Tag Archives: FM Radio

Coal Ain’t Coming Back & Neither is AM Radio

114I lived in Kentucky for 7-years.

Kentucky actually issues black license plates that say “Coal Keeps the Lights On.”

And yes, a lot of our electricity is generated from coal fired generating stations. But our dependency on coal has been in decline for years, today only about 30% of our electricity is generated from the burning of coal. 15% is generated from renewal energy sources.

But when it comes to jobs, solar & wind-energy jobs are growing 12 times as fast as the US economy. This has all been happening over the last 10-years or so. Renewable-energy jobs grew at the rate of 6% while fossil-fuel jobs declined at 4.5% from 2012 to 2015 according to Business Insider who also notes that the average number of employees at US coal mines dropped by 12% in 2015.

The solar industry now employs more people than coal, oil and gas combined.

The most recent statistics (2014) for the coal industry say 76,572 people are employed mining coal. That includes miners, office workers, sales people and others who work at coal-mining companies. In 1980, the industry employed about 242,000 people.

But to put the coal industry employment in perspective, there are more people employed in education in Kentucky than in coal. And the Washington Post compared the number of people employed in coal to other industries and reports: “Although 76,000 might seem like a large number, consider that similar numbers of people are employed by, say, the bowling (69,088) and skiing (75,036) industries. Other dwindling industries, such as travel agencies (99,888 people), employ considerably more. Used-car dealerships provide 138,000 jobs. Theme parks provide nearly 144,000. Carwash employment tops 150,000.”

In fact, more people are employed in RADIO (94,584 people) than in the mining of coal.

Coal jobs ain’t coming back.

AM RADIO

When I hear people in coal country cheering about coal jobs coming back under a new presidential administration, I look to my own industry; radio. AM radio is like the coal industry.

America, to a large extent, was built on coal due to the industrial revolution. All of our great factories depended on coal to power their machines. Coal was plentiful and we had lots of it. It was coal’s time.

In the 1920s, AM radio was born. Nothing like it had ever existed in the world. While the telephone brought people together, one person to another person, radio would bring the masses together. Inc.put together a list of “The 25 Greatest Inventions of All Time” and radio was #2 following the wired telephone. The History Channel compiled its own list and it put the smartphone in the first position followed by radio.

The “Golden Age of Radio” is the period from the 1920s to the 1940s when AM radio was the main source of entertainment in American homes. It would be replaced by television in the 1950s.

The transistor and car radio would pump new energy into the radio industry to a young generation in the 1960s and AM radio would be “born again.”

FM RADIO

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 for AM radio listening.

JOBS & ROBOTS

In coal mining, the need for coal miners goes down every year. Today, mining for coal no longer means muscle hardy men in maze-like tunnels wielding picks and shovels. The coal industry has steadily been replacing those jobs with robotic machines that require far fewer miners but more computer engineers and coders.

The radio industry employs its own cadre of computer engineers and coders that allows for fewer folks to appear on more radio stations through automation and voice-tracking. Is what’s happening in radio broadcasting any different than what’s happening in coal; or any other industry today?

I grew up on AM radio.

AM radio was my world and the people who made the magic caused this boy to make radio a career.

But AM radio and those jobs are not coming back any more than coal miner jobs.

93% of Americans 12-years of age or older listen to radio every week.

What percentage of those are listening to AM?

As AM radio stations add FM translators, do you think that number will grow again?

Sadly, AM radio is to broadcasting as coal is to power generation.

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First Impressions

113You’ve probably heard the old saying “you can’t make a second first impression.”

It’s true.

In sales, in those first few seconds when you meet a new client, you are either going to continue forward progress or it will be full-stop.

Same goes for job interviews or first dates. This is what makes making a good first impression so stressful.

Attitude

Good first impressions start with projecting a positive image. Projecting a positive image comes from your attitude.

I won’t go all Norman Vincent Peale on you, but your attitude is formed by what you do every waking moment. You can’t just turn it on when you need to. That will project a faux image easily discerned by any human being that can fog a mirror.

Derry’s Dad

In my broadcast sales class on talent assessments, guest lecturer and professional sales trainer Chris Derry, shared with my students that his dad was a stickler for having a positive attitude by what you wore on your face.

Come down to breakfast without a smile and you were immediately sent back upstairs. His dad didn’t care if you were late for school, you were not going to start the day at breakfast with a frowny face or a grumpy attitude. Chris said his sister went back up stairs many a day, but he quickly learned how to play the game.

But it wasn’t a game. It was building a positive character trait that would lead to a life of success in every endeavor that Derry would take on. He quickly learned even on days when he didn’t feel like smiling that forcing a smile for breakfast with his dad very quickly had him feeling more exuberant.

Fake It Till You Make It

Zig Zigler tells the story of faking a smile on his face and voice when he wasn’t exactly feeling it. He said that by faking it, it quickly became genuine and his mood would reflect his face.

Therapists will tell you that logic cannot change an emotion but action will. That by doing something that gives you a feeling of accomplishment, you will enrich your spirit and improve your attitude.

HD Radio’s 1st Impression

HD Radio is 15 years old. It answered a question no listener was asking (and still isn’t).

But why was HD Radio such a bust?

First, it was introduced with very low power that made reception of HD Radio nearly impossible in the home, office or car.

It tried to fix the poor quality of AM radio and improve the quality of FM radio. It would destroy AM radio with increasing co-channel noise interference and really make a mess of the band’s sky wave at night. With FM its improvement was almost unnoticeable to the average listener.

Worse, the promotion of HD Radio on FM radio stations often drew the comment to a listener with an FM not an HD Radio set that the sound of the station did sound better in HD. The listener didn’t understand from the radio ads they needed to buy a new radio set to pick up the HD Radio signal and so they didn’t. And even if they did figure out they needed an HD Radio set, trying to find one to buy at Walmart, Target or even Radio Shack was an exercise in futility.

Media Life magazine reported that media buyers say things like “HD Radio doesn’t feel like a thing” or “there’s almost zero consumer interest” or “it’s the least-promising technology of the new ones introduced in radio in recent years” or “most people won’t be able to hear the difference between HD Radio and regular radio and that’s a problem.”

First Impressions are a Bitch

There are 19,778 FM radio signals on the air as of the end of 2016 according to the FCC. Of those, around 2,000 of them are broadcasting in HD, about ten percent.

The number one reason those 2,000 FM radio stations are broadcasting in HD is to feed an FM translator that is not broadcasting in HD.

Media Life magazine compared how New Coke was introduced after the Pepsi Challenge was promoting it was beating Coca Cola in taste tests. I remember those days well. I was in radio sales and the local Pepsi bottler was my account. (I was a Coke drinker.)

I took that Pepsi Challenge one time with the owner of the Pepsi bottling plant and yes, I said I liked the taste of Pepsi better. He beamed.

I could tell the super sugary taste of Pepsi easily and I preferred the less sugary, belching kick of Coke. But I wasn’t about to pick the wrong one. I was in sales after all. I knew which side my bread was buttered.

Coca Cola totally bummed out about the Pepsi Challenge introduced a high sugary version of its drink and called it New Coke. It was a disaster. In months Coke brought back the original formula as Coke Classic. Today all remnants of New Coke are gone.

The lesson Media Life tells us is that “you can introduce something new and improved, but you can’t make the public want it.

Which brings me back to HD Radio.

Classic Radio

Maybe it’s time to bring back the elements that make great radio, great.

A product that is focused on a defined listener 100% of the time.

A product that is curated from music to jingles to personalities to commercials.

Nothing is put on the air that is out-of-place.

I think FM radio sounds great sonically.

Listeners do too! It’s why radio still reaches over 93% of Americans every week. It’s the #1 reach and frequency medium in America. It beats everything else. Period.

FM radio doesn’t need to make a first impression. It already is embraced by its listeners.

Bring back the classic formula that made radio great and cement radio’s future with the next generations.

Being Human Never Changes with Technology

No matter how much the technology changes, the reason one human being is attracted to another human being will never change.

Radio has their ear.

What will you say to them?

 

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You Can’t Have Too Much Fun

77There are some things in life you can’t have too much of.

You can’t have too much fun.

You can’t have too much wisdom.

You can’t have too much love.

Too Many College Bowl Games

My university invested a ton of money to upgrade to Conference USA. We won our bowl game in Florida this year too. Did you watch our team win? Probably not. Turns out attendance at the plethora of Florida college bowl games is down.

“When the Outback Bowl in Tampa announced an attendance of 51,119 on Monday who watched Florida dismantle Iowa 30-3, it became the sixth college bowl game among eight in Florida to have a decline in attendance from the previous year,” reports the Florida Times-Union.

NFL TV Viewership Decline

Rolling Stone magazine wrote that one of the big stories of 2016 was the decline in viewership of the NFL. How big was the decline? Down 8%.

Prime Time games were down the most with an audience erosion of 10 to 12%.

Commuter Traffic

The Federal Highway Administration says that by 2025 passenger miles traveled will have increased 72%. Why? Because that same agency says our population will have increased by 26% by that same year.

Tell me the road you commute to and from work isn’t already over congested.

Why is Country Music not the Top Radio Format in Nashville?

Nielsen Audio did a research study in 2014 and said the top radio format in America was country music. Ironically, the top radio station in Music City aka Nashville was NOT a country station. And it’s still not.

The latest ratings for Nashville show the highest rated country music station is ranked #7. The following radio formats are all ahead of that country station: Adult Contemporary, CHR, Sports, Urban AC, Talk and Variety Hits.

However, if you combine all of the audience of the many country format radio stations in Nashville, you will have a higher share of audience than the number one radio station commands.

Less Is More

So while you cannot have too much fun, wisdom, or love, you can have too many choices of products and services. Great for consumers’ maybe, but not for business owner/operators. Ask those who are dealing with the increase in college bowl games, NFL games, traffic congestion or playing country music in Nashville.

Radio is experiencing its own issues with supply versus demand.

The FCC will open up two windows for new translators this year. That’s after 750 new FM translators were signed on in 2016. Currently there are 19,778 FM signals beating the airwaves throughout America. Compare that to 4,669 AM radio stations currently on the air.

At the point in America’s history when the same number of AM radio stations equaled the number of FM radio stations on the air in America (end of 1992), 75% of all radio listening was to FM radio.

The Psychological Aspects of Overpopulation

This brings me back to my own undergraduate college days and psychology class. I remember learning about an experiment about putting too many rats into a confined space.

“As the number of rats rose above a certain level, the effects became rather dramatic,” wrote Albert J. M. Wessendorp, Psychologist-Psychotherapist. The rats displays behavioral disturbances, death rates rose, male rats began to show deviant sexual behavior and more. You can read more here.

Whales are known to commit collective suicide in order to control overpopulation.

What about you and me? How are we impacted by overpopulation (or over choice)?

The research says even human population growth is subject to limits. If we fail in controlling things ourselves, mother nature will begin to do it for us. (Think: Climate Change)

Radio Station Overpopulation

I love the radio business.

I share these thoughts because I’m concerned that the current overpopulation of the FM band is not taking into consideration the laws of physics or the impact of anything that gets overpopulated.

The FRC when it was formed (Federal agency that pre-dates our current FCC) it made it its mission to see America have quality radio stations or a large quantity of mediocre ones. We now look back on this period of time as “The Golden Age of Radio.”

Wessendorp writes that Maslow taught us that “People are only stirred into action when they feel their basic needs to be threatened.”

Have you looked at the revenue forecasts for radio for 2017? Are you feeling threatened yet?

What You Can Do

Next week I will continue with this topic and offer up what I believe is a solution to radio’s problem in an overpopulated entertainment world.

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Radios Go High-Definition

37That was the headline that appeared in the Baltimore Sun on January 7, 2004. Unfortunately, unlike HDTV (High Definition Television) HDRadio never stood for “High Definition” radio. And maybe that was the first mistake. HDRadio was simply a name they chose for the digital radio technology.

The iPod was introduced in October 2001. Steve Jobs introduced this music delivery changing device this way. Only a month earlier, XM began broadcasting the first satellite radio programming to be followed four months later by Sirius satellite radio. So by 2004, digital radio was already late to the party.

KZIA-FM Z102.9 saw Kenwood USA sell its first digital receiver in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to take advantage of KZIA-FM’s HDRadio broadcasts. “This is a significant move,” Michelle Abraham, senior analyst at In-Sat/MDR, a market research firm in Arizona, said of the roll-out of digital radio equipment. “It may not seem duly significant in the beginning, but in a few years from now, it will be a huge leap.” The hope was it would prove to be competitive to the newly launched satellite radio offerings from XM and Sirius (now merged into a single satellite company). HDRadio was also seen as improving FM to have CD quality sound and making AM sound like FM. It was heralded to help struggling AM radio stations.

Solving a Problem That Didn’t Exist

What HDRadio did for FM radio stations was solve a problem that listeners to FM didn’t feel existed. No one who listened to FM radio was complaining about the quality of the sound of the transmission. (They were complaining about other things, like too many commercials.) And for AM radio stations, it meant people buying radios for a service that didn’t offer anything they really wanted to hear or couldn’t get from someplace else. AM radio was now the service of senior citizens who already owned AM radios, who grew up with AM radio’s characteristics and whose hearing was not the best now anyway. So HDRadio for AM wasn’t something they were asking for either. Worse, AM radio stations that put on the new digital signal found it lacked the benefits of skywave and often interfered with other company AM radio stations as the industry quickly consolidated radio ownership.

Industries Most Disrupted By Digital

In March 2016, an article published by Rhys Grossman in the Harvard Business Review listed “Media” as the most disrupted by the growing digital economy. Turns out if you’re a business to consumer business, you’re the first being most disrupted by digital. The barriers to be a media company used to be huge, but in a digital world they are not. The business model that media companies depend on has not adapted well to the digital economy.

Education – Disruption Ahead

Having moved from media to education I only got ahead of digital’s disruption for a while. But even those industries that had perceived high barriers of entry are finding those walls crumbling quickly. Grossman says fifty percent of executives see education being impacted in a big way in the next twelve months.

Where Are The Radios?

Edison Research did their latest “Infinite Dial” webinar and the slide that most impacted me was the one about radio ownership. From 2008 to 2016 the percentage of people in America that don’t own a single radio in their home has gone from 4% to 21%. When Edison narrowed this down to household between the ages of 18-34, non-radio ownership rose to 32%. Mark Ramsey’s Hivio 2016 Conference had one Millennial describe a radio set as being “ancient technology.” Ouch!

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Jerry Lee’s WEAZ in Philadelphia was giving away high quality FM radios to increase listenership to not just his radio station but to FM radio. And KZIA in Cedar Rapids gave away HDRadios to allow people to hear their new signal. It now appears time for the radio industry to begin giving away AM/FM radios every time they are doing station remotes, contests or appearing at venues that will attract lots of people.

Elephant in the Room

But the elephant in the room remains the broken media business model. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television – any media that is ad supported – will be challenged to find a way to capture revenue to continue.

As Walt Disney famously said “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make movies.”

To anyone in ad supported media, we would agree we do it for the same reasons.

The $64,000 question is how.

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Are We Losing the Next Generations?

Growing up in western New England, the transistor radio would impact my life and career. Radio has been in my blood as long as I can remember, but it would be my Zenith transistor radio that would first allow me to explore new stations, new music, new personalities and new ways of delivering content without the supervision of my parents. My transistor radio and ear piece would make me the master of my own radio dial.

Growing up, it seemed like most radio markets had two radio stations battling for the teenage ear. WPTR and WTRY out of Albany, New York’s capital district would be mine. Each of those radio stations would bring their mobile studios to our county shopping center and broadcast LIVE. It was such a thrill.

Hartford had WDRC and WPOP. Boston had WMEX and WRKO. Philadelphia had WIBG and WFIL. Chicago had WLS and WCFL.

New York City would finally be a battle between WMCA and WABC for the Top40 crown in the Big Apple.

What made traveling around in my folk’s car so exciting was that each of these radio markets and radio stations were special and different. The personalities, the promotions, the station jingles and yes, even some of the music was unique to each station and market. Local and regional bands could be heard hoping to be discovered and go national with their music.

Radio stations all did music research back then and printed weekly surveys charting how the hits were doing from week to week with local listeners.

That was then, this is now. Larry Rosin at Edison Research says that today “virtually no radio stations perform formal research for music among teens nor target teens directly in their marketing strategy.”

I’ve sold “old people radio formats” where the presentation was quick to point out that what advertisers should be focused on is not the age of the audience but the amount of money they control and have as discretionary to spend as they wish.

I’ve also sold “young people radio formats” where we pointed out that kids are the masters of convincing their parents and grandparents to get them anything they wanted, so please don’t focus on how young they are. I mean once my boys were out of the house, I no longer went to Mickey D’s and ordered “Happy Meals.” (That made me very happy!)

Radio has always focused on the “family reunion demo” aka 25-54 adults; though that demo is shifting upwards with the aging baby boomers to 35-64 adults.

When Radio Disney was born and focused on little tykes, it appeared there was now a radio operator ready to pick up the torch for young people listening to radio. But then radio was shocked the day Disney announced it was selling all but one of its owned and operated Radio Disney stations. Radio Disney basically operated on AM radio. AM radio is no longer used for music listening by the public and so was Disney just abandoning AM radio for FM radio? No. Radio Disney had established a strong beach front on two audio delivery mediums; SiriusXM and online listening. (It also benefits from the Disney TV Channel on cable, satellite and streaming via the Net.)

It should also be noted that around the time Radio Disney was coming into existence that the radio ratings company known at that time as Arbitron began to measure listening audiences down to age 6+ with their new PPM device where as the diary previously only measured “adults 12+.” When Nielsen bought Arbitron and rebranded the radio ratings service Nielsen Audio it kept the 6+ listening metric. Nielsen also now is trying to establish a listening service that will measure all audio listening consumption across all platforms. Can you see where this is going?

Radio listening is a habit. My father never acquired it. I was raised on it. My sons were raised on it. But I see my grandchildren are holding iPad-like devices and easily navigate their parents’ iPhones.

You would have thought that with more radio stations on-the-air in America than at any time in history there would be more variety than at any time in our history, but that’s not the case. There’s actually less variety.

After launching two Smooth Jazz formatted radio stations and falling in love with the artists and their music I now can only hear this music streamed online. So like my grandchildren, I’m forming a listening habit that doesn’t require a radio; just my iPad or iPhone.

I believe the future is going to be all about being the best at something, not necessarily garnering the most people. Radio was always about getting the most ears. Everything was based on CPP (cost per point), but in a world of infinite choice, the best will dominate.

Radio can play in this world if programming is turned back over to people who program their passions to others just like themselves.

Steve Jobs made Apple into the world’s most valuable company by focusing on design (in radio, that’s programming) and making products that he and his team wanted to have for themselves (building a radio station that you not only own, but love to listen to yourself).

Radio is either going seize the day or have a seizure.

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