Tag Archives: SiriusXM

From the DTB Mailbag about “Radio & Traveling”

mailbagMy blog article, “Radio & Traveling – Then & Now,” about driving through 23-states over 8-weeks, and what we saw and heard, has generated a lot of reader comments.

The discussion really boils down to two things that are on a lot of people’s minds – content & signal power – I thought you might find it useful to hear what several of those people said. Some comments have been edited for length or language.

Drew Durigan

Drew wrote about his disdain for the same syndicated programs airing on so many signals and “how the proliferation of ‘translators’ has destroyed the FM band.”

Tim Davisson

“When radio stations started streaming, I thought: ‘great! I can hear cool radio from all over the world…’ Then, I clearly remembered how blah & boring and non-companion & non-community local radio had become. And it all seemed to start in 1996…passage of the TelCom bill.”

Jon Levin

“Radio has lost its soul. With the onslaught of audio technologies, sadly it will never get its public interest, convenience and necessity thing back.” (Editor’s note: the concept of operating in the “public interest, convenience and necessity,” for the radio industry cameFRC.png into existence with the creation of the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) in 1929. For a more detailed look into all of this, read “The ‘Public Interest’ Standard: The Search for the Holy Grail.” Click HERE for a link to that document.)

Don Blesse

“I had my own ‘ultimate radio trip’ 49-years ago, and when the interstate highway system was largely incomplete. In subsequent years I’d always take a tape recorder with me and bring back airchecks. Today though I’m pretty much stuck with SXM for long trips. I still love WKXW (NJ 101.5) … hyper-local and still has that ‘show-biz’ feel.”

Tom Ogburn

“I’ve had similar experiences on trips, where we drove long distances, never heard actual call letters mentioned, no local weather or events, or anything else to give a clue as to what station it was, or where it was located.”

Rich O’Reilly

“The bad news is that most local stations are a disaster. The good news is with blue tooth/cellphone technology, I can pipe in most of my favorite local stations (NYC) wherever I am. Being a news buff, I can listen to a WTOP or a KNX where I am too. PS: Agreed on Pat St. John on Sirius.”

Pat St. JohnPat St John

“Well I am so complimented by your kind words Dick. Really spoke to what I try to do.”

(Editor’s note: We took advantage of the SiriusXM two-month free trial for our 8-week America road trip. In our hometown, we drive very little and when we do, we listen to local radio. Alexa has also invaded our home since Christmas 2017. We’re up to three Echoes now.)

Scott Carson

“I can tell which stations are locally owned, and which ones are owned by the big consolidators by scanning the dial before they ever utter a word. The consolidators process their signal to within an inch of their lives. And I can rarely listen longer than a couple of songs before turning it off. They don’t have any local news…or national news for that matter…because consultants tell them not to, even if we are now a society starved for information. Look at how attached people are to their smart phones. There are some great local stations out there still, but sadly, they are few and far between.”

(Editor’s note: I called on an AAMCO transmission shop owner who told me that what he feared most was ANY transmission repair shop doing wrong by the customer. All they remember is transmission shops are crooked forgetting the name of the shop that did them wrong. I believe that same problem exists for radio operators. If, like what Scott wrote, many radio stations are poorly run, the few good ones will be missed as people characterize all radio as being poorly run.)

Rick M Singel

“Dick, one of your best columns ever. Really hit home. Thanks for these perfect insights. Since you mentioned WLW in Cincinnati, have a funny story. Now, EVERY newscast is preceded by “Breaking News” or “Breaking Now.” EVERY single newscast, even if the news is already 2-days old.”Breaking News

(Editor’s note: I complete agree with you. Fox News Channel was the first one I noticed that consistently labeled every story as “Breaking News” and diluted this alert to be meaningless.  When I was growing up, when a TV or radio station said “Breaking News” it was something that made your heart skip-a-beat and it was something that was really important. Not anymore.)

Mike Buxser

“And now the NAB is advocating upping or totally doing away with ownership limits, meaning more vanilla, corporate radio that will take away even more local stations to be replaced by, in a box (radio) with no local content. Radio works when the station personalities connect with the listeners. That connection has always been what made radio special. Unfortunately, that connection is being destroyed.”

Walter Luffman

“Local radio isn’t just for the people who live there. As your Maine example pointed out, a local station has a local sound that reflects the community it serves. Travelers usually want/need to get an idea of the places they visit before they get out of the car. I used to love listening to local stations as I drove through the U.S.; now, like you, I listen to Pat St. John and other SiriusXM personalities who provide that sense of community, even if the ‘community’ is nationwide.”

Michael (last name not given)

LPFM“Great article. “virtually unlistenable.” That’s exactly how to put it. In fact, I’ve commented a few times in the recent past with the same argument. I do lots of traveling between work and family. In addition, my wife and I take short road trips. We have encountered the same thing. I remember way back when, before LPFM and the abundance of translators, I could pick up stations outside the predicted coverage area. Now forget it. If you’re on the fringe or in many cases not; it’s all static (with) two station overlapping. My thought is that this increase in interference will ultimately force people to other means of listening to music – whether SiriusXM or streaming.”

Bob Nestor

“Keep preaching to the mynah birds, Dick. The ‘formerly-in-radio creatures luv ya.”

Jon Holiday

“Here in Denver the FM band was already overcrowded. Now, translators have filled it up even more. I’ve listened to iHeart (CHR) 96.1 KISS-FM (KSME in Ft Collins) for years. Now, due to an FM translator on 96.1 FM licensed to Englewood, CO (a Denver suburb); I now hear KSME and Spanish News KNRV-AM’s FM translator fight for the 96.1 FM frequency. This is ridiculous! How does this even happen?”

John (last name not given)

“1. How it used to be in radio, is like reading about WWII to me, boring and too far gone. 2. I agree that local wins, the LPFMs have filled that hole. 3. You road trip must have been awesome, I want.”

Daniel Tremblay

“Thanks for the article! I miss that too, here in Canada near the border, we used to listen to WABC, WKBW Buffalo, WPTR Albany among others, when on vacation in Maine or New Jersey. There was great local radio too. Next time on vacation I will probably have to support the idea to subscribe to SiriusXM Radio. My daughter has Sirius in her car and Pat St. John is fantastic! Real air personality, real people, real radio!”

John Shomby

“Being one who grew up listening to some great radio in my hometown of Philadelphia and having the great opportunity to do lots of local radio over the years and now being a part of one of those ‘conglomerates,” I definitely have seen and heard how we’ve ‘homogenized’ ourselves over the past two decades, it’s big business now…it wasn’t then. Technology changes almost by the minute now…it didn’t then. Companionship now is defined by ‘likes’ and ‘followers.’ Radio has always been a key fabric of our society – then and… unfortunately, now. It’s those who can create the PERSONAL connection with that one individual who will continue to succeed…no matter what the playlist looks like. That’s where we are hurting ourselves. Radio Talent InstituteThank God for Dan Vallie and the Radio Talent Institute. The closest thing to developing new radio stars that we have. You experienced that personally, Dick. (Editor’s note: I was the founding director of the KBA/WKU Radio Talent Institute in Kentucky.) Let’s take a page out of the Major League Baseball team handbook and create a farm system where we can develop that raw talent who can take it from here. That’s our future.”

Dick Taylor

I chose John Shomby’s comments to end this tip toe through the mail bag article. Here’s how I responded to what John wrote: “Yes, Dan Vallie’s Radio Talent Institute is wonderful. I believe we need to start cultivating the talent farm system when students are in junior high/high school and have a way of allowing them to enter the industry without having a college degree. Most of our great radio talents, sales people and managers did not possess a college degree.

So many told me they would love to follow in my footsteps by teaching at a college or university. Both my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in education. When I started teaching at Western Kentucky University, a master’s degree was considered a terminal degree for the School of Journalism and Broadcasting.

Today, colleges want PhD’s, so they are making it even worse for new talent to be mentored by industry pros. (You don’t need a PhD to do great radio.)

This needs to change for the health of the radio industry and quickly.”

In Conclusion

Two things are key to radio’s future: 1) Like what happened to the AM radio band in terms of rising noise floor and signal interference, is now plaguing the FM band. For the health of the radio industry this needs to be addressed now. 2) People love listening to, and are loyal to, radio that provides them with community and companionship. That’sdan-ingram why when Dan Ingram passed away on June 24th, for many, the radio world stopped turning. (He signed off Music Radio 77 WABC in May of 1982 and later did weekends for another 12-years on WCBS-FM ending in June 2003.)

People love TV shows not television stations.

People love radio stations BECAUSE of the connection radio personalities form between the radio listener and the radio station.

 

 

 

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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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Luck, Signal & Being Unique

123Back before the turn of the century, radio station owners often did market research to find viable programming “holes” in a market. Often it didn’t even take research, just an experienced radio nerd with a sense of what was to be popular. Once identified, the task was simply to put it altogether and hit the air.

Beautiful Music to Lite AC

I was in Atlantic City doing one of Bonneville’s beautiful music formats and Jerry Lee was in Philadelphia doing Bonneville’s Matched-Flow beautiful music format on WEAZ (EZ 101-FM).

Jerry Lee has always been a leader in the radio industry and with the research of Bill Moyes, they moved WEAZ from beautiful music to Lite AC and re-branded the station B101 (with new WBEB call letters too). It was a very gutsy move!

Jerry’s success with the new format saw me take WFPG-FM from beautiful music to Lite AC and re-brand as Lite 96.9 a few years later.

Timing is Everything

The year was 1989. The country would soon be headed into a recession. The format switch at WFPG-FM saw us go from #2 in the 12+ Arbitron Ratings to #1. Even better, we took the #1 positions in all the key buying demos.

As the economic conditions tightened in the early 90s, the number of stations deep being bought in Atlantic City regionally/nationally would go from five to three to one. And WFPG-FM was the one.

We delivered our first million-dollar bottom-line year in 1991. We repeated that performance in 1993. Meanwhile, the other radio stations in the market were just about making ends meet.

Signal, Signal, Signal

In real estate, the key to having a winning property is all location, location, location.

In radio, the key to having a winning property is signal, signal, signal.

WFPG-FM had one of the market’s only 50,000-watt non-directional signals at that time. Two other 3,000-watt radio stations were already programming a light adult contemporary format, but when we put that format on our huge signal, they both bailed, one changing to classical music and the other to classic rock. It left WFPG-FM as the market’s only Lite AC radio station and with the most popular music format at that moment in time.

Me Too

What I’m seeing is too many “me too” stations on the air today.

Me too is not a viable strategy.

The future for any venture in a 21st Century world is to zag when others are all zigging.

Look at any successful enterprise and you will see two things:

1) not everyone loves what they do and

2) they’re famous for what they do. (Think Howard Stern)

Howard would make Sirius Satellite Radio something special and unique. 124It’s why they forked over hundreds of millions of dollars to have Howard join their team.

What happened to the OTA radio station’s when Howard left for Satellite Radio?

They had an Excedrin headache for quite a few years.

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The Question Radio Itself Has Yet to Answer

86That was the subject of an email I received from a reader of my blog recently. The writer went on to eloquently state why he felt the way he did, even citing articles on the topic. He had my interest and I asked him if we could speak on the phone.

The BIG Question

This reader’s (who asked to be kept anonymous) big question was “What can radio do that other media can’t?”

And it’s a very good question.

In 2017 when many are using the internet for things that only radio could provide in the past, is radio’s future being the poor man’s smartphone, tablet or iPod when it could be more?

“NPR and SiriusXM, in addition to the new exploding podcast marketplace, have had no trouble creating personalities and programs,” but my reader writes “why does FM commercial radio continue to stick with playing the hits, past and present, at the expense of personalities, thinking it will make them money when the biggest radio companies have trouble paying off debts on the stations they seem to have paid too much for?”

Well it was a well-known fact all of my radio life that you make money in radio at the time you buy a radio station. Buying it right makes all the difference. And those big radio companies went on a buying spree using other people’s money (Wall Street) and it’s much like student loan debt, no one worries how much debt they’ve accumulated until they are asked to replay it.

Is Local Radio Local Anymore?

My reader quotes Westwood One’s Chief Insights Officer Pierre Bouvard from an AdExchanger interview as saying “A local radio station gives you traffic, sports, weather, great music, funny DJs and talks about your town,” he said. “Spotify has these robotic music playlists, which are awesome, but there’s no one telling you what happened at the Giants game last night.”

My reader says Pierre (who was my first Arbitron representative back in the 80s) makes a good point, but wonders if Pierre ever took the time to hear what passes for much of local radio these days. My reader feels that much of today’s FM radio stations do a combination of great music and robotic, Spotify-ish playlists, and relatively little in the way of “traffic, sports, weather…funny DJs and talk about your town” stuff.

Sadly, I’ve heard similar things said at radio meetings where the person starts off by saying “now don’t quote me on this, but…”

TELCOM Act of 1996

It was President Bill Clinton who signed the Telcom Act of 1996. That act was supposed to bring competition to the phone and cable television industries thereby lowering costs of each to the consumer. While that didn’t happen quickly (some might wonder if it ever did) it did cause the quick consolidation of the radio and TV industries. We went from a country where the largest radio operator could own 12AM-12FM-12TV stations to virtually whatever their pocketbook could afford. And with Wall Street Bankers waiting in the wings, what a company could afford was a lot.

Low Power FM & Translators

For the non-radio folks who read this blog, Low Power FM signals and Translator signals are virtually the same thing, with the exception being that Low Power FM stations originate programming and translators don’t. Both are received over the air on the FM radio dial. Both have increased the number of FM signals on-the-air in America today.

The latest FCC (Federal Communications Commission) report as of the end of December 2016 shows that there were 4,669 AM radio stations on the air in America. Over on the FM dial, 16,783 signals now beat the airwaves (FM, FM educational, translators and low power FM).

To put things in perspective, at a time in America’s radio history when the number of FM signals equaled the number of AM signals on the air, 75% of all radio listening was to FM. So you can only imagine what it’s like today.

93% of Americans 12+ are reached weekly by AM/FM radio says Nielsen.

So while the Telcom Act of 96 caused radio to consolidate under fewer owners who own more stations, adding to the signal overload was the advent of low power FM and translator signals. So much to program and no one home to do the work.

Enter computers, voice tracking, and syndication. This is same computer technology that is employed by Pandora, Spotify, Radio Tunes, SoundCloud and many others.

When TV Challenged Radio

In 1952 TV was born again. It was birthed just before World War II but the war years put broadcast radio/TV development on hold. After the war ended, things began to ramp up quickly for TV.

In 1953, Elmo Ellis was hired to fix 750AM – WSB in Atlanta. Ellis would write about “Removing the Rust from Radio Programming” for Broadcasting/Telecasting (now called Broadcasting and Cable magazine).

One of the points Mr. Ellis made was that a stack of records and a turntable do not a radio station make, though many broadcasters persisted in that very belief.

It was the very same philosophy I employed when I launched a “Music of YOUR Life” radio station. I felt that to be successful, you needed more than just Al Ham’s music list, you needed the personalities that complimented the music.

Both my reader and I are in complete agreement in that a radio station is more than just a song list.

Less Is More

The problem today is that with the “land rush” by broadcasters to own as many signals as they can, we have seen our country’s biggest broadcasters put themselves into a debt situation they cannot get out of and smaller broadcasters have signals and streams to manage but not the revenues to properly execute them.

If we go back to the beginning of broadcasting in America, we see that the FRC (Federal Radio Commission) that predated the current FCC felt that quality over quantity of radio stations should be the rule of measure. By limiting the number of stations, the FRC was attempting to insure the content of those stations on the air would be of the highest quality and also by limiting the number of stations; the advertising revenue that is the life blood of free over-the-air radio could be sustained.

What Can Radio Do That Other Media Can’t?

This brings me back to the question my reader originally posed and asked me to answer.

But before I do, I’m going throw that question out to my other readers – to date over 80,000 from all over the world – to weigh in with their thoughts.

What do you feel radio can do that other media can’t?

Is any radio station you know of doing it right now?

Is this a sustainable future for over-the-air radio?

I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts.

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Best of the Blog 2016

73Before I begin my 3rd year of blogging next week, I thought I’d take a look back of the Top 5 blog posts from 2016 and share with you the posts that received the highest readership and sharing from the year just past.

My Most Read Article in 2016

My most ever shared post received 3,725 views in a single day. It was published on February 28th and was “The Day the ‘Dumbest Idea’ Invaded the Radio Industry.” It told the story of a change in the way we measure business success. Before this new idea was born, Peter Drucker’s measure was the rule. The purpose of a business, said Drucker, was to create a customer. But that went out with leisure suits, the new crop of business wizards would proclaim. What replaced it was something that even GE’s Jack Welch has called “the dumbest idea in the world.” You can read that post here.

This post beat my beat my previous single day record of 1,816 set on September 6, 2015 with an article called “We Never Called It Content.” For my new readers, you  can go back and read that one here.

Second Most Read Article of 2016

Radio Would Be a Great Business…If It Weren’t for the Employees” said radio is a people business. Take away the people and do you really have radio anymore? You can read it here.

Third Most Read Article of 2016

SiriusXM Radio is Now Free” was an article that wondered what would happen if this satellite radio service offered some or most of its channels for free. What would that do to the revenues of the AM/FM radio industry? Even if they only turned on the top five music formats, it would mean drivers could listen to them wherever they drove across America, plus SiriusXM would have the ability to pop in promos for their other channels that remained behind a paywall. It’s almost too scary to consider the possibility. You can read that article here.

Fourth Most Read Article of 2016

Don’t Let Radio End Up Like Yahoo” told the story of how radio could learn from Yahoo’s mistakes. Yahoo went from being a company worth $120 Billion to its sale to Verizon for $4.8 Billion. The article shared the Top 5 Lessons of Yahoo for radio. You can read it here.

Fifth Most Read Article of 2016

Millennials Love Radio” shared how today’s Millennial generation nearly equal Boomers in listening to AM/FM radio. 91.3% of Millennials are reached by radio every week. 94% of GenX’ers are reached by radio and us Boomers come in at 93.5% reached by radio every week according to Nielsen. Radio continues to be the advertising medium that gets results when used correctly. Read the full article here.

Over 52,000 Readers

I’m happy to report that as I ended 2016, my second year of blogging saw over 52,000 readers come to this blog from all over the world. Broadcasters, educators and students have all stopped by to read an article or more that caught their interest.

This blog in media mentorship was created to pay-it-forward to the broadcasting industry that I will have been a part of for 50-years in 2017.

FREE SUBSCRIPTIONS

You can subscribe to this blog for FREE and get a copy delivered to your email IN box every week by going to the bottom right-hand part of the screen and clicking on the FOLLOW button. (If you’re accessing this blog via a mobile phone or tablet, that button may not be visible I’ve been told.)

Next week, I will begin year three of blogging with all new articles.

Thank You for reading.

Feel free to contribute your thoughts to the discussion in the comments. Together we can all learn by sharing our experience, knowledge and wisdom.

Happy New Year!

 

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SiriusXM Radio is Now Free

43

What would you do if you woke up one morning and saw this as the headline in all the radio trades? Have you ever considered the possibility of this happening? Well lots of people woke recently to this headline “Angie’s List is now free: What this means for your business.”

Call it a subscription, a membership fee or a paywall, what happens when they are eliminated? In Angie’s List’s case, less than one percent of Americans were members at the $40/month fee that had been in place. Paying that fee let people see the reviews of other members that had experienced certain businesses or services they had used. Now everyone can see those reviews. Angie’s List had developed a reputation for its members writing rather substantial reviews as well as being a website that is strong, trusted and contains valuable content.

Why Did Angie’s List Tear Down Their Paywall?

Angie’s list is a publicly traded company. Their stock is down seventy-five percent from three years ago. Management is under pressure. Tearing down their paywall means increased page views. When page views go up, revenue goes up. See the strategy?

Could SiriusXM Follow Suit?

Satellite radio currently captures about ten percent of radio listening and mostly in vehicles. The new digital dashboard entertainment centers will be a gateway to Pandora, Spotify, Apple, YouTube and more. Having an XM button on my Honda Accord, I know that my access can be selectively turned on or off by SiriusXM. When they do one of their free listen promotions, they don’t turn on all the channels, just the ones they think will hook me to listen. So, I would imagine, they could create a group of channels that could be on all the time and carry a limited commercial inventory attractive to national advertisers. Like the most popular musical venues, such as adult contemporary. Even if they only turned on the top five music formats, it would mean drivers could listen to them wherever they drove across America, plus SiriusXM would have the ability to pop in promos for their other channels that remained behind a paywall. It’s almost too scary to consider the possibility.

Teens Love Streaming

Teens love streaming audio and their smartphones. According to the Music Business Association and their data partner LOOP, teens spent 51% of their listening time on a typical day streaming their music versus only 12% of their time with AM/FM radio. This is a media usage habit being formed in the next generation. It not only affects traditional AM/FM broadcasters but satellite radio as well. This is a problem that needs to be addressed.

NextRadio App

Thanks to Jeff Smulyan and Emmis, the NextRadio App is the way FM broadcasters can get their audio into those smartphones, without running up a user’s data plan. However, Sprint has already removed many audio streaming services from running up their data plans by letting their customers listen as much as they want at no extra charge. Since teens avoid paying any fees whenever possible, free is always an attraction.

Less Than 1% of World Pays For Streaming Audio

AM/FM radio has been built on free. That’s an advantage that too often gets taken for granted. According to Nielsen 61% of people find out about new music via their AM/FM/satellite radio.

Price is the number one reason more people don’t pay for streaming audio. Out of a worldwide population of over seven billion people, about forty-one million buy some form of audio streaming; 0.58% of the world’s population. That percentage turns out to be lower than the total number of people who have a Netflix subscription around the planet.

23,870 AM/FM Radio Signals On-The-Air

The FCC just published their latest numbers for broadcast stations as of June 30, 2016. We are approaching 24,000 signals for radio in America. 19,194 of those signals are FM and 4,676 are AM. Plus we have two satellite radio signals, Sirius & XM, which are now under a single owner.

Pay & Free

It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see satellite radio one day deciding to have the best of both worlds. Offer premium pay channels to those willing to pay for them and at the same time create a free tier of channels that could be ad supported by national advertisers.

What history shows us are things that happen in other industries and services eventually make their way around to virtually all of them. It’s only a matter of time.

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More is Less

In 1994, Dan O’Day was holding one of his famous “PD Grad Schools” in Dallas, Texas. One of the speakers he invited that day – and whose presentation was recorded by “Radio’s Best Friend” Art Vuolo – was a young Randy Michaels. Dan O’Day still sells this video, now on DVD, and labels it “The best radio video ever.” I would agree.

The video is titled “Positioning Your Radio Station by Randy Michaels.”  It addresses the explosion of new FM radio stations after the first round of radio deregulation brought us Docket 80-90. Then the LMA (Local Marketing Agreement) was born. Randy tells the audience:

“This was a fundamental change for the radio business. Just as TV was a fundamental change, duopoly fundamentally changed the radio business. This moved the radio business from being a franchise to being a commodity. McDonalds was once a franchise. Today burger fast-food restaurants are a commodity and we all know how that’s working for the ‘Golden Arches.’”

On May 24, 2004 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a “Broadcast Localism Hearing” in Rapid City, South Dakota. The president, general manager and co-owner of KLQP-FM licensed to Madison, Minnesota (population 1, 767) Maynard Meyer addressed the commission. He told them (I’ve edited his comments. The full text can be found here.):

“Localism in radio is not dead, but it is in dire need of resuscitation in many areas. I have been involved in the radio business in announcing, sales, engineering and management for about 36 years, all of my experience is in communities of 5,000 people or less. We personally live in the communities we serve so we know the ‘issues,’ we work to address them in our programming and have been doing so for the past 21 years. “

“A few years ago, many stations operated this way, but much of that has changed for a variety of reasons. I think the beginning of the end of local broadcast service started in the 1980s when the Federal Communications Commission approved Docket 80-90.”

Mr. Meyer went on to explain to the FCC how many communities that “on paper” had a local radio station actually found that the transmitter was being fed from another location tens of miles away. Mr. Meyer went on to say:

“I don’t think this is the best way to promote local radio service. From what I have seen through my personal experience, as soon as a hometown studio is closed and relocated, the local service is relocated as well.”

Now put another decade plus on the calendar and we find that the FCC has decided that adding even more FM radio stations would fix this problem of local radio service that operates in the public “interest, convenience and/or necessity” by issuing FM licenses for FM translators and Low Power FM radio stations.

The most recent BROADCAST STATION TOTALS AS OF MARCH 31, 2015 issued by the FCC shows that there are 4,702 AM commercial radio stations, 6,659 FM commercial radio stations and 4,081 FM educational radio stations on the air. But wait; there are also 6,312 FM translators & boosters on the air; plus, another 1,029 Low Power FM radio stations. That’s 22,873 radio stations! And they now compete with SiriusXM satellite radio and streaming audio from Pandora, Spotify, Radio Tunes etc.

If Randy was thinking back in 1994 “being a media company today is a really tough business” he was seeing just the tip of the broadcast iceberg.

Randy’s prescription that day in Dallas was as prescient then as it is today; maybe even more so. He told the audience of program directors:

“In a crowded media environment radio needs to super-serve its local community. Be everywhere, all the time. Miss a day, miss a lot. Radio’s BEST when it’s personal.”

“What’s your station’s impact rating? Great radio stations are listener-focused.”

“If you’re smart enough to win in today’s radio, you’re smart enough to have done something legitimate with your life. This is work. This is a real job. It’s the merger of art and science and you’ve got to have both.”

I’m encouraged by my students who have big ideas about the future of radio and a desire to serve the communities they will be moving to and living in. I’m encouraged by some great radio broadcasters getting back into the business who are bringing back the fundamentals of great radio while extending that sense of purpose to the digital component that must be a part of today’s media company.

The pendulum is swinging back and it can’t get back here soon enough.

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