Tag Archives: Federal Communications Commission

The Question Radio Itself Has Yet to Answer

86That was the subject of an email I received from a reader of my blog recently. The writer went on to eloquently state why he felt the way he did, even citing articles on the topic. He had my interest and I asked him if we could speak on the phone.

The BIG Question

This reader’s (who asked to be kept anonymous) big question was “What can radio do that other media can’t?”

And it’s a very good question.

In 2017 when many are using the internet for things that only radio could provide in the past, is radio’s future being the poor man’s smartphone, tablet or iPod when it could be more?

“NPR and SiriusXM, in addition to the new exploding podcast marketplace, have had no trouble creating personalities and programs,” but my reader writes “why does FM commercial radio continue to stick with playing the hits, past and present, at the expense of personalities, thinking it will make them money when the biggest radio companies have trouble paying off debts on the stations they seem to have paid too much for?”

Well it was a well-known fact all of my radio life that you make money in radio at the time you buy a radio station. Buying it right makes all the difference. And those big radio companies went on a buying spree using other people’s money (Wall Street) and it’s much like student loan debt, no one worries how much debt they’ve accumulated until they are asked to replay it.

Is Local Radio Local Anymore?

My reader quotes Westwood One’s Chief Insights Officer Pierre Bouvard from an AdExchanger interview as saying “A local radio station gives you traffic, sports, weather, great music, funny DJs and talks about your town,” he said. “Spotify has these robotic music playlists, which are awesome, but there’s no one telling you what happened at the Giants game last night.”

My reader says Pierre (who was my first Arbitron representative back in the 80s) makes a good point, but wonders if Pierre ever took the time to hear what passes for much of local radio these days. My reader feels that much of today’s FM radio stations do a combination of great music and robotic, Spotify-ish playlists, and relatively little in the way of “traffic, sports, weather…funny DJs and talk about your town” stuff.

Sadly, I’ve heard similar things said at radio meetings where the person starts off by saying “now don’t quote me on this, but…”

TELCOM Act of 1996

It was President Bill Clinton who signed the Telcom Act of 1996. That act was supposed to bring competition to the phone and cable television industries thereby lowering costs of each to the consumer. While that didn’t happen quickly (some might wonder if it ever did) it did cause the quick consolidation of the radio and TV industries. We went from a country where the largest radio operator could own 12AM-12FM-12TV stations to virtually whatever their pocketbook could afford. And with Wall Street Bankers waiting in the wings, what a company could afford was a lot.

Low Power FM & Translators

For the non-radio folks who read this blog, Low Power FM signals and Translator signals are virtually the same thing, with the exception being that Low Power FM stations originate programming and translators don’t. Both are received over the air on the FM radio dial. Both have increased the number of FM signals on-the-air in America today.

The latest FCC (Federal Communications Commission) report as of the end of December 2016 shows that there were 4,669 AM radio stations on the air in America. Over on the FM dial, 16,783 signals now beat the airwaves (FM, FM educational, translators and low power FM).

To put things in perspective, at a time in America’s radio history when the number of FM signals equaled the number of AM signals on the air, 75% of all radio listening was to FM. So you can only imagine what it’s like today.

93% of Americans 12+ are reached weekly by AM/FM radio says Nielsen.

So while the Telcom Act of 96 caused radio to consolidate under fewer owners who own more stations, adding to the signal overload was the advent of low power FM and translator signals. So much to program and no one home to do the work.

Enter computers, voice tracking, and syndication. This is same computer technology that is employed by Pandora, Spotify, Radio Tunes, SoundCloud and many others.

When TV Challenged Radio

In 1952 TV was born again. It was birthed just before World War II but the war years put broadcast radio/TV development on hold. After the war ended, things began to ramp up quickly for TV.

In 1953, Elmo Ellis was hired to fix 750AM – WSB in Atlanta. Ellis would write about “Removing the Rust from Radio Programming” for Broadcasting/Telecasting (now called Broadcasting and Cable magazine).

One of the points Mr. Ellis made was that a stack of records and a turntable do not a radio station make, though many broadcasters persisted in that very belief.

It was the very same philosophy I employed when I launched a “Music of YOUR Life” radio station. I felt that to be successful, you needed more than just Al Ham’s music list, you needed the personalities that complimented the music.

Both my reader and I are in complete agreement in that a radio station is more than just a song list.

Less Is More

The problem today is that with the “land rush” by broadcasters to own as many signals as they can, we have seen our country’s biggest broadcasters put themselves into a debt situation they cannot get out of and smaller broadcasters have signals and streams to manage but not the revenues to properly execute them.

If we go back to the beginning of broadcasting in America, we see that the FRC (Federal Radio Commission) that predated the current FCC felt that quality over quantity of radio stations should be the rule of measure. By limiting the number of stations, the FRC was attempting to insure the content of those stations on the air would be of the highest quality and also by limiting the number of stations; the advertising revenue that is the life blood of free over-the-air radio could be sustained.

What Can Radio Do That Other Media Can’t?

This brings me back to the question my reader originally posed and asked me to answer.

But before I do, I’m going throw that question out to my other readers – to date over 80,000 from all over the world – to weigh in with their thoughts.

What do you feel radio can do that other media can’t?

Is any radio station you know of doing it right now?

Is this a sustainable future for over-the-air radio?

I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts.

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Don’t Let Radio End Up Like Yahoo!

49I just finished listening to Jason Jennings’ podcast about how Yahoo went from being a company worth $120 Billion to its sale to Verizon for $4.8 Billion. I think the wisdom that Jason shared is very applicable to the radio industry’s journey through consolidation since the Telcom Act of 1996.

Jason says the selling of Yahoo is like a train wreck; you don’t want to look, but you just can’t help yourself. I know many who’ve said similar things as Wall Street invaded radio with its goal of “increasing shareholder value.”

So how can radio learn from Yahoo’s mistakes? What are the lessons Jason shared that apply to radio? Let me share with you the Top 5 Lessons of Yahoo:

#1) Know What You’re All About

Yahoo never really defined itself and the revolving door of CEOs contributed to this with each one bringing a different vision – or no vision – to Yahoo. Or as Jason puts it, the company didn’t have a purpose; they never knew what they were all about.

As radio was deregulated and its original mission of serving the public interest, convenience and necessity was abandoned, nothing replaced radio’s reason for existing except for “increasing shareholder value.” Not surprising as radio people were replaced by Wall Street investors.

#2) Have a Set of Guiding Principles

Radio’s guiding principles were first established by the FRC (Federal Radio Commission) and then by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). Under President Ronald Reagan – and his government is best that governs least approach – radio’s deregulation began. President Bill Clinton would open the flood gates of consolidation with his signing of the Telcom Act of 1996.

With no guiding principles, investors were free to move in all directions; and they did, buying up not just radio stations but many of its manufacturers and service providers for radio.

It’s like the old saying, if you don’t know where you want to go, any road will take you there.

#3) Using a Business like a Personal Piggy Bank

Radio investors and many top radio executives began using radio as a personal piggy bank, only taking care of themselves and focusing on the immediate quarter with no long term vision, strategy or investment. Too many just lined their pockets and left.

#4) Trying to Be All Things to All People

Jason says “great companies stick to their knitting. You can’t be all things to all people.”

Radio was originally about serving their community of license via over-the-air broadcasting. It delivered local news, local sports, local community events, local bands and more by local radio personalities who lived in the communities they served. It was focused like a laser beam on local, local, local.

#5) Don’t Copy the Competition

Radio today is trying to copy Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music and others. Radio today is trying to also copy YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and SnapChat. Radio is trying to copy just about every other business advertising model and without any guiding principles has been economically treading water.

Yahoo’s SVP Brad Garlinghouse wrote his infamous “Peanut Butter Memo” in October of 2006 that pleaded with the company to narrow its focus and clarify its vision.

Brad felt that Yahoo was spreading its resources too thinly. Business Insider recently wrote “This internal memo from 10-years ago shows Yahoo still hasn’t solved its biggest problem.”

If Yahoo had a culture problem, radio by way of mass consolidation had an even bigger one. First, as Wall Street money flowed in and radio stations were bought up, each of those stations represented its own culture that would need to merge into a larger culture. Then these new larger radio groups would try to change the culture from a local scope to a national scope. National radio personalities like Ryan Seacrest, Rush Limbaugh and many others would replace local personalities. National radio contests would replace local ones. Live and local for the most part would soon only appear in the history books on radio.

Culture is created at the top. Over the last twenty-years, radio’s consolidation has seen a revolving door of top leadership. The culture of radio has been a moving target for both industry professionals and listeners alike. Culture is built over time. There is no “quick fix” for building culture.

Absent a company culture, what fills the vacuum is one of everyone for themselves.

Now twenty-years later, there are signs of new growth as people who believe in live and local, and operating in the public interest, convenience and necessity are entering the business.

In many small markets, this way of operating never got sucked into the vortex of consolidation.

Even some of our country’s biggest radio companies are focused on getting back to the core principles radio was built upon.

Radio, the first broadcast transmission system to reach a mass audience, almost 100-years later is still the leading way to reach a mass audience.

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Radio’s Dilemma (or Opportunity?)

38Radio’s a business. Peter Drucker said “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.” A business also needs to make profit or it won’t be in business for very long. On that we can all agree.

Surprisingly, many business people who know this still go out of business, often because they focus on the profit part and not the customer part. Plus those businesses either never had or lost their competitive advantage.

Radio’s dilemma is it lost that competitive advantage. That being having an FCC license to broadcast. Not everyone could obtain a broadcast license – they were limited by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – or had the ability to profitably operate a broadcast property. Profitability is when you earn money in excess of your cost of capital.

The radio business made a lot of money. Many enjoyed cash flow margins north of 50%. Its success attracted more people into radio ownership because it “looked easy” and made a bundle of dough. As more radio stations came on the air, it drove up wages, increased competition and increased multiples for valuing radio properties when they were bought and sold.

If this type of growth and expansion was all that was taking place, the “circle of (business) life” would have seen the radio industry slow down as the overcapacity from all of the new radio stations fought over the not-as-fast-growing advertising pie. It’s similar to what happen to the casino industry as expansion took off in America after just Nevada and New Jersey were no longer the only two states to license casino gaming.

Enter the great disruptor; the Internet. Radio, as we all once knew it, would be changed forever. For the Internet would now provide the world with an infinite number of “radio” options, like Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, RadioTunes et al. All trying to be ad supported like OTA radio.

Clay Christensen wrote about what happens when an industry is disrupted in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma.  He tells the reader how incumbent companies often respond to their disruptors with disastrous consequences.

Radio looked at the Internet as a “free broadcast license” and put their OTA signals onto a stream and then tried to squeeze a little extra profit by running separate ads on the stream versus over the air. It created a little extra money for the radio business but created a less enjoyable listener experience.  Sean Ross recently wrote in his newsletter “Ross On Radio” how different and better a radio station he listens to online sounded when he actually traveled to the market and heard the same station over the air. The difference was in the breaks and it was HUGE.

It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom.

Southwest Airlines has enjoyed four decades of profitability. Like Walmart, Southwest had a root purpose for existing. Sam Walton’s Walmart mastered logistics to keep prices to his customers low and Herb Kelleher’s Southwest focused on constant improvements to make travel by air more affordable to more Americans. Like all successful enterprises, they put the customer first and profits were the result of doing everything else right.

For radio to be successful on the Internet, it needs to create a better user experience that attracts and delights the listener or that creates a new and different user experience that will enrich the end users’ lives. Radio, over the air, FCC licensed radio has the best platform to promote its Internet products. The possibilities are infinite. But each product must have a purpose beyond just making a buck.

Businesses that grow have a purpose beyond profit. Businesses that focus their growth on profits won’t have either growth or profits.

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Dream Along With Me…………………. (My Plan to Save AM Radio)

26I’ve been reading all the opinions about the FCC’s proposal to change the rules regarding America’s 77 Class A (formerly known as clear channel) licensed radio stations. Supposedly, all being done to “revitalize” the AM broadcast band. Like giving AM radio stations an FM translator does nothing to revitalize AM radio listening, neither – in my honest opinion – does this bright idea either.

The FCC’s plan is to allow AM radio stations to retain their daytime power at night, politically correct though it may be the laws of physics play by no such rules. And we don’t have to wonder about the consequences, because to some extent this type of thing has already been initiated with 1,000/250 licensed stations maintaining a full 1,000 watts day and night, and it didn’t work.

First, I don’t have a dog in this fight. So what I’m about to say is not to benefit one side or another. These are my own opinions.

My first GM job was running a daytime 1,000 watt radio station with no pre-sunrise or post-sunset authorization. We signed on with local sunrise (7:15am in the winter) and signed off at local sunset (4:15pm in the winter). I was at my desk before my radio station went on the air about half the year and I remember writing commercial copy for an advertiser I’d sold that day as my radio station was playing the Star Bangle Banner to sign-off for the day.

When that carrier was turned off, WBT from Charlotte, NC would come booming in.

I know the pain of being a small radio operator.

Today, such a radio station has probably obtained a 250-watt FM translator and has its programming appearing on local FM radios in addition to their AM signal. Ever listen to any of these radio stations? I have, when I take road trips. I’m listening to their AM signal but they only identify themselves by their FM dial position.

The History of Clear Channel Signal Radio Stations

The clear channel signal designation goes back to the Radio Act of 1927 and the creation of the Federal Radio Commission (FRC). The FRC immediately went about creating a number of national “clear channel” AM radio stations that would be superior in quality broadcast content and with enough power to be heard over an entire region. Their signal would be on a frequency that would have no competition. Lower power AM radio stations would be relegated to a complex system of frequency sharing.

The FRC was later replaced by the Communications Act of 1934 and the establishment of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC was put in place to be the “cops” of the people’s airwaves and protect those airwaves from being misused or interfered with in any way.

Less Is More

The FRC operated under the belief that it would be better for America to have fewer radio stations of higher quality than lots of radio stations that were mediocre.

The FCC, mainly through deregulation, has lost that mission. For broadcasters it meant less oversight – which they didn’t mind – but it also meant that the FCC wasn’t looking out for their interests when it came to policing things that might interfere with the AM broadcast band. You see the FCC regulates (or not) those things that now are the bane of AM radio. Things that, like Mother Nature’s lightning, interfere with AM radio signals – light bulbs, power lines, computers etc.

I Grew Up On AM Radio

By the way, it was lightning’s interference with AM radio that was the impetus for Edwin Howard Armstrong to invent frequency modulation or FM radio. FM is how the audio gets to your TV set.

It was AM radio that I grew up on. It was AM radio that attracted me to a radio career that spanned over forty years. And I believe that AM radio should be preserved, because it is low tech and is the signal most likely to be around after some event that takes out everything digital – which today is just about everything.

However, I also ran a news/talk AM radio station once that people depended on in emergencies and that was the problem. They didn’t think about it any other time. So I’m very aware that to be viable, a radio station needs to program something that people want/need even when there’s no emergency affecting their lives.

How To Save AM Radio

So here’s my “bright idea” to save AM radio. Eliminate Class B, C and D AM radio stations, sign these signals off and let them make their current FM translators their whole radio station. First, they will be able to liquidate the land their AM antenna farm sits on and at the same time reduce their operational costs. They already are identifying by their FM translator’s dial position and local residents have most likely made the switch.

For America’s Class A (formerly known as clear channel class stations), I proposed a HUGE power increase, like to 250,000, 500,000, 750,000 or a million watts for these current 77 stations. I would also propose a study be done of AM radio stations, not currently licensed as Class A being reviewed for such a designation, but with a power of say only 50,000 or 100,000 watts to deal with specific geographies and locations of America.

I’m Not a Radio Engineer (But I’ve Stayed at a Holiday Inn)

There’s simply no way to put the “noise genie” back in the bottle that causes AM radio such grief. My hope would be (and you radio engineers feel free to weigh in here and set me straight) is that by removing a lot of the AM radio clutter caused by other AM radio stations and increasing the power of the few remaining stations, we might cause these stations to be really listenable in more (most?) situations.

I would also regulate these new high power radio stations in the same way that the FRC proposed when they established them. These would be stations that would create original programming. They would be operated by entities that would operate in the public interest, convenience and necessity. They would be a low tech backup in a high tech world. They would have the scarcity of competition that should make them economically viable because of their attractiveness to advertisers. They would tie the country together in the event of a disaster. If a local dominant AM radio station was taken out by a disaster, the other high power stations, not similarly affected would be able to be heard and assist the affected area.

This situation happened years ago in Kentucky when floods put Louisville under water and Nashville’s 650AM-WSM stepped in to provide residents with the information they needed.

AM radio that provides solid information and yes, even entertainment, would get listeners. But even more importantly, it would provide America with a life-line in times of emergencies that digital communications has been shown to fail.

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Why is so much of television so bad?

That’s the question that Newton Minow asked on May 9, 1961 when he addressed the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, DC.

In his first public address after he took over as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Mr. Minow didn’t pull any punches. He made it clear that in his role at the FCC he was going to make darn sure that broadcasters operated in “the public interest.”

What is meant by operating in “the public interest?” That’s been open to interpretation since those words were written down. Here’s how Mr. Minow defined them:

“Some say the public interest is merely what interests the public. I disagree. And so does your distinguished (NAB) president, Governor Collins, who said ‘Broadcasting to serve the public interest, must have a soul and a conscience, a burning desire to excel, as well as to sell; the urge to build the character, citizenship, and intellectual stature of people, as well as to expand the gross national product….By no means do I imply that broadcasters disregard the public interest…But a much better job can be done, and should be done.’ I could not agree more with Governor Collins.”

Mr. Minow also told the radio broadcasters in the room that the FCC wasn’t going to go to sleep at the switch on them; they were still listening, but that most of the controversies and cross-currents in broadcast programming were swirling around TV and that’s what he planned to address in this speech.

“When television is good, nothing – not theater, not the magazines or newspapers – nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse,” said Minow.

He then threw out this challenge to television broadcasters:

“I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet, or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.”

Mr. Minow is 89 and living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On the 50th anniversary of his famous speech, he was interviewed by James Warren of the Chicago Tribune. Minow was 35 years old when he took over as chairman of the FCC under President Kennedy. He told Warren that he couldn’t have anticipated the impact his speech would have. Minow’s severe censure of TV’s “procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western badmen, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence and cartoons” remains highly “radioactive” to this day.

If you’re a fan of the television show “Gilligan’s Island” you might not have realized that the boat that sank was coyly named after the FCC chairman; however spelling it S. S. Minnow. Does that give you some idea of how distasteful having their medium called “a vast wasteland” was to the TV men of that day?

Mr. Minow’s own daughters joke that their dad’s tombstone might be inscribed with the words “On to a vaster wasteland.”

In 1998, President Clinton appointed a commission to review “the public interest” on the eve of the arrival of Digital Television. That commission issued a 160-age report on December 18, 1998.

In 2015, “the public interest” issue has been addressed with respect to the Internet.  Again, the FCC under its current chairman Thomas Wheeler has come forward with a plan that has been as well received by the “Internet men” of today as Mr. Minow’s assessment of TV back in 1961. Here’s what the FCC decided:

Adopted on February 26, 2015, the FCC’s Open Internet rules are designed to protect free expression and innovation on the Internet and promote investment in the nation’s broadband networks. The Open Internet rules are grounded in the strongest possible legal foundation by relying on multiple sources of authority, including: Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. As part of this decision, the Commission also refrains (or “forbears”) from enforcing provisions of Title II that are not relevant to modern broadband service. Together Title II and Section 706 support clear rules of the road, providing the certainty needed for innovators and investors, and the competitive choices and freedom demanded by consumers.

The new rules apply to both fixed and mobile broadband service. This approach recognizes advances in technology and the growing significance of mobile broadband Internet access in recent years. These rules will protect consumers no matter how they access the Internet, whether on a desktop computer or a mobile device.

The public interest standard has long provided guidance for promoting greater diversity in content, political debate, access, service to local communities, education, diversity and equal employment. The communications revolution will continue to challenge policymakers to ensure operating in “the public interest” remains.

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More is Less

In 1994, Dan O’Day was holding one of his famous “PD Grad Schools” in Dallas, Texas. One of the speakers he invited that day – and whose presentation was recorded by “Radio’s Best Friend” Art Vuolo – was a young Randy Michaels. Dan O’Day still sells this video, now on DVD, and labels it “The best radio video ever.” I would agree.

The video is titled “Positioning Your Radio Station by Randy Michaels.”  It addresses the explosion of new FM radio stations after the first round of radio deregulation brought us Docket 80-90. Then the LMA (Local Marketing Agreement) was born. Randy tells the audience:

“This was a fundamental change for the radio business. Just as TV was a fundamental change, duopoly fundamentally changed the radio business. This moved the radio business from being a franchise to being a commodity. McDonalds was once a franchise. Today burger fast-food restaurants are a commodity and we all know how that’s working for the ‘Golden Arches.’”

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. He told them (I’ve edited his comments. The full text can be found here.):

“Localism in radio is not dead, but it is in dire need of resuscitation in many areas. 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 many communities that “on paper” had a local radio station actually found that the transmitter was 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.”

Now put another decade plus on the calendar and we find that the FCC has decided that adding even more FM radio stations would fix this problem of local radio service that operates in the public “interest, convenience and/or necessity” by issuing FM licenses for FM translators and Low Power FM radio stations.

The most recent BROADCAST STATION TOTALS AS OF MARCH 31, 2015 issued by the FCC shows that there are 4,702 AM commercial radio stations, 6,659 FM commercial radio stations and 4,081 FM educational radio stations on the air. But wait; there are also 6,312 FM translators & boosters on the air; plus, another 1,029 Low Power FM radio stations. That’s 22,873 radio stations! And they now compete with SiriusXM satellite radio and streaming audio from Pandora, Spotify, Radio Tunes etc.

If Randy was thinking back in 1994 “being a media company today is a really tough business” he was seeing just the tip of the broadcast iceberg.

Randy’s prescription that day in Dallas was as prescient then as it is today; maybe even more so. He told the audience of program directors:

“In a crowded media environment radio needs to super-serve its local community. Be everywhere, all the time. Miss a day, miss a lot. Radio’s BEST when it’s personal.”

“What’s your station’s impact rating? Great radio stations are listener-focused.”

“If you’re smart enough to win in today’s radio, you’re smart enough to have done something legitimate with your life. This is work. This is a real job. It’s the merger of art and science and you’ve got to have both.”

I’m encouraged by my students who have big ideas about the future of radio and a desire to serve the communities they will be moving to and living in. I’m encouraged by some great radio broadcasters getting back into the business who are bringing back the fundamentals of great radio while extending that sense of purpose to the digital component that must be a part of today’s media company.

The pendulum is swinging back and it can’t get back here soon enough.

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Who’s in Their Ear?

When radio was first introduced, to listen to it, you needed to wear headphones. Radio was one-to-one and very intimate. As the technology evolved the radio speaker would change the medium from one-to-one to group listening. Radios were expensive. If you owned a radio you shared it. A family would gather around the radio and listen together. Families would transfer this together media habit to TV and the transistor radio would become the refuge of teenagers who wanted to go in a different direction.

Zenith Transister Radio

My first radio was a Zenith transistor with a little ear piece for one ear. I would go to bed and turn it on under the covers and listen to “the world.” It was all AM radio and after sunset, the DX’ing of the nighttime skywave would always bring a new radio station into my ear to savor.

In the mid-70s the Boombox would be introduced to America and these radios grew both in size and the amount of bass they 1could produce. By the 80s they could be as big as a suitcase and carrying them around on your shoulder was a status symbol.

Go to a beach resort, and whether you were walking the boardwalk or on the beach, radios were blasting music from every direction.

When Y2K didn’t impact our fully computerized radio stations, we all breathed a short-lived sigh of relief because it was quickly followed by a new threat; the iPod and ear buds. Once again listening to music became a very personal activity.

The ear buds would transfer to the iPhone and iPad. The introduction of the iPhone6 may have killed the iPod, but not the use of headphones or ear buds to listen to your audio.

So what exactly are all those people listening to? lady listening with ear buds

The latest research from Edison Research says American Teens are spending more time with streaming audio services from places like Pandora and Spotify, than they are listening to either streaming AM/FM radio or over-the-air radio. Edison reports this finding in their fall 2014 “Share of Ear” report.

Remember it was my generation that grew up hooked on radio & TV that were credited with eroding newspaper readership. (Full disclosure: I read all my news online using my computer, iPad or iPhone.)

It’s not all bad news for AM/FM radio. It is still popular Edison tells us “by a significant margin among all other age groups.” So where did the teens go? Pureplay Internet streamers. What do they love most? The ability to skip a song they don’t like.

That’s really not hard to understand. I love my DVR for a similar reason. Especially when it comes to award shows. I never watch them live anymore. I record them for later viewing and I can watch a 3+ hour awards show in about 20 minutes time. I skip all the bad parts.

In fact, I rarely watch anything on TV live anymore. Everything is recorded so I can control it. So is it any surprise that teenagers once they are given this kind of control will ever want to give it up. A new habit is being formed.

The other aspect about pureplays that AM/FM radio could be addressing is their complete focus on the quality of their streaming product. What I’m hearing is a clean commercial insertion. Nothing gets cut off in the middle or repeated multiple times in the same long break. Pureplays deliver their commercial messages in a style that compliments the music programming; in a way that actually has you enjoying listening to the commercial message.

The teenagers have moved their listening to streaming and podcasts. The spectrum auction being held by the Federal Communications Commission is all about creating more wireless connections for all kinds of mobile devices.

I live in South Central Kentucky. I can stream my iPhone into my car’s seven speaker sound system through Bluetooth and everywhere I drive it’s clean and clear with no dropout or buffering. It’s scary good. It’s as easy to do as turning on my car’s audio system. Nothing to plug in or connect. It happens automatically.

South Central Kentucky is also blessed with some excellent over-the-air radio stations. So they very effectively compete, in my opinion, with streaming. But I wasn’t raised on streaming. I also like a good air personality.

The next generation is being raised on streaming that they have some power over to skip things they don’t wish to hear. Reminds me of the old saying “How are you going to get the kids back on the farm, after they’ve seen New York?”

baby listening to ear buds

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