Tag Archives: Don Imus

Choice Paralysis

57 channelsI sat in on Radio World’s presentation about “Digital Sunrise for AM Radio” hosted by editor-in-chief Paul McLane. The webcast lasted almost two hours and was technically informative.

The question Paul kept asking the presenters about going all digital on AM, was a question he hears numerous people asking him, “has the horse left the barn?” In other words, has the world moved on and does anyone really cares about AM radio anymore.

But that’s not the question that was running through my mind.

Too Many Choices

We live in a world with infinite choices when it comes to audio & video entertainment. Twenty-eight years ago, Bruce Springsteen released his song “57 Channels and Nothing’s On.” The lyrics are very telling of the condition we find ourselves in today.

I bought a bourgeois house in the Hollywood hills
With a truckload of hundred thousand dollar bills
Man came by to hook up my cable TV
We settled in for the night my baby and me
We switched ’round and ’round ’til half-past dawn
There was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on
Well now home entertainment was my baby’s wish
So I hopped into town for a satellite dish
I tied it to the top of my Japanese car
I came home and I pointed it out into the stars
A message came back from the great beyond
There’s fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on
Well we might’a made some friends with some billionaires
We might’a got all nice and friendly if we’d made it upstairs
All I got was a note that said “bye-bye John
Our love is fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”
So I bought a .44 magnum it was solid steel cast
And in the blessed name of Elvis well I just let it blast
‘Til my TV lay in pieces there at my feet
And they busted me for disturbing the almighty peace
Judge said “What you got in your defense son?”
“Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”
I can see by your eyes friend you’re just about gone
Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on

It’s not unusual for people to spend an entire evening going through the program guide on Netflix only to finally retire for the evening having not watched a single program. We’ve all done that.

On just Netflix alone it was estimated in 2015 that it would take a person 34,739 hours to watch everything available on the streaming service. I’m sure that number has grown considerably when you consider in 2019 Netflix introduced 371 series and movies to view.

Add to Netflix more television streaming services like Amazon Prime, Hulu, Apple TV+, Disney+, YouTube and it means choice is not the TV viewer’s problem, it’s choice paralysis. (And maybe also how to pay for it all.)

ALL DIGITAL AM

The question running through my mind about investing in building out an all-digital AM radio service in America is, “why?” When I scan the AM band now, I can hear the same talk shows on station after station. The FM band is no different when it comes to everyone doing the same type of programming.

It has me humming Bruce Springsteen’s song in my head, only with a lot more channels of programming attached to the “nothing’s on” part.

Digital AM seems to be the answer to a question, that listeners aren’t asking.

Less is More

Many businesses fall into the trap of thinking that more products equal more sales and radio certainly can be accused of falling into that trap.

HD Radio was designed to offer a higher quality broadcast signal for AM and FM radio stations. FM station owners didn’t really get interested in HD Radio until they learned they could feed FM translators with HD2, HD3 signals and put more FM analog signals on-the-air in their market.

I learned that the all-digital AM service offers the opportunity for an HD2 signal that could feed another FM analog translator.

What Al and Laura Ries tell us from their research is how this strategy of adding more and more choice becomes a trap and can lead to negative consequences in the long term.

Just One Thing

In media sales, we try to have our clients identify what one thing makes them special and unique. What makes their business so different that consumers will want to come to them instead of their competitors. You may know this process as finding a business’s “unique selling proposition.”

One Good Reason

Back in the day, 66-WNBC put up a billboard that gave radio listeners one good reason to turn their radio dial to 660 AM. It simply said “If we weren’t so bad, we wouldn’t be so good.”

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This one simple sentence captured the essence of both Don Imus and Howard Stern. It was this radio station’s one good reason to listen. It was this radio station’s one good reason to advertise on it.

And speaking of one, I was told by the WNBC Sales Manager that it only took one commercial on Howard Stern for an advertiser to see immediate sales results.

That’s the power of a unique brand.

Misplaced Priorities

Radio had a choice to make in the last decade, to either develop unique powerful brands localized to the marketplace the FCC licensed them to serve, or build out more signals with programming that was virtually hard to tell apart from one another. Unfortunately, the radio industry chose the latter and as a result has turned the business into a commodity.

Something for everyone equals nothing for nobody.

Economics defines a commodity as goods or services that have fungibility, or in other words something the marketplace treats as everything being nearly equivalent to each other, with little regard for who produces it.

This is why radio sales people will often hear advertisers says things like “all radio stations sound the same, now let’s talk about your spot price.”

Perception is reality.

Or should I say that the listener and advertiser’s perception is accurate with the reality today being all radio stations do sound the same.

Elections & Radio Listening

I read an article the other day that said what changes the outcome of any election is turnout. That the way someone wins an election is by getting people, who normally sit it out on the couch, engaged and out to the polls. It’s not getting people to switch party affiliations.

I think radio may have a similar problem.

For the radio industry to be growing again, what radio needs to be focused on, and investing in, are its people and programming, not putting more signals on the air with nothing to hear.

 

 

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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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Fly the Friendly Skies?

92What a difference from last Sunday morning to this Sunday morning.

United Airlines went from the penthouse to the outhouse for customer relations.

It seems like only a month ago that United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz was being heralded as “PR Week’s Communicator of the Year.” Oh wait, that’s because it WAS only a month ago this had happened. United Airlines even trumpeted this achievement in a press release.

Sh*t Happens

This is not another article about the incident itself or how it was handled. There are enough of those on the internet already. This article is about you and your media property in a social media internet connected world. We’re living on a knife edge. Only a word or thought vocalized away from disaster.

Every week when I post a new article on this very blog, that thought runs through my brain.

Imus

Don Imus was a big follower of Rutgers Women’s Basketball (who knew, right?) when he uttered a characterization of the players that temporarily ended his career.

Rather

Dan Rather reported a story about W’s military service that ended his tenure at CBS and one that many still hold against him all these years later. Ironically, he’s now on more TV channels than before it happened and has taken the social media by storm with his articles.

Williams

Brian Williams lost the anchor chair at Nightly News for embellishing and now is back on the cable channel that he worked while waiting for his chance to take over NBC’s evening newscast.

Greig & Christian

On December 2nd in 2012 Mel Greig and Mike Christian of 2DAY FM in Sydney, Australia called London’s King Henry VII’s hospital impersonating the Queen Mother and Prince Charles to speak with the Duchess of  Cambridge, Kate Middleton.

They spoke with Kate’s nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, who believed who they said they were and put the prank call through to the Duchess. The whole comedy bit for the Southern Cross Austero owned radio station morning show was pre-recorded and even approved by the company’s lawyers before it was broadcast the following day.

When the nurse committed suicide three days later, the radio careers of Greig & Christian would be terminated with 2DAY FM.

NUTS!

Let me show you a picture I took of three flight attendants because of how they treated their passengers on my flight.

89Steve, Carrie and Tom were the flight attendants on my flight from Nashville to Las Vegas in April 2012. The reason this picture didn’t go viral is because they did what Southwest Airlines is famous for. They made the flight FUN.

Actually, that’s an understatement of what these three did. They were a FREE comedy routine that kept the entire cabin in stitches. Totally hilarious. I don’t even remember another thing about that flight but them and how they made me feel.

Before I deplaned in Vegas for the annual BEA/NAB convention, I had to snap a picture of the three of them on my iPhone.

Southwest founder Herb Kelleher wrote his philosophy for starting Southwest Airlines in this must read book “NUTS!” Herb wanted to create a community of people who have a positive, joyful, engaging attitude that can throw caution to the wind and live a life of unabashed passion.

Author Tony Campolo put it this way: “NUTS! is about people who dare to love and who, in their loving, have found an aliveness that makes them more fully human.”

The Tragedy of Our Time

Herb Kelleher says that the tragedy of our time is that we’ve learned to love our techniques (technology) and use people. We’ve got it backwards.

“This is one of the reasons that more and more people feel alienated, empty, and dehumanized at work. When people feel loved, they love in return. Love is the most important emotion there is because it’s the one that allows us to enjoy — even to consider– all aspects of life.”

In case you didn’t know, when it comes to involuntarily bumping passengers, Southwest does it too. Actually, they involuntarily bumped three more passengers than United Airlines did in 2016. CNBC just posted the latest report on airline bumping.

But when it comes to ranking airlines by complaints, Southwest is the country’s major air carrier with the best ranking for least customer complaints. Could it be because they show the love?

Technology v. Being Human

Last week I wrote about what makes a radio station unique and what it can do that other media can’t in the 21st Century. You can read that article here.

Technology has enabled many radio companies to put technology ahead of the love. This is a BIG MISTAKE. Radio is a people business. Take out the people and what do you have left?

Reputations

I’d like to leave you with one final thought. Whether it’s you or your enterprise, guard your reputation.

Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute just spoke at my university and he said something to us that his father always said to him about guarding your reputation:

“You make a reputation over time, you lose it overnight.”

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The Problem with Too Many Choices

57I’m not a shopper. I admit it. Shopping for me is work. When I do shop, I like places like Costco because while they offer choices, they don’t offer so many as to overwhelm. I like stores that do the “heavy lifting” for me and give me a selection of the best to pick from.

Less is More

Al and Laura Ries write in “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding” that many businesses fall into the trap of thinking that more products equals more sales. This type of strategy is a trap and can lead to negative consequences in the long term.

Apple’s Quest for Simple

When the iPhone7 finally was released, everyone was talking about the missing headphone jack. The 3.5mm audio output port is 19th century technology. It doesn’t allow the highest sound quality to be transmitted. It is a way for water to invade the electronics of the iPhone. It takes up a lot of space. It adds a level of complexity where having the lightning port do this function or better yet, wireless transmission of audio to a set of AirPods, makes more sense.

Steve Jobs put it this way:

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Give Me One Good Reason

In media sales, we try to have our clients identify that one thing that makes them unique and special. What makes their business so different that consumers will want to come to you instead of anyone else. You may have heard this stated as finding a business’s “unique selling proposition.”

Ten Reasons Are Not Better Than One

The problem is that often it is hard for people to give just one reason. Instead they offer lots of reasons. This adds complexity. When you become burdened with lots of choices, you tend to avoid making any choice at all.

In the book “The Paradox of Choice” author and psychologist Barry Schwartz tells the story of very memorable jam study by psychologists Mark Lepper and Sheena Lyengar. The study compared the amount of jam sold if consumers were given either 6 varieties of jam to choose from or 24 varieties. While the table with 24 varieties attracted more people, the table with only 6 varieties saw thirty percent of the people buy a jar of jam versus only three percent who bought a jar when confronted with a choice of 24 jams.

One Good Reason

There was a great billboard in New York City that promoted AM66-WNBC’s drive time personalities that has stuck with me since the one and only time I saw it. It gave one reason to listen to this iconic radio station. It simply said “If we weren’t so bad, we wouldn’t be so good.”

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This one simple sentence captured the essence of both Don Imus and Howard Stern. It was this radio station’s one good reason to listen. It was this radio station’s one good reason to advertise on it.

Something for Everyone = Nothing for Anyone

Variety is a word that used to come up in radio station focus groups so often that many radio stations began to brand themselves as “Variety Radio.” It was an attempt to appear to be offering something for everyone.

The Better Way

If you want to be more effective, be specific versus general. Use words that have color, create mental pictures and surprise the listener. Don’t use two words when one will do. Tell your own story, the one no one else can tell.

Choice vs. Complexity

In the end, we all like to think we have a choice. But if the number of choices becomes too great, then complexity is introduced into the decision process. Complexity produces paralysis, whether the choice is a product, a service or listening to one of your radio stations.

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