Tag Archives: Greatest Generation

Who Will Keep the Light On?

Hudson Athens LighthouseIt was the radio commercial that planted Motel 6’s “We’ll keep the light on for you,” in your brain. The frequency and repetition of that phrase, along with a well-crafted and ever changing script always kept you wondering what Tom Bodett was going to tell you next, that you already didn’t know about this motel chain.

Lighthouses

Long before there were wireless communications at sea, the lighthouse was the way sailors kept their ships on course and away from danger.

Lighthouse keepers kept these sentinel beacons operational through the darkness and all kinds of weather. Lighthouses, those keepers thought, were never going away.

And they haven’t.

But with lighthouse keepers, today’s technology has basically eliminated the need for them.

Radio Stations

Radio stations are also not going away, but the need for radio personalities, for staffing of any kind on weekends, nights and holidays, has.

Radio stations and lighthouses are both communication centers people depend on. Often for their life.

Bob Christy recently wrote about “Real Life in the Fire Zone…” about his own personal experience during the California wildfires near his home in Southern California. He told of the incredible radio coverage provided by two Los Angeles radio stations, KFI AM640 and KNX AM1070. Due to the fires, they had no wired communication in their home. Bob said he dug out an old boom box, loaded it up with batteries and tuned in the AM radio news and news/talk stations for updates about the fires.

Like a lot of us Boomers and members of the Greatest Generation, Bob grew up on AM radio. But I wondered if many who might have benefitted from the coverage even knew about those AM radio stations or if they even had any type of OTA radio in their home.

Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society

My older brother is active in the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society. He’s also a photographer and in addition to working as a volunteer at the HALPS, he travels frequently around the world seeing and photographing lighthouses.

The annual season for touring Hudson-Athens Lighthouse concluded this fall. The lighthouse is located in the middle of the Hudson River between Hudson, New York and Athens, New York. The Coast Guard has an automated LED light on the lighthouse that is still used by ships to navigate that part of the Hudson River but no person physically is needed to man the light. In fact, no person has been needed for years due to technology.

This historic lighthouse, like almost all lighthouses around the world, are maintained by local volunteers that love and care for these critical communication centers of the past.

I wondered if one day, something similar might be the case for some of America’s heritage radio stations, maintained as museum pieces, as another part of communications history.

Amazon

I often hear radio people say things like “Radio will never go away.” I think lighthouse keepers probably said that sort of thing once too. The navigational beacons remain, but the nature of what used to be called a lighthouse, does not. All that’s needed today is an automated LED beacon mounted on any kind of tall structure.

At an all-hands meeting in November, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was asked by an employee about the future of the company, to which Bezos stunned his people by responding, “Amazon is not too big to fail, in fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail.

If such a thing could happen to the world’s biggest online retailer, what makes us think it would never happen in our industry?

Prolonging Amazon’s Demise

Bezos said, the key to prolonging the demise of Amazon was to “obsess over customers and to avoid looking inward, worrying about itself. If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end.”

I remember when one of the radio station clusters I managed was taken over by one of the big C companies and the company leader told us that we should be focused on making money for the company. It was 180-degrees from the kind of radio I was raised on, where if you took care of your employees, your listeners and your advertisers, the company would get their reward in the end from doing those other three things right.

Where Will They Come From?

Sometimes when we look at another industry or occupation, it gives us insight into the future of our own specialty.

In America, the last officially manned lighthouse was the Boston Light. The United States Coast Guard manned it until 1998. During the last twenty years, volunteers have maintained the light and given tours.

What these volunteer groups are now finding is that with each passing year, fewer and fewer people are doing more and more of the work. New volunteers are increasingly harder to find and often depart quickly when they learn of all the work needed to keep these facilities operational.

And sadly, some of these lighthouses may soon be closing their doors for good due to lack of interest.

It Can Happen Here

There are lessons to be learned from both the story of lighthouses and Amazon.

Will the leaders of radio take a Jeff Bezos approach to the radio industry’s future or end up like lighthouse keepers?

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Radio’s Money Problem

Abandoned Radio StationFor the radio listener, your next break is all that matters. Does it speak to your listener? Does it have relevance to your listener’s life right this second? How do you know?

Homogenized America

With the growth of fast food establishments, big box stores and online shopping, one might think that America is now homogenized. That we’ve become a “one size, fits all” society. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Defining Generations

Before we discuss what specific age group goals are, let’s first define those groups.

  • Millennials (ages 18-34)
  • Generation X (ages 35-52)
  • Baby Boomers (ages 53-72)
  • Greatest Generation (ages 73 and older)

I’m part of the Baby Boomer generation, so let me speak about a group that I personally know something about.

Boomer Goals

Harris Poll surveyed 2,002 American adults to learn what we want as we get older. The number one thing was to travel abroad (57%). I know that travel is #1 on my list and that’s why this spring I set out with Sue on a cross-country trip across America that racked up 11,175-miles on our Honda Accord.

The next bucket list item the Harris Poll found was that American’s want to take up a new hobby (52%). In my case, that has manifested itself by working on my blog and volunteering at my church.

The other items on the list were tracking one’s health using a wearable, joining new social circles, living abroad and participating in extreme sports (28% to 3%). What these things all say is that growing older doesn’t mean we have to stop having fun.

Boomer Priorities

I really can identify with what the Harris Poll found as the top priority of aging Americans, spending more time with friends and family (62%). Previously my radio and teaching careers had been my primary focus for over 50-years, but not any longer. Now, being a grandpa is Job One.

Other priorities we have as we age, is the desire to seek out new experiences (51%), which explains our desire to travel and see more of the planet. To travel, one must be healthy and so health and wellness (51%) is also a priority.

Aging Positives

Americans agree that as we age we gain wisdom (65%) and experience (62%). Which begs the question, why do  companies seem to undervalue their senior employees or try to unload them with offers of early retirement and buyouts.

Other positives of growing older are that we feel more trustworthy, independent, are more comfortable in our own skin and feel more in control of our lives.

How Old is “Old?”

I think the answer to the question “How old is old?” has always been a moving target depending on the age of the person being asked that very question. The Harris Poll found that Millennials think old is 67, Generation X thinks it’s 72, Baby Boomers think it’s 79 and the Greatest Generation think it’s 82.

Usually the day after my fitness class, I think it’s my current age.

“Between now and 2029, one Baby Boomer will turn 65 every eight seconds,” says management guru Tom Peters. In his new book, The Excellence Dividend, Peters says “Most firms seem clueless – or worse, even seem to turn their back on the opportunity (of serving this huge population).”

Radio & “the Oldies” Market

Tom Peters is pretty adamant about what companies need to do to serve this segment of the American population.

  • Do a stem-to-stern assessment of the skills, assets, and culture that are needed to serve this market
  • People aged 50 or older have 47-times more net wealth than households headed by a person under age 35

It appears that some companies have done this and are enjoying the profits of their efforts. SiriusXM’s Q3 Conference Call saw that company’s CEO Jim Meyer telling analysts that audio is thriving like never before saying “the entire pie of audio consumption is actually growing.” Net income is up 24%, margins are up 40% and they plan to increase their dividend to investors.

Willy Sutton robbed banks, he said, because that’s where the money was.

The money is with the Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, the very population that was raised on radio.

I’m not saying every radio station needs to cater to this senior segment. Obviously, if radio is to be relevant to the generations following the Boomers, it needs to offer programs that are relevant to this age group too. However, in my travels around this country I’ve heard a minuscule number of radio signals appealing to the money age groups. In my opinion this is a missed opportunity, for the radio industry’s future and its current economic stability.

Another Place, Another Time

I started my radio management career back in early 1980, still in my twenties, as the general manager of an AM daytime radio station that programmed Al Ham’s “Music of YOUR Life.” Next to Rush Limbaugh, Al Ham’s music format was the next best thing one could program on an AM radio station to attract the older audience of that time.

Our FM station in that AM/FM cluster was programming the current top hits of the day, and between us, we pretty much covered all the demographics. The hardest part of attracting new advertisers to my daytime radio station, was convincing them to try it. Once they did, they quickly became regular advertisers because the people we attracted to our programming had the money to buy everything our advertisers sold. My company president always liked to say, “money makes honey,” and my success with this little 1,000-watt daytimer led to my promotion to market manager in Atlantic City running a news/talk AM radio station and a 50,000-watt FM Bonneville Beautiful Music radio station. Both stations were programmed to an older, well-heeled, audience. We were a million dollar cash flowing property.

The Time is NOW

Tom Peters pretty much sums up radio’s action plan by saying, “Cut the B.S. Can the excuses. Forget the fancy reports. Get moving now. Get the job done. On this score, nothing has changed in 50-years, including the maddening fact that all too often a business strategy is inspiring, but the execution mania is largely AWOL.”

Pay attention to the culture inside your radio operation. IBM’s turnaround CEO Lou Gerstner put it this way, “culture is not just one aspect of the game – it is the game.”

And finally, train your people.

“Training is any firm’s single most important capital investment.”

-Tom Peters

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