addition, we further diversified our business, with approximately half of revenue now derived from sources other than the sale of terrestrial radio advertising.”

Monetizing a Media Company Beyond Advertising

It’s not about throwing the baby out with the bath water. Steve Wynn didn’t abandon gambling. In fact, Steve Wynn makes more money than every other casino operator in Vegas by doing everything just a little bit better than his competitors – both in Vegas as well as elsewhere. He just unhitched his properties from total dependence on gambling revenues. I believe Steve Price is pursuing a similar path as Wynn with his media company. I believe that Townsquare can run 8 to 10 radio ads in an hour and make money. Moreover, make money for his advertisers by putting them in a radio spotlight and increase TSL and audience ratings by making his listeners happy with the proper balance of advertising and entertainment. Done in this way it is a win-win-win.

What’s your plan?

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