Tag Archives: JacoBlog

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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Jacobs’ Four Questions

15Fred and Paul Jacobs are prolific bloggers; they blog five days a week. Recently, their blog asked four questions about the future of radio. I found them interesting and thought I’d give you my answers to their questions. I’ve provided a link to their original blog post here.

  1. What is radio? I guess I’d have to say my earliest exposure to radio was of the amplitude modulation kind; AM radio. My first radio was a Zenith transistor AM radio with a single earphone. In junior high school, I would build an AM & FM radio station in the basement of my parent’s home and broadcast to my neighborhood. When I went to the FCC field office in Boston to take my FCC license exam when I was in high school the license I would receive said “Radio Telephone Third Class Operator Permit (Restricted Radiotelephone Certificate).” I remember thinking the day I received it, “Why does it say telephone on it?” Nathan Stubblefield, a Kentucky melon farmer and inventor, invented the first radio (many would say). Nathan invented it because he wanted to be able to talk to his wife at home while driving his car. Maybe Nathan and the FCC were just ahead of their time, for today RF goes through the air to our smartphones giving us the ability to send and receive voice, pictures, and data. Today’s pocket computers – smartphones – have synthesized every form of mass communication into a single device. When Apple was putting together the launch of their Beats 1 stream, Zane Low said they spent three months trying to come up with a name to call what they were about to launch. They couldn’t come up with a better name than radio. And that’s what I find teaching at the university. My students basically call everything audio sourced “radio.” Every semester when I poll my students as to what media device they would keep, if they could only keep one, the overwhelming winner is their smartphone. The reason is simple; it allows them to do everything while every other media devices can only do a single application or two. The History Channel did a program on the 100 Best Inventions of all time. Radio was number two. The smartphone was number one. Today’s smartphone is the “transistor radio” of my youth.
  2. What are ratings? I’m a graduate of the Roy H. Williams Wizard Academy and Roy believes that any radio station with about thirty thousand listeners has more than enough to drive business for any advertiser. So what’s the defining measure of a radio station? The quality of the content of its advertising. Ratings were only created for one purpose, to sell advertising. Initially a concept called “applause cards” was used by radio operators. These were simple post cards that could be picked up by consumers at local retailers, filled out, and mailed in. The Association of National Advertisers would hire Archibald Crossley to create a way to discern what people were actually listening to on the radio. Crossley would produce reports from his Cooperative Analysis of Broadcasting (CAB) system. CAB used telephone recall much like Tom Birch did with his Birch Ratings reports. Today, everyone’s hung up on the measurement systems of clicks and clacks of the Internet. Ad Blocking is going to put a real dent into this system that really doesn’t tell advertisers what they wanted to know anyway. The simple fact is no one is measuring what counts. Great creative content gets results and radio needs to invest in employing dedicated copywriters once again.
  3. What is content? I wrote a whole blog post on content that went viral. I won’t re-plow that ground again in this post. If you’d like to read what I wrote, go here.
  4. What is in-car entertainment? I remember when buying a car, one of the options was adding a rear speaker to your AM radio for passengers riding in the back seat. Those were simpler times. I’ve lived through every new device that was going to be the death of radio in the car: 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, CB radios, CDs, CD changers, MP3 players, smartphones, streaming audio. Nothing has. However, the new digital dashboards appear to be so complicated, I fear for the folks who could never stop the blinking 12:00 on their VCRs. The new learning curve to find the radio on new cars might be a problem. My Honda Accord has lots of digital components to my entertainment system, but what I love most is Honda left the volume control knob I can turn. Rick Dees loves rotary pots on his control consoles and will not work a board that has slider pots. 19Crank it up means turning a knob. Radio people are going to have to make sure their car dealers demonstrate, or even set-up for their new car customers, how to find and lock in their local radio stations on these new digital dashboards. If the radio listener can easily find their favorite hometown companion, then they will default to what they know and love best. The reason radio has retained over 92% of its listeners is because all those new media devices mostly took out the new media device that came before it. Free over-the-air radio is unique and special. Let’s all work to keep it that way.

And so that’s my take on Fred and Paul Jacobs “Four Questions for Radio.” What are yours? Please share them with me by writing them into the comment section of this blog. I can wait to read what you have to say.

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