Tag Archives: Disc Jockey

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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We Are the Choices We Make

WSM(15)From my earliest days, I knew what I wanted to do in life. Drive a car, fly a plane and be a disc jockey.

I know, they don’t seem like big hairy audacious life goals, but to an eight year old, they were.

Disc Jockey

You might be surprised to learn that the goal of becoming a professional disc jockey on an AM radio station came first. I actually had to have my mom drive me to the radio station and pick me up after my shift and I’m sure it was a kick for both of my parents to hear their youngest son on the radio.

My mother was a radio listener. My father never was.

Driver’s License

By the time I got my driver’s license and was graduating from high school, my radio work had earned me enough money to buy my first car and head off to college.

My course of study in college was in physics and education. I was on the path to becoming a teacher. My parents didn’t feel that becoming a full-time disc jockey was a career with any future and wanted me to have a college degree and a career I could fall back on.

While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I worked to get an FCC license for an FM radio station for my college and became the first general manager of WJJW 91.1FM. Between classes I DJ’d on my college radio station, and on weekends, holidays and summers, earned money working in professional radio.

I never had a student loan and between my radio work and playing a trombone in professional marching and concert bands, I not only paid for my college education but saved some money too.

1968 was when minimum wage paid the most money per hour in the history of the minimum wage law in America. You can’t do what I did on minimum wage today.

Airborne

Flying a plane wouldn’t happen until 17-years later. I was promoted to general manager of WIIN-AM/WFPG-FM in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The previous general manager had worked out a trade deal with our local airlines, which also provided our news/talk AM planeradio station with local traffic reports during beach season. When I took over the job, everything was already in place for flying lessons and I took advantage of the arrangement and learned to fly.

Soloing a plane over the South Jersey Shore Beaches in the summer time on the weekends was such a thrill.

Teaching

IMG_3351Whenever people would ask me what I wanted to do next with my life, my answer was always the same, teach. Yes, I wanted to teach at a college or university the very profession that I had spent my entire working life doing, radio.

When Clear Channel was doing major RIFs (Reduction In Force) in 2009, I one day found myself with a surprise visit from my Regional Vice President. For the past year, I had spent being told who I needed to terminate next in my radio stations and I knew this time it was me. It was the worst year in radio I ever had.

The good news was, I saw in Radio Ink that Western Kentucky University was looking for a broadcast professor to teach sales, management, history and other radio/media courses. The position perfectly described my background and because of my two college degrees, both in education, I knew I had found the final path of my professional life.

I moved to Kentucky. Helped Dan Vallie to create the KBA/WKU Radio Talent Institute and over the course of seven years did research on the future of radio, along with creating this very blog, that I’ve been writing weekly for over five years.

Disc Jockey, Second Act

Before retiring from the university, Joe Limardi, then operations manager for WSM 650AM in Nashville, invited me to come to Music City and do a radio shift on The Air IMG_2368Castle of the South. Joe Limardi had been a guest professional broadcaster in my Capstone Class at WKU and it was during his lectures with my students that I learned that Joe had grown up listening to me on the radio back in our hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts on WBEC 1420AM. Joe always thought of me as a disc jockey and little did I know I inspired him to pursue a radio career.

IMG_2352I had not been behind the mic on a radio station in 35-years. I had a 10-minute lesson in how to run the control board from Joe and then was off on my own to do the next four hours on The Legend WSM.

Soloing on WSM that day was a thrill, one I had not had since my flight instructor got out of the plane one day and said, “Take it around by yourself.”

But my disc jockey second act didn’t end that day, I continue to do a VT midday shift (EST) on WMEX-LP out of Rochester, NH and heard worldwide on TuneIn Radio.

One thing is clear, we are the choices we make.

Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do it.

 

 

 

 

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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 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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