Tag Archives: Disc Jockey

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 Jobs Didn’t Move to Mexico

75It seems like no matter what line of work you’re in, someone is finding a way to take your job away. If you’re in coal mining, you think the EPA is doing it to you. If you’re in manufacturing, you think its Mexico or China or some other country that pays their workers less and offers no benefits. But is that really what’s happening to jobs?

Where are the (Radio) Jobs?

I got into radio when I was in high school because I wanted to be a disc jockey. (Discs were what records were once called. Records were how we played music on the radio off of turntables, after live musicians were replaced by recorded music on the radio.) My DJ days are long behind me, but I don’t remember anyone from my earliest days being upset that records replaced the need for live musicians to play music on the radio. Do you?

Musician’s Union

I was also a musician. Played trombone. This was another way I earned money to go to college in addition to my radio work.

A fund set-up to promote live music from the playing of recordings on the radio is where the money came from to pay for my performances in local community concert bands. It was called the “Musicians Performance Trust Fund.”

To be eligible to be paid under this fund, you had to join the local musicians union AFL-CIO. I was a union member at age 15.

Truck Drivers

As high wage manufacturing jobs were leaving, many turned to the profession of truck driver. Truck drivers are well paid and people thought, let’s see them automate that. Truck driving employees have been untouched by globalization and automation. You can’t send truck driving in Ohio to be done by person living in Mexico. But that other factor, automation, is now on the horizon.

Uber Driverless Truck Delivers 50,000 Beers

I’m sure you’ve heard about driverless cars and that many expect they will be a reality by 2020 (3 years from now). But while many in the radio industry worried about the loss of radio listening in the car if the car starts driving itself and now everyone can watch TV or surf the internet, I worried that more middle class jobs would soon be automated, never to return.

Wired magazine reported in late October of 2016 how OTTO (Uber bought this company for $680 million) was driving the beer truck down the highway in Colorado without a human behind the wheel.

So it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize that we soon will see driverless cabs, buses, trains, planes, boats and a whole lot of people formerly known as the middle class will be out-of-work.

This same thing is happening in higher education too via the internet.

The Fate of the DJ

So where did the radio jobs, like being a disc jockey (DJ) go? They were high-teched. Automated. The industry calls it “voice tracked.” The very technology that did away with the need to have live studio musicians playing music now no longer needs the person that played the recordings of those musicians.

To radio personalities this is not news. It’s been that way since the late 20th Century.

To the multi-tasking, hard-working, over-committed and under-paid middle class it might have seemed as nothing had changed. Heck, they might have even seen the change as an improvement. Certainly recorded music was better in some ways than live studio musicians as it provided more variety in musical entertainment.

It’s Technology, Stupid

The wonderful high-tech devices designed to make our lives so much easier are also taking away the well-paying jobs that created the middle class of the 20th Century.

What’s the world’s 21st Century plan to deal with this change?

Ad Supported Media

The current crisis in ad supported media is that in a world of infinite media choices, and unlimited advertising avails, the money that used to be enjoyed from the sale of advertising is now less than previously realized.

About two years ago I wrote in this blog an article about what I saw as the future of ad supported media. I wrote it after reading Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the 21st Century.” I went back and re-read that article and see the trend lines of the graph on page 357 still all moving in the same direction and that should give us all pause.Picketty Chart on page 357

21st Century Media Business Model

All media is moving to a pay-for-play model. HBO, Showtime, Hulu, iTunes Radio, SiriusXM, CBS All Access, Amazon, Netflix, Pandora, Spotify etc. The ad supported model is coming to an end and the pay for what you want is replacing it.

The Wall Street Journal reported in the 4th quarter of 2016 that streaming revenues off-set declining sales of CDs and digital downloads.

People now rent what they want versus own.

And where does that leave your business?

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