Tag Archives: Paul McLane

Choice Paralysis

57 channelsI sat in on Radio World’s presentation about “Digital Sunrise for AM Radio” hosted by editor-in-chief Paul McLane. The webcast lasted almost two hours and was technically informative.

The question Paul kept asking the presenters about going all digital on AM, was a question he hears numerous people asking him, “has the horse left the barn?” In other words, has the world moved on and does anyone really cares about AM radio anymore.

But that’s not the question that was running through my mind.

Too Many Choices

We live in a world with infinite choices when it comes to audio & video entertainment. Twenty-eight years ago, Bruce Springsteen released his song “57 Channels and Nothing’s On.” The lyrics are very telling of the condition we find ourselves in today.

I bought a bourgeois house in the Hollywood hills
With a truckload of hundred thousand dollar bills
Man came by to hook up my cable TV
We settled in for the night my baby and me
We switched ’round and ’round ’til half-past dawn
There was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on
Well now home entertainment was my baby’s wish
So I hopped into town for a satellite dish
I tied it to the top of my Japanese car
I came home and I pointed it out into the stars
A message came back from the great beyond
There’s fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on
Well we might’a made some friends with some billionaires
We might’a got all nice and friendly if we’d made it upstairs
All I got was a note that said “bye-bye John
Our love is fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”
So I bought a .44 magnum it was solid steel cast
And in the blessed name of Elvis well I just let it blast
‘Til my TV lay in pieces there at my feet
And they busted me for disturbing the almighty peace
Judge said “What you got in your defense son?”
“Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”
I can see by your eyes friend you’re just about gone
Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on

It’s not unusual for people to spend an entire evening going through the program guide on Netflix only to finally retire for the evening having not watched a single program. We’ve all done that.

On just Netflix alone it was estimated in 2015 that it would take a person 34,739 hours to watch everything available on the streaming service. I’m sure that number has grown considerably when you consider in 2019 Netflix introduced 371 series and movies to view.

Add to Netflix more television streaming services like Amazon Prime, Hulu, Apple TV+, Disney+, YouTube and it means choice is not the TV viewer’s problem, it’s choice paralysis. (And maybe also how to pay for it all.)

ALL DIGITAL AM

The question running through my mind about investing in building out an all-digital AM radio service in America is, “why?” When I scan the AM band now, I can hear the same talk shows on station after station. The FM band is no different when it comes to everyone doing the same type of programming.

It has me humming Bruce Springsteen’s song in my head, only with a lot more channels of programming attached to the “nothing’s on” part.

Digital AM seems to be the answer to a question, that listeners aren’t asking.

Less is More

Many businesses fall into the trap of thinking that more products equal more sales and radio certainly can be accused of falling into that trap.

HD Radio was designed to offer a higher quality broadcast signal for AM and FM radio stations. FM station owners didn’t really get interested in HD Radio until they learned they could feed FM translators with HD2, HD3 signals and put more FM analog signals on-the-air in their market.

I learned that the all-digital AM service offers the opportunity for an HD2 signal that could feed another FM analog translator.

What Al and Laura Ries tell us from their research is how this strategy of adding more and more choice becomes a trap and can lead to negative consequences in the long term.

Just One Thing

In media sales, we try to have our clients identify what one thing makes them special and unique. What makes their business so different that consumers will want to come to them instead of their competitors. You may know this process as finding a business’s “unique selling proposition.”

One Good Reason

Back in the day, 66-WNBC put up a billboard that gave radio listeners one good reason to turn their radio dial to 660 AM. It simply said “If we weren’t so bad, we wouldn’t be so good.”

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This one simple sentence captured the essence of both Don Imus and Howard Stern. It was this radio station’s one good reason to listen. It was this radio station’s one good reason to advertise on it.

And speaking of one, I was told by the WNBC Sales Manager that it only took one commercial on Howard Stern for an advertiser to see immediate sales results.

That’s the power of a unique brand.

Misplaced Priorities

Radio had a choice to make in the last decade, to either develop unique powerful brands localized to the marketplace the FCC licensed them to serve, or build out more signals with programming that was virtually hard to tell apart from one another. Unfortunately, the radio industry chose the latter and as a result has turned the business into a commodity.

Something for everyone equals nothing for nobody.

Economics defines a commodity as goods or services that have fungibility, or in other words something the marketplace treats as everything being nearly equivalent to each other, with little regard for who produces it.

This is why radio sales people will often hear advertisers says things like “all radio stations sound the same, now let’s talk about your spot price.”

Perception is reality.

Or should I say that the listener and advertiser’s perception is accurate with the reality today being all radio stations do sound the same.

Elections & Radio Listening

I read an article the other day that said what changes the outcome of any election is turnout. That the way someone wins an election is by getting people, who normally sit it out on the couch, engaged and out to the polls. It’s not getting people to switch party affiliations.

I think radio may have a similar problem.

For the radio industry to be growing again, what radio needs to be focused on, and investing in, are its people and programming, not putting more signals on the air with nothing to hear.

 

 

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Radio & Traveling – Then & Now

Version 2Sue and I just returned from an eight-week, 11,175-mile cross country road trip across America traveling through 23-states. Seeing America from the car has been a Bucket List item for both of us. Our jobs have had us seeing this great land from the air; mine as a radio manager and educator/consultant, and Sue’s as a flight attendant.

Radio Then

Since my earliest days, traveling anywhere meant an opportunity to hear new sounds emanating from my radio. Every station had its own unique style and programming presentation.

I remember a trip to Millinocket, Maine that got me giggling, hearing the local newscaster struggling to pronounce a foreign country’s name or the names of their leaders. I remember hearing records that I’d never heard played on the radio before. It sounded like Maine.

Years later on a return trip to Millinocket, this radio station now aired mostly syndicated programming. It didn’t sound like Maine anymore.

Radio Now

A road trip Sue & I took to Key West, Florida last fall taught us that finding radio stations we would enjoy listening to was a real challenge. The variety of formats boiled down to mainly, R&B/Hip-Hop, Classic Rock, Country, Religious or Public Radio on FM and Sports or Conservative Talk Radio on AM.

But that wasn’t our biggest problem, cruising down the highway at 65-mph, it was when we found a station we enjoyed, it wouldn’t be more than 5-minutes before we found it being interfered with by another FM radio station making our original station virtually unlistenable.

So, before we drove out of our driveway in Virginia for our two-month long road trip we signed up for the two-month free trial of SiriusXM radio.

Community & Companionship

Dan Mason nailed it when he said radio is all about community and companionship. Take either away and you’ve lost what radio is all about.

Our road trip’s daily drives between destinations took place during the midday. Local radio stations we heard were all in full automation mode. Some were voice-tracked, many were not. They offered no companionship.

Pat St. John

However, when we pushed our SiriusXM button on the dashboard, we would hear the end of the Phlash Phelps morning show and four more hours of Pat St. John; ALL LIVE.Pat_st._john

They talked to us. They shared listener phone calls. We felt part of a large community called the United States. We heard about weather for where we were going next or weather for places we had just visited. We heard about other people’s travels and made notes about places we might want to visit.

We even learned from Pat a function that’s on our iPhones we didn’t know even existed, called “announce” that says the name of the person calling you. We both activated it on our iPhones at the next rest stop.

As a radio jingle lover, Pat St. John has a large variety of jingles he plays during his show. He even had his grandson on the program.

McDonalds or Burger King

Over our many miles, we saw lots of fast-food places. McDonalds and Burger Kings were everywhere. We didn’t need to wonder what the food was like at either of them, we knew. We basically avoided them and opted instead for a local restaurant.

And it made me realize that something similar had happened to radio.

I could turn on a station in any city, in any state, and in short order tell you whether it was iHeart or Cumulus. The Best Practices formatics were served up like fast-food. Consistent, reliable, predictable and automated or syndicated.

We even stopped in to visit some radio friends and their radio stations to take a tour. What we saw were empty studios and computer automation running each station.

Mount Rushmore

We’ve always wanted to see Mount Rushmore. It did not disappoint. But it also made me realize that the reason we both wanted to take this road trip adventure was to visit places, people and things that were one-of-a-kind.IMG_0836

We listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City. We rode the Hooterville Cannonball in Jamestown, California. We climbed aboard Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose” in McMinnville, Oregon (still the world’s largest amphibious aircraft). We went to Yellowstone, America’s first national park and walked around Devil’s Tower, America’s first national monument.

Everything on our list was something special, unique and one-of-a-kind.

Innovation

Touring the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, I couldn’t help but note some correlations between cars and radio.

The Ford Model T came along at the same time massive oil strikes were being hit in Texas; cheap cars and abundant cheap energy.

Radio was reborn after the introduction of television due to the invention of the transistor – that made radio very small and very portable – as well as its introduction in the automobile dashboard. It was a time when commuting from the suburbs to the city for work became the rage.

One innovation drives another.

Car Guys & Radio Guys

If you’re a car guy, you most likely want to make your car go faster.

If you’re a radio guy, you want your radio station to have more power.

Crosley got his WLW up to 500,000-watts (from his original 20-watt station) from 1934 to 1939.

It’s why AM broadcasters fought for and received power increases for their 250-watt Class C AM radio stations to broadcast with 1,000-watts full-time. What ultimately occurred was that the AM radio noise floor increased.

Now we see it happening again on FM with the drumbeat for Class C4 FM radio stations.

This too, won’t end well.

It also misses the point of what makes radio something people want to hear.

The Best Radio

Paul McLane just wrote the forward for latest edition of the textbook “The Radio Station.” In it he said “Radio is best when it engages, provokes, entertains, informs us.”

I quite agree with Paul, adding Dan Mason’s thought that radio is best when it serves a community and provides companionship.

In the end, if you were to ask me, “what does great radio sound like,” I’d have to say, “you know it when you hear it.”

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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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