Tag Archives: George Johns

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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