Tag Archives: howard stern

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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Has Radio Become a Commodity?

commoditiesBy definition, a commodity product lacks a unique selling point. Two examples of what I mean are lettuce and pencils. No one has a brand favorite of either. To the consumer of both, they’re all the same. Commodities are interchangeable with other products or services, widely available, and therefore undifferentiated except maybe by price.

How about Radio?

Recently, an administrator of a radio group that I’m a member of on Facebook posed this question to the group “Rick Sklar once said jocks are like spark plugs and can be replaced with another one. What do you think?”

Now for those readers that may not be familiar with the name Rick Sklar, he became program director of WABC – 770AM in New York City in 1963. With WABC’s clear channel signal, a tight playlist that targeted teenagers and air talent which included Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy, Harry Harrison, Cousin Brucie, Chuck Leonard and Charlie Greer, Sklar made Music Radio 77 into the most listened to radio station in North America from the mid 60s to the late 70s.

Needless to say, the comments by former air personalities in the group took issue with this “spark plug” analogy, me included.

Unique Air Talents

One-of-a-kind radio personalities built radio into the listener favorite that it’s enjoyed for nearly a century. More recently, there’s Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern (who said he was influenced by Arthur Godfrey), Paul Harvey, Super Jock Larry Lujack, Robert W. Morgan, The Real Don Steele, Dave Maynard, Joel Cash, Dale Dorman, Larry Justice, Jackson Armstrong, Salty Brine, Bob Steele, Dickie Robinson, Danny Neaverth, John Records Landecker, J.J. Jeffrey, Bill Bailey, Big Ron O’Brien, Don Imus, Bob Dearborn and so many more. Those are just some of the names that inspired me to pursue a 50-year radio career.

Each of these radio personalities is unique and the shows they presented attracted an audience that was loyal to their style of broadcasting. They were anything but, a commodity.

Computer Automation

With the advent of computer automation, the concept of voice-tracking was born. Now a few disc jockeys could be heard on-the-air over a multitude of radio stations across America. Unfortunately, this meant that customizing their radio shows to a particular radio market had to be eliminated and the DJ patter had to be appropriate for all markets the program was airing in. It became watered down and because all big box radio operators were employing the same “Best Practices,” the ownership of the station really didn’t matter as everything began to sound the same.

Contests became nationally oriented, jingles (if there were any) all sounded the same, and playlists, which once reflected regional differences and artists, were now homogenized.

On Air production, which was once an art form in and of itself, was now also computerized. The result being a disjointed, sloppy and anything but smooth radio experience.

The result of all of this was radio being turned into a commodity.

Culture Shock

“Technology is enabling great gains in convenience and diversity,” says Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University. “What is being lost is a sense of magnificence.”

He goes on to say

“It is possible we will look back on the present day as a special time when both patterns of cultural consumption could be enjoyed in tandem and enriched (by) each other. But I suspect not. As today’s over-50 crowd slowly passes away, and our experiences fade from collective memory, I wonder if the world might be in for a bigger cultural shock than we currently realize.”

 

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Is Radio Being Disrupted or Simply Lacking the Human Factor

slide ruleI was a physics major in college. The slide rule was a necessary piece of equipment when I was going to school. Hewlett-Packard then came along and replaced it with a line of scientific pocket calculators.

When I began my radio sales career, I adopted the DayTimer written system for keeping track of my schedule and appointments. Then Palm came along and I replaced it with their Palm Pilot Digital Assistant.

When I became a general manager, I wore a pager. That soon was replaced by a Motorola flip phone.

Then Research In Motion (RIM) came along with the Blackberry and suddenly my flip phone and Palm were replaced by a single device.

I loved the size of my Blackberry Pearl smartphone and it wasn’t until I realized that the iPhone4S was the same size as the Pearl and more versatile that I switched to my first iPhone. I also saw Blackberry phones were clinging to life and wanted to adopt an ecosystem that would be around as long as I would be.

Today, I’m fully immersed in the Apple ecosystem and could not imagine what would ever get me to leave it.

Disruptive Innovation

I thought for years that these disruptive changes were due to mechanical innovation. But was that the core reason? Could it be something else?

In 1943, Thomas J. Watson of IBM is credited with saying, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” And Ken Olson of Digital Equipment Company (DEC) while acknowledging the growth of people using personal computers, said he couldn’t understand why.

The Human Factor

How important is the Human Factor in the future of a company, or even an industry?

October 6, 1997: Michael Dell makes an infamously bleak appraisal of Apple’s fortunes. Asked what he would do with Apple, the founder of Dell Inc. says he would “shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”

Where do you think Apple would be today if Michael Dell had been put in charge? What did Steve Jobs, who had just returned to lead Apple say to Dell’s assessment? “We’re coming after you buddy!”

Jobs gave Apple a vision, backed it up with management fortitude and people with the technical skills to make the Apple vision a reality. It was those human factors that carried Apple to become one of the most valuable companies in the world.

Apple’s market value (at the time I was writing this article) was $948M and Dell’s was $27M.

Radio’s Human Factor

Which brings me around to the industry I loved for over 50-years, RADIO. The aspect of radio that first captured my attention was the radio personality. These were the people who built the relationship with the listener.

Then there was the dedicated radio programmer who created the stationality, the promotions and like a good sports coach, kept the radio stars playing together as a winning team.

While it appears, too much of the radio industry is focused these days on mechanical things, blaming it for disruptive innovation, maybe the real culprit is radio’s loss of the “Human Factor.”

“Absolutely everything begins with imagination.”

-George Johns

Howard Stern was never really replaced when he left OTA radio for Satellite Radio. Howard Stern, like him or not, has a vivid imagination. For his listeners, he creates a style of radio that they have to hear.

My favorite part of the Stern movie, “Private Parts,” is dialog between the audience researcher and Stern’s WNBC program director Kevin Metheny, aka Pig Vomit.

RESEARCHER: The average radio listener listens for eighteen minutes. The average Howard Stern fan listens for – are you ready for this? – an hour and twenty minutes.

PIG VOMIT: How can that be?

RESEARCHER: Answer most commonly given? “I want to see what he’ll say next.”

PIG VOMIT: Okay, fine. But what about the people who hate Stern?

RESEARCHER: Good point. The average Stern hater listens for two and a half hours a day.

PIG VOMIT: But… if they hate him, why do they listen?

RESEARCHER: Most common answer? “I want to see what he’ll say next.”

Does anyone want to listen to your radio station to hear what comes next?

“Radio only needs to move @ the speed of life.”

-George Johns

 

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Radio Has an Addiction Problem

listening_to_radioHave you heard the latest? People are addicted to their smartphones. “We now see smartphones as dangerous for young minds,” writes Jean-Louis Gassée in a Monday Note.

More than 30 years ago MIT professor Sherry Turkle postulated that computers weren’t just a tool, but were sneaking into our minds. In doing so, they would change our relationship with the world around us.

Smartphones are Mobile Computers

Turkle would continue her thoughts on this subject in a 1995 book “Life on the Screen, Identity in the Age of the Internet” saying “computers don’t just do things for us, they do things to us, including our ways we think about ourselves and other people.”

Smartphones plus Social Media

When our mobile computers are married to a social media site like Facebook, things get really sticky. Sean Parker, a founding partner at Facebook, wrote about the problem after he left the company saying, “[Social Media] literally changes your relationship with society, with each other…It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it is doing to our children’s brains.”

Time for Apple to Build A Less Addictive iPhone

The NY Times published an article by Farhad Manjoo that made the case for a less addictive iPhone. Can you imagine someone writing that broadcasters should be making TV or radio less addictive? That watching too much TV or listening to too much radio might be bad for our brains.

Broadcasters today find they have a different problem. They have lost the addictive luster of the past.

The Amazon Addiction

“For many businesses, Amazon is simultaneously a sales channel, a potential service provider and a competitive threat,” says Forrest Research. For broadcasters, Amazon is attacking our retail advertising revenue, by undermining the very businesses we sell to. Today Amazon is the go-to website for retail search, surpassing Google.

Trying to compete with Amazon is a retail challenge. The very retailers’ broadcasters depend on for their revenue.

Retailers measure how well they’re doing by their bottom line.

Amazon is all about increasing top line sales growth. (Wall Street hasn’t demanded Amazon to be profitable yet.)

See the problem?

Trying to beat the Amazon model is a race to the bottom with pricing for our advertising customers.

Free shipping, two-day shipping, lowest prices, biggest selection, customer ratings etc. are among the things making Amazon addictive.

People Made Radio Addictive

Over the years, radio has had personalities that made the medium addictive like Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Dan Ingram, Larry Lujack, Robert W. Morgan, Jess Cain, Dale Dorman, Paul Harvey and many more.

Once upon a time, music formats could be addictive, but today’s access to streaming audio is challenging that beachfront.

Alexa Doesn’t Know My Local Radio Station

My local radio stations are called KISS (WKSI-FM) and WINK (WINC-FM). When I ask Alexa to play either KISS-FM or WINC-FM, I get the Los Angeles KIIS-FM or the WINK-FM licensed to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

When I asked Siri the same questions, she couldn’t help me play anything. Siri told me, “Sorry, Dick, I can’t help you with that on your iPhone.”

When your branding is not unique, these new consumer voice activated devices don’t have a clue what you’re trying to ask them. They either make their best algorithm guess or just throw in the towel.

Broadcast Station Call Letters

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) solved this problem early in broadcasting by assigning each broadcast station its own unique call letters, but broadcasters abandoning those identifiers for branding like Kiss, Froggy, Hot, and others, that are duplicated all across the country, is now a problem in a voice activated world. But it’s not just the brand not being unique, the programming is likewise just as non-unique.

Don’t Be Generic

No one ever became addicted to a generic.

Addiction stimulates parts of the brain that trigger craving and longing, that release habit-forming, feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins.

Your iPhone does that for you.

You voice activated smart speaker does too.

Broadcasting is show business.

Which do you think stimulates the part of the brain that causes addiction? The show part or the business part?

Answer that question correctly and you’re on your way.

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Luck, Signal & Being Unique

123Back before the turn of the century, radio station owners often did market research to find viable programming “holes” in a market. Often it didn’t even take research, just an experienced radio nerd with a sense of what was to be popular. Once identified, the task was simply to put it altogether and hit the air.

Beautiful Music to Lite AC

I was in Atlantic City doing one of Bonneville’s beautiful music formats and Jerry Lee was in Philadelphia doing Bonneville’s Matched-Flow beautiful music format on WEAZ (EZ 101-FM).

Jerry Lee has always been a leader in the radio industry and with the research of Bill Moyes, they moved WEAZ from beautiful music to Lite AC and re-branded the station B101 (with new WBEB call letters too). It was a very gutsy move!

Jerry’s success with the new format saw me take WFPG-FM from beautiful music to Lite AC and re-brand as Lite 96.9 a few years later.

Timing is Everything

The year was 1989. The country would soon be headed into a recession. The format switch at WFPG-FM saw us go from #2 in the 12+ Arbitron Ratings to #1. Even better, we took the #1 positions in all the key buying demos.

As the economic conditions tightened in the early 90s, the number of stations deep being bought in Atlantic City regionally/nationally would go from five to three to one. And WFPG-FM was the one.

We delivered our first million-dollar bottom-line year in 1991. We repeated that performance in 1993. Meanwhile, the other radio stations in the market were just about making ends meet.

Signal, Signal, Signal

In real estate, the key to having a winning property is all location, location, location.

In radio, the key to having a winning property is signal, signal, signal.

WFPG-FM had one of the market’s only 50,000-watt non-directional signals at that time. Two other 3,000-watt radio stations were already programming a light adult contemporary format, but when we put that format on our huge signal, they both bailed, one changing to classical music and the other to classic rock. It left WFPG-FM as the market’s only Lite AC radio station and with the most popular music format at that moment in time.

Me Too

What I’m seeing is too many “me too” stations on the air today.

Me too is not a viable strategy.

The future for any venture in a 21st Century world is to zag when others are all zigging.

Look at any successful enterprise and you will see two things:

1) not everyone loves what they do and

2) they’re famous for what they do. (Think Howard Stern)

Howard would make Sirius Satellite Radio something special and unique. 124It’s why they forked over hundreds of millions of dollars to have Howard join their team.

What happened to the OTA radio station’s when Howard left for Satellite Radio?

They had an Excedrin headache for quite a few years.

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The Problem with Too Many Choices

57I’m not a shopper. I admit it. Shopping for me is work. When I do shop, I like places like Costco because while they offer choices, they don’t offer so many as to overwhelm. I like stores that do the “heavy lifting” for me and give me a selection of the best to pick from.

Less is More

Al and Laura Ries write in “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding” that many businesses fall into the trap of thinking that more products equals more sales. This type of strategy is a trap and can lead to negative consequences in the long term.

Apple’s Quest for Simple

When the iPhone7 finally was released, everyone was talking about the missing headphone jack. The 3.5mm audio output port is 19th century technology. It doesn’t allow the highest sound quality to be transmitted. It is a way for water to invade the electronics of the iPhone. It takes up a lot of space. It adds a level of complexity where having the lightning port do this function or better yet, wireless transmission of audio to a set of AirPods, makes more sense.

Steve Jobs put it this way:

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Give Me One Good Reason

In media sales, we try to have our clients identify that one thing that makes them unique and special. What makes their business so different that consumers will want to come to you instead of anyone else. You may have heard this stated as finding a business’s “unique selling proposition.”

Ten Reasons Are Not Better Than One

The problem is that often it is hard for people to give just one reason. Instead they offer lots of reasons. This adds complexity. When you become burdened with lots of choices, you tend to avoid making any choice at all.

In the book “The Paradox of Choice” author and psychologist Barry Schwartz tells the story of very memorable jam study by psychologists Mark Lepper and Sheena Lyengar. The study compared the amount of jam sold if consumers were given either 6 varieties of jam to choose from or 24 varieties. While the table with 24 varieties attracted more people, the table with only 6 varieties saw thirty percent of the people buy a jar of jam versus only three percent who bought a jar when confronted with a choice of 24 jams.

One Good Reason

There was a great billboard in New York City that promoted AM66-WNBC’s drive time personalities that has stuck with me since the one and only time I saw it. It gave one reason to listen to this iconic radio station. It simply said “If we weren’t so bad, we wouldn’t be so good.”

56

This one simple sentence captured the essence of both Don Imus and Howard Stern. It was this radio station’s one good reason to listen. It was this radio station’s one good reason to advertise on it.

Something for Everyone = Nothing for Anyone

Variety is a word that used to come up in radio station focus groups so often that many radio stations began to brand themselves as “Variety Radio.” It was an attempt to appear to be offering something for everyone.

The Better Way

If you want to be more effective, be specific versus general. Use words that have color, create mental pictures and surprise the listener. Don’t use two words when one will do. Tell your own story, the one no one else can tell.

Choice vs. Complexity

In the end, we all like to think we have a choice. But if the number of choices becomes too great, then complexity is introduced into the decision process. Complexity produces paralysis, whether the choice is a product, a service or listening to one of your radio stations.

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Get The Led Out

mrr_peabody_canvasLed for Lunch (an hour of Led Zeppelin music) pre-dates a lot of things, not the least of which is my iPhone. But this radio programming staple along with “Two-fer Tuesdays” and “Million Dollar Weekends” (in a billion dollar world) remain on so many radio stations. It’s like Mr. Peabody’s Way-Back Machine broke down in 1972.

My iPod contains a large variety of music. You would probably toss your cookies if you had to listen to it. Variety has always meant something different to each individual. That’s why radio stations that promote “the best variety” are usually wrong with a wide variety of listeners. Another worn-out, if ever appropriate, positioning phrase.

Howard Stern and Adele have a lot in common. They’re one-of-a-kind. They both understand they are not for everyone and they don’t care. We are attracted to people like that. Successful radio stations are like that.

When CBS lost Howard Stern to Sirius Radio, it suffered a meltdown. When Comedy Central lost Jon Stewart, it didn’t. Why? Comedy Central seized the opportunity to move in a new direction by attracting younger demographics, as well as increasing its black and Hispanic audience. It also read the tea leaves and made the show more accessible on the social media platforms. The result is the show is doing better than Stewart with where the “cut-the-cord” millennial’s are getting their media fix. Radio needs to embrace this changing audience usage pattern and have fulltime people paying as much attention to IoT (Internet of Things) as they do their over-the-air product. (Personally, I love both the new Daily Show & Nightly Shows and they are becoming a habit.)

Speaking of habits, they take a long time to cultivate, but once you get people in the habit of doing something, they aren’t quick to change. (It’s the reason I publish this blog every week. I’m trying to get you in the habit of expecting it and reading it.) Too many radio operators, in the name of budget cuts, eliminated the very reason many listeners had the habit of tuning into their radio station. Personalities are what differentiate a radio station and create the habit of daily listening.

Personalities and radio stations that are part of the fabric of the community will be found on every radio, including the new digital dashboards appearing on the latest vehicles. If people want what you create, they will find you.

The art of the tease has changed in a world with smartphone access to Google. If you tease a viewer or a listener, you better be the only place they can get the pay-off or you have effectively sent the person packing for another source.

Demographics are so yesterday. Psychographics are today. I like many of the same forms of entertainment that my grand kids like. (They also probably can operate my smartphone better than I can.) If age was ever a good way to define listeners or viewers, we definitely know it isn’t now. Pick a tribe you want to super-serve and then do it relentlessly.

What should you focus on most? Everything. The devil’s in the details and no one’s focused on the details anymore. All great entertainment is laser focused on the details. Go see a Cirque du Soleil performance if you need an example to emulate or watch the coaching staff instead of the playing field during a college or NFL football game.

Nothing stays the same. You’re either getting better or getting worse.

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