Tag Archives: iHeartMedia

Automation Killed the Radio Star

BugglesRemember when the rock group, The Buggles, introduced a new cable TV channel, MTV (Music Television) with the song “Video Killed the Radio Star?” That was August 1, 1981. Here’s how Mark Goodman introduced the channel over 37-years ago. CLICK HERE 

What Killed MTV?

By the early 90s, MTV was looking to boost its audience ratings and introduced a trivia game show called “Remote Control.” It attracted more viewers than its music videos, so MTV created “The Real World” in 1992, television’s first unscripted reality show.

These new programs were attracting a new generation to MTV and also dooming the channel’s original concept of 24/7 music videos.

So, MTV didn’t kill the radio star, but something else did.

Consolidation, Computers and Cash

Ironically, it would be the radio industry itself that would kill the radio stars. Those talented men and women that made a couple of turntables, a few cart machines and a microphone work together and created real magic. What many liked to call radio’s “theater of the mind.”

After the passage of the Telcom Act of 1996, a massive and swift consolidation of the radio industry took place. Radio was very attractive to Wall Street due to its fat bottom line and year-over-year revenue growth.

They say you make money in radio station ownership at the time you buy the station, not when you sell it. In other words, the die is cast at the closing of the purchase. Consolidators were so eager to buy up radio stations, they over-paid. iHeartMedia and Cumulus, two of the country’s largest radio owners are poster children for this practice as they work their way out of bankruptcy.

In an attempt to mitigate this problem, computers and voice tracking were introduced across these radio station empires allowing them to drastically reduce their air staffs. The very people that were the bridge to the listeners and advertisers were the first to go.

All in the name of sending more cash to the bottom line and paying down crippling debt.

What Radio Stations Promoted BEFORE Consolidation

WHDH Radio PersonalitiesRadio used to really promote its greatest asset, its radio talent. WHDH in Boston promoted itself as having “New England’s Finest Radio Entertainment 24 Hours Every Day!” The “Big 5 on 85” print ad featured Jess Cain, Fred B. Cole, Hank Forbes, Bob Clayton and Norm Nathan, as their air staff, and never mentions what kind of music they play, or news they featured or anything else the radio station did. WHDH was not alone in doing this. Every radio station promoted its talent line-up. Radio air talent WAS the reason people listened.

George Johns recently wrote that when he bought his first radio station (K103 in Portland, OR) that he knew he had to have Craig Walker as his morning man. Unfortunately, Craig was already on the air in Portland at the #1 radio station, KGW. Geo pitched Craig a job with K103 for more money and said he was willing to wait out his one-year noncompete contract to get him. George Johns said his financial partners thought the deal was too expensive and so Geo took out a mortgage on his Coronado, California home to guarantee the money personally.

Did George Johns gamble pay off? Yes. On day one. Craig Walker premiered at #1.

Can you feel the love radio once had for its air talent?

Non-Competes

Which brings up another radio industry problem, the non-compete contract. Have they hurt the radio industry’s growth and innovation?

Boston’s Route 128 corridor used to be the center of technology in the 60s and 70s. In the 1990s, California’s Silicon Valley took over that title from Massachusetts.

Why did Boston’s tech companies lose to those in the Silicon Valley?

Boston was a collection of high tech companies, like Wang, DEC and Data General competing against one another. They kept everything in-house and were vertically integrated. They had employee non-compete contracts. If you left your firm, you were looked upon with great disdain.

Silicon Valley, on the other hand, built an ecosystem. They shared everything. People were free to move between companies, and did. And everyone was still considered part of the family.

Value Chains versus Ecosystems

The radio industry operates like a value chain. Radio’s big consolidators are driven by efficiencies.

Accenture Strategy published a study that found that ecosystems are a “cornerstone” of future growth in a 21st Century world, a way to increase revenue. Ecosystem companies thrive on making connections, lots and lots of them.

The broadcast industry has pushed away from so many chances to collaborate and in so doing lost a competitive advantage.

What is Radio’s Most Valuable Asset Feeling?

Don Anthony’s Morning Show Boot Camp (MSBC30) collaborated with Jacobs Media Strategies to produce the first ever “Air Talent Questionnaire: How Radio DJs View Their Industry.” Some of the takeaways were disheartening to hear. Such as:

  • Most of the shifts where DJs got their first jobs are disappearing

  • Many DJs are not air checked and that lack of attention appears to impact attitude

  • Many DJs have feelings of angst & insecurity; many others are struggling financially

If radio connects with listeners through its air talent, then just these three items ought to give every radio station operator pause.

How to Win the Triple Crown

Diane Lane with Secretariat

I just watched the movie “Secretariat.” In 1973, Big Red, as he was nick named, became the first Triple Crown winner in 25-years, at a time when many thought there would never be another. “His record-breaking victory in the Belmont Stakes, which he won by 31 lengths, is widely regarded as one of the greatest races of all time,” writes Wikipedia.

What struck me, was what Secretariat had, that the other horses did not, a loving caretaker, a loving trainer, a loving jockey and most of all, a loving owner. Big Red was surrounded by people who genuinely loved and believed in him.

Great radio stations are filled with people like that.

I’ve always believed that what happened in the halls of my radio stations were transmitted out, over-the-air, to the listener. We transmitted so much more than just the music we played, the news we delivered, and the entertainment we provided. We transmitted an intangible spirit that was contagious and attracted loyal listeners.

And we do that when we love, appreciate and take care of our most valuable radio asset, our air talent.

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Radio & Traveling – Then & Now

Version 2Sue and I just returned from an eight-week, 11,175-mile cross country road trip across America traveling through 23-states. Seeing America from the car has been a Bucket List item for both of us. Our jobs have had us seeing this great land from the air; mine as a radio manager and educator/consultant, and Sue’s as a flight attendant.

Radio Then

Since my earliest days, traveling anywhere meant an opportunity to hear new sounds emanating from my radio. Every station had its own unique style and programming presentation.

I remember a trip to Millinocket, Maine that got me giggling, hearing the local newscaster struggling to pronounce a foreign country’s name or the names of their leaders. I remember hearing records that I’d never heard played on the radio before. It sounded like Maine.

Years later on a return trip to Millinocket, this radio station now aired mostly syndicated programming. It didn’t sound like Maine anymore.

Radio Now

A road trip Sue & I took to Key West, Florida last fall taught us that finding radio stations we would enjoy listening to was a real challenge. The variety of formats boiled down to mainly, R&B/Hip-Hop, Classic Rock, Country, Religious or Public Radio on FM and Sports or Conservative Talk Radio on AM.

But that wasn’t our biggest problem, cruising down the highway at 65-mph, it was when we found a station we enjoyed, it wouldn’t be more than 5-minutes before we found it being interfered with by another FM radio station making our original station virtually unlistenable.

So, before we drove out of our driveway in Virginia for our two-month long road trip we signed up for the two-month free trial of SiriusXM radio.

Community & Companionship

Dan Mason nailed it when he said radio is all about community and companionship. Take either away and you’ve lost what radio is all about.

Our road trip’s daily drives between destinations took place during the midday. Local radio stations we heard were all in full automation mode. Some were voice-tracked, many were not. They offered no companionship.

Pat St. John

However, when we pushed our SiriusXM button on the dashboard, we would hear the end of the Phlash Phelps morning show and four more hours of Pat St. John; ALL LIVE.Pat_st._john

They talked to us. They shared listener phone calls. We felt part of a large community called the United States. We heard about weather for where we were going next or weather for places we had just visited. We heard about other people’s travels and made notes about places we might want to visit.

We even learned from Pat a function that’s on our iPhones we didn’t know even existed, called “announce” that says the name of the person calling you. We both activated it on our iPhones at the next rest stop.

As a radio jingle lover, Pat St. John has a large variety of jingles he plays during his show. He even had his grandson on the program.

McDonalds or Burger King

Over our many miles, we saw lots of fast-food places. McDonalds and Burger Kings were everywhere. We didn’t need to wonder what the food was like at either of them, we knew. We basically avoided them and opted instead for a local restaurant.

And it made me realize that something similar had happened to radio.

I could turn on a station in any city, in any state, and in short order tell you whether it was iHeart or Cumulus. The Best Practices formatics were served up like fast-food. Consistent, reliable, predictable and automated or syndicated.

We even stopped in to visit some radio friends and their radio stations to take a tour. What we saw were empty studios and computer automation running each station.

Mount Rushmore

We’ve always wanted to see Mount Rushmore. It did not disappoint. But it also made me realize that the reason we both wanted to take this road trip adventure was to visit places, people and things that were one-of-a-kind.IMG_0836

We listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City. We rode the Hooterville Cannonball in Jamestown, California. We climbed aboard Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose” in McMinnville, Oregon (still the world’s largest amphibious aircraft). We went to Yellowstone, America’s first national park and walked around Devil’s Tower, America’s first national monument.

Everything on our list was something special, unique and one-of-a-kind.

Innovation

Touring the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, I couldn’t help but note some correlations between cars and radio.

The Ford Model T came along at the same time massive oil strikes were being hit in Texas; cheap cars and abundant cheap energy.

Radio was reborn after the introduction of television due to the invention of the transistor – that made radio very small and very portable – as well as its introduction in the automobile dashboard. It was a time when commuting from the suburbs to the city for work became the rage.

One innovation drives another.

Car Guys & Radio Guys

If you’re a car guy, you most likely want to make your car go faster.

If you’re a radio guy, you want your radio station to have more power.

Crosley got his WLW up to 500,000-watts (from his original 20-watt station) from 1934 to 1939.

It’s why AM broadcasters fought for and received power increases for their 250-watt Class C AM radio stations to broadcast with 1,000-watts full-time. What ultimately occurred was that the AM radio noise floor increased.

Now we see it happening again on FM with the drumbeat for Class C4 FM radio stations.

This too, won’t end well.

It also misses the point of what makes radio something people want to hear.

The Best Radio

Paul McLane just wrote the forward for latest edition of the textbook “The Radio Station.” In it he said “Radio is best when it engages, provokes, entertains, informs us.”

I quite agree with Paul, adding Dan Mason’s thought that radio is best when it serves a community and provides companionship.

In the end, if you were to ask me, “what does great radio sound like,” I’d have to say, “you know it when you hear it.”

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The Winner Takes it ALL

108Everything old is new again. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase. “Everything old is new again” was the title of a song in the movie musical “All That Jazz.” Part of the lyrics to this Peter Allen/Carole Bayer Sager song include:

 

Don’t throw the pa-ast away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again

I might fa-all in love wi-ith you again

VADs

While I haven’t heard anyone call them this yet, I may be the first, I’m sure in time they will be referred to in this way, Voice Activated Devices.

You probably better know them as Amazon’s Echo, Google Home or Apple’s HomePod.

Amazon was first into this territory followed by Google and now Apple (their device will be available later in 2017). Microsoft recently announced they have partnered with Harmon Kardon to put the MS VAD “Cortana” into a smart speaker system. Harmon Kardon is a division of Samsung.

Fred Jacobs blogged about them in a recent article titled “Are Voice Commands the New Hi-Fi?” (Hi-Fi was introduced with the 33-1/3 discs introduced by Columbia 69 years ago this month – June 20, 1948.) In his article, he quoted Spotify’s Ian Geller who said voice commands allow people to “engage with music in ways they haven’t since the Hi-Fi stereo system became available.”

Fred feels that these new VAD’s are a “true moment for the radio industry – a chance to bring radio back to homes in a big way.”

The Old That’s New Again Part

As I study these new gadgets, I see a problem for radio of its own making, branding.

The radio I grew up with was very creative and prolific at branding itself with its listeners. It had to be because of the way radio ratings were conducted, either by aided or unaided recall. Billboards, bumper stickers, TV ads, t-shirts, putting your call letters and frequency on just about everything, everywhere it could be seen.

From virtually the beginning burning your call letters into the brains of your listeners was paramount.

Consolidation and PPM (Personal People Meter) would take the need to brand – or so the new Wall Street stakeholders thought – away. Consolidation did this through many signals in the hands of a few operators and the need to cut costs. Arbitron’s (now Nielsen Audio) PPM device did it by recording “listening” even when the listener was totally unaware of where the music or talk programming was coming from.

The new Voice Activated Devices now require a person to KNOW exactly what it is they want to hear when they say the activation words, like “Hey Alexa” or “Hey Google” or “Hey Siri” followed by a specific request.

Unaided recall is back.

Wi-Fi, Hi-Fi & Being Connected

While these new VADs maybe the new “Hi-Fi” for a 21st Century world, they require Wi-Fi to connect to the internet and their respective clouds.

While many of us today take access to a broadband connection for granted as our parents did a landline telephone line, many people in America were not so fortunate. Poor people or people in very rural areas depended on assistance from the Federal government to connect them up to a wired telephone line because private companies found doing so very unprofitable. The Universal Service Fund (USF) was established to provide the funding. Everyone who had a phone would pay a tax to help wire America.

As the need for internet broadband became as necessary in a 21st Century world as a phone line did in the 20th Century, the tax would continue to provide this telecommunications service in the United States.

To read about all of this more detail, click here

Various Ways to Listen

Public Radio in America is leading the way with directing people with the many ways they can be heard. A good example is WBAA AM & FM from Purdue University. Their “How To Listen” tab on their website informs the listener how to listen to their stations over-the-air, streaming online, via their App or via a Voice Activated Device.

This last VAD page also tells listeners how to listen to NPR One using voice commands, such as “Alexa, play NPR One.”

BRANDING Your Radio Station is IMPORTANT

Using a VAD is a return to the days of unaided recall for the radio industry. The need to brand your radio station is critical in a Voice Activated Device world.

How is your KISS, FROG, HOG, JACK etc. different than other such brands all over the world? How will your VAD know which one you want to hear?

Might the return of unique and one-of-a-kind FCC assigned call letters come back into fashion?

Coleman Insights just released a study on Public Radio that shocked programmers with the fact that fewer than one in four radio users can call to mind any Public Radio station.

It’s a Winner Take All World

When the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers is an old African proverb. It means that the weak get hurt in conflicts between the powerful.

Today, the powerful are Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple and Samsung. Each one having their own voice assistant it hopes will dominate the field.

Our 21st Century technology is altering the structure of competition in America as never before. It encourages more monopolies, a “Winner Take All” world.

Natural monopolies are not new. Utilities are an example, but they were heavily regulated. The natural monopolies created by the internet crush competition and that could negatively impact the American economy. Internet innovation moves fast, the Federal government moves very slowly and regulation won’t stop them from occurring.

You can’t order from Amazon on Google Home. You can’t access your favorite iTunes podcasts on Amazon’s Echo. Each device requires a subscription to their music library, unless you request over-the-air radio streamed into your VAD.

War Chests

Apple as of May 2017 had cash reserves of $256 BILLION. In fact, Apple, Microsoft and Google own 23% of all U.S. corporate cash outside the finance sector according to Moody’s.

iHeartMedia is still wrestling with over $20 BILLION of debt. And Cumulus maybe even worse off.

Their challenges are not those of the entire radio industry and money is not always the determining factor in innovation. A perfect example is how the Wright brothers beat Samuel Pierpoint Langley in the race to create powered controllable flight. Langley had the financial support of the United States government and failed while the Wright brothers succeeded using their own resources from their bike shop.

Crisis

The Chinese language uses two symbols to represent the word crisis. One symbol means “danger” and the other means “opportunity.” 109Radio has been here many times in it’s almost 100-year history before.

Smart operators are already speeding down the path of opportunity.

Are you one of them?

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My oh MAYA

81Have you ever heard of the MAYA Principle? Neither had I. But I saw an article in The Atlantic titled “The Four-Letter Code to Selling Just About Anything, what makes things cool” and I wondered if there might be some application for radio.

MAYA

MAYA stands for “Most Advanced. Yet Acceptable.”

It means that as you design your product or business for the future you need to keep it in balance with your users’ present. In other words, as Tony Bennett might have sang, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”

This 1931 jazz composition by Duke Ellington was given the MAYA treatment by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga in 2014. Proving anything that’s old can be new again.

Age of Distraction

I doubt anyone would take issue with the statement that the 21st Century is the “Age of Distraction.” I also am sure that when your computer, smartphone, tablet, software says you have an update, you sigh a big sigh and utter something like “Uff da. Fina mina doh.” (Translation: Oh boy. Here we go again.)

Sequels

Hollywood and television have long understood MAYA. To date we have twelve Star Wars movies, ten Halloween movies and CSI grew from Las Vegas to Miami and New York. I’m sure you can think of many others.

The reason is each is new but familiar.

Change

We humans are a fickle lot.

We hate change and we love change.

What we really like is what Derek Thompson calls “the simulation of innovation, which pushes the right buttons for novelty while remaining fundamentally conventional.”

________ R Us

Remember when Toys R Us had everyone copying their success by calling themselves “R Us” too. The iPod, iPhone, iPad had lots of imitators as well, as if putting a small “i” in front of your name made you cool.

Well, it can.

Ask Bob Pittman.

He changed Clear Channel Radio to Clear Channel Media & Entertainment before abandoning the old CC brand to adopt its successful App brand for the entire company. Voila, iHeartMedia.

“iHeartMedia reflects our commitment to being the media company that provides the most entertainment to the most engaged audiences wherever they go, with more content and more events in more places on more devices,” said Bob Pittman, Chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia, Inc.

Car Radios

I recently drove a Toyota Rav4 rental for a week in Florida. The radio was a trial. Thank goodness it had a volume and a tuning knob. Everything else was activated by the touch screen or the myriad of buttons on the steering wheel. (Don’t get me started about the HD reception.)

Laurence Harrison, Director of Digital Radio UK did a presentation at the Connected Car Show in 2016 on what the consumer wanted in their car radio. Here’s some of what he told his audience.

  • 77% want LIVE radio
  • 82% said a radio was a MUST HAVE
  • 69% said if they could only chose one entertainment option it would be radio
  • Digital is the future of radio
  • Want better radios
  • Listener centered design
  • Metadata to make it smart

Summing it all up, consumers want a car radio that’s broadcast digital, with a simple, easy-to-use interface (that’s familiar) and an app-like experience that is safe according to Harrison.

Raymond Loewy

The MAYA principle was the design approach brainchild of Raymond Loewy. You may not know his name but you know his work. Loewy designed the Coca Cola bottle, the logo for Air Force One, the logos for Shell, USPS and Greyhound. He also designed some of the iconic cars of the 40s – 60s and so much more.

Loewy understood us fickle humans. We want change, just not too quickly. He was a master of giving consumers a more advanced design but not more advanced than what they were able to deal with.

Apple

Steve Jobs was good as applying the principle of MAYA with the introduction of the iPod and its evolution. The iPod over time removed most of its buttons creating the entrance for the iPhone.

Apple wasn’t about to repeat the disaster it had with the Newton, a product that was more advanced than consumers were ready for. Google Glass is another such product that made too big a leap.

Knowing Your Customer’s Current Skill Level

For the consumer to embrace change, change must be introduced gradually over time.

The Air Pods might seem like a contradiction to this but when the iPhone7 introduced them and took away the headphone jack the percentage of wireless headphone sales to wired ones had already crossed a tipping point. iPhone7 sales are an indicator that it was MAYA time for this innovation. Apple didn’t have to explain the concept to its consumers, they were already there.

Consumers are not going to spend their time and money on trying to learn your product if there’s a product out there that is easier to use and more familiar to them.

And that is the challenge for radio.

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A War on Talent

When iHeartMedia wooed away Kurt Alexander aka “Big Boy” from Emmis’ Power106 to their Real92.3 it was a big deal in more ways than one.

The top performing radio station for Emmis was their one station in Los Angeles, KPWR. That is until Alexander departed for KRRL-FM across the street. His leaving impacts both ratings and revenue.

It reminds me of the walking across the street of Scott Shannon in New York City. Shannon left WPLJ where he had been a morning fixture at the station for 23 years to take over mornings at WCBS-FM. Unlike Alexander in LA, Shannon didn’t go head-to-head with his former radio station but to a different format than the one he had just left. However his impact on both stations is much the same. WPLJ went down and WCBS-FM captured the #1 position beating WLTW for the first time.

At a time when the major radio companies are saying things like “flat is the new up” the only way for a company to grow its revenues when the revenue pie isn’t growing is to re-divide how the existing pie is being cut up. To do that means to raid another company’s talent in an effort to increase their ratings while decreasing market competition.

If we look at how talent gets created we find it’s not a quick process. In the case of Alexander, Emmis spent 20 years and millions of dollars turning him into a morning radio star. Shannon has been at the radio game since his army days, tenaciously practicing his craft to become the hall of fame legend he is today.

Radio is not about transmitters, buildings, music etc. it’s about people. People make the radio business fun; personalities behind the microphone and personalities on the street selling the ads. Strong personalities on both sides of the mic are what make for a winning radio station. Neither can be taken for granted.

Emmis didn’t think they were taking Alexander for granted. Heck they were paying this former body guard $1.45 million along with some sweeteners, but iHeartMedia was willing to up the ante to $3.5 million (which Emmis reportedly was willing to match). But what evidently Emmis couldn’t match were the other perks that a company the size of iHeartMedia could create that a company the size of Emmis could not.

The BBC has also been subjected to a talent raid. Apple enticed presenter Zane Lowe to join their iTunes Radio division which led to several more following Lowe to the Cupertino based company. The BBC has a worldwide reputation for great programming, programming talent and the discovery of new music.

The audio entertainment world is like the animal kingdom where the small animals get eaten by the bigger animals in the food chain of life.

Competition for talent that has proven it draws a big audience, not just on-the-air but also online and through social media has never been more sought after. Competition for talent that can package, present and close advertising sales also has never been in more demand.

It’s a war on talent. Good for talent, but an Excedrin headache for small operators battling the big boys; made all the more difficult in a lackluster advertising environment for many radio operators and an ever increasing amount of radio signals vying for that shrinking advertising pie.

The radio dial – including online streamers – may have become infinite, but the revenues that support it have not.

Radio Darwinism has escalated to the global village.

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AM Radio, Streaming Radio, FCC Spectrum Auction & the Future

6Every June, I set-off on a road trip back to New Jersey to speak at the annual New Jersey Broadcasters Convention and Gala in Atlantic City. The roundtrip spans 3-weeks and I drive over 3,000 miles.

This year on the drive up I listened to AM radio and on the drive back I listened to streaming radio. I’d like to share my thoughts with you about what I heard and observed, as well as ponder what the future of both might hold.

Small signal AM radio stations primarily identify themselves with their FM translator dial position (How’s that saving AM radio?). The “pups” are mostly syndicated, automated, religious, sports or Spanish. They aren’t very engaging, which is probably a good thing if you’re driving because you don’t care when you lose the signal. Oh, and just try to hear their translator FM signal; forgetaboutit.

The “big dawg” signals (Bill Bungeroth, former Cumulus Broadcasting president used the term “big dawgs” for those monster signal radio stations and “little pups” for everything else and that’s where I picked it up) on AM like WOWO in Ft Wayne, Indiana, WJR in Detroit, Michigan, WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio and KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are in another universe when it comes to radio programming.

While listening to WOWO, I heard a powerful morning show that was fun, engaging and tuned into the Ft Wayne area. WJR told me about Frankenmuth, Michigan while their midday show was broadcasting live from this unique resort town on the great lakes. WLW was talking about how the Cincinnati police were getting body cameras and how they were loaning them to the news folks in Cincinnati to wear and learn how they work. It was fascinating radio. And KDKA was a potpourri of information about all things Pittsburgh; thoroughly engaging and very enjoyable.

I rode each of these big dawg stations for hundreds of miles and enjoyed listening to them every minute. Each was different, unique, fun, engaging and LOCAL.

The observation I made was that maybe the AM band should be reserved for these high power AM signals that have the bench strength to do great radio.

My drive home started in Albany, New York. I drove back to my hometown in Western Massachusetts following the NJBA Convention and Gala to visit a close family member that had suffered a significant stroke. Thankfully, that situation is improving daily.

I decided my drive back to Kentucky would focus on the other kind of radio available these days; streaming radio. My streaming provider of choice is called Radio Tunes. I like this service because their music formats are curated by people who know and love their genres. Jimi King out of London, England curates the Smooth Jazz channels. Smooth Jazz is a format that has almost completely disappeared from America’s airwaves.

Side Note: WNUA in Chicago, Illinois was a top five radio station playing the Smooth Jazz format. That is until the PPM became the listener measurement currency in Chicago and the other top 48 American metros chasing this format off FM radio. Is Smooth Jazz a PPM unfriendly format for PPM encoding? Might a Voltaire have helped Smooth Jazz? Just asking.

My first day of my 15-hour drive back home allowed me to listen to this streaming radio station through my iPhone4S fed into my car’s audio system with no dropout, no buffering, no disruption of any kind. The audio fidelity beats anything coming out of AM or FM terrestrial radio or SiriusXM too.

On day two of my drive home, I again put on Radio Tunes’ Smooth Jazz channel knowing that Jimi King and Stephanie Sales would be hosting a LIVE 3-hour Smooth Jazz show (they do this every Sunday). This makes Radio Tunes into a real radio station, though I will admit that I love the channel mainly because of all the things it doesn’t do the other 165 hours a week. However, for three of the 7-hours of my second day’s drive, the companionship was really nice.

Again, I experienced no disruption to my listening as I proceeded from Maryland and through the state of West Virginia and into Kentucky. I carried Radio Tunes all the way into Lexington, Kentucky where I stopped to have some lunch.

While eating lunch it occurred to me how well my reception to streaming radio through my smartphone was. It’s scary good when you think about it. Excellent fidelity, no dropout, buffering or other disruptions.

Brian Solis recently spoke at the PromaxBDA Station Summit and told attendees:

“Disruption happens because someone innovated and innovation changes behavior. A good place to start is thinking about a mobile experience. 74% of businesses have no plans to optimize their sites for mobile viewing meaning they don’t have a plan to stay competitive in the increasingly mobile world. If most content experiences are starting here, then that experience needs to be reimagined.”

It wasn’t until I left Lexington that I found gaps in the cell service and finally gave up my experiment of listening to streaming radio through my smartphone in my car.

My observations were cell service is becoming ubiquitous. There are times when having the companionship of LIVE personalities are appreciated versus just streaming music without any talk. Your smartphone gets really hot when you stream on it continuously for a lot of hours. The data use for streaming audio is not huge, like streaming videos or downloading pictures and if all the cell companies make streaming audio free from a person’s data usage plan, it would provide a serious threat to over-the-air radio. Just as Netflix, HBO, Showtime and other OTT (over-the-top) TV services are proving a challenge to cable companies, OTT radio services could be just as challenging to the radio industry.

Then I read this article “Could LTE Broadcast Technology Supersede Over-The-Air Broadcasting?” Listen to what this technology can do:

“LTE Broadcast is based on the eMBMS (Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service) point-to-multipoint interface specification developed for delivery of any content received by multiple viewers at the same time, including files and emergency alerts as well as broadcast video. The motive in all cases was to avoid consuming large amounts of bandwidth through transmission of the same data over multiple unicast sessions, which is particularly expensive in the case of HD video.”

Does that get your attention? Then read this second article “Further Consideration of LTE Broadcast”:

“LTE Broadcast is the most efficient mechanism to distribute the same content to many users, and is an important solution to address the 1000x data challenge. Initially focusing on venue-casting, LTE Broadcast can address many other media distribution such as software updates and breaking news. The evolution of LTE Broadcast makes it dynamic and more scalable, and in the long term, takes it even beyond mobile as a solution for next generation terrestrial TV.”

And anything done for TV is even simpler to do for radio.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has been reported saying:

“There is a widening skills gap where the existing workforce has been educated and trained to obtain jobs of yesterday and not the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

The broadcast game is rapidly moving to the cellular platform. If you’re wondering why Tim Cook is jazzed about Apple Music it’s because he understands broadcasting is entering a new era. The future belongs to those who can deliver superior content to the global village known as planet Earth.

Now which company do you think has a better chance of winning this race? Apple with $178 billion cash in the bank or, I don’t know, say iHeartMedia with $20.7 billion in debt?

The FCC’s spectrum auction is all about creating more spectrum for the mobile communication platform.

Now do you understand why spectrum is being reallocated?

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Radio’s Challenge

David Goldberg pa1ssed away on Friday, May 1st at the age of 47; too soon to be sure. He was an Internet radio pioneer having created LAUNCHcast in 1999 which evolved into Yahoo! Music Radio. Until his passing he was CEO of SurveyMonkey and he was married to the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. He was very savy about our Internet connected world.

Brad Hill in RAIN wrote that in 2005, Goldberg was the RAIN keynote speaker. To put his words into perspective, you should know he spoke just before the iPhone was first launched. For it was the iPhone that really launched what we now refer to as the smartphone and mobile music revolutions, that would provide Pandora with its launchpad. Hill wrote that Goldberg said:

“We hope that 10 years from now almost no one is accessing Yahoo services on a PC. It needs to be in my living room, in my car, on my cellphone. This will affect the change in replacing the CD, as well as moving music off of broadcast radio which is also what we believe will happen.”

Fast-forward to Pandora’s latest earnings call and Hill reports that Pandora execs said:

“We really want to replace broadcast radio for music discovery. We believe music will migrate off of terrestrial radio to the services we are offering because we can deliver the music consumers want, when they want it, where they want it. CDs will be replaced by on-demand subscription services. ‘Personalization’ and ‘community’ features will be key ways we’ll be able to deliver the right music to people at the right time, on devices, on a global basis.”

And Pandora is not alone in this quest. Spotify recently reported a market cap more than twice that of Pandora’s in the neighborhood of $8 billion to pursue their quest of being the world’s music provider. (Contrast that to America’s largest radio group iHeartMedia $20+ billion in debt.)

The world is also watching Apple. It made a $3 billion acquisition of Beats and is working on its iTunes streaming audio product. More about Apple in a moment.

Then Fred Jacobs authors a column talking about “Moodstates.” Jacobs’ latest Techsurvey continues to find how much emotion plays a role in broadcast radio listening. Jacobs writes:

“While consumers enjoy hearing their favorite songs, personalities, and information, mood plays a role why they continue to come back to AM/FM radio stations. In our research, it is often in the form of companionship, mood elevation, and escape.”

I’m a big fan of Rewound Radio and their weekly Saturday feature “The DJ Hall of Fame.” What I’ve personally found is that I’m not so enamored with just listening to old tapes of radio broadcasts from the 60s & 70s – I can hear this music anywhere, including my own CD library – but hearing the air personalities that provided me with hours of companionship, mood elevation and escape. And I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’m a member of a couple of DJ groups on Facebook and we all experience these same emotions.

This fact evidently hasn’t been lost on Apple. Apple has been raiding the talent at the BBC. Zane Lowe was their first hire. Lowe is known as a trend-spotter. He’s also a presenter (they don’t call them disc jockey’s in jolly old England) that builds a strong rapport with his listeners. At least three more folks from this BBC talent tank have announced they are joining Lowe at Apple.

Unlike Pandora or Spotify, it appears that Apple plans to put the personality into their streaming. Could Apple be the first to do for today’s generation what Dan Ingram, The Real Don Steele, John Records Landecker, Bob Dearborn, Ron Lundy etc did for my generation? Put the personality front and center in music presentation?

Horizon Media undertook a comprehensive study on the impact mood plays in effective audio advertising. As the results of what they’ve learned are implemented, the placement of those advertising dollars under Horizon’s control will be affected.

Back to Goldberg’s 2005 RAIN Keynote, he predicted that over-the-air radio would be reduced to a mostly-talk medium.

            “We don’t believe music will continue to be broadcast on analog radio,” Goldberg said.

A survey that I conducted with the 300 radio stations in Kentucky showed that local radio stations planned to take their talk programming more locally originated and less national syndicated talk. It also showed that no local music research was being done, but that national charts were being relied upon along with consultants and music programming service providers.

All of this comes at a time when the CEO’s of public radio companies report they’re facing strong headwinds on their advertising revenues. Radio is being attacked from all angles.

Not since the introduction of television back in the 50s has the radio industry faced such a big challenge. We are living in revolutionary times in the communications industry.

Commercial radio is 95 years old. When television presented its challenge it was only in its 40s. Still a young medium with lots of new blood entering its doors with a vision for a new kind of radio.

Boss Radio was born on 930AM-KHJ in Los Angeles and News Radio was born on 1010AM-WINS in New York City both in 1965. But even the new radio formats that were born in that era are now 50 years old.

I challenge my broadcast students to create the radio that will be meaningful for them and their generation. But for those students to have that chance, the owners of radio stations will need to open their doors and let them innovate.

Will radio pick up the challenge?

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