Tag Archives: iHeartMedia

Where Have All the Baby Boomers Gone?

Baby BoomerBill Thomas, a media and branding idea expert and broadcast & radio veteran (@BillThomas), shared a link on Twitter to an Ad Week article about three brands that bought ads in Super Bowl 54, targeting the 50+ demo. It’s not surprising, as the author of the article points out, that this is the age group that is most active and ready to spend online. Any guess on what the three brands are, that were targeting this Baby Boomer age group? Do you think it was iHeartMedia, Cumulus, and Entercom? Stay tuned.

Citizen Insight Academy

The City of Winchester holds a Citizen Insight Academy annually, and I signed my wife Sue and I up for the 2020 edition. We’re only nine weeks into this 16-week program and Citizen Insight Academyit’s been illuminating learning about our city and the way it operates. The other evening, we had a session with the city’s Emergency Management and E-911 departments.

You can imagine my reaction when the head of the E-911 department began her talk with “People don’t listen to the radio anymore, but they’re really into social media.” She went on to say how she grew up listening to the radio but how other forms of communication, like social media, have replaced that habit. Much like smartphones have replaced people’s landline telephones.

She told us that most calls into the city’s 911 switchboard come from wireless phones versus landlines. The percentage was something like 75% wireless to 25% landline. I myself have been a cellphone only household for over a decade, and our class of 35 had only about four people who still have a landline.

Traditional Radio Stations Have Lost Faith of Listeners

If I thought our city’s 911 Director was tough on radio, the BBC’s head of radio and education, recently said “Radio as we’ve always known it, has lost the faith of listeners.” He explained that “where once it was everything, now it is not. In fact, for many listeners, it is no longer their default.”

BBC Chief

BBC Radio Chief, James Purnell

In 1920, when commercial radio service began in America, you were lucky if you had a single choice for wireless communication. In many localities, you might have only had radio service after sunset via the AM skywave phenomena.

As more radio stations came on the air, Americans began to develop a radio habit. Radio listening was something we did while working, riding in the car or while we were at play. It provided the audio accompaniment to our lives. But everything’s changed. Now radio stations need to create an experience that earns a place in someone’s day.

NuVoodoo on Media Addictions

I wasn’t surprised to see NuVoodoo releasing some data from their latest research that shows all age groups today are addicted to their Smartphones. But what caught my eye was how Millennials, Gen X and Gen Z groups were more addicted to a favorite FM or AM radio station than Baby Boomers.

NuVoodoo Addiction to Media 2020

Which got me to thinking, why were the very people who grew up with radio and few other choices, be the age group least engaged with the medium today?

Boomers Know Great Radio When They Hear It

Real Don Stelle

The Real Don Steele

Baby Boomers grew up during a time when great radio personalities dominated the airwaves. Broadcasters like Harry Harrison, Robert W. Morgan, Larry Lujack, Dan Ingram, The Real Don Steele, Ron Lundy and so many more filled our lives with information, entertainment, community and companionship. It was a time when radio stations had local news teams, great promotions, exciting radio jingles, stationality and air personalities. Personalities, so important in our lives that we wanted to meet them more than the recording artists that created the music they played.

Radio for Baby Boomers isn’t like that anymore, so they’re moving on.

The boomer generation now embraces smartphones, smart speakers and social media with a vengeance, taking all their dollars to spend right along with them. Baby Boomers hold around 70% of the disposable income in the United States and they make up 50% of sales for all consumer package goods.

The Big Three

So, who were the media companies that want to gain a larger share of the 50+ demo? The ones that know that Baby Boomers are the most active and ready to spend their dollars online?

Google, Amazon and Facebook, that’s who.Facebook Amazon Google Logos

Facebook advertised during a Super Bowl television broadcast for the very first time in 2020. They hired as pitchmen, Chris Rock (54) and Sylvester Stallone (73). Both men are iconic celebrities and are part of this powerful consumer demographic, the 50+ audience.

Meanwhile, radio continues to jettison the very people that connects them with their local audience, the radio personality.

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DJs Get Paid More than Real Musicians

Wolfman JackI was reading an article in Medium about “How Platform Capitalism Devalued the Music Industry,” when I came to this comment from electronic pop artist Grimes – currently dating Elon Musk – “DJs get paid more than real musicians.”

As the blowback continues to reverberate from the recent “employee dislocations” by iHeartMedia, of hundreds of their disc jockeys across America, I wondered who were these highly valued DJs Grimes was talking about.

World’s Highest Paid DJs

Turns out that Forbes published a list in July of what Forbes called “The World’s Highest-Paid DJs of 2019.”

chainsmokers

The #1 highest paid DJs are “Chainsmokers” earning $46 million in pre-tax income over the past year.

Who?

If that was the first thought that flashed across your brain, you’re not alone. The Chainsmokers are made up of Drew Taggart and Alex Pall.

#2 was “Marshmello” at $40 million, #3 was “Calvin Harris” at $38.5 million, #4 was “Steve Akoi” at $30 million and rounding out the top 5 was “Diplo” at $25 million. Forbes actually ranked the top 15 and you can see the whole list HERE.

None of these DJs are on your local radio station. They are all club DJs.

The Chainsmokers signed a three-year exclusive residency deal with Wynn Nightlife in Las Vegas that has the pair performing only in nightclubs at XS and Encore Beach Club in Vegas in 2017. The pair is such a draw, that agreement has been extended until 2021. The group also records EDM albums and released their first single in 2013.

Club DJs

marshmelloChristopher Comstock, aka “Marshmello,” signed with the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas taking up residency at their Kaos Dayclub and Nightclub.

Marshmello entertains from a rotating DJ booth shaped like his signature cylindrical marshmallow mask. If you’d like to see him in action, here’s a link to a YouTube video

This year coming in at #3, “Calvin Harris.” He previously had been the #1 highest paid DJ for six consecutive years.

Absent from the list are over-the-air radio DJs.

Radio’s Highest Paid

It should come as no surprise that Howard Stern reigns in the top spot with an income north of $90 million. But he’s on satellite radio.

The top earner on terrestrial radio is Rush Limbaugh, who recently announced he’s battling advanced lung cancer. Then comes Ryan Seacrest, Sean Hannity and Glen Beck, all syndicated talk radio hosts.radio sign

What’s the attraction of all of these personalities?

Grimes puts it this way, “It’s kind of like Instagram or whatever. [Listeners] don’t want the real world.” Great personalities give us an escape from our world and make us feel like we are a part of their lives.

Great Radio

Radio provides the listener with community and companionship through the stories it tells and music it plays.

Harry Harrison, New York City’s Morning Mayor, recently passed away at age 89. He was a New York City DJ Legend, broadcasting over WMCA, WABC and CBS-FM for the majority of his radio broadcasting career.

Cousin Brucie was invited to share his memories of Harry and why he was so loved by Big Apple radio listeners. Brucie said it was all about making the members of the radio audience feel like family. It’s all about talking to people and being out in the community Cousin Brucie & DTwith them, touching their hands. In fact, the host said, when Brucie showed up at NBC4  to do the segment, people who work at the TV station came to see him and gave Brucie a hug. Something that rarely happens when guests appear on the program.

I know how they feel because, one Saturday night, that’s exactly what I felt like when I had the opportunity to spend a night in “Cousin Brucie’s Place” at SiriusXM.

The Power of the DJ

The common thread, whether we’re talking about a popular club DJ or radio DJ, is their ability to bring people together, engage in the same thing at the same time and make us feel like we are welcome and belong.

Harry Harrison told his listeners that “every brand new day should be unwrapped like a precious gift” and he always wished his listeners the very best, “because that’s exactly what you deserve!” Ron Lundy greeted his listeners with “Hello Luv,” Dan Ingram called his listeners “Kemosabe,” and everyone was a “cousin” with Brucie.

The biggest casino operators know how important the DJ is in bringing people into their dance clubs. A great club DJ can read the room and know exactly the right mix of music to play to get everyone involved and have a good time.

That same magic built great radio on thousands of local radio stations across America. It can’t be replaced by artificial intelligence and algorithms.

Real local radio knows how to read the community and provide exactly what it needs at that moment. All great radio is local and relevant.

DJs become your best friend.

Is there anything better than hanging out with your best friend?

 

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Dislocation is the New RIF

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_641For many of you, this past week has been a very stressful one. The world’s largest radio owner/operator, iHeartMedia, announced a countrywide Reduction In Force or RIFs. However, reading an internal memo obtained by All Access, I see that the new term for this is “employee dislocation.”

No matter how your phrase it, a lot of good radio people lost their job this week.

Is Your Iceberg Melting?

Let’s face it, the radio industry so many of us fell in love with, is melting away.

Back in 2009, the book everyone was reading was by Ken Blanchard called “Who Moved My Cheese?” Ken actually published this little 95-page book back in 1999 and it’s still an extremely great read.

But today, maybe the book everyone in broadcasting ought to be reading is “Our Iceberg is Melting and Succeeding Under Any Circumstances by John Kotter, who is an award winning author from the Harvard Business School.

In Melting, Kotter writes a simply fable about doing well in an ever-changing world.

The fable is about penguins in Antarctica that discover a potentially devastating problem to their home – an iceberg – it’s melting away.

It’s a story that will resonate with anyone in broadcasting, as a new round of “employee dislocations” occur and there are fewer radio stations to relocate to, as this is the same thing that is happening by the other big box broadcasters nationwide.

Kotter’s book walks you through the eight steps that produce positive change with any group. You will not only enjoy the read, but will be guided with valuable insights to deal with our 21st Century world that is moving faster and faster every day.

The Big Take Away

Regarding change, when all employees, corporate and middle management are on the same page, it is amazing what can happen. What I’m hearing from the broadcasters I know, both those that have been RIF’d and those who have not, it is a feeling that there’s a lack of honesty in communication from the top through the entire organization.

“Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me twice, shame on me.

Fool me three times, shame on both of us.”

-Stephen King

The problem for the leaders of the broadcasting industry is that radio people have been fooled too many times and the level of trust is at an all time low. Daryl Ledyard, who was “dislocated” from a position he’s held at WBBS in Syracuse for over ten years told Rolling Stone “[iHeartMedia is] very much convinced that the local aspect of radio is no longer important.” However, iHeartMedia says in their statement “we will continue to serve every local community in which we operate just as we always have.”

It begs the question of how that will be possible when the number of on-air people have been reduced to one or two or none.

Live & Local?

Over the years, at every radio meeting I attended, the one refrain heard over and over and over was that “the power of radio is live & local.”

In October 2017, the FCC voted along party lines 3 to 2 to eliminate the Main Studio Rule.

When the FCC voted to end that provision in America’s broadcast law, what did that mean to regulations that have been in place since 1934? FCC attorney Gregg Skall explained it this way in his 1991 “Main Studio Rule and Staffing” memo:

The main studio rule as clarified in 1988 requires a station to maintain a main studio within its principal community contour “which has the capability adequately to meet its function…of serving the needs and interests of the residents of the station’s community of license.” That rule has now been further revised to allow a main studio to be located either within 25 miles from its community of license reference coordinates, or within the principal community contours of any station, of any service, licensed to its community of license. (See memo, Revised Main Studio and Public File Rules). Jones Eastern requires the station to maintain a “meaningful management and staff presence” at the main studio on a full-time basis during regular business hours.

You can read the full memo HERE 

Since the introduction of automation systems, syndication, satellite delivery and computer voice tracking, the LIVE aspect of radio has been on the wane. Even in the #1 radio market in America, New York City, stations may or may not have a live operator behind the microphone when you’re tuned in.

In 1967, when I was starting out in radio, we used to have to announce whether a program was live or pre-recorded so the listeners wouldn’t be deceived about the broadcast. In the early days of radio, virtually all radio was live, it was the exception for something to have been recorded.

Today, what you are listening to is more than likely not live but syndicated, voice-tracked or pre-recorded.

With the Main Studio Rule, the goal was, that there would be a live person at the station and the studio would be in the community the licensee was licensed to serve.

Lance Venta writing on RadioInsight on October 24, 2017 wrote “But what will it (elimination of the Main Studio Rule) mean in the short term? Probably not a lot. In the long term, be prepared for a much leaner broadcast facility.” You can read Lance’s entire article “The Radio Station of the Future…Today!” HERE

The National Association of Broadcasters lobbied for the elimination of the Main Studio Rule, and its then executive VP of communications Dennis Wharton said “We’re confident that cost savings realized from ending the main studio rule will be reinvested by broadcasters in better programming and modernized equipment to better serve our local communities.”

Public Safety

When a broadcaster doesn’t have a studio in the local community it serves, it delivers its programming through the internet, satellites, microwaves or wired lines. Broadcasters have been quick to point out how these forms of communication are first to go down in natural disasters.

What seems to be missing in this conversation, is what happens when a local community is hit with a Black Swan Event. I wrote a whole blog article about how such an event could impact communities FCC licensed radio stations are empowered to serve. You can read that article HERE

Those who believe in the unconditional benefits of past experience should consider this pearl of wisdom allegedly voiced by a famous ship’s captain:

‘But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident… of any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.’

-E. J. Smith, 1907, Captain, RMS Titanic

[Captain Smith’s ship sank in 1912 and became the most talked-about shipwreck in history.]

The Future Predicted in 2004

On May 24, 2004, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a “Broadcast Localism Hearing” in Rapid City, South Dakota.  The president, general manager and co-owner of KLQP-FM licensed to Madison, Minnesota (population 1,767) Maynard Meyer addressed the commission.  Telling them:

“I have been involved in the radio business in announcing, sales, engineering and management for about 36 years, all of my experience is in communities of 5,000 people or less.  We personally live in the communities we serve so we know the ‘issues,’ we work to address them in our programming and have been doing so for the past 21 years.“

“A few years ago, many stations operated this way, but much of that has changed for a variety of reasons.  I think the beginning of the end of local broadcast service started in the 1980s when the Federal Communications Commission approved Docket 80-90.”

Mr. Meyer went on to explain to the FCC, how that many communities “on paper” had a local radio station that actually was nothing more than a transmitter being fed from another location tens of miles away.  Mr. Meyer went on to say:

“I don’t think this is the best way to promote local radio service.  From what I have seen through my personal experience, as soon as a hometown studio is closed and relocated, the local service is relocated as well.”

(I’ve edited his comments. The full text can be found HERE)

What do you think?

 

 

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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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