Tag Archives: Pandora Radio

Who’s in Their Ear?

When radio was first introduced, to listen to it, you needed to wear headphones. Radio was one-to-one and very intimate. As the technology evolved the radio speaker would change the medium from one-to-one to group listening. Radios were expensive. If you owned a radio you shared it. A family would gather around the radio and listen together. Families would transfer this together media habit to TV and the transistor radio would become the refuge of teenagers who wanted to go in a different direction.

Zenith Transister Radio

My first radio was a Zenith transistor with a little ear piece for one ear. I would go to bed and turn it on under the covers and listen to “the world.” It was all AM radio and after sunset, the DX’ing of the nighttime skywave would always bring a new radio station into my ear to savor.

In the mid-70s the Boombox would be introduced to America and these radios grew both in size and the amount of bass they 1could produce. By the 80s they could be as big as a suitcase and carrying them around on your shoulder was a status symbol.

Go to a beach resort, and whether you were walking the boardwalk or on the beach, radios were blasting music from every direction.

When Y2K didn’t impact our fully computerized radio stations, we all breathed a short-lived sigh of relief because it was quickly followed by a new threat; the iPod and ear buds. Once again listening to music became a very personal activity.

The ear buds would transfer to the iPhone and iPad. The introduction of the iPhone6 may have killed the iPod, but not the use of headphones or ear buds to listen to your audio.

So what exactly are all those people listening to? lady listening with ear buds

The latest research from Edison Research says American Teens are spending more time with streaming audio services from places like Pandora and Spotify, than they are listening to either streaming AM/FM radio or over-the-air radio. Edison reports this finding in their fall 2014 “Share of Ear” report.

Remember it was my generation that grew up hooked on radio & TV that were credited with eroding newspaper readership. (Full disclosure: I read all my news online using my computer, iPad or iPhone.)

It’s not all bad news for AM/FM radio. It is still popular Edison tells us “by a significant margin among all other age groups.” So where did the teens go? Pureplay Internet streamers. What do they love most? The ability to skip a song they don’t like.

That’s really not hard to understand. I love my DVR for a similar reason. Especially when it comes to award shows. I never watch them live anymore. I record them for later viewing and I can watch a 3+ hour awards show in about 20 minutes time. I skip all the bad parts.

In fact, I rarely watch anything on TV live anymore. Everything is recorded so I can control it. So is it any surprise that teenagers once they are given this kind of control will ever want to give it up. A new habit is being formed.

The other aspect about pureplays that AM/FM radio could be addressing is their complete focus on the quality of their streaming product. What I’m hearing is a clean commercial insertion. Nothing gets cut off in the middle or repeated multiple times in the same long break. Pureplays deliver their commercial messages in a style that compliments the music programming; in a way that actually has you enjoying listening to the commercial message.

The teenagers have moved their listening to streaming and podcasts. The spectrum auction being held by the Federal Communications Commission is all about creating more wireless connections for all kinds of mobile devices.

I live in South Central Kentucky. I can stream my iPhone into my car’s seven speaker sound system through Bluetooth and everywhere I drive it’s clean and clear with no dropout or buffering. It’s scary good. It’s as easy to do as turning on my car’s audio system. Nothing to plug in or connect. It happens automatically.

South Central Kentucky is also blessed with some excellent over-the-air radio stations. So they very effectively compete, in my opinion, with streaming. But I wasn’t raised on streaming. I also like a good air personality.

The next generation is being raised on streaming that they have some power over to skip things they don’t wish to hear. Reminds me of the old saying “How are you going to get the kids back on the farm, after they’ve seen New York?”

baby listening to ear buds

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Radio’s NOT Like it Used to Be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where does that leave us?

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

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

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

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New Radio World Column Premieres

Thirty years ago Michael C. Keith entered a small New England college to start a new career. Keith had just spent the past ten years as a professional broadcaster and was now transitioning into the world of teaching. The first thing that he would learn was the only textbooks available at that time were woefully out-of-date. Radio was now format driven and there were no textbooks available in 1986 that were teaching the kind of radio Michael Keith had just left. So, Keith decided to write his own textbook. He called it simply “The Radio Station” and he pitched his manuscript to Focal Press.

If you like to read the entire article, simply click here: Focal Press Updates “Keith’s Radio Station”

This is the premiere of my new column in Radio World that will appear quarterly.

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The Paradigm Shift in Auto Mobility

I just finished watching a webinar on “The Paradigm Shift in Auto Mobility” presented by TU-Automotive Detroit 2015 (www.tu-auto.com/detroit). It was fascinating hearing Doug Claus of BMW talk about self-parking cars. Imagine, you pull into a parking garage and get out of your car and your car goes into the garage on its own and seeks out a free parking space and parks. It then patiently waits until you summon it to pick you back up using either your Smartphone or Smartwatch technology.

Doug pointed out that car sharing vs. car ownership is where many young adults see the future. Autonomous vehicles are also on the horizon, though he pointed out that European countries have better painted roads, better road signage and better road maintenance than we do here in the United States. It’s another example of our crumbling infrastructure and how it makes us a less competitive place in the world when it comes to implementing these coming new technologies.

But the reason I attended this webinar was to hear about the future of AM/FM radio in the car dashboard of the future. What Raj Paul of LochBridge calls “Infotainment Systems.”

Raj said that each OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) has built a unique proprietary system. He mentioned a couple of them like Honda’s HondaLink, Ford MyTouch, Toyota Entune, Chrysler UConnect, Cadillac Cue and Mercedes mBrace2. There are also the Google Android and Apple iOS systems that are being developed. Expect that every OEM will seamlessly work with their own proprietary system as well as both Android and iOS.

When Raj put up the slide about existing infotainment architecture, you couldn’t help but notice the Pandora button on the screen. The other two symbols were apparently there to represent how Apps from your Smartphone would load into the car’s system.

The next generation integrated infotainment interface was packed with GPS maps, live traffic, navigation, routing, parking locator, gas & price locator, etc. A lot of information displayed in front of the driver. Yes, the Pandora button was once again prominently displayed on this slide, but only to indicate the accessibility of streaming audio services. I was happy to see an AM/FM button there too.

The competition for utilization of each point of access has never been greater. It makes the AM radio with push buttons for favorite radio stations seem quaint by comparison.

You won’t have to set your favorite applications, because your car will learn what you like and what you use and put that configuration up when you sit in the driver’s seat and push the button for your personal seat position. This is what OEM’s call adaptive profiling.

For radio station operators, being at the top of your game has never been more important. Advertising and promoting your brand will be critical to make listeners aware of what you offer and why they should care.

In a way, I see it as history repeating itself. For before there was radio, those early pioneers needed to tell people why they needed to go out and buy one. Then they had to program those radio stations and promote themselves to be the “must listen to” radio station and keep those listeners returning each day. Those days are back, only this time the game has changed to how do you brand your radio product and stand out in an car infotainment world where audio programming options are ubiquitous.

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Different or Better?

In education, we measure students by GPA (grade point average). The higher a student’s GPA, the more everyone believes that student is the higher achiever. In school, that measure is usually pretty accurate, but what about when the student graduates?

The best baseball players don’t always become all-stars. The best scientists don’t always win a Nobel Prize; the best known do.

Stanford’s business school once tried to learn what their most successful graduates had in common. They found two things. They all graduated in the lower half of their class and they all were very good at socializing. Being able to work a crowd, it turns out, is a skill-set that leads one to be successful.

Lee de Forest wanted to be called “the father of radio.” He even tried to use the “Miracle on 34th Street” concept having the post office make that determination. Only unlike in the movie, the United States Post Office did not deliver the mail addressed “the father of radio” to de Forest. Worse, de Forest never really understood his own Audion tube that made the radio we know today possible.

Edwin Howard Armstrong, the creator of FM radio (that is also the way the audio on your TV set gets delivered too) did understand the science that made the Audion tube work, but most people don’t know Armstrong.

Armstrong was better than de Forest, but de Forest was different.

Nielsen Audio measures better, something audiences really can’t distinguish. However, different is something that audiences can distinguish.

Think of top rated radio personalities. Were they better or different? Howard Stern? The Real Don Steele? Salty Brine? Dale Dorman? Paul Harvey? Jean Shepherd? Wolfman Jack? Etc.

I’m sure you will say they were better, because they were different. They were also all well promoted; either through self-promotion or a radio company that promoted them.

Today, every streaming audio service calls themselves “radio” and they’ve all copied the best practices of radio stations and one another that eliminate their differences; except one. Pandora. Pandora uses their “Music Genome Project” to put together their stream. Is it better than a music format that a person curates? Probably not. But it’s different.

Radio used to be filled with innovators dreaming up different. We need to let those folks back into the business and turn them loose. It’s why FM radio finally got traction and HD Radio never did.

It’s time for radio, like Steve Jobs did for Apple, to “Think Different.”

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