Tag Archives: NAB

Touring a Transmitter Manufacturer

I started in professional radio in 1968. A transmitter company in Hackett’s Cove, Nova Scotia was founded in 1969. That company was Nautel, and both of us have been in the radio business for over 50-years.

Nautel initially began as a company that would build and supply solid state navigation beacons for the Canadian government. These solid state transmitters replaced ones built using tubes and proved to provide greater reliability and longevity; in fact, many of these early models are still in service today.

In the early 80s, Nautel would apply their knowledge and experience in building solid state beacon transmitters to radio broadcast transmitters, introducing 10,000 and 50,000 watt solid state AM transmitters.

Jeff Welton

One of the readers of this blog, saw that I would be doing a road trip through Atlantic Canada and reached out to me suggesting I email Jeff Welton at Nautel and ask for a tour of the company’s headquarters and manufacturing facilities in Nova Scotia. When I reached out to Jeff, he quickly responded that he would be happy to give us a tour.

In 2020, Jeff Welton was the recipient of the NAB Radio Engineering Achievement Award.

Jeff has been with Nautel over 30-years, and is an expert in digital radio, radio technology and radio engineering. He is currently sales manager for the central United States region for the company. When I reached out to him, he quickly responded that he would be happy to give Sue & me a tour.

Since COVID-19 closed down the world, many of the people not involved in the manufacturing process at the Nautel facility work from home, so like most businesses these days, the volume of workers in the plant on any given day is lean. However, business for the company has never been stronger. The amount of orders they have in their production pipeline is noticeably higher than what it was before the pandemic began.

Jeff told me the company’s support team maintains several lower power standby transmitters (both AM and FM) for their customers that can be immediately moved to a location where a customer’s transmitter plant has experienced an emergency. Currently all of the support transmitters are in the field, as several stations have faced challenges this year, ranging from floods to fires to older (non-Nautel) equipment failing and needing something to get back on the air fast.

Solid State Technology

I had always heard Nautel being referred to as the “Cadillac of broadcast transmitters.” After Sue & I toured the plant, we understood why. Nautel oversees every element of their transmitters, from building the cabinets, to the internal components, down to the wooden crates that the finished product will be shipped in.

Nautel’s large impact on the radio broadcasting industry came with its introduction of solid state AM & FM transmitters and as the benefits of solid state technology became clear, radio broadcasting quickly embraced solid state designs over tubes.

Its focus on solid state technology from Nautel’s inception in 1969 is what made it a leader.

The company is privately owned, and Kevin Rodgers the current CEO/President of Nautel, worked for the company for decades before taking over the company from its founders.

Pipe Organs

While I’ve been to several different manufacturing plants over the years, what I found touring Nautel’s operation in Nova Scotia reminded me of touring a pipe organ manufacturer in Ohio. In each case, the company’s employees were like family, with the newest employees having multiple years with the company. There is enormous pride in the construction of the finished product down to the smallest detail.

Both the organ company we visited as well as Nautel, want their products to provide years of trouble free service but are always ready to provide customer support on a moment’s notice.

Nautel’s customer locations around the world.

Today, Nautel has more than 19,000 customers in 177 countries, with their RF (radio frequency) solid state solutions providing reliable service in harsh climates from the arctic circle to the world’s deserts.

Nautel is one of those rare companies that is big enough to be at the cutting-edge of innovative technology and small enough to respond to specific customer needs.

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What Comes First? Radio Job or College Degree?

The reason I write my blog is to stimulate discussion about what radio needs to be doing to not just survive, but thrive in the 21st Century. If things weren’t hot enough after I published last week’s blog article, “No College Degree Required,” they got even hotter after Fred Jacobs expanded on my thoughts in his Monday blog article titled: “Want To Succeed In Radio? Get That Degree.” Let’s hope all the discussion that occurred on both of our blogs and on social media leads our industry’s leaders to make some meaningful changes.

How I Got Into Professional Radio

Just about everyone my age (69) who got into the radio business, did so while still in high school. For me, the entrance door was via Junior Achievement. JA was just beginning to experiment with the idea of having service companies. The Junior Achievement program was created to help high school students understand the principles of running a business by selling stock ($1), forming a company, deciding on what product to make, making that product, selling that product and then liquidating the company and returning (hopefully) a monetary value greater than the $1 invested by the stockholders; all during a single school year.

One of the local radio stations in my town, came to my 10th grade high school assembly and made a presentation about forming a JA Radio Company. I set my sights on being in it, and made the cut. One of my best friends also made the cut and has retired from a very successful radio and voice-over career of 50 years.

My College Years

I was the GM of my college’s carrier current AM radio station and worked to secure an educational FM license before graduating. WJJW remains on the air to this day at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

I was a commuter student with no student loans, but back in 1970, such a thing was more the norm than the exception. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 1970-71 academic year, the average in-state tuition and fees for one year at a public non-profit university was $394. By the 2020-21 academic year, that amount jumped to $10,560, an increase of 2,580%.

How Other Industries Treat College & Their Best Employees

In other industries, it’s not uncommon for companies to actually pay for their best employees to earn their college degrees in order to further their advancement. I know a person that learned his computer skills in the military and works for a military contractor in DC. He’s been working with the highest level of military leaders at the Pentagon as well as with members of Congress. After 17 years of constant achievement, his company is paying for him to complete his college degree. He currently maintains a 4.0 GPA.

His degree, ironically, won’t even be in the area that he works in, but in an area that gives him passion outside of his job.

Just-In-Time-Learning

The point of my article wasn’t to dis getting a college education, but for our radio industry to begin recruitment and training at the high school level. Radio needs to be a way for talented individuals to be exposed to what a wonderful business radio is, and have a way to enter without being screened out by a computer algorithm looking for a college degree. (You can’t see talent on a spreadsheet.)

Clear Channel used to run a wonderful training program called Clear Channel University. It succumbed to one of the many rounds of budget cuts.

The RAB’s Radio Talent Institute is an excellent program and my point was it should be run in the high schools across America.

Companies interested in retaining and growing their best employees should be making higher education opportunities a company benefit, what I like to call “just-in-time-learning.”

When the NAB offered a Sales Management Program through the Wharton School, I paid my own way and went. I already had an undergraduate degree from a four year college and a master’s degree from a university, but I never had the specific training that this program offered for the job I had been promoted into.

The owner of the radio stations I worked for at the time, provided a lot of training for its people. We attended the annual Managing Sales Conference hosted by the RAB. I earned my CRMC, Diamond CRMC and CDMC from the Radio Advertising Bureau.

I always told my college students that their degree wasn’t the end of their learning, but the launchpad to a life of learning. Every year of your life, learn something new, experience something new, grow your knowledge in life.

Think about what you can add to your resume that will make you a more valuable person to your company, your family and yourself.

Not Every Job Is For Every Person, Regardless of Their College Degrees

A comment made by Tom Langmyer said it best; that at the core, it all comes down to the person. Having a PhD doesn’t equal a great air personality or salesperson.

The hardest part is expecting the same result when sending 10 people to university for Broadcasting/Media. So much is about the person.

Success on the content and sales side relies so much more upon the candidate’s personality, makeup, drive, ambition, chemistry, life experiences, ability to engage and activate people, etc.

Those are attributes which additional education can enhance, but if one does’t have those natural abilities, anything including a PhD in broadcast media, is worthless.

-Tom Langmyer

My success as a GM in hiring was to first hire for attitude and then train the person for the job that needs to be done.

When the raw talent at affordable prices is sitting in high school classrooms today, why is the radio industry waiting till college to begin recruiting?

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What Business is RADIO In?

This question was last asked at the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show in 2019, before a two year shutdown of the world due to a global pandemic. I don’t remember what answer they came up with back then, but no one foresaw the changes that COVID-19 would bring into our lives.

The question was visited again in one of the opening sessions at this year’s NAB Show in Las Vegas and the answer can be boiled down to two words, “very different.”

New Media Behaviors

COVID changed the nature of how people do their jobs, and this got me thinking how my own life changed with my retirement.

From my high school days in the 60s until 2010, I worked six to seven days a week in the radio industry. If I wasn’t listening to my own radio stations, I was listening to the competition.

In 2010, I transitioned into my second career as a college broadcast professor, teaching the process and effects of mediated communications, the history of broadcasting, broadcast sales, on-air radio production and the program’s Capstone management course.

My radio listening was mainly in my car, as my college building wasn’t conducive to receiving over-the-air radio signals, so when I was working in my office I streamed smooth jazz from my iPad to the aux input on my radio.

When I retired from my second career, got married and moved to Virginia, my radio habits would change again, as well as my television habits. Now all of my media would be accessed via streaming on the internet.

The Future of Work Impacts the Future of Radio

Without evening thinking about it, as the nature of my work changed, my media habits were greatly impacted by those changes.

Looking at the future of radio, new studies done by CivicScience really opened my eyes. Their studies have found that 44% of people who listen to radio have changed their habits over the past 12 months.

People are now listening to more audio content via internet streaming, they’re listening at different times of the day, their consumption of podcasts have increased, and while 20% say they are listening more often, a whopping 34% say they are listening less often.

Listening More or Listening Less

When CivicScience looked deeper into the reason people are listening less to radio, they found that the location of where people worked played a big role. Of the 51% that said they listened to radio less, they also were part of the group that was working remotely (i.e. from home) or were unemployed.

Since so much of today’s radio consumption occurs in the vehicle, people who work from home are spending less time in their cars and therefore less time listening to radio.

Post-Pandemic Work Choices

When CivicScience asked people what their future work preferences were after COVID, only 24% said they wanted to return to their office full-time. 37% wanted to work from home full-time and 40% said a mix of in office and at home would be their preference going forward.

These findings present radio operators with a real dilemma. The radio industry depends on a working age population all moving to and from work at the same time, hence the reason that both morning and after drive radio time sales have always commanded more dollars than middays, nights, overnights and weekends.

Moreover, people who stream their audio content are the people who prefer to either work entirely from home or have some kind of hybrid office/work-from-home situation. They represent 75% of the workforce in this study.

Global Supply Chain Disruptions

The global pandemic and the war in Ukraine have caused major disruptions to the global supply chain. For example, GM announced they would be having a two week shutdown at its plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana (it produces the popular Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks) due to a shortage of computer chips. While Russia and Ukraine don’t produce any of the computer chips that are in such short supply, Ukraine is the world’s leading supplier of neon, a gas used in the production of computer chips.

Company business models work on the premise that resources of materials and goods move freely across geography. Both COVID and a war have totally disrupted the way the world was operating. Long term, we will adapt, but the immediate future won’t be pretty.

Now, take this one example and apply it to virtually every area of our lives and you can see how complex things have become.

An Ecosystem-Driven World

Radio used to be such an easy business, just beat the other radio station in town and steal as many advertising dollars from the local newspaper as possible.

Every radio station was like its own little fiefdom, but now in 2022 every radio station is part of a very large media ecosystem and the competitive advantage is no longer how efficient you can run your operation but how connected you are to your listeners on all devices and via all platforms; connections that go far beyond your FCC license to operate an AM or FM radio service to your local community.

For me, Apple is not my iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air, Mac or Apple TV, it’s the ecosystem that all of my devices operate on. For me, that’s what is most important.

What makes our ecosystem-drive world so hard to navigate is that everything is in a continuous state of flux. This makes our deciding what we should pursue unclear, and whether other media properties are opponents or an ally.

“Competitive Advantage” is no longer the sum of all efficiencies, but the sum of all connections.

  Strategy, therefore, must be focused on deepening and widening

networks of information, talent, partners and consumers.

-Greg Satell

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Best Suggestions for Radio’s Purpose in 2022 & Beyond

This week, I will review the best suggestions sent in by readers of this blog about what Over-The-Air (OTA) radio needs to do in order to survive and thrive in a 21st Century world.

But first, let’s set the stage for these ideas with something Dale Parsons wrote in the comments on my blog site:

“Every time someone asks what radio needs to do to become relevant again, I hear the old chestnut, ‘be live and local.’ Everything you listed Dick, is a live and local function that is now being done better by another platform. Just being live and local isn’t going to make it. We need to discover the compelling reason for people to use their radio. In the 1950s, when the electronic eye of TV put the whammy on radio, that compelling reason became music and news. Now the online platforms can do that better and faster.

Here’s the scary part concerning radio’s future. You and I have been in the business for about the same number of years. I realized yesterday that we have only one working radio in our house. It’s a palm sized Sony and the battery is dead. Where I live there is little radio coverage, however, when I visit town on the other side of the island on which we live, I find that I tune in streaming choices, rather than radio stations. I find no compelling reason to listen to the radio.

We have always considered radio to be a useful household appliance, much like a toaster. My compelling reason to pull out the toaster is because I need toast. My compelling reason for pulling out my radio was to be entertained and informed.

There’s nothing on the horizon that will be replacing my need for toast, but if a better way of delivering that toast comes along, I’ll probably switch to the new appliance.

People have a compelling need for entertainment and information. In the future, those needs might just be satisfied by a new appliance.

Hopefully, radio won’t be discarded like my toaster will be.

Ramblings from out here in Hana Maui jungle.”

[Dale Parsons was the program director that would transition WNBC-660AM in New York City from a music-intensive to a full service radio station when he took over in 1984. WNBC featured Imus in the Morning, Soupy Sales in middays and Howard Stern in afternoon drive. There was no other radio station, on AM or FM radio, that sounded anything like it. It was one-of-a-kind.]

Curtis LeGeyt, President & CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)

The new leader of the NAB Curtis LeGeyt, appearing before a recent Congressional hearing, was asked to explain the viability of radio in today’s multi-media world. Here’s what he said:

I think where radio can stand out and where it will remain very, very viable in today’s media landscape is with a hyper-focus on local and a service to a demographic that simply can’t afford those subscription fees through other services. I believe there’s a really unique value and niche that we fill that none of our other competitors are hitting.

Hyper-Local Maynard Meyer

Maynard Meyer, or “Mr. Radio” as he is known to his listeners in Madison, Minnesota started in radio the same year I did, 1967. In 1983, he and his long-time friend, Terry Overlander, put KLQP-FM on the air.

Maynard is a member of the local Chamber of Commerce, the Kiwanis Club, a member of the city council, as well as serving on numerous boards and participating in several community activities. His dedication to radio and serving the community are credited with shaping the city of Madison, as well as much of western Minnesota, into what it is today. Maynard was inducted into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2011.

Responding to my question of “What is Radio’s Purpose in 2022,” Maynard wrote:

In rural America we are doing radio pretty much the same as we did when I started 50 years ago (as far as content goes), and the formula still works. Perhaps it would still work in larger markets, but, unfortunately, a couple of generations of programmers have led people to believe that radio is a music medium…there are a lot better ways to get music and people have found them.

The physical involvement of you and your staff in your community is as important, or possibly more important, than the content of your broadcasts. Everyone needs to know who you are and you need to become an indispensable part of the fabric of your community. You can’t just sound ‘local” you have to BE local. That formula continues to work for us in small town America where radio is often alive and well.”

Maynard Meyer certainly sounds like the type of broadcaster Curtis LeGeyt is referring to.

Randy Black, Radio Host

Another blog reader put it this way:

“You are going to have to personalize it for it to work. Included listeners. Cater to them. Put them on the air. Involve them. I am talking music stations here. Be informative. Be fun. Involve. Make it as 4d as possible.”

Steve Rixx, The Wake Up Morning Show on KSAM

“Radio in 2022 still serves its purpose by serving its local communities…IF it’s done correctly. My stations lean into the local, and are deeply involved with our people. Our listeners LISTEN because we are the source for everything happening in our area, and we support our youth and charitable organizations…and we just happen to play great music. BE the change you want. STOP complaining that ‘it’s not like it used to be.’ Most things aren’t. You can stay on the sidelines or get your hands dirty…you choose which.”

Darryl Parks on WLW’s Jim Scott

Can radio do this in a major market like Cincinnati? Yes, as Darryl Parks told us on his blog about the impact that Jim Scott made on the listener loyalty to The Big One – 700AM – WLW.

Darry wrote:

“Cities like Cincinnati are extremely provincial. Neighborhoods are strong. Some say our communities are closed to outsiders. Some of that maybe true. But, if you stick it out, once you belong, you will find the closest of friendships. Our little area of the Midwest is a very special place.

Now imagine that close friendship with over 2 million people. That’s how many people Jim Scott considers his friends – the entire market. I’m guessing that’s how many people might consider Jim a friend too.

As the radio story goes, when Jim first arrived in Cincinnati from WKBW in Buffalo, he made it a point to introduce himself to everyone.  And I mean everyone.  He’d finish his morning show on WSAI and then head to Cincinnati’s Fountain Square where he’d hand flowers to women and ask them to listen to him.  Other days, Jim would literally knock on doors, going house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood, introducing himself and asking those that answered if they would listen.  That was decades ago and he never stopped.

Years ago, at a wedding reception at Cincinnati’s beautiful art deco Union Terminal, I was standing with a small group of people, including Rich Walburg, my programming partner in crime at 700WLW. Another in the group noticed Jim going table to table introducing himself.  The fellow said, “Is that Jim Scott?  I want to meet him.”  Rich in his driest delivery replied, “Stay here.  He’ll make his way over.”  He eventually did and Jim introduced himself.

Jim has a way to make everyone feel special and he really is interested in how you’re doing.  He has a deep compassion for people.

He’s a radio personality who understands his on-air role, the importance of being an active member of the community and the value of his personal brand in the market.  He treasures his relationship with listeners and advertisers.  He knows ratings must come with revenue.

Jim is actively involved with many of our community’s service organizations and charities, because he knows how important it is to give back. Being involved in community service is normally the job of a radio station’s Market Manager.  That wasn’t the case at 700WLW.  I joked over the years, we had no idea what he did.  We just knew at night he was representing the station at a fundraiser and the next morning he was on the air at 5am.

Year after year, decade after decade, Jim gave himself to his radio audience, everyone of them considered dear friends. He was there during good times and bad. Sunny skies or snow. Jim Scott is a radio personality to study from. There will never be another like him.”

[Jim Scott retired from radio in 2015 after more than 50 years in broadcasting.]

It was 18 Years Ago…

So, nothing about what radio needs to do in a 21st Century world is all that different from the way it all began. Oh sure, the technology has changed dramatically, the ways of sending our content out to our listeners has multiplied and also made it possible for anyone with a computer and an internet connection to become a entertainment/information provider.

It was at a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hearing 18 years ago, that Maynard Meyer sounded the warning about radio’s future.

On May 24, 2004, the 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) addressed the commission.  (I’ve edited his comments. The full text can be found here.)

“Localism in radio is not dead, but it is in dire need of resuscitation in many areas.  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 many communities which “on paper” had a local radio station, but actually had a transmitter that was 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.”

“Wednesday Was Not A Great Day for Radio”

That was the headline Radio Ink ran with its article recapping the previous day’s Congressional hearing on Respecting Artists with the American Music Fairness Act. What made it a bad day for the radio industry? Maybe because all of those things that were presented as reasons radio needed to be protected from the recording industry, are things that only a handful of radio broadcasters actually still do.

Gloria Estefan speaking on behalf of recording artists explained that music has value and the very people who create those popular songs – artists, singers and studio musicians – see no compensation for their efforts that are fueling a billion dollar radio business. Their songs are being used without their permission or compensation.

Estefan did credit her career’s success to radio, but also went on to point out how much the business model had changed since she had a hit record with her Miami Sound Machine song Conga (1985).

The Advertising Pie

Before the COVID19 pandemic gripped our world, Gordon Borrell hosted a webinar in early 2019 and told of how the media pie is today sliced too thin.

To put things in perspective, Gordon shared how an over-populated media landscape is impacting local advertisers.

  • 1,300 daily newspapers, 6,500 weeklies
  • 4,700 printed directory books
  • 4,665 AM radio stations, 6,757 commercial FM radio stations
  • 1,760 Class A TV stations
  • More than 1,000 cable systems with local sales staffs
  • 660,000 podcasts were actively produced in 2018
  • 495 NEW TV shows were introduced last year in addition to what’s already on
  • PLUS, local ad sales are taking place on Facebook, Google and Amazon

For radio broadcasters, Gordon Borrell said the solution to the future of media expenditures would be a process of “thinning the herd.”

Borrell said, the way advertising buyers are responding to a world of media abundance is by:

  • Decreasing the number of companies from which they buy advertising from 5 to 3.5, and
  • 90% of their media buys are being made with companies who can bundle traditional and digital advertising.

Quality Over Quantity

I believe that we’ve reached a point where quality will beat quantity. Whether we’re talking about Netflix vs. Disney+ vs. Apple+ etc. or ABC vs. NBC vs. CBS etc. or magazines, newspapers, TV stations or radio stations. The day of reckoning is arriving and only the best will survive.

For radio stations that have always operated like Maynard Meyer’s, there’s no reason to fear the future. Stations that aren’t just saying they’re local, but proving it every day by their total involvement in their communities. Great radio means being dedicated and invested in operating in the public interest and fulfilling, as Dale Parsons said, “a (listener’s) compelling need for entertainment and information.”

 “In the struggle for survival,

the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals

because they succeed in adapting themselves to their environment.”

-author unknown (often attributed to Charles Darwin) updated 2/13/2022 thanks to Tom Asacker

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Oh, The Insanity

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) submission to the Federal Communications Commission for the FCC’s 2018 Quadrennial Regulatory Review is eye-opening.  You can read it for yourself HERE. It left me shaking my head.

The NAB told the commission that “’local radio stations’ Over-The-Air (OTA) ad revenues fell 44.9% in nominal terms ($17.6 billion to $9.7 billion) from 2005-2020.” Local 2020 digital advertising revenues by stations only increased the radio industry’s total ad revenues by $0.9 billion bringing them to $10.6 billion.

The NAB’s solution to the problem is for the radio industry to become more consolidated.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over

and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

Say What?

Back in the mid 90s, the radio industry was telling anyone who would listen that the problem with the state of radio broadcasting in America was that the industry was made up of little “ma and pa” radio stations/groups which could not scale and if the ownership caps weren’t lifted the radio industry would perish.

Excuse me, but I’ve already seen this movie and how it ends. So, why would doing more of what didn’t work, result in a different outcome.

The Media World Has Changed

I don’t think anyone would contest that the media world we live in has changed dramatically since 2005. Facebook, the world’s largest social media company with over 1.84 billion daily active users, opened its doors on February of 2004. YouTube began in 2005 and Twitter in 2006.

Google, the dominate search engine on the internet, began in 1998 and internet retailing behemoth, Amazon, began in 1994.

The new internet kids on the block that dominate our day are WhatsApp (2009), Pinterest (2009), Instagram (2010), Messenger (2011), SnapChat (2011) and TikTok (2016).

The Top 10 internet companies at the end of 2020 raked in 78.1% of the digital ad revenue ($109.2 billion).

All Ad Dollars Are Green

While we like to break money spent on advertising into distinct categories like digital media, traditional media etc. the reality is the total number of advertising dollars is a finite number and in the end you can’t tell a dollar from digital from a dollar from analog advertising.

“You can’t handle the truth!”

Colonel Jessup

(played by Jack Nicholson in the 1992 film “A Few Good Men”)

Since 2005, many young entrepreneurs have created a better mousetrap to capture those advertising dollars. No one ever made a regulation or a law that prevented the radio industry from doing what any of those internet companies did. The passenger railroad industry never thought of themselves as being in the transportation business but only the railroad business. That’s why it found itself challenged by other means of people transportation, namely the airlines.

The radio advertising industry was born by entrepreneurs that learned how to create a product that attracted a large listening audience, which in turn enabled them to sell audio advertising to companies wishing to expose their product or service to these consumers.

Unfortunately, we found ourselves challenged by new media competition. Initially, it was television, but transistor portable radios, along with car radios, allowed our business to reinvent its programming and flourish once again.

With the advent of the internet, radio was caught flat-footed.

If that were its only problem.

Radio Stations (2005-2020)

In 2005, America had 18,420 radio signals on the air.

  • 13,660 AM/FM/FM Educational radio stations on the air
  • 3,995 FM translators & boosters
  • 675 Low Power FM stations.

By 2020, those numbers increased to 26,001 radio signals.

  • 15,445 AM/FM/FM Educational radio stations
  • 8,420 FM translators & boosters
  • 2,136 Lower Power FM stations

18,330 vs. 26,001

That’s a 41.8% increase in the number of radio stations.

While radio folks were busy trying to steal radio advertising from the station across the street or consolidating with their former competition, the internet folks were focused on selling more advertising. From 2005 to 2020, the sale of digital advertising grew from $12.5 billion to $139.8 billion. That’s an increase of 118.4%.

But during that same time, radio grew its digital advertising footprint by $0.9 billion.

Quantity vs. Quality

When radio regulation began in America under the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) the decision was made by that regulatory body to focus on the quality of radio programming versus the quantity of radio stations they allowed to broadcast. Only people or companies with the economic capital to operate a radio station in the “public interest, convenience and/or necessity” would be allowed to obtain a radio broadcast license.

I believe you could say that the radio industry’s downfall began when we ceased worrying about quality and went with the more signals we license, the better for radio listeners mantra.

Sydney, Australia

Sydney is a major city in the country of Australia with a population of 5.312 million people. There are 74 radio stations on the air in Sydney.

By comparison, Los Angeles (America’s second largest city) has a population of 3.984 million people and 158 radio stations serving its metro.

In July 2021, radio revenues in Sydney were up 11.3% year-on-year according to Milton Data.

The Benefits of Pruning

Gardeners know that pruning is the act of trimming leaves, branches and other dead matter from plants. It’s by pruning a plant that you improve its overall health.

A beautiful garden is one where the plants have been trained to grow properly, to improve in their health/quality, and even in some cases to restrict their growth. Pruning is a great preventative gardening and lawn care process that protects the environment and increases curb-appeal.

The irony of gardening is, the more fruit and flowers a plant produces, the smaller the yield becomes. Pruning encourages the production of larger fruits and blooms.

Why do I share this with you?

I believe that everything in the world is interconnected. You can’t for a moment think that what makes for a bountiful garden would not also make for a robust radio industry.

Today’s radio industry is so overgrown with signals and other air pollution, that it has impacted its health.

Doing more of the same, and expecting a different result is insane.

It’s time to get out the pruning shears.

Less Is More

I believe that the way to improve the radio industry in America, to have more advertising revenues to support quality local services including news, sports and emergency journalism, along with entertainment by talented live performers, is by reducing the number of radio signals.

AM radio is the logical first place to start.

Elsewhere in the world we are seeing that not only the AM band being sunset but the analog FM band as well. The world has gone digital.

American radio has one final chance to get it right by correcting for past decisions, hurtful to radio broadcasting, in creating a new and robust digital broadcasting service.

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If It’s to Be, It’s Up to Me

The first time I ever heard those words, they came out of the mouth of Dick Vaughan.

Sadly, this lifelong radio/TV broadcaster left us on Monday, August 9th. He was one of those people you meet in life that you never forget; a larger-than-life personality.

Philadelphia

The first time I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with Dick Vaughan was in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. We worked for the same radio company, but in different Massachusetts cities. I worked in Pittsfield and he worked in Ware.

Over a weeklong NAB Management Training Program at The Wharton School, we would each learn that we shared many of the same passions: a love of the radio business, love of family, a love of learning and a strong desire to make a difference in the world.

Our days were spent in classes and every evening we had dinner together. During one of those dinners, Dick mentioned that he was a member of Philadelphia’s Joseph A. Ferko String Band. Since they would be rehearsing at Ferko Hall that evening, he asked if I’d like to go over and hear them? I said, “YES!” and we departed for 2630 Bridge street in Philadelphia.

One of the earliest LP (long play) record albums I remember owning was of the Ferko String Band, so this was very exciting, but puzzling news. How did Dick Vaughan who lived and worked in Ware, Massachusetts become a member of the Ferko String Band?

Ferko String Band

Turns out that Dick became involved with the band in 1956, when he was on a committee planning an anniversary celebration for the Massachusetts city of Medford. Having played the Ferko String Band’s records on the radio and knowing the spectacular regalia the band wore in the annual New Year’s Day Mummers Parades, he figured they would be a huge attraction.

Dick picked up the phone and called Joseph Ferko. Mr. Ferko told Mr. Vaughan that the band had never performed outside of Philadelphia. Now, Dick Vaughan lived by the attitude that there was no such thing as can’t, leading to the Ferko String Band’s first out-of-state performance in Medford. This first road trip would be a success and lead to years of extensive touring by the band and Dick Vaughan being invited to become a member. Dick’s membership in the Ferko String Band would span decades and often saw him in the role of Master of Ceremonies at many Mummer’s events.

Always Say “YES”

Another thing that bonded Dick and I, was a belief that the way you get ahead in the world is to always say “YES” when anyone asks you to do something. It’s by taking on new challenges that you learn and grow in life.

WARE Radio

WARE in Ware, Massachusetts is one of two American radio stations whose call letters are also the name of their city of license, the other being WACO in Waco, Texas.

Hearing Dick Vaughan talk about WARE and the success this radio station enjoyed, created a strong desire in me to drive to that part of the state and visit the station. I expected the building to tower over this rural community, but it didn’t, it was located in a single story structure. WARE was a powerhouse radio station because what the it accomplished for its advertisers, listeners and community. Dick Vaughan would be the station’s general manager from 1958 to 1986.

Hand Grenade

One of the sales stories I remember Dick sharing with me was how he got the attention of a business owner that wouldn’t stop and listen to him explain why advertising on WARE would grow his business. Dick’s solution to this problem was to go to an Army Navy Store and purchase a dud hand grenade. He returned to this business and stood in the middle of the store, held up the hand grenade and pulled the pin. The business owner froze in place and Dick would then say, “now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you how WARE can help you grow your business.” DV made the sale and it would become a long-term advertising relationship.

YaGottaWanna

Dick Vaughan was a mentor to many people, both in and out of radio. Many remember a sign on his desk that read “YaGottaWanna,” and how he preached that the difference between winning and losing is all about the effort you put into what you want to accomplish and that you have to want to win.

He demanded that everyone who worked at the station had to bring their ‘A’ game every day, and if you didn’t, he made sure you heard about it.

Massachusetts Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame

It was just last month that Dick Vaughan reached out to me to support him in his effort to be selected for induction into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Dick didn’t make the cut in 2021, but it gave us a chance to spend an hour on the phone together. He told me about his TV show on Charlton Community Television Channel 12 and what programs he was working on. He never retired, explaining that staying active was one of the secrets to living a long life.

You’ve got to do something you love

Dick’s father was a U. S. Navy commander and he once told his son that you’ve got to find something you like to do in life and then figure out a way to get paid for it. Dick’s broadcasting career turned out to be just that, a job he loved and got paid for.

Dick Vaughan took a radio job opportunity he was offered back in the 1950s, gave it his all and never looked back.  

R.I.P. Dick Vaughan (August 21, 1935 – August 9, 2021)

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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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How Do You Spend Your Time?

U S Music Industry Revenues 1H 2019When this pie chart was posted on social media, it immediately captured my attention, by showing where the United States Music Industry is making its money. You can read the Mid-Year 2019 RIAA Music Industry Revenues Report HERE.

Total revenues were reported to be growing at 18%, with 80% of the industry revenues coming from streaming. By comparison, the radio industry ended 2019 up 2% and the inflation rate for the United States for 2019 was 1.7%.

Going Apple

I’ll admit, I was late to the Apple party. When I was a broadcast professor at Western Kentucky University, Steve Newberry, EVP with the National Association of Broadcasters, and I were having lunch one day, Steve asked me if I had an iPad. I said “no, and I didn’t know why I needed one.” Steve said, well I can’t explain it, but once you get one you’ll wonder how you lived without one. So, I got one. It would be my second Apple device, the first being an iPod Classic. I purchased my iPad2 on Black Friday in November 2011.

Blackberry to iPhone

I had owned a Blackberry Pearl “smartphone” since my days as a Market Manager at Clear Channel, I loved all it could do and I loved its compact size. But in less than a month of owning and enjoying my iPad2, I would upgrade from my Blackberry to an iPhone4S in January 2012. In 2015 I would switch my university desktop computer from a Dell to an iMac, and today I have added Apple TV for streaming my video entertainment.

One of the wonderful things about the Apple operating systems are that once you know how to operate one, you can operate them all, and they are very intuitive.

iTunes Match

When I got my iPhone4S (the “S” stood for Siri and it was the first introduction of voice command, that has since been joined with offerings by other companies such as Amazon’s Alexa and “Hey Google”), I immediately added a couple of other Apple services like iCloud and iTunes Match.

iCloud backs up all my data and iTunes Match makes it easy for my music library to be available on all my Apple wireless devices, which in 2012 was my iPhone4S and iPad2.

iTunes Match is an annual subscription service, that for me, renews every November for $24.95.

This year after it renewed for 2020, I realized that since owning my Amazon Echoes, I really never use my music library on iTunes anymore. It so much easier to just say “Alexa, play…”

Streaming

I’m sure I own more AM/FM radios than you, unless you’re also a radio geek, then you might own as many as me or even more. But these days, the radios throughout my house broadcast whatever I stream via my Whole House FM Transmitter.

I may stream music from Amazon Prime or Pandora or from one of my favorite internet radio stations, but I never change the dial position on any of my radios because I simply need to tell Alexa to change what I’m streaming from virtually anywhere in my house. (That device has incredible ‘hearing.’)

When we go to bed, one of the things Sue and I especially enjoy is asking Alexa to play some of our favorite songs. Alexa’s the only “DJ” I’ve ever known to not only take requests but play them for you as soon as you ask her to.

You Are No Longer in the Radio Business

This year during Radio Ink’s Forecast 2020 this year, Scott Flick told the audience “Whether you like it or not, you are no longer in the radio business, but the audio business.” Today, the competition is not another radio station or even another media source, but the competitive landscape is for people’s time. We live in a world where a plethora of options can fill our time.

Relevancy Replaces Local

What is local to you? The price of gas at your local pump? The price of goods at the place you shop? The quality of the air you breath or the water you drink? I’m sure you answered, they all are. And chances are not any of them are produced locally, but somewhere else in the world.

Local today is planet earth.

What will make any media property worth a person’s time will be how relevant it is to the person accessing it.

Relevant radio will be one that is closely connected with its audience.

 

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Is Your Iceberg Melting?

94This past week was another tough one for the wonderful people who work in radio. Most people who get into radio do it because they’ve caught the “radio bug” and the work becomes their life’s passion. I know that’s how it is for me.

When I caught the “Radio Bug”

From my earliest years, I knew what I wanted my life’s work to be. I built a radio station in my parent’s basement and broadcast to the neighborhood (about a 3-block radius) on both the AM and FM bands using transmitters I bought from Radio Shack.

When I started high school, I earned my 3rd Class Radio/Telephone Operator’s License, Broadcast Endorsed from the Federal Communications Commission in Boston. I wasn’t old enough to work, so I had to get a Massachusetts Work Permit. They didn’t have a category for disc jockey, so they branded me as “talent.” (I never told them I had to take meter readings every half hour in front of a transmitter that put out 1,000-watts of electromagnetic power. If I had, they would never have given me my work permit.)

College Radio

In college, it was radio that paid for my bachelors and masters degrees. I took my college’s carrier current radio station, got an FM broadcast license and was the first general manager.

Radio was in my blood.

RIF’s

After the Telcom Act of 1996, radio began its road down the consolidation path funded by Wall Street. It was during this period of time a new acronym would come into radio’s every day lexicon, RIF’s, or Reduction In Force. In other words, people were being terminated in huge numbers.

This past week, I sadly read about another round of RIF’s taking place among our country’s biggest owners/operators of radio stations. It breaks my heart.

RIF’s from the Manager’s Perspective

We all feel sorry for those that have unexpectedly lost their job. What we often don’t read about is the perspective from the other side of the desk, what the management is going through when these decisions are made at corporate.

I lived through it in 2009 as a Clear Channel Market Manager.

It’s NOT FUN.

With each corporate meeting, I would come home with a flash drive that could not be opened until a specific date/time with who I would have to RIF next.

I RIF’d my entire news and promotions departments.

I RIF’d DJ’s and PD’s.

I RIF’d my national sales manager, my director of sales and local sales managers. With each round of RIF’s I got more hats to wear. The work still needed to be done, it didn’t go away with each round of RIF’s.

I hated my job.

Then my regional manager showed up unannounced and RIF’d me.

His manager showed up after he had RIF’d all of his designated market managers and RIF’d him.

The company president RIF’d the senior regional managers.

Then the CEO RIF’d the president.

It was not a happy time, but believe it or not, being RIF’d to me was better than being one of those that found themselves with more and more hats to wear, with more and more responsibility, without a penny more in pay.

There were many folks who told me to find another line of work, but they didn’t know that broadcasting was the only thing I ever wanted to do.

Except for one other thing, teaching and mentoring the next generation.

My education was in teaching. Both my bachelors and masters degrees were in teaching.  My best teachers were those who worked in the field first and then came into the classroom to teach.

Paying It Forward

My long term goal was always to one day teach at a college or university the very things I had done all of my professional life.

My big opportunity presented itself at Western Kentucky University’s School of Journalism & Broadcasting in 2010.

When I was RIF’d by my regional manager, I had met or exceeded every goal I had been given and was paid bonuses for my accomplishments. I was even named one of radio’s Best Managers by RADIO INK magazine. The issue of the magazine with me in it came out almost the day after I was RIF’d. Funny how life is: good things happening at the same moment as bad.

One Door Closed, Another Door Opened

When my last management job came to an abrupt end with Clear Channel, my broadcast professorship door opened at WKU.

Let me tell you, going from being a radio market manager to broadcast professor is a steep learning curve. But with the help of Charles H. Warner at NYU, John Parikhal of Joint Communications and others, I successfully made the transition and became successful at teaching. In fact, my new broadcasting educational work branch opened my eyes to all kinds of new and exciting learning opportunities.

I started this BLOG and a column for RADIO WORLD magazine during this time.

Those have lead to numerous invitations to appear on podcasts, Vlogs, articles, and broadcast interviews with others sharing stories of my work and experiences.

I’ve done research on the radio industry and their employment needs in the 21st Century. I’ve presented panels every year at the national conference in Las Vegas as well as been an invited broadcast expert on many panels at both BEA and NAB.

I’ve presented seminars at state broadcast associations and done training sessions for broadcast companies.

In short, I’ve been more active in broadcasting on so many levels than I ever was as a radio manager.  And I’ve loved every minute of it.

But I’m not going to candy coat what’s happening, not only in radio but in all ad supported media. It’s a revolution.  Not an evolution.

In revolutions the first thing that happens is destruction of the old. We’re still living through that period right now and it’s not fun. I get it.

Our Iceberg Is Melting

Back in 2008, many people picked up a copy of Ken Blanchard’s book “Who Moved My Cheese?”  I know I did. It’s a great read.

But maybe the book everyone in broadcasting should be reading today is “Our Iceberg Is Melting” by John Kotter. Kotter is an award winning author from the Harvard Business School.

Like Blanchard and Johnson’s Cheese book, Kotter writes a simple 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 – and it’s melting away.

It’s a story that will resonate with anyone in broadcasting today.

Read about how the penguins handle their challenge a great deal better than many broadcasters are doing today. Kotter’s book walks you through the eight steps needed to produce positive change in 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

When corporate, middle management and all employees are on the same page with regards to change, it is amazing what can happen, despite adverse conditions.

These are lessons for people who already are in broadcasting, for broadcast students, enlightened colleges are already teaching the concepts, skills and providing the tools that will be needed going forward. My students know that the future is not bleak. They understand the history of broadcasting that brought us to where things are today and they are as pumped as you and I were when we were their age to craft the future of broadcasting in the new century.

I’m excited.

They’re excited.

The best is yet to be.

 

 

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What Can Radio Do That Other Media Can’t?

87I’m writing the follow-up to last week’s blog article while comments are still flowing in but I sense I have enough of a cross-section of comments to draw some conclusions; over fifteen type-written pages of comments to date. Not all commenters actually post their thoughts on my blog, but instead post them on the various social media platforms where they came in contact with my article. I try to monitor as many of those as possible to gauge the feedback on any week’s article.

Theater of the Mind

Quite a few people wrote that radio’s big advantage is that it’s “Theater of the Mind.” Unfortunately, so would streaming radio and podcasts if they so chose to utilize it. Podcasting does this quite effectively with shows like Radio Lab, Serial, Revisionist History and others. In fact NPR takes all of their segments from their highly rated programs like Morning Edition and All Things Considered and makes them available as podcasts. They are very fast at getting these segments posted online too. Lightning fast.

A lot of retired broadcasters seized on the “Theater of the Mind” advantage not realizing the extent that podcasting is doing this and how fast the podcast world is growing in audience and revenues.

Besides, truthfully, how many commercial radio stations these days do you know actually employ any “Theater of the Mind” these days. That whole concept was born from the days when radio did live dramas and that was last heard with the CBS Radio Mystery Theater that I remember running as a young lad back in the 70s.

Radio is everywhere, wireless and free

This might have been an advantage a couple of years ago, but is it still? Streaming audio is wireless, is pretty ubiquitous and now with many carriers free. T-Mobile has no data usage for quite a few streams. Plus audio streaming doesn’t use all that much data.

I’m on Verizon and gave up my unlimited data plan when the bill was climbing north of $100 per month. I switched to a plan that gives me unlimited talk and texting with one gigabyte of data per month for $50 per month. I was told by Verizon that based on my current usage that I wasn’t even using a quarter of a gigabyte per month. As I thought about it, my phone is either on my home WiFi or the university WiFi most of the time and operating very little off of cell towers for data.

However to test out how much data I’d use on a 15 hour drive from New England back to Kentucky I decided to stream radio through my iPhone4S to my car’s sound system. What I would learn was surprising in many ways.

First, I still used very little of my one gigabyte data plan. Second, I heard seamless audio with virtually no buffering and third, the audio fidelity was fabulous. The one thing I did find was how HOT my iPhone got continuously streaming like that.

Now remember, I started out in Massachusetts and drove through New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and West Virginia to get back to Bowling Green, Kentucky. That’s quite a drive and going through Maryland and West Virginia I went over lots of mountainous terrain. I did lose the signal going through tunnels, but that was about it (I also lose radio signals in those same tunnels).

So again, this is no longer radio’s advantage over other options. The people who wrote this was radio’s advantage maybe are not aware of how much things have changed. I know I was.

Radio allows you to multi-task

One respondent actually wrote his response as his own blog article on his site. In it he wrote that

“with today’s tech, radio and television can each DO almost everything the other can do, and they (do) more than the rest of the media types. The division between radio and TV is blurring…both can be just as fast, just as inexpensive. Periscope anyone? You, too, can be a serious broadcaster.

They could be the same except for ONE thing – audio-only format supports productive multiplexing. Doing two things at once. Listening, perhaps LEARNING, maybe just being entertained, WHILE doing some mindless-but-necessary task at the same time.

I cannot watch TV and hammer a nail.

I cannot read the newspaper while mowing the lawn, can’t look at photos or TV while driving a car, can’t appreciate that profit curve while taking a shower.

I CAN “get things done” and, simultaneously, listen to the radio or a podcast. I can, for all practical purposes, MULTIPLY myself. Literally, accomplish more in the same amount of time and with the same “effort.”” (Note: bolding and emphasis were the respondent’s)

That person was on a role until he got to the last paragraph. It was here that he wrote “or podcast.” I would add “or streaming” as well. Heck, I’m listening to my favorite Smooth Jazz streaming station while writing this article. Smooth Jazz helps me to think while I’m writing.

So while radio has always been the multi-tasking medium it no longer holds that as singular medium that can deliver that advantage.

Provides Information during Emergencies

Several writers said that cell phones are useless when the battery dies and that battery powered radios can run for a long time. I would agree. But I see a couple of problems here. How many people still own a battery powered radio and use it often enough to make sure the batteries are fresh?

Plus from the radio operator’s point of view, they can’t stay in business if the public only tunes to them during an emergency. I ran a news and information radio station and we did a study to find out why our ratings weren’t better than they were. We found that people depended on us only in times of emergencies or breaking news. Otherwise, they went to their favorite FM music station and not our AM information station. The format was changed to something else after we read the report in search for something that could sustain itself.

Worse, since many stations are syndicated, voice-tracked or automated in some other way, they often aren’t as quick to the draw in fast arising emergency situations.

My Verizon connected iPhone goes off no matter where I am with emergency information based on where I’m located.

Plus when it comes to things like weather alerts, school delays or closings, those messages quickly come into my iPhone to alert me. My university police department often sends out emergency messages about an active situation on campus.

So this is yet one more area that radio finds it has some strong competition.

What Can Radio Do that My Smartphone Can’t?

One reader thought the better question would be “What can radio do that my smartphone can’t.” Another phrased the question this way “What can radio do that other media won’t?”

Then maybe this person’s observation was most poignant:

“They all properly answered your question by stating what radio CAN do. But it should be noted that radio, as an industry is dismally failing to do the very things it is capable of doing.”

Why is that?

Many pointed out how our country’s largest radio companies are mired in huge debt and that prevents them from doing the very things that could take radio into the future.

While Nielsen says 93% of Americans over the age of 12 listen to radio every week, others were quick to point out that one only needed to listen 5-minutes to any radio station during the course of the week to be counted.

So what’s the answer?

Live & Local

This was mentioned by many. Then quickly followed up with, but my stations aren’t.

While the industry is quick to make this claim, the number of signals broadcasting today that are doing just that are appreciably much less.

Community & Companionship

Dan Mason said at a radio talent institute that the power of radio was community and companionship and that without both, it wasn’t really radio.

When I got into radio, owners were proud of their radio stations and took excellent care of them. They lived in the communities they were licensed to serve and that made all the difference.

My family for many years celebrated special occasions at Howard Johnson’s. People are always amazed when I tell them that. But, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story is that this Howard Johnson’s in Williamstown, Massachusetts was owned by the Brundage brothers. And they would both be in that restaurant every hour it was open. The parking lot was always full and you waited in line for a table. Everyone knew that the only similarity this place had to any other Howard Johnson’s was its orange roof. The Brundage family was proud of their restaurant.

Friendly Ice Cream used to make its store managers part owners of their restaurants and Friendly’s were always well run no matter where you happened to visit one in New England. That all changed when the company was bought by Hershey and they replaced owner/managers with salaried ones. It’s a scene all too familiar to many radio people I’m sure as the Telcom Act of 1996 changed the ownership landscape of the radio industry.

Now I don’t’ want you to get the idea that all of radio was perfect back then, the industry had its share of rotten apples to be sure, but you’ll find them in any enterprise.

WKDZ, Cadiz, Kentucky

I was in Nashville in September 2016 with some of my students for The Radio Show. The big dinner featured many station and personality awards. One that was justly deserved went to WKDZ in Cadiz, Kentucky. WKDZ won “Small Market Radio Station of the Year 2016.” Beth Mann is the owner/GM of WKDZ. All Beth wanted to do since the time she started working at that radio station as a child was own it. When the owners decided to retire, they sold it to their general manager at that time, Beth Mann. 88

Now winning such a prestigious award from the National Association of Broadcasters is a pretty awesome thing. But WKDZ has won Small Market Radio Station of the Year more than once. They won in 2002, 2013 and 2016. I fully expect them to win it again and again.

If you want to know what radio can do that other media can’t or won’t, then you need to take a car ride to Cadiz, Kentucky and visit this radio station. If you want to know more right away, then visit their station’s website: www.wkdzradio.com

WKDZ has that HERE and NOW energy many readers of this blog say they miss in radio. WKDZ has that audience engagement. WKDZ is LIVE & LOCAL & COMMUNITY & COMPANIONSHIP and so much more.

In fact, in a state like Kentucky where we are blessed with a plethora of local radio operators that are engaged, live, local, community and companions to their service area for Beth Mann and her radio family to rise above the rest makes her story all that more amazing.

After living in the Blue Grass State these past seven years I can also attest to how outstanding the state’s broadcast association is too. The Kentucky Broadcasters Association (KBA) is the gold standard for state broadcast associations.

Relevant

Summing it all up, radio needs to have a heartbeat. It needs to be LIVE & LOCAL & COMMUNITY & a COMPANION to the listener. But most of all, it needs to be RELEVANT.

Define who your audience is and then super-serve them 24/7, 365.

We know what to do.

Now we just need to do it.

 

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