Tag Archives: iHeartRadio

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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What Ronald McDonald Could Teach Radio

Today in America there are more radio stations on the air than at any time in its almost 100 year history. More radio stations are taking to the air every day. That’s a good thing, right? I would argue it’s not.

When I was working for Clear Channel Radio (yes, it was once called that – now it’s iHeartMedia), the President was a man named John Hogan. Hogan came up with a plan to reduce clutter. He called it “Less is More.” On the surface it sounded like a grand plan. However, the devil is always in the details and the devil was Clear Channel was now going to move away from a unit based inventory management system to a one that included half-minute long commercials, ten-second commercials, five-second long commercials it branded as “adlets” and one-second long commercials it branded as “blinks.” In the “blink” of an eye, the amount of units grew and we would learn that people don’t notice the length of commercials as much as they do the number of interruptions they are confronted with. “Less is More” would inadvertently introduce more clutter in the name of reducing clutter.

Well some clown named Ronald McDonald must have been watching us because at the end of last year, McDonalds announced that its menu had become so unwieldy that even the chain’s president had no clue as to how many items it contained.

In his book, “The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less” psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for consumers. That while autonomy and the freedom of choice can be healthy and good for our well being, modern Americans are faced with more choices than any group of people in the history of the planet and all this choice is having the reverse effect.

I remember the headline in Forbes “You Can Now Play 100,000 Radio Stations On Your TV with Google’s Chromecast.” A hundred grand? I have trouble finding enough radio stations I want to listen to, to fill the pre-sets on my car radio and they only give me pre-sets for 6 AM stations and 12 FM stations. I have a 10-minute commute on a bad day, so I don’t do a lot of button pushing.

Edison Research now calls their radio study the “Infinite Dial” because with the advent of streaming audio, we have the ability to listen to radio stations all over the world. I have ten Apps for listening to streaming radio on my iPhone and iPad. Of those, I primarily use three of them the bulk of the time. Of the three, one dominates. That single App now curates over 90 different genres of music. The good news is that I can create a “Favorites” section so I only need to choose from a limited number of genres to match my mood.

When radio began consolidating into clusters, adding HD signals & sub-channels and then streaming, the complexity proved to be a challenge to an ever shrinking workforce challenged with programming and selling all of those product offerings.

Schwartz tells us that modern psychology shows that happiness is affected by success or failure of goal achievement. Radio workers and McDonald’s folks probably aren’t all that happy; not like they once were.

McDonalds last year recorded its worst domestic comparable sales figures in more than a decade. In radio, being even with last year’s numbers was being called the new “up.”

McDonalds plan is to reduce the number of choices, focus on those items they will serve to improve their quality to delight the customer.

Most people’s cable or satellite TV package delivers hundreds of channels and yet, the most common thing people are heard to say “there’s nothing GOOD on to watch.” “Good” being the operative word. What a change from when I was growing up and my biggest problem was a GREAT show was playing on all three television networks; at the same time (days before VCRs and DVRs).

Radio in that same era was exciting, innovative and totally focused on delivering great content. These were the days when a Top40 radio station like CKLW had a 20-person news department on a radio station that was all about music not news. Had an air staff that was refreshed every three hours with a new disc jockey, had an off-air program director, a music director & assistant that did music research, a promotions department & promotions budget, plus consultants all for a single radio station.

Less is more works if more people can focus their attention on less.

Take it from a famous restaurant clown, “Less IS More” in more ways than one.

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Radio’s NOT Like it Used to Be

Marconi Wireless(Spoiler Alert: It never was, starting with day 2) When I hang out on social media – or imagine this, have a real face-to-face conversation – with my radio contemporaries that grew up listening to radio in the 60s & 70s, the conversation invariably turns to “radio’s not like it used to be.”

From the moment of its birth, radio has been one long experiment.

It took hold when Marconi International Marine Communication Company, Limited began to make money with wireless over-the-air transmissions. Marconi was in it for the money. He really cared little how it all worked. He wanted to build more powerful transmitters and cover greater distances. He didn’t sell his technology but leased it. He also trained and employed the wireless operators who used his equipment.

So, imagine you’re a wireless operator on Christmas Eve 1906 and you’re at sea monitoring your dots & dashes – all that you’ve ever heard come through your headphones – when at 9 PM EST on Christmas Eve you suddenly hear a human voice coming through your headphones. Then singing. Then a violin playing. And finally a man speaks a Christmas greeting. What would you have thought to yourself?

The man who did this was Reginald Fessenden. In addition to being a brilliant scientist, he also sang and played the violin. From his transmitting station in Brant Rock, Massachusetts his first wireless transmissions of voice and music were heard up and down the Eastern seaboard. He would repeat this again on New Year’s Eve.

In the United States the final commercial Morse code transmission was sent on July 12, 1999. The last message sent was the very same as the first message sent by Samuel Morse in 1844, “What hath God wrought”, and the prosign “SK”.

What brought this all to mind was a news item that has been circulating recently about a survey by Morgan Stanley that was released by Quartz.

The survey is a positive for radio. In a survey of 2,016 American adults taken last November, AM/FM radio use was #1 with 86%. Number two was YouTube, number three was Pandora and number four were “TV music channels”.

The first four were all advertising supported and thus free to the user. The fifth on the list was also the first paid service; SiriusXM radio (tied with iHeartRadio).

So one thing that hasn’t changed is that most people would rather access free-with-ads entertainment versus paid-without-ads entertainment when given a choice.

However, this survey has spurred a lot of discussion in the radio world. Broadcasters are divided on what this survey is really telling us. Owners/operators are saying that it shows “radio ain’t dead.” Broadcasters that have been consolidated out of the industry are saying “not so fast.” And to some extent, they’re both right.

As Mark Ramsey pointed out on his blog, “86% of respondents saying its part of their usage routine” is what radio folks would call “reach” and does not really address frequency of usage or “time spent listening;” two key radio metrics.

Conspicuously missing from the Morgan Stanley list is a service I use and enjoy TuneIn radio. I wonder why?

So where does that leave us?

I think it’s a twist on one of Henry Ford’s most famous quotes:

Whether you think radio is or is not, you’re right.

Radio owners/operators have it within their power to create the future for the radio industry. So what’s it going to be?

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