Tag Archives: Rick Sklar

Has Radio Become a Commodity?

commoditiesBy definition, a commodity product lacks a unique selling point. Two examples of what I mean are lettuce and pencils. No one has a brand favorite of either. To the consumer of both, they’re all the same. Commodities are interchangeable with other products or services, widely available, and therefore undifferentiated except maybe by price.

How about Radio?

Recently, an administrator of a radio group that I’m a member of on Facebook posed this question to the group “Rick Sklar once said jocks are like spark plugs and can be replaced with another one. What do you think?”

Now for those readers that may not be familiar with the name Rick Sklar, he became program director of WABC – 770AM in New York City in 1963. With WABC’s clear channel signal, a tight playlist that targeted teenagers and air talent which included Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy, Harry Harrison, Cousin Brucie, Chuck Leonard and Charlie Greer, Sklar made Music Radio 77 into the most listened to radio station in North America from the mid 60s to the late 70s.

Needless to say, the comments by former air personalities in the group took issue with this “spark plug” analogy, me included.

Unique Air Talents

One-of-a-kind radio personalities built radio into the listener favorite that it’s enjoyed for nearly a century. More recently, there’s Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern (who said he was influenced by Arthur Godfrey), Paul Harvey, Super Jock Larry Lujack, Robert W. Morgan, The Real Don Steele, Dave Maynard, Joel Cash, Dale Dorman, Larry Justice, Jackson Armstrong, Salty Brine, Bob Steele, Dickie Robinson, Danny Neaverth, John Records Landecker, J.J. Jeffrey, Bill Bailey, Big Ron O’Brien, Don Imus, Bob Dearborn and so many more. Those are just some of the names that inspired me to pursue a 50-year radio career.

Each of these radio personalities is unique and the shows they presented attracted an audience that was loyal to their style of broadcasting. They were anything but, a commodity.

Computer Automation

With the advent of computer automation, the concept of voice-tracking was born. Now a few disc jockeys could be heard on-the-air over a multitude of radio stations across America. Unfortunately, this meant that customizing their radio shows to a particular radio market had to be eliminated and the DJ patter had to be appropriate for all markets the program was airing in. It became watered down and because all big box radio operators were employing the same “Best Practices,” the ownership of the station really didn’t matter as everything began to sound the same.

Contests became nationally oriented, jingles (if there were any) all sounded the same, and playlists, which once reflected regional differences and artists, were now homogenized.

On Air production, which was once an art form in and of itself, was now also computerized. The result being a disjointed, sloppy and anything but smooth radio experience.

The result of all of this was radio being turned into a commodity.

Culture Shock

“Technology is enabling great gains in convenience and diversity,” says Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University. “What is being lost is a sense of magnificence.”

He goes on to say

“It is possible we will look back on the present day as a special time when both patterns of cultural consumption could be enjoyed in tandem and enriched (by) each other. But I suspect not. As today’s over-50 crowd slowly passes away, and our experiences fade from collective memory, I wonder if the world might be in for a bigger cultural shock than we currently realize.”

 

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Bring Back the Radio Hackers

We never called them that back in the early days of radio’s reinvention period after the birth of television in the 1950s, but that’s what they were.

Radio from the beginning basically was a medium that killed Vaudeville. Radio enticed the performers of Vaudeville to bring their acts to this new mass medium. The sales pitch went something like this: you won’t have to travel every day of the year, sleep on trains and eat your meals on the run. When you move your act to radio, you will be able to go home every night to your family and have a “normal” life. And you’ll make more money!

Not all performers would make this transition. The downside to moving their act to radio was that no longer could they have one act that they could perform night after night. On the radio, they needed a new act every performance. That’s a BIG CHANGE.

When television came along, the successful radio acts moved to TV and radio needed a new idea.

Enter the Hackers

 Alan Freed would hack the term Rock ‘N’ Roll and become the first famous disc jockey introducing a new venue for radio.

Todd Storz and Gordon McLendon aka “the Maverick of Radio” would hack the idea of Top 40 radio introducing a tighter playlist and higher repetition of the biggest hits. After observing teenagers playing the same songs over and over in a juke box.

Better Practices

 Today’s world is infested with the concept of “Best Practices.” It can be a stifling thing when it comes to creativity.

Today’s radio was born out of hackers that were constantly thinking up “Better Practices.” Ron Jacobs and Bill Drake certainly did at Boss Radio in Los Angeles with 93 KHJ. John Rook did it in Chicago with both WLS and WCFL. Rick Sklar did it in New York at Music Radio 77 WABC. Plus there were so many others in all size markets. Radio was different everywhere you listened because it was being hacked in so many wonderful ways. It was exciting to turn on your radio and hear what was going to come out next.

Insanity

 The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. We have a lot of that kind of stinking thinking today and I’m sure you’ve heard all the reasons for why this is the path some of our biggest broadcasters are taking. As the radio business grew from a mom and pop business to the behemoths of today a ritual of “Best Practices” replaced hacking.

Today’s Economy is a Hacker Economy

 We live in a world where it seems everything has been turned upside down by the World Wide Web, the Internet and mobile Apps. The power is shifting from the big to the nimble; the hackers. Learn to hack or be attacked by those that hack.

Radio is not exempt from this shift. And it doesn’t have to lose.

Radio has what everyone else would love to own, a mass audience. Radio today is delivering the largest mass audience of all the mediums.

It’s why every entity trying to play in the audio medium calls itself “radio.” Pandora Radio, Spotify Radio, TuneIn Radio, RadioTunes, Beats 1 Radio etc. What radio folks have that these folks don’t have is a broadcast signal that is ubiquitous and a listening habit that has been cultivated over many years.

However, what those pure plays have that radio is missing are hackers.

Radio needs to stimulate agility, creativity and take risks.

Stop thinking about where you want to be in 5 years and start thinking about what problems you want to solve most right now. The winners will be those most able to adapt.

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Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio