Tag Archives: NBC

Radio’s History of Feeling Inferior

Family Listening to Golden Age of Radio“There are some things that will scare you so bad, that you will hurt yourself,” said Molly Ivins. And that’s exactly what I believe the radio industry has been doing to itself for most of its 100-year history.

The Golden Age of Radio

The first golden age of radio was during the 1930s and 40s, and was a period when over-the-air commercial radio was sewn into the fabric of American’s daily lives. It delivered the day’s news and provided entertainment to people struggling with the effects of the Great Depression and a second world war.

Here comes TV

Television was introduced to America at the 1939 New York World’s Fair with a live broadcast of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt opening the fair on NBC’s experimental station W2XBS in New York City.Family Watching TV

Unfortunately, the development of television in America was halted by Japan bombing Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and bringing the United States into World War II.

When the war ended, there were only six television stations on the air in America, three in New York City, one in Chicago, one in Philadelphia and one in Schenectady, New York.

The number of television sets in use in 1946 were about 6,000, but by 1951 that number grew to over 12 million, and by 1955 half of all homes in the United States had a black and white television.

Radio’s Over Because of…

Radio’s inferiority complex began with television, and probably for good reason. Television stole radio’s prime time programs and right along with it, it’s listeners. Worse, radio’s big station owners and radio networks, CBS and NBC, would use radio’s revenues to fund the development of television stations and TV networks.

There were many who predicted that television would be the demise of radio broadcasting.

This was the first known case of “radio’s over because of…”

What’s Killing Radio, Let Me Count the Ways

I worked in the radio industry all of my professional life. Other than earning money as a professional musician early in my working life or as a Broadcast Professor at the end, radio has been my source of income and my love.

During that time, I would hear about the latest new technology that was going to put radio out of business.

  • TV was going to be the end of radio
  • FM was going to be the end of AM radio
  • CB Radios were going to be the end of commercial radio
  • 8-Track Tapes were going to be the end of home & car radio
  • Cassette Tapes were going to be the end of home & car radio
  • Compact Discs were going to be the end of home & car radio
  • MP3s were going to be the end of home & car radio
  • Satellite Radio was going to be the end of radio
  • The internet was going to be the end of radio
  • iPhones/iTunes were going to be the end of radio
  • Pandora & Spotify et al were going to be the end of radio
  • YouTube was going to be the end of radio

Have I missed any?

FCC Symposium Sees Radio Industry Challenged by Competition and Regulation

The FCC held a symposium at the end of 2019 to solicit things it needed to be addressing for the health of the radio industry. Fingers, by the invited panelists, were pointing in every direction, but at themselves.

The radio industry believes it can make itself better by more consolidation and less regulation. Yet when I look at the history of radio, its most successful years were during a time of intense regulation and severe ownership caps.

However, it amazes me that the only answer offered continues to be the same one, that to my eyes and ears, got the radio industry into this predicament in the first place.

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Till it’s gone.
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot.

-Joni Mitchell

What’s Radio’s Real Problem?

radio signWhen television came along and took away radio’s people and programs that were attracting its large listening audience, it was forced to re-invent itself.

Radio dropped its block programming and began programming music. The transistor made radio portable. Radio personalities, promotions and new music made radio exciting to a whole new generation of listeners.

One of the people at the FCC’s symposium was Karen Slade, VP and GM of KJLH Radio in Los Angeles. Instead of the 30,000 foot view of radio’s current situation being shared by the radio owners and CEOs, she said she saw the problem from about ten floors above street level. She said her radio station had 500,000 listeners but that she was trying to reach more listeners through a variety of other platforms. My question is why?

For my entire radio career, I don’t think I ever managed even a cluster of radio stations that delivered that many total weekly listeners. Yet, my radio stations were very successful.

I managed a radio station in Atlantic City that had about a tenth of that many listeners and still delivered a million dollar bottom line to the stakeholders, plus we delivered results for our advertisers.

Radio’s real problem is not investing in what it already owns. Radio instead thinks the grass is greener in someone else’s media playground.

Smart Speakers

Forbes says smart speakers are the future of the audio. AM and FM radio is available via smart speakers, but so isn’t the entire world of audio content.

It’s estimated that smart speakers will be in 75% of American households in five years. Smart speaker reach had already passed a tipping point, before this past Christmas’ robust speaker sales, with 41% of American homes owning at least one of these devices.Child using Smart Speaker

So, what makes a smart speaker owner choose an AM or FM radio station’s content to listen to versus a pure play or even TV audio content? Let me use television as an example to demonstrate what I think matters.

Why does Stephen Colbert’s Late Show reach 3.1 million nightly viewers versus the 1.8 million viewers that both Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon combined reach? Each of these shows look pretty much the same on paper. The difference can be found in the personality that presents the various program elements.

Radio stations used to understand how important the air personality was to the success of the station and its revenues. Radio promoted its air personalities on billboards, buses, on TV, direct mail and in print.

George Johns wrote about the time he hired a competing air personality in his market and paid him to sit on the beach for a year to wait out his non-compete contract. At the end of the year, he put him on the air in morning drive on the radio station he owned and was rewarded with huge ratings and revenues.

When Larry Lujack moved between WCFL and WLS in Chicago, his listeners and revenue moved right along with him. They didn’t call Uncle Lar “Super Jock” for nothing.

Mel Karmazin knew that Howard Stern would change the fortunes of Sirius Satellite Radio when he hired him away from his over-the-air commercial radio network. While Howard and SiriusXM prospered, his former radio properties became a shadow of what they once were.

Everyone I know who ever fell in love with radio growing up, has stories about the radio personalities that they couldn’t live without. My students at the university told me they would listen to their hometown radio personalities on streams in their dorm rooms.

Sadly, it seems like every day I’m reading about tenured radio personalities being let go. The very people who spent years building an audience are disappearing.

As Molly Ivins saw so clearly, sometimes there are things that scare us so badly, we hurt ourselves.

 

 

 

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Is Radio Biting Off More Than It Can Chew?

caravelle radio broadcast stationThere are lots of items in the news these days about what the radio industry should be doing. Streaming, podcasting, smart speaker accessible etc. The one thing I hear little talk about is, improving the core product and focusing on what the listener is seeking.

The Radio Ecosystem

If you think about it, the radio ecosystem, AM/FM radios, have not seen any real changes in decades. Oh, there was the introduction of HD Radio – introduced around the same time as Apple introduced the iPod (R.I.P. 2001-2014), but listeners never really understood the need for it. HD Radio was embraced by commercial broadcasters when they learned they could feed analog FM translators from HD Radio signals and have more FM radio stations in a single marketplace. This was hardly listener focused and actually chained the radio ecosystem to old analog technology.

What IS Radio?

In the beginning, radio was a way to wirelessly communicate with other people using Morse Code on spark gap transmissions. Guglielmo Marconi built a radio empire on this technology.

David Sarnoff, a skilled Morse Code operator and a Marconi employee envisioned a “radio music box” and wrote a memo about developing a commercially marketed radio receiver for use in the home. It wasn’t until after World War I, when Sarnoff proposed the concept again, this time in his new position as general manager of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), that it would see the light of day.

Sarnoff would demonstrate the power of radio by broadcasting a boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. In just three years, RCA sold over $80 million worth of AM radios, and not soon after created the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).

Federal Radio Commission

America’s first attempt at regulating radio transmission was the Radio Act of 1912, that was enacted after the sinking of the Titanic. This law didn’t mention or envision radio broadcasting.

As radio broadcasting began to grow in the 1920s, then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover would begin the process of trying to regulate the limited spectrum that everyone now wanted a piece of.

The Radio Act of 1927 was America’s first real attempt at regulating radio broadcasting. The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was then formed by this act.

It should be noted that the FRC operated under the philosophy that fewer radio stations, that were well funded and provided live original programs, were better for America than a plethora of radio stations providing mediocre programming. It was an idea that the major radio receiver companies championed.

Federal Communications Commission

In 1934, the Congress took another attempt at regulating broadcasting (radio & TV) as well as all the other forms of communication that now existed. The Communications Act of 1934 created a new regulatory body called the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). By 1934, radio broadcasting had evolved into a highly profitable business. Broadcast educator, Fritz Messere, writes: “Many of the most powerful broadcasting stations, designated as ‘clear channels’ were licensed to the large broadcasting or radio manufacturing companies, and the Federal Radio Commission’s adoption of a rigid allotment scheme, under General Order 40, solidified the interests of the large Broadcasters.”

The biggest and most well-funded broadcasters have been favored since the very beginning. What kept things in check until 1996 was the limit on the number of AM, FM and TV stations a single company could own.

Telcom Act of 1996

Those limits would evaporate with President Clinton’s signing of the Telcom Act of 1996. Radio, as America had known it, would be over.

Now, for the most part, a single owner could own as many radio stations as their pocketbook could afford. Lowry Mays and Red McCombs, founders of Clear Channel Communications, would grow their portfolio of radio stations to over 1200 from the 43 radio stations they owned before the act was signed.

In 2003, Mays testified before the United States Senate that the deregulation of the telecommunications industry had not hurt the public. However, in an interview that same year with Fortune Magazine, he remarked, “We’re not in the business of providing news and information. We’re not in the business of providing well-researched music. We’re simply in the business of selling our customers products.” (Mckibben, Bill (2007). Deep Economy. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. p. 132.)

Radio Zoning The FCC is now considering whether to further loosen up the ownership limits of radio and TV stations in America. FCC Attorney John Garziglia recently wrote:

“If radio stations could be erected like fast-food establishments and grocery stores, with no numerical limits imposed other than a businessperson’s risk tolerance, it would be difficult to argue for FCC-imposed ownership limits on radio. Indeed, a regulatory agency enacting numerical limitations on restaurants and grocery stores would likely not pass legal muster.

But there are widely-enacted municipal limitations on just about every type of local business. The limitations are called “zoning” – the permitting or prohibiting of certain uses in certain areas to protect the character of the community.

The FCC’s radio ownership rules can be thought of as a kind of radio zoning. In the same way as land-use zoning protects a community’s character, the FCC’s ownership rules permit or prohibit certain radio station combinations protecting the amorphous concept of the public interest.

With land-use zoning, communities maintain a distinct character, livability, aesthetic, and economic success by not bowing exclusively to the profit motive of land developers. Allowing several or fewer owners to own virtually all of the radio stations in the country would doom the specialness of our radio industry.”

 

I think John makes some excellent points and I would encourage you to read his complete article HERE.

Biting Off More…

Radio operators today can’t properly staff and program the stations they already own. What makes them think that will change if they own even more of them? Most radio stations are nothing more than a “radio music box” run off a computer hard drive, an OTA (over-the-air) Pandora or Spotify.

Former Clear Channel CEO, John Hogan, introduced the “Less Is More” concept when I worked for the company. While it actually introduced more on-air clutter, not less, the idea was neither new or wrong.

If owning more radio stations was the answer in 1996, then why in 2018 are we worse off than we were then?

Why was Jerry Lee able to own a single station in Philadelphia and dominate that radio market?

Why are many locally owned and operated radio stations some of the healthiest and most revered in America today?

Radio not only needs zoning on the number of radio stations a single owner can control in a market, but the total number of radio station on-the-air in a market. And it needs radio stations that are neglected to be condemned like property owners who let their land go to seed.

The FRC wasn’t perfect, but the concept of “less is more” served America well for many decades. Fewer radio stations that provided high quality, live programming, operating in the ‘public interest, convenience and necessity’ and by virtue of that diversity of ownership, provided diversity of voice and opinions, as well as healthy competition.

 

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Informed or Just Amused?

61This is not a blog about politics. It’s a blog to mentor people about media.

One of the courses I teach at the university is about the processes and effects of mediated communication. I feel this is an important course for students who will become future radio and television journalists. Journalism is a critical component of our democracy.

Thomas Jefferson on Newspapers

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.”

Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and our third President felt that newspapers were that important to our democracy.

Warning: Long-term TV Exposure Could Be Hazardous to Your Reality

Researchers Morgan, Shanahan, Signorielli said their research found that long-term exposure to television tends to cultivate the image of a relatively mean and dangerous world. This area of media research is called “Cultivation.”

People have long feared powerful and harmful media effects, especially on children.

National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence

The 1960s were tumultuous times. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. His accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was killed on live TV by Jack Ruby. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis on the balcony of his hotel and Bobby Kennedy, President’s Kennedy’s brother, was assassinated at a political rally in California. This is why President Lyndon Johnson formed the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence to conduct the first study on the effects of mediated violence on TV.

Cultivation Effect

George Gerbner, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and later Temple University, developed his “cultivation theory” to explain the effects television was having on heavy viewers. His theory says that people who watch a lot of TV tend to develop or cultivate views of the world similar to what they see on television, generally a “mean” world filled with crime and violence.

TV Violence

In a given week of TV, more than half of all leading characters on television are involved in some kind of violent act. Heavy viewers see more than 50% of the stars in their favorite shows engaged in some kind of violent activity. But what’s the reality?

Violent crime in America is at 30-year lows. However Americans’ concern for violent crime is at a 15-year high. In fact 7 out 10 Americans said crime was rising in America. Gun sales have surged 40% this year and are on track for another record breaking year.

Can you see how television is cultivating its viewers and skewing their reality of the world around them?

Social Construction of Reality

Research shows that heavy viewers of television tend to cultivate the same distorted view of the real world as the one they see on TV. They over-estimate the amount of crime on their streets, become more fearful and seek out ways to protect themselves from this perceived violence. Resonance with TV’s dramatic stories occurs when real world events occur that reinforce the fictional world of television.

Reality TV

Network television’s corporate leaders are always striving to produce programs that will garner the most eyeballs watching them for the least amount of money to produce them. Why not, its good business and stakeholders reward a great financial performance by TV executives.

Reality TV shows were a dream come true. Production costs were low and audience viewing levels were high. The only real problem with reality television is it’s not reality; it’s faux reality.

Reality TV Stars

This new form of prime time programming would produce new stars. Jersey Shore produced Snooki to the world. Seaside Heights might compare that televised devastation to Hurricane Sandy in terms of the damage caused to this wonderful ocean resort community.

The Apprentice would produce a New York billionaire as its star.

Donald Trump

Between the original Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice, Donald Trump would command prime time television on NBC for 14 seasons. For some voters in this 2016 Presidential election, that’s almost their entire life. For heavy TV viewers, their reality of Trump has been formed from this television program. Their social construction of reality of Trump has been formed by up to 14 years of faux reality.

24-Hour News vs. ESPN

The advent of 24-hour news channels created an insatiable appetite for content. To keep viewers tuned in, the once rarely seen “Breaking News” slide now is exploding on people’s HDTV screens out of every commercial break.

The coverage of politics is almost indistinguishable from the way ESPN covers sports. Many of the descriptors used come directly from the lingo of play-by-play announcers.

TV The Great Storyteller

Television is the great storyteller of our time. Much in the way researchers have measured the impact TV has had on people’s view of crime versus reality, should we now be concerned about people’s view of our politics in much the same way?

Talk Radio

Radio also has a toe in these waters. Talk radio, after the repeal of The Fairness Doctrine, took off. Rush Limbaugh was the first – and still reported to be the biggest – benefactor of this new kind of talk radio.

Radio operators, like television operators, also look for programming that will produce the largest audience for the least amount of dollars to produce. Talk radio was incredibly successful for accomplishing this.

Social Media

The last election showed the power of social media in terms of influencing voter opinion during the Presidential election in 2012. This election cycle appears to be reaching a new apex for social media’s influence.

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Professor Neil Postman’s book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” was published in 1985. Postman passed away in October 2003. His book looked at whether the future would be more like George Orwell had predicted in “1984” or more like Aldous Huxley predicted in his book “Brave New World.”

Orwell predicted that a “big brother” government would control the world and Huxley felt that entertainment would totally distract us from what was really going on with our world.

This book is as relevant today as when it was published, maybe even more so, as many of the predictions made are now on internet steroids.

Television and social media have replaced the written word. Mass media continues to move in the direction of entertainment which challenges it to share serious ideas. One candidate’s coughing fit obscures serious talking points delivered later to an audience in the room but not to the audience on television. Another candidate captures TV coverage by early morning “tweet storms.” The casualty is serious issues get no air time, complex issues are bumped for superficial ones. News we need to know is replaced by news that entertains.

ABC – NBC – CBS

For the past seven years, my students have done a comparative analysis of the three major evening newscasts to study their “agenda setting” for America’s news viewers. The general conclusion by my students is that none of them give you everything you need to know to be an informed citizen in a democracy.

What I’ve witnessed over the time I’ve been doing this exercise with my students is how totally entertainment oriented all three of them have become.

Saturday Night Live

The new season of SNL opened on Saturday, October 1, 2016. Alec Baldwin was cast in the role of Donald Trump and Kate McKinnon was cast in the role of Hillary Clinton. Based on the reviews of what every news channel was calling “Must See TV” McKinnon won the night by putting Ms. Clinton in a positive light and Baldwin turned Mr. Trump into a pathetic caricature of “@realDonaldTrump”.

McKinnon’s line probably said it best; when as Ms. Clinton she said “I think I’m going to be President.”

If what researchers have learned about television and the study of its influence on people’s perception of violence carries over to people’s candidate voting preferences, then SNL may have just influenced the outcome of the 2016 United States Presidential election.

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