Tag Archives: E.J. Smith

Dislocation is the New RIF

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_641For many of you, this past week has been a very stressful one. The world’s largest radio owner/operator, iHeartMedia, announced a countrywide Reduction In Force or RIFs. However, reading an internal memo obtained by All Access, I see that the new term for this is “employee dislocation.”

No matter how your phrase it, a lot of good radio people lost their job this week.

Is Your Iceberg Melting?

Let’s face it, the radio industry so many of us fell in love with, is melting away.

Back in 2009, the book everyone was reading was by Ken Blanchard called “Who Moved My Cheese?” Ken actually published this little 95-page book back in 1999 and it’s still an extremely great read.

But today, maybe the book everyone in broadcasting ought to be reading is “Our Iceberg is Melting and Succeeding Under Any Circumstances by John Kotter, who is an award winning author from the Harvard Business School.

In Melting, Kotter writes a simply fable about doing well in an ever-changing world.

The fable is about penguins in Antarctica that discover a potentially devastating problem to their home – an iceberg – it’s melting away.

It’s a story that will resonate with anyone in broadcasting, as a new round of “employee dislocations” occur and there are fewer radio stations to relocate to, as this is the same thing that is happening by the other big box broadcasters nationwide.

Kotter’s book walks you through the eight steps that produce positive change with any group. You will not only enjoy the read, but will be guided with valuable insights to deal with our 21st Century world that is moving faster and faster every day.

The Big Take Away

Regarding change, when all employees, corporate and middle management are on the same page, it is amazing what can happen. What I’m hearing from the broadcasters I know, both those that have been RIF’d and those who have not, it is a feeling that there’s a lack of honesty in communication from the top through the entire organization.

“Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me twice, shame on me.

Fool me three times, shame on both of us.”

-Stephen King

The problem for the leaders of the broadcasting industry is that radio people have been fooled too many times and the level of trust is at an all time low. Daryl Ledyard, who was “dislocated” from a position he’s held at WBBS in Syracuse for over ten years told Rolling Stone “[iHeartMedia is] very much convinced that the local aspect of radio is no longer important.” However, iHeartMedia says in their statement “we will continue to serve every local community in which we operate just as we always have.”

It begs the question of how that will be possible when the number of on-air people have been reduced to one or two or none.

Live & Local?

Over the years, at every radio meeting I attended, the one refrain heard over and over and over was that “the power of radio is live & local.”

In October 2017, the FCC voted along party lines 3 to 2 to eliminate the Main Studio Rule.

When the FCC voted to end that provision in America’s broadcast law, what did that mean to regulations that have been in place since 1934? FCC attorney Gregg Skall explained it this way in his 1991 “Main Studio Rule and Staffing” memo:

The main studio rule as clarified in 1988 requires a station to maintain a main studio within its principal community contour “which has the capability adequately to meet its function…of serving the needs and interests of the residents of the station’s community of license.” That rule has now been further revised to allow a main studio to be located either within 25 miles from its community of license reference coordinates, or within the principal community contours of any station, of any service, licensed to its community of license. (See memo, Revised Main Studio and Public File Rules). Jones Eastern requires the station to maintain a “meaningful management and staff presence” at the main studio on a full-time basis during regular business hours.

You can read the full memo HERE 

Since the introduction of automation systems, syndication, satellite delivery and computer voice tracking, the LIVE aspect of radio has been on the wane. Even in the #1 radio market in America, New York City, stations may or may not have a live operator behind the microphone when you’re tuned in.

In 1967, when I was starting out in radio, we used to have to announce whether a program was live or pre-recorded so the listeners wouldn’t be deceived about the broadcast. In the early days of radio, virtually all radio was live, it was the exception for something to have been recorded.

Today, what you are listening to is more than likely not live but syndicated, voice-tracked or pre-recorded.

With the Main Studio Rule, the goal was, that there would be a live person at the station and the studio would be in the community the licensee was licensed to serve.

Lance Venta writing on RadioInsight on October 24, 2017 wrote “But what will it (elimination of the Main Studio Rule) mean in the short term? Probably not a lot. In the long term, be prepared for a much leaner broadcast facility.” You can read Lance’s entire article “The Radio Station of the Future…Today!” HERE

The National Association of Broadcasters lobbied for the elimination of the Main Studio Rule, and its then executive VP of communications Dennis Wharton said “We’re confident that cost savings realized from ending the main studio rule will be reinvested by broadcasters in better programming and modernized equipment to better serve our local communities.”

Public Safety

When a broadcaster doesn’t have a studio in the local community it serves, it delivers its programming through the internet, satellites, microwaves or wired lines. Broadcasters have been quick to point out how these forms of communication are first to go down in natural disasters.

What seems to be missing in this conversation, is what happens when a local community is hit with a Black Swan Event. I wrote a whole blog article about how such an event could impact communities FCC licensed radio stations are empowered to serve. You can read that article HERE

Those who believe in the unconditional benefits of past experience should consider this pearl of wisdom allegedly voiced by a famous ship’s captain:

‘But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident… of any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.’

-E. J. Smith, 1907, Captain, RMS Titanic

[Captain Smith’s ship sank in 1912 and became the most talked-about shipwreck in history.]

The Future Predicted in 2004

On May 24, 2004, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a “Broadcast Localism Hearing” in Rapid City, South Dakota.  The president, general manager and co-owner of KLQP-FM licensed to Madison, Minnesota (population 1,767) Maynard Meyer addressed the commission.  Telling them:

“I have been involved in the radio business in announcing, sales, engineering and management for about 36 years, all of my experience is in communities of 5,000 people or less.  We personally live in the communities we serve so we know the ‘issues,’ we work to address them in our programming and have been doing so for the past 21 years.“

“A few years ago, many stations operated this way, but much of that has changed for a variety of reasons.  I think the beginning of the end of local broadcast service started in the 1980s when the Federal Communications Commission approved Docket 80-90.”

Mr. Meyer went on to explain to the FCC, how that many communities “on paper” had a local radio station that actually was nothing more than a transmitter being fed from another location tens of miles away.  Mr. Meyer went on to say:

“I don’t think this is the best way to promote local radio service.  From what I have seen through my personal experience, as soon as a hometown studio is closed and relocated, the local service is relocated as well.”

(I’ve edited his comments. The full text can be found HERE)

What do you think?

 

 

26 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

Is Radio Ready for a Black Swan?

Once upon a time, radio employed a lot of people. Radio stations that operated 24/7 had to have a live person on duty every hour of every day.

Radio studios were different back then too. There were multiple turntables, cart machines, reel-to-reel recorders and multiple microphones/headphones in every studio. In short, there was lots of redundancy. Radio wasn’t very fragile.

But as technology invaded the radio world, computers would replace just about every piece of equipment in the building; saddest of all were the people. They increased efficiency by a lot.

That’s what disruption does. Disrupts. Everything.

Ironically, there’s a relationship between all this efficiency and fragility. As computers increased efficiency it also increased radio’s fragility.

In those early days, lose a phonograph needle or a cart machine, it was no big deal. However, when you lost a computer, you lost the entire radio station. This drive for efficiency eliminated the redundancy. (Most radio stations today have redundant computer networks to deal with crashes; but not all.)

In New York City, many radio and TV stations left the Empire State building when the World Trade Towers were erected. A couple didn’t. On 9/11 those that kept a redundant transmitter plant in place at the Empire State building were able to stay on the air when those iconic towers came down. That kind of redundancy wasn’t efficient, but it was smart and it made those broadcasters less fragile.

The problem is that in business, becoming more efficient means eliminating human redundancies. That’s been part of our high unemployment problem since the beginning of the digital revolution. All businesses are becoming more efficient through digital ecosystems. It’s these very ecosystems that eliminate lots of jobs.

When systems become more optimized, efficient and complex their fragility increases. Fragile systems often break suddenly and with no warning.

Consolidation contributes to this scenario by stacking optimized, efficient and complex systems into an even larger ecosystem that become top down managed through “best practices” strategies. Unfortunately, the reality of “best practices” is they are often more “average” than they are “best.” Often what’s best for one location, doesn’t translate to best for others. Best practices are really a “one size fits all” situation.

Before you argue that local decisions sometimes also fail (and I would not disagree with you), the failure is quarantined to a single location and does not impact the entire enterprise.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote about all of this in his book The Black Swan.

 “The Black Swan asymmetry allows you to be confident about what is wrong, not about what you believe is right.”

History teaches us the outcome of efficiency and fragility. But like the couple getting married who knows that between one third and one half of all marriages end in divorce is convinced they are the exception, companies operate with this same blind eye to the arrival of a black swan to fly into their path. Or as Taleb writes:

“If you survive until tomorrow, it could mean that either a) you are more likely to be immortal or b) that you are closer to death.”

The world we live in today is changing. No doubt about it. It’s a communications revolution. We can’t operate the way we’ve always done it. Taleb shares this example:

“Those who believe in the unconditional benefits of past experience should consider this pearl of wisdom allegedly voiced by a famous ship’s captain:

‘But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident… of any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.’

-E. J. Smith, 1907, Captain, RMS Titanic Captain Smith’s ship sank in 1912 in what became the most talked-about shipwreck in history.”

If there’s an industry that needs to be thinking about “black swans” and balancing efficiency with redundancy, it’s the radio industry.

People don’t have a favorite McDonalds or a favorite #2 pencil brand, but they do have a favorite radio station.

When a “black swan” swoops in, will you be ready?

Your listeners are depending on you.

Don’t disappoint them.

They love your radio station.

They trust you are prepared for black swans.

29 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio