Tag Archives: Golden Age of Radio

Radio’s History of Feeling Inferior

Family Listening to Golden Age of Radio“There are some things that will scare you so bad, that you will hurt yourself,” said Molly Ivins. And that’s exactly what I believe the radio industry has been doing to itself for most of its 100-year history.

The Golden Age of Radio

The first golden age of radio was during the 1930s and 40s, and was a period when over-the-air commercial radio was sewn into the fabric of American’s daily lives. It delivered the day’s news and provided entertainment to people struggling with the effects of the Great Depression and a second world war.

Here comes TV

Television was introduced to America at the 1939 New York World’s Fair with a live broadcast of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt opening the fair on NBC’s experimental station W2XBS in New York City.Family Watching TV

Unfortunately, the development of television in America was halted by Japan bombing Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and bringing the United States into World War II.

When the war ended, there were only six television stations on the air in America, three in New York City, one in Chicago, one in Philadelphia and one in Schenectady, New York.

The number of television sets in use in 1946 were about 6,000, but by 1951 that number grew to over 12 million, and by 1955 half of all homes in the United States had a black and white television.

Radio’s Over Because of…

Radio’s inferiority complex began with television, and probably for good reason. Television stole radio’s prime time programs and right along with it, it’s listeners. Worse, radio’s big station owners and radio networks, CBS and NBC, would use radio’s revenues to fund the development of television stations and TV networks.

There were many who predicted that television would be the demise of radio broadcasting.

This was the first known case of “radio’s over because of…”

What’s Killing Radio, Let Me Count the Ways

I worked in the radio industry all of my professional life. Other than earning money as a professional musician early in my working life or as a Broadcast Professor at the end, radio has been my source of income and my love.

During that time, I would hear about the latest new technology that was going to put radio out of business.

  • TV was going to be the end of radio
  • FM was going to be the end of AM radio
  • CB Radios were going to be the end of commercial radio
  • 8-Track Tapes were going to be the end of home & car radio
  • Cassette Tapes were going to be the end of home & car radio
  • Compact Discs were going to be the end of home & car radio
  • MP3s were going to be the end of home & car radio
  • Satellite Radio was going to be the end of radio
  • The internet was going to be the end of radio
  • iPhones/iTunes were going to be the end of radio
  • Pandora & Spotify et al were going to be the end of radio
  • YouTube was going to be the end of radio

Have I missed any?

FCC Symposium Sees Radio Industry Challenged by Competition and Regulation

The FCC held a symposium at the end of 2019 to solicit things it needed to be addressing for the health of the radio industry. Fingers, by the invited panelists, were pointing in every direction, but at themselves.

The radio industry believes it can make itself better by more consolidation and less regulation. Yet when I look at the history of radio, its most successful years were during a time of intense regulation and severe ownership caps.

However, it amazes me that the only answer offered continues to be the same one, that to my eyes and ears, got the radio industry into this predicament in the first place.

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Till it’s gone.
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot.

-Joni Mitchell

What’s Radio’s Real Problem?

radio signWhen television came along and took away radio’s people and programs that were attracting its large listening audience, it was forced to re-invent itself.

Radio dropped its block programming and began programming music. The transistor made radio portable. Radio personalities, promotions and new music made radio exciting to a whole new generation of listeners.

One of the people at the FCC’s symposium was Karen Slade, VP and GM of KJLH Radio in Los Angeles. Instead of the 30,000 foot view of radio’s current situation being shared by the radio owners and CEOs, she said she saw the problem from about ten floors above street level. She said her radio station had 500,000 listeners but that she was trying to reach more listeners through a variety of other platforms. My question is why?

For my entire radio career, I don’t think I ever managed even a cluster of radio stations that delivered that many total weekly listeners. Yet, my radio stations were very successful.

I managed a radio station in Atlantic City that had about a tenth of that many listeners and still delivered a million dollar bottom line to the stakeholders, plus we delivered results for our advertisers.

Radio’s real problem is not investing in what it already owns. Radio instead thinks the grass is greener in someone else’s media playground.

Smart Speakers

Forbes says smart speakers are the future of the audio. AM and FM radio is available via smart speakers, but so isn’t the entire world of audio content.

It’s estimated that smart speakers will be in 75% of American households in five years. Smart speaker reach had already passed a tipping point, before this past Christmas’ robust speaker sales, with 41% of American homes owning at least one of these devices.Child using Smart Speaker

So, what makes a smart speaker owner choose an AM or FM radio station’s content to listen to versus a pure play or even TV audio content? Let me use television as an example to demonstrate what I think matters.

Why does Stephen Colbert’s Late Show reach 3.1 million nightly viewers versus the 1.8 million viewers that both Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon combined reach? Each of these shows look pretty much the same on paper. The difference can be found in the personality that presents the various program elements.

Radio stations used to understand how important the air personality was to the success of the station and its revenues. Radio promoted its air personalities on billboards, buses, on TV, direct mail and in print.

George Johns wrote about the time he hired a competing air personality in his market and paid him to sit on the beach for a year to wait out his non-compete contract. At the end of the year, he put him on the air in morning drive on the radio station he owned and was rewarded with huge ratings and revenues.

When Larry Lujack moved between WCFL and WLS in Chicago, his listeners and revenue moved right along with him. They didn’t call Uncle Lar “Super Jock” for nothing.

Mel Karmazin knew that Howard Stern would change the fortunes of Sirius Satellite Radio when he hired him away from his over-the-air commercial radio network. While Howard and SiriusXM prospered, his former radio properties became a shadow of what they once were.

Everyone I know who ever fell in love with radio growing up, has stories about the radio personalities that they couldn’t live without. My students at the university told me they would listen to their hometown radio personalities on streams in their dorm rooms.

Sadly, it seems like every day I’m reading about tenured radio personalities being let go. The very people who spent years building an audience are disappearing.

As Molly Ivins saw so clearly, sometimes there are things that scare us so badly, we hurt ourselves.

 

 

 

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Fin d’une Époque (End of an Era)

Notre Dame on fireOn this Easter Sunday morning, I’m still processing the pictures etched into my brain of Notre Dame Cathedral, in flames. This 856 year old church, is the most visited structure in Paris, eclipsing the Eiffel Tower.

Like many people around the world, I sat in front of a video screen watching the efforts of 400 French firefighters trying to contain the inferno.

In a world that seems out-of-control, the raging flames destroying this icon seemed like a metaphor for our lives.

“Built in the Gothic era, destroyed in the social-media era.”

-Rachel Donadio, The Atlantic

This quote by Rachel resonated with me because it made me think of some similarities between the radio industry and the history of this great cathedral.

A Short History of Notre Dame

Notre Dame was a masterpiece of French Gothic architecture. It was built in the middle ages with the structure largely completed in 100-years. It would take another 100-years to see the cathedral take on more of the shape we had most recently known.

Over the centuries, Notre Dame would be badly damaged, first by the Huguenots, and then again during the French Revolution. Napoleon would order the church’s restoration and hold his coronation there as Emperor in 1804.

By the 19th Century, Notre Dame was again half-ruined inside and badly battered. It was even used as a warehouse, and there was talk of just tearing it down. A novel by Victor Hugo titled “Notre-Dame de Paris” (published in English as “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”) would bring the cathedral new attention, and in 1844 King Louis Phillippe ordered the church’s restoration.

Notre Dame would survive two world wars, but during the 20th Century the cathedral would be battling air pollution and a lack of interest in funding the maintenance of this aging structure.

In late 2010s, it was estimated that $113 million in renovations was needed to preserve the cathedral. Only late last year had work begun on the spire.

A Short History of Radio

Radio was a communications masterpiece. The spoken word and musical art forms of radio broadcasting would spread knowledge, culture and entertainment like the world had never seen.

Commercial radio born in 1920, would quickly become the must have device in every American household. It was the “Golden Age of Radio.”

Radio was first challenged by the birth of television in the 1950s and the migration of its talent and programs over to TV. Like Notre Dame, there were many who thought radio had come to an end and that television had replaced it. But radio broadcasters with vision, renovated radio broadcasting from its block programming and national broadcast networks into a variety of formats that would be curated by the radio personality, known as the Disc Jockey or more simply the “DJ.”

Radio was now in what would be called its second “Golden Age.”

Like the great cathedral of Notre Dame, radio would be challenged by its own particular battles over its life. Things like the 8-track tape, cassette tape, compact discs and the ubiquitous CB radios of the 1970s, all these challenged radio in a place it had long enjoyed dominance, the automobile.

As Rachel Donadio so prophetically observed, radio and Notre Dame were seeing their own type of destruction in a social-media 21st Century world.

Money for Disasters but Not for Maintenance

One of the things we have learned from the fire at Notre Dame is that while it was near impossible to find donors to fund needed maintenance and restoration of the cathedral, the disaster of April 15th has secured hundreds of millions of dollars for the full restoration of this great iconic church.

I’m sure that Notre Dame will be restored to a glory even greater than before the fire.

Radio & Cooking Frogs

On the other hand, radio isn’t going up in flames. There will be no live, continuous television coverage of radio’s destruction. Most people don’t even realize there’s a problem. 9 in 10 people still are counted as weekly radio listeners.

Radio’s situation is more akin to the way you cook a frog. Throw a frog into a pot of boiling water and it will immediately jump out, but put the frog in a pot of water and slowly raise the temperature and the frog will be cooked without realizing it.

Radio’s Restoration

My heart sinks as I read how important the radio personality is to the future success of the radio industry, and at the same time read about how decades long radio people are being eliminated with job reductions on almost a weekly basis.

If all radio stopped tomorrow, people would spring into action to save it, just like they are doing for Notre Dame.

Radio, like all local, independent media, plays a vital role in our lives, our democracy, and our future.

Can you feel the water getting hotter?

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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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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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