Tag Archives: George Johns

What’s Radio’s Why?

WHYSimon Sinek says people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Watching the live streams of the 2018 Radio Show sessions and reading all of the reporting on the meetings in Orlando this past week, left me asking the simple question: “What’s radio’s why?”

College Kids on Radio

The RAIN Conference in Orlando put four college kids from the University of Central Florida on stage and asked them about their radio listening habits.

Spoiler Alert: They don’t have any radio listening habits.

These four students said things like “radio is obsolete,” “there’s no need for radio,” and “it’s very rare that I listen to radio.”

To these kids, radio doesn’t have any “why.”

What does?

YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify…in other words things that stream what they want, when they want it.

Write The Wrongs About Radio

George Johns and Bob Christy are getting together to write a blog aimed at fixing radio, by writing about the things they hear radio is doing wrong.

“(Radio) has to evolve to be relevant in today’s world,” they write. “There has been almost no evolution in radio (and) what George and (Bob) want to do is challenge radio to evolve and become relevant again.”

They write the  3 basics of great radio are: 1) be professional, 2) be interesting and 3) be entertaining.

The 25-54 Demo

Fred Jacobs wrote about the fabled radio demo of 25-54, also known as, the “family reunion demo.” It never really existed, except as a way for an agency buyer to get the C.P.P. (Cost Per Point) down for a radio station they really wanted to place their client on.

You would have thought as the number of radio signals increased, that the variety of programming choices would have too, but the reverse happened. Radio offered less choice of programming and music formats. As Fred writes, “broadcast radio surrendered its Soft AC, Smooth Jazz and Oldies stations to SiriusXM and streaming pure-plays.”

Millennials are not kids. I know, both of my sons are part of the millennial generation. They are both well-entrenched in successful careers and raising families.

The college kids referenced earlier are part of Generation Z. And those kids don’t know (or care) what radio even is. They don’t even know what life was like before smartphones. And smartphones have really replaced just about every other device Millennials and Boomers grew up with.

Norway Turns OFF Analog Radio

Norway is a country of about 5.5 million people. Norway turned off their FM signals almost a year ago and went all digital using DAB+. So what’s happened to radio listening in Norway?

Jon Branaes writes, “Norwegians still choose radio when they think it’s worth choosing. Radio has not lost our biggest fans but the more casual listeners.”

Norway has also seen FM listening replaced by internet delivered radio, which grew significantly after turning off analog FM signals. They expect smart speakers to contribute to even more of that type of listening in the future.

The Takeaways

Radio first needs to know its “WHY.” Then it needs to communicate it, clearly and simply or suffer the consequences.  Bud Walters of Cromwell loves to say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Until the radio industry figures this out, getting new people to listen (or former listeners to return) will be a challenge.

“FM is not the future. DAB+ (digital broadcasting) can keep radio relevant in a digital future of endless choices.” But Jon Branaes adds, “Radio must respond with its core strengths – being live and alive, useful and present in listener’s lives.”

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Mister Radio

mr rogersI didn’t grow up watching “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.” The television in my family’s house was connected to two different antennas that each picked up a single television station. One TV station was affiliated with the NBC television network and the other with the CBS television network. My childhood mentor was Captain Kangaroo. Bob Keeshan’s broadcast was on commercial television, so I was also exposed to products such as pre-sweetened Kool-Aid, where the “sugar, sugar, sugar…is already in it.” Sad, that I remember that sell line over 50-years later, more than any other lesson taught by that show.

Fred Rogers

I think I really became aware of the impact that Fred Rogers’ telecast made on children when in 2003 my oldest son Chris called me and said, “Dad, today’s a very sad day, Mister Rogers died.”

But my quest to learn more about this man really came about when I viewed the documentary on Netflix called “Mister Rogers & Me: A Deep & Simple Documentary Film.”

“I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.”

-Fred Rogers

Deep & SimpleDeep & Simple

Fred Rogers learned of this concept from a friend, mystic, activist and author in Durham, North Carolina by the name of Bo Lozoff. Bo wrote a book titled “Deep & Simple.” I bought a copy of the book from the Human Kindness Foundation, which Bo and his wife Sita founded. I wanted to read about the three core tenets of a deeper life that inspired Mister Rogers.

$20 Million Testimony

rogers-pastoreOn May 1, 1969, Fred Rogers appeared before Senator John Pastore’s Senate committee to explain why they should continue to fund PBS (Public Broadcasting System) for another term at a cost to the taxpayers of America of twenty million dollars. If you’ve never seen Mister Rogers’ testimony, I encourage you to stop, and take a moment to view it now. Click HERE

Spoiler Alert, Senator Pastore gave PBS its $20 million funding.

Be Real

What Fred Rogers did before the Senate hearing, was the same thing he did on his TV program, in interviews and in life. He was himself. He was being real.

His truthfulness and sincerity were never in question.

2002 Dartmouth Commencement Speechdartmouth-rogers

In May of 2002, Fred Rogers was invited back to his alma mater, Dartmouth, to give that year’s commencement address. It was powerful in its deep and simple message. Here are some of the things he said that day, that I feel have importance to the radio broadcasting industry.

Mister Rogers told one his favorite stories about the Seattle Special Olympics, where nine contestants, all of them physically or mentally disabled, were to run a 100-yard dash.

The starting gun fired and all of them began to run. One little boy stumbled, fell and hurt his knee. He began to cry. Hearing him cry, the other eight children turned around and ran back to him. They picked him up, linked arms and all joyfully crossed the finish line at the same time.

What makes this story so powerful, Fred Rogers told the graduates, was that

“Deep down, we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win, too. Even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.”

Radio used to operate with this everybody wins type of esprit de corps, a feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty, to its staff, its advertisers and its community of license.

You Are Unique

Fred told the graduates that day that each one of them is unique and special. No one will ever be like them.

Radio stations used to be unique and special when I was growing up. DX’ing (listening to distant AM radio signals via the night skywave) was a cornucopia of theater for the mind. Every station was unique. Every radio personality was special. To not listen to any one of them left the radio listener with a sense of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

Choices

Fred Rogers said that he was very much interested in choices.

“What it is, and who it is, that enable us human beings to make the choices we make all through our lives. What choices led to ethnic cleansing? What choices lead to healing? What choices lead to the destruction of the environment, the erosion of the Sabbath, suicide bombings, or teenagers shooting teachers. What choices encourage heroism in the midst of chaos?”

Radio has been constantly faced with choices over its nearly 100-years.

When television was born, radio chose to move in new directions and created new kinds of programs that would engage the next generation of listeners.

“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

-from Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince

What’s Essential About Radio?

In the 21st Century, who’s asking this question? What’s essential about radio today? What’s essential about the people who broadcast over your radio station?

Fred Rogers told those Dartmouth students that commencement day, they were graduating because of the people who helped them become the people they are.

“Anyone who has ever graduated from a college, anyone who has ever been able to sustain a good work, has had at least one person, and often many, who have believed in him or her. We just don’t get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others,” said Mister Rogers.

bill gableThis past week, news spread that Brother Bill Gable had died. For many of us, it was the time he broadcast over The Big 8 – CKLW out of Windsor-Ontario, Canada that endeared him to our hearts. His best friend, Pat Holiday shared a story about what made Brother Bill and the rest of the air personalities at CKLW essential radio listening. Pat wrote:

“Each day on CKLW the big deal was the show opener. We’d all try to outdo each other. No, ‘Hi…how you doing?’ stuff. It HAD to be larger than life. We’d all do our best to do some crazy or funny or amazing thing to set the tone for the rest of the show. Something mesmerizing. So much that you’d think, ‘Holy shit that was great. How am I going to top that?’”

This is in such stark contrast to what we hear over the radio today.

George Johns shared a blog post from his radio friend Bob Christy that was titled “It’s Over…” The blog was written by Bob after he had spent a couple of hours listening to New York City’s #1 radio station. You can read the complete blog article HERE 

The essential element for most radio listeners, the air personality, was throttled to four mic breaks per hour. Worse, the personality sounded uninterested according to Christy and the only local story he shared was ripped off the internet.

Bob ends his post by asking, “So is it fair to judge a station by listening to one break or for ‘only a few hours,” hell yes it is. The audience will give you one shot, you better be ready and make it count.”

Won’t You Be My Listener?

Radio has choices. It will either work to become essential in people’s lives again, or it won’t. Will it continue down the path of being shallow and complex, or return to its roots, being deep and simple? Great radio is more than anything you can see, hear or touch. Great radio is community and companionship. Great radio is LIVE and engaging to its target audience.

Great radio is created by dedicated radio people who spend every waking hour focused on delivering great radio.

I wish for the people in today’s radio industry to possess the wisdom, strength and grace to make the choices the industry needs, to make it the best radio it can be, going forward.

 

 

 

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Words Matter

74The words you use can make all the difference in the outcome of whatever you’re trying to do. Visual mediums can get lazy with wordcraft thinking the visuals will carry the message. Radio can’t.

Writing Persuasively

Colleges teach two kinds of writing: creative and journalistic. One is made of whimsy and the other is fact-based. Effective radio ads are written to persuade. Few do.

Cliché Town

In my sales class we spend time exploring how to write messages that cause the listener to see themselves doing what it is we want them to do. People must first envision something in their mind before they will ever actually do it.

Walt Disney said:

“If you can dream it, you can do it.”

So you’d think that when my students produce their radio ads in their sales presentation during finals week they would be filled with persuasive wizardry. They’re not. They’re filled with all of the tired old clichés that comprise most radio ads. Why, because they’ve been brainwashed with them without even realizing it. Even though they have no impact, rating a big zero on the persuasive scale, they are still filling their brains.

Clichés Have No Father

While we’ve all heard them – like “plenty of free parking,” “committed to excellence,” “fast friendly service,” “these prices won’t last long,” “in business since 19–,” – and know them, we have long stopped connecting them to anyone or any business. They are in a sense orphan phrases that fill-up an advertisement but don’t deliver the goods. And they usually are what cause an advertiser to say “radio doesn’t work.”

You don’t listen to clichés and neither will anyone else.  Stop using them.

Google It

George Johns is a famous programming consultant and he puts it this way:

“He who controls the language controls the budget.

We don’t Bing or Yahoo things we Google them.”

Google means search. It’s why the parent company re-branded itself from Google to Alphabet.

What’s Your Point?

Whether you’re selling advertising for your radio station(s) or you’re writing radio copy for one of your clients, you should distill your message into a single compelling sentence.

The last presidential election had two candidates. One candidate made a consistent, compelling point and the other had a “basket of deplorables.”

Long after people have forgotten all the dry details of the race, they will never forget those red ball caps and that single compelling sentence.

Final Point

It’s a New Year and time to stop using worn-out words and tired old clichés. To quote the great advertising man David Ogilvy:

“You cannot bore someone into buying your product.”

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Your Idea Is Ugly

44Ever had someone say that to you? How did it make you feel?

Well, all ideas start out as ugly.

Ed Catmull, CEO of Pixar writes in his book Creativity Inc. that early in the creative process every movie Pixar has ever made sucked.  They all start out as “ugly babies” that are “awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete.” And that’s OK, because the public never sees these “ugly Pixar babies.” Catmull says it’s the company’s job to protect these original, fragile ideas from being judged too quickly. They understand that great ideas aren’t born; they are created from ugly ones.

Ideas Are Born Ugly

The problem today is too many ugly ideas are released to the world while they are still ugly. No one has invested the time, love and attention to craft them into something great. Or, just as bad, ideas not ready for broadcast are put on-the-air piecemeal. Radio is famous for doing this sort of thing when they change music formats and start off with 10,000 songs in a row. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. So why put something on the air that is not going to be what it will be when it’s finished?

Practice, Practice, Practice

You don’t see a Broadway show open without there being a lot of practice first. You don’t see any type of performance art take to a stage without practice. “All of showbiz except for radio has rehearsals,” observes programming genius George Johns. Why is that?

When Did Radio Stop Rehearsals?

Ron Jacobs, the first Boss Radio PD in America at 93/KHJ writes in his book KHJ Inside Boss Radio that before the new KHJ launched, every air personality and board engineer spent two weeks practicing for the station’s debut. “Every word and every nuance was critiqued on the fly by Jacobs and (Bill) Drake,” said Boss Jock Gary Mack. “More up! More energy! Faster! I remember the distinct odor of flop sweat. But every day got better, and we made our mistakes off the air,” said Mack.

The entire original Boss Jock air staff was all seasoned radio professionals by the time they were hired to launch the new KHJ. But they all had to attend “Boss Jock Kindergarten” before they could go on the air. Boss Jock Tommy Vance put it this way, “I was to spend six hours a day doing it (practicing) until he (Jacobs) decided I would be ready for the real thing. He would be listening in his office. If the red phone rang, pick it up and listen to every word he said – very carefully. Take notes and follow his directions to the letter. Jacobs left me in my Boss Jock kindergarten.”

“Six hours every damn day I played the records. Read the commercials. Again and again, and yet again. The red phone never ceased ringing. Criticism was heaped upon me hour in, hour out. I began to picture Jacobs as the force behind the Spanish Inquisition. As the Marquis de Sade. Jack the Ripper. Eventually I was let out of the bag and given the six to nine pm shift,” said Vance.

That Used To Be Us

This was the way radio worked once upon a time. Nothing went on the air unrehearsed. Everything that went on the air was screened to insure it would meet the standards set by the station. “Ugly babies” were nurtured until they became great ideas that became great radio stations.

Great radio takes work. Great radio is exciting to listen to. Great radio gets results.

Let’s make radio great again.

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What We Have Here, Is a Failure to Embrace Complexity

42The world we live in today is a complex place. The KISS operational style seems like it would be a good idea. (KISS = Keep It Simple Stupid) But maybe not.

Turns out in a complex world, being agile is more importance than being efficient. Being efficient kills innovation. Innovation today is the primary driver of building value and creating value is one of the basic reasons for any organization to exist.

Managing Complexity is a 21st Century Skill

People who can manage complexity will be the leaders of the future. Managing a radio station was complex due to the fact that radio has two customers, which want totally opposite things. One customer is the radio listener. This customer wants information and entertainment. This customer usually isn’t fond of commercials. The other customer is the radio advertiser. Anytime their ad isn’t dominating the airwaves and driving consumers into their store is a moment the radio station isn’t doing its job. To add to this complexity are the talented people needed to service both of these customers. Air personalities that attract listeners and sales folks that service advertisers.

Consolidation & Complexity

As the radio industry began consolidating after the Telcom Act of 1996, the traditional thinking of protecting margins was amplified. This resulted in reducing labor costs. RIFs became commonplace (RIF = Reduction In Force). For those that were left wages became stagnant, little money was invested in training and the number of people left in the workforce was reduced to a bare minimum.

The problem is, when you have low paid, poorly trained and overworked people, your operation lacks new and innovative ideas that can improve the business. When the only ideas that are introduced come from the tippy top, they rarely connect with the challenges seen at the front line.

Zeynep Ton writes in her book The Good Jobs Strategy about a discount retailer that took a different approach to their operation than most companies when the great recession of 2008 struck the world. Rather than cut wages or reduce staff, Ton says they asked their employees to contribute ideas. The result was that this company managed to reduce prices to their customers by ten percent while increasing their market share from 15% to 20% from 2008 to 2012.

Herb Kelleher writes in his book NUTS! about how Southwest Airlines created a culture where employees are treated as the company’s number one asset. Southwest does a number of things to benefit its employees, including such programs as profit-sharing and empowering employees to make decisions. This empowerment during the period when oil prices hit a high of $145 per barrel in 2008 saw the Southwest pilots taking the initiative to plot more efficient flying altitudes and work with ground crews to get in and out of the gates quicker to control the Southwest ticket prices and not lay off any people while maintaining a positive profit margin. These actions did not come from the corporate home office but from employees in the field.

What to Do When You Have Maximized Efficiency

Let’s face it; the ability for any radio operator today to squeeze out any more profit through efficiency is over. Radio consultant George Johns puts it this way: “Radio today is in the no business, it has no money, no time and no people.”

So what’s the answer? Collaboration.

The radio companies of the 21st Century will need to develop the ability to make collaboration a competitive advantage. The game has changed from what you own and control to what you can access. Access happens via platforms. Radio needs to create platforms that bring consumers and producers together, much like the Apple App store does globally, but locally for their service area.

Radio needs to find a way to attract listeners by causing them to be fearful of missing something if they’re not listening while directing them to local places via platforms they control that can fulfill their wants and needs on demand.

In other words, radio needs to “think different.”

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Radio is Going to HAL

22You remember HAL? The HAL 9000 is a fictional character from Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series. HAL’s name stood for Heuristically programmed Algorithmic computer. HAL was the future of artificial intelligence. HAL always spoke in a soft, calm voice and in a conversational manner. HAL was born in the 90s according to Clarke.

I remember computerizing my radio station’s traffic and billing system around that same time. Computers would quickly invade every part of my radio station operations. It was scary. I remember looking at that computer box and thinking, if that darn thing “dies” there goes the whole enchilada. It wasn’t like losing a phonograph needle or a cart machine or a CD player. Computers changed the game to an all or nothing model. Computers also introduced another concept foreign to radio broadcasters, planned replacement schedules while they were still fully operational. Radio always used to run every piece of equipment until it could run no more. But you couldn’t play that game with computers.

More Dead Air

Programming great, George Johns, recently posted this thought on his blog: “Is it just me or are there a lot more pauses on the radio now than there was when we were using carts.”   And I wrote back to Geo that I noticed the same thing. I figured it was because today, the people charged with running radio stations are not listening to them. Not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t. They are busy – very busy – multi-tasking.

When computers were introduced into radio, I thought it would be great because it would allow air talent to spend more time working on show prep, interacting with the listeners and being focused on their show and not about cuing up records, pulling carts etc. For small market radio stations, it meant that air talent would have an engineer just like the big city radio stations had always had for their air talent. But that’s not what happened.

The radio industry had a different idea in mind. Computers would allow air talent to do more.

After the Telcom Act of 1996, the radio industry began to rapidly consolidate. General Managers became Market Managers. (GMs usually were charged with overseeing an AM/FM broadcast property. MMs would oversee multiple AMs, FMs and in many cases, multiple markets of AMs & FMs.) Computers were quickly seen as a way to do more with less. More work with less people that is.

Multi-tasking Kills Your Brain

Air personalities now could be on multiple radio stations at the same time. They could multi-task. The unfortunate part of this is research now shows that multi-tasking will kill your brain. Turns out our brains were not built to multi-task.

MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller quoted in Inc. magazine says that our brains are “not wired to multi-task well and when people think they are multi-tasking, they are actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.” This constant switching actually produces bad brain habits. Worse, multi-tasking actually lowers your work quality and your efficiency. It actually lowers a person’s IQ like if you were to skip sleeping or use drugs. So if you wonder why today’s air talent isn’t connecting with listeners like they used to, it really isn’t their fault. The deck has been stacked against them by an industry that is using computers and voice tracking to enable their air talent to multi-task. Multi-tasking is not a skill to add to resume. It’s a bad habit to quit doing.

Computers Change College Radio

Erik O’Brien wrote in an article in Radio Survivor about how automation was introduced into his college radio station and how it changed the way college radio was now done and not for the better in his opinion.

KUTE adopted the ENCO DAD radio automation software. What had been a college radio station comprised of student radio enthusiasts, experimenting, having fun – sometimes producing radio greatness and sometimes not – would turn into a more “professional” operation through the use of computerized software. A radio station that had live radio personalities around the clock could now operate without any DJs.

Everything that goes on the air goes through DAD (Digital Audio Delivery). If it’s not in the computer, it won’t go on-the-air. This standardization now allowed for KUTE to begin monetizing their programming. KUTE had an AM signal, licensed by the FCC, but when the transmitter broke down and there was no money to repair it, it became an online only station. Now it was not subject to FCC rules that embraced a community-driven model of radio. It also could now support advertising that could be scheduled and aired that its non-commercial FCC license did not allow.

The new computerized system meant the station was now stable and standardized and predictable. Except when the computer loaded programs didn’t air and other operator errors would plague the station’s on-air sound. What used to be a fun college experience now was a stressful chore.

The Bottom Line

What it all comes down to, whether we’re talking about college radio or commercial radio, is what value are we offering to our listeners by the technology we employ? What do we want the listener experience to be? If we use technology to allow our air talent to be more focused on the station’s mission, radio will be great but if we use it in other ways, probably not.

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