Tag Archives: reduction in force

How is Radio Affected by Being Efficient?

EfficiencyI started my professional radio career in the 10th grade of high school. However, I started dreaming about being a disc jockey for as long as I can remember. I built my own AM/FM radio station in the basement of my parent’s home and broadcast to about a three block radius around my house.

Lots of People

In my early professional days, radio was people, lots of people!

Every aspect of running a radio station required people to make things happen. Sales, bookkeeping, reception, disc jockeys, copywriters, news anchors, reporters, engineers, production and promotions people with layers of management on top of every department, up to the general manager who oversaw the entire operation.

As an example, CKLW a stand-alone AM radio station in the Detroit metro, had 23-people just in their news department. Today that’s about double the total number of people running a cluster of AM/FM radio stations in any metro.

Was radio efficient back then? No.

Was radio effective? YES!

Did radio make money? Tons of it!

The Gatekeepers

What traditional media had back then, were gatekeepers. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television had people charged with making sure there was a good flow of information and entertainment. These people acted as filters, and overtime they developed standards and ethics that all Americans could rely on.

It wasn’t perfect and mistakes were made, but it got us through the 20th Century and unified us as a nation.

The New Gatekeepers

The birth of the internet ushered in a new gatekeeper, the algorithm. Now lines of code would replace people as the filter for what Americans read, see and hear. Unfortunately, these lines of computer code lack transparency in how they filter the flow of information.

Have they been encoded with a sense of civic responsibility? Who knows?

Is the flow of information the same for everyone? No, it has been personalized to our likes and dislikes. It has put each of us in our own information silo.

Bowling Alone

In 1995, Robert D. Putnam wrote an essay entitled “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”. The essay chronicled the decline in all forms of in-person social interchange. What Putnam saw in his research was that the very foundation Americans had used to establish, educate and enrich the fabric of their social lives was eroding. People were now less likely to participate in their community, social organizations, churches, and even their democracy.

This trend has only been accelerated by social media and the internet. The unintended consequences of the internet are, that it has isolated each of us to a web of one. Algorithms have taken what Putnam saw happening in the last century and put it on steroids in this century. All in the name of driving more efficiency.

Efficiency Bubble

The “efficiency bubble” means that efficiency is valued over effectiveness in today’s world. It’s a term coined by Will Lion of BBH advertising.

Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy in the UK, recently shared this personal experience that demonstrated the efficiency bubble.

“The absurdity of the efficiency bubble was brought home to me in a recent meeting with an online travel company. The conversation repeatedly included the mantra ‘the need to maximize online conversion.’ Everyone nodded along. Clearly, it is much more efficient for people to book travel through the website than over the telephone, since it reduces transaction costs. But then someone – not me, I’m ashamed to say – said something revelatory: ‘Ah, but here’s the thing. Online visitors to the site convert at about 0.3%. People who telephone convert at 33%. Maybe the website should have a phone number on every page.”

“Perhaps the most efficient way to sell travel is not the most effective way to sell travel. What, in short, is the opportunity cost of being efficient?”

“Nobody ever asks this question. Opportunity costs are invisible; short-term savings earn you a bonus. That’s the efficiency bubble at work again.”

Consolidation is Just Another Word for “Efficiency”

During radio’s massive consolidation, Excel spreadsheets produced by new minted MBAs screamed a multitude of ways to have radio stations become more efficient. Unfortunately, the fast-lane involved the elimination of tens of thousands of radio jobs.

And it’s still going on as I write this article.

I don’t ever remember anyone asking about “opportunity costs” being sacrificed in the process.

In the last radio property I managed before entering higher education as a broadcast professor, I would spend my final year going to corporate meetings about Reductions In Force (RIFs) and coming home with a thumb drive that had dates to open new pages in an Excel spreadsheet, that listed what people and what departments were to be eliminated next.

It’s my belief that efficient radio chases away listeners, effective radio creates them.

Blame It on Competition

Tech Guru Pete Thiel blames the efficiency chase on competition. “More than anything else, competition is an ideology – the ideology – that pervades our society and distorts our thinking,” says Thiel.

When all radio companies chase the same efficiency metrics, they all end up sounding the same, their websites end up looking the same, and in essence, they’ve turned the creative medium of radio into a commodity.

Deregulation of broadcast, as I wrote about in The Birth of Radio in America article, now has virtually all of the radio stations in a radio market owned by one or two companies.

Radio always stole great ideas from other radio stations around the country, but most often those stolen ideas were massaged and improved upon in the process. Everyone was upping the game through their own creativity lens, and each radio station had its own unique sound.

Unfortunately, along with corporation radio came the concept of “Best Practices”. This would be yet another contributor to the end of personal creativity at radio stations, all in the name of more efficiency.

Emotions

Roy H. Williams, the Wizard of Ads, says we buy things emotionally and justify those buying decisions rationally. The pursuit of efficiency is a rational answer to an emotional problem.

The radio business was never built on Excel spreadsheets and doing what was most efficient, it was built by creative people who touched others emotionally. Be it station imaging, air personalities, promotions, contests, community events, advertising or marketing, radio always went for people’s hearts.

The successful radio stations today still foster those emotions in their listeners and advertisers.

They’re just becoming harder and harder to find.

 

 

 

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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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Radio’s Non-Compete Contracts

69Have you ever thought about how Silicon Valley became such a powerhouse in the world of technology?  Back in the 80s, my home state of Massachusetts was home to world class research with institutions such as MIT, Harvard and the Route 128 corridor. So how did Boston cede its leadership to California and Silicon Valley? Employee non-compete contracts that held employees bound to these vertically integrated firms.

Meanwhile, taking a different approach companies such as Hewlett Packard and Sun Microsystems were embracing their people to job hop. They encouraged open technologies and building alliances.

Cross-Pollination of Ideas

In her book Regional Advantage AnnaLee Saxenian writes that these same phenomena took place in all kinds of industries all over the world; that being that these companies in California allowed cross-pollination of ideas to occur by the movement of people between them.

Ironically, radio enjoyed this same kind of cross-pollination up until 1996.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996

President Clinton signed sweeping communications reform in America with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The radio industry consolidated almost overnight with a handful of major companies owning virtually all of the best “beachfront” radio properties.

The radio business, is not about just having a license to broadcast, but is about transmitted power and – like the real estate business – location, location, location. Unfortunately, that’s not how the FCC looks at license assignments.

Federal Radio Commission

The first regulatory body for communications in the United States was the FRC (Federal Radio Commission) and it divided the country into five equal regions and assigned the same number of radio services to each region. Why was this a bad idea? Because most of the people all lived in one or two regions of the country at that point in time and so more radio service was needed in them than in regions where it was mainly wildlife.

History Rhymes Again

I fond of saying that history doesn’t repeat but usually rhymes and in the case of radio’s number of AM or FM licenses a single company can own in a metro area we are repeating the same mistakes made by the FRC.

It’s not about number of signals but the power of those signals and location.

Cross-pollination of People

Part and parcel with the Telcom Act of ’96 was the loss of cross-pollination of people. If a person was RIF’d (Reduction In Force) by his company, he was under a non-compete to walk across the street or maybe some place else in the country as the same companies were now competing against one another all across this great land.

Before the Telcom Act, a single radio company could only own 12AM-12FM-12TV stations in the entire USA.  After the act, pretty much as much as they could afford to buy (with certain limitations).

BEST PRACTICES

Worse, these huge new radio companies would introduce across their footprint the concept of “Best Practices.” This is a code word for putting a knife in the heart of innovation.

Innovation requires risk.

Wall Street investors are basically risk adverse.

Playing it safe becomes the rule of the day and anyone that can’t play by the new rules is quickly shown to the exit doors.

Innovation requires three things according to the author of The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida. Those are talent, technology and tolerance.

Consolidation and the new goal of “increasing shareholder value” would chop the talent pool while replacing people with technology. And the tolerance for anything new was likewise reduced to nil. Welcome to “playing it safe” radio; sterile, predictable and boring.

The Day I Tore Up My Employee’s Non-Competes

Back when I was in Atlantic City, I had an employee walk across the street to a radio competitor of mine. I wanted to pursue this employee because I had them under a non-compete contract. My new owners said that if a person didn’t want to work for them, to just let them go. I said then if they didn’t intend to enforce my employee’s non-compete contracts why did they keep them in place when they bought my stations from the previous owner. The president’s response to me was, “darn if I know.” I said then I’m going to tear them all up and he said, “go ahead.”

Life Without Non-Competes

I have to tell you, as a young manager, the realization that everyone at my radio stations could walk across the street to competitors was scary.

However, something wonderful happened.

People who now worked for me knew they no longer were working under non-competes and they now worked for me because they wanted to. It also made me realize that I too needed to provide a style of management that made people want to stay with me more than going someplace else. That, I would learn, is the best way to run a business.

Even better, having this type of work environment saw lots of talented people waiting in line to come work at my stations.

Make Radio Great Again

Radio became the force in America it is by being open to risk, new ideas and innovation. It kept the things that worked and jettisoned the ones that didn’t.

In other words, before radio was encumbered with huge debt brought on by consolidators, it invested in its future.

Radio can only win the future by investing in it.

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What We Have Here, Is a Failure to Embrace Complexity

42The world we live in today is a complex place. The KISS operational style seems like it would be a good idea. (KISS = Keep It Simple Stupid) But maybe not.

Turns out in a complex world, being agile is more importance than being efficient. Being efficient kills innovation. Innovation today is the primary driver of building value and creating value is one of the basic reasons for any organization to exist.

Managing Complexity is a 21st Century Skill

People who can manage complexity will be the leaders of the future. Managing a radio station was complex due to the fact that radio has two customers, which want totally opposite things. One customer is the radio listener. This customer wants information and entertainment. This customer usually isn’t fond of commercials. The other customer is the radio advertiser. Anytime their ad isn’t dominating the airwaves and driving consumers into their store is a moment the radio station isn’t doing its job. To add to this complexity are the talented people needed to service both of these customers. Air personalities that attract listeners and sales folks that service advertisers.

Consolidation & Complexity

As the radio industry began consolidating after the Telcom Act of 1996, the traditional thinking of protecting margins was amplified. This resulted in reducing labor costs. RIFs became commonplace (RIF = Reduction In Force). For those that were left wages became stagnant, little money was invested in training and the number of people left in the workforce was reduced to a bare minimum.

The problem is, when you have low paid, poorly trained and overworked people, your operation lacks new and innovative ideas that can improve the business. When the only ideas that are introduced come from the tippy top, they rarely connect with the challenges seen at the front line.

Zeynep Ton writes in her book The Good Jobs Strategy about a discount retailer that took a different approach to their operation than most companies when the great recession of 2008 struck the world. Rather than cut wages or reduce staff, Ton says they asked their employees to contribute ideas. The result was that this company managed to reduce prices to their customers by ten percent while increasing their market share from 15% to 20% from 2008 to 2012.

Herb Kelleher writes in his book NUTS! about how Southwest Airlines created a culture where employees are treated as the company’s number one asset. Southwest does a number of things to benefit its employees, including such programs as profit-sharing and empowering employees to make decisions. This empowerment during the period when oil prices hit a high of $145 per barrel in 2008 saw the Southwest pilots taking the initiative to plot more efficient flying altitudes and work with ground crews to get in and out of the gates quicker to control the Southwest ticket prices and not lay off any people while maintaining a positive profit margin. These actions did not come from the corporate home office but from employees in the field.

What to Do When You Have Maximized Efficiency

Let’s face it; the ability for any radio operator today to squeeze out any more profit through efficiency is over. Radio consultant George Johns puts it this way: “Radio today is in the no business, it has no money, no time and no people.”

So what’s the answer? Collaboration.

The radio companies of the 21st Century will need to develop the ability to make collaboration a competitive advantage. The game has changed from what you own and control to what you can access. Access happens via platforms. Radio needs to create platforms that bring consumers and producers together, much like the Apple App store does globally, but locally for their service area.

Radio needs to find a way to attract listeners by causing them to be fearful of missing something if they’re not listening while directing them to local places via platforms they control that can fulfill their wants and needs on demand.

In other words, radio needs to “think different.”

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