Tag Archives: Spotify

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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Don’t Let Radio End Up Like Yahoo!

49I just finished listening to Jason Jennings’ podcast about how Yahoo went from being a company worth $120 Billion to its sale to Verizon for $4.8 Billion. I think the wisdom that Jason shared is very applicable to the radio industry’s journey through consolidation since the Telcom Act of 1996.

Jason says the selling of Yahoo is like a train wreck; you don’t want to look, but you just can’t help yourself. I know many who’ve said similar things as Wall Street invaded radio with its goal of “increasing shareholder value.”

So how can radio learn from Yahoo’s mistakes? What are the lessons Jason shared that apply to radio? Let me share with you the Top 5 Lessons of Yahoo:

#1) Know What You’re All About

Yahoo never really defined itself and the revolving door of CEOs contributed to this with each one bringing a different vision – or no vision – to Yahoo. Or as Jason puts it, the company didn’t have a purpose; they never knew what they were all about.

As radio was deregulated and its original mission of serving the public interest, convenience and necessity was abandoned, nothing replaced radio’s reason for existing except for “increasing shareholder value.” Not surprising as radio people were replaced by Wall Street investors.

#2) Have a Set of Guiding Principles

Radio’s guiding principles were first established by the FRC (Federal Radio Commission) and then by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). Under President Ronald Reagan – and his government is best that governs least approach – radio’s deregulation began. President Bill Clinton would open the flood gates of consolidation with his signing of the Telcom Act of 1996.

With no guiding principles, investors were free to move in all directions; and they did, buying up not just radio stations but many of its manufacturers and service providers for radio.

It’s like the old saying, if you don’t know where you want to go, any road will take you there.

#3) Using a Business like a Personal Piggy Bank

Radio investors and many top radio executives began using radio as a personal piggy bank, only taking care of themselves and focusing on the immediate quarter with no long term vision, strategy or investment. Too many just lined their pockets and left.

#4) Trying to Be All Things to All People

Jason says “great companies stick to their knitting. You can’t be all things to all people.”

Radio was originally about serving their community of license via over-the-air broadcasting. It delivered local news, local sports, local community events, local bands and more by local radio personalities who lived in the communities they served. It was focused like a laser beam on local, local, local.

#5) Don’t Copy the Competition

Radio today is trying to copy Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music and others. Radio today is trying to also copy YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and SnapChat. Radio is trying to copy just about every other business advertising model and without any guiding principles has been economically treading water.

Yahoo’s SVP Brad Garlinghouse wrote his infamous “Peanut Butter Memo” in October of 2006 that pleaded with the company to narrow its focus and clarify its vision.

Brad felt that Yahoo was spreading its resources too thinly. Business Insider recently wrote “This internal memo from 10-years ago shows Yahoo still hasn’t solved its biggest problem.”

If Yahoo had a culture problem, radio by way of mass consolidation had an even bigger one. First, as Wall Street money flowed in and radio stations were bought up, each of those stations represented its own culture that would need to merge into a larger culture. Then these new larger radio groups would try to change the culture from a local scope to a national scope. National radio personalities like Ryan Seacrest, Rush Limbaugh and many others would replace local personalities. National radio contests would replace local ones. Live and local for the most part would soon only appear in the history books on radio.

Culture is created at the top. Over the last twenty-years, radio’s consolidation has seen a revolving door of top leadership. The culture of radio has been a moving target for both industry professionals and listeners alike. Culture is built over time. There is no “quick fix” for building culture.

Absent a company culture, what fills the vacuum is one of everyone for themselves.

Now twenty-years later, there are signs of new growth as people who believe in live and local, and operating in the public interest, convenience and necessity are entering the business.

In many small markets, this way of operating never got sucked into the vortex of consolidation.

Even some of our country’s biggest radio companies are focused on getting back to the core principles radio was built upon.

Radio, the first broadcast transmission system to reach a mass audience, almost 100-years later is still the leading way to reach a mass audience.

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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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Radio’s Dilemma (or Opportunity?)

38Radio’s a business. Peter Drucker said “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.” A business also needs to make profit or it won’t be in business for very long. On that we can all agree.

Surprisingly, many business people who know this still go out of business, often because they focus on the profit part and not the customer part. Plus those businesses either never had or lost their competitive advantage.

Radio’s dilemma is it lost that competitive advantage. That being having an FCC license to broadcast. Not everyone could obtain a broadcast license – they were limited by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – or had the ability to profitably operate a broadcast property. Profitability is when you earn money in excess of your cost of capital.

The radio business made a lot of money. Many enjoyed cash flow margins north of 50%. Its success attracted more people into radio ownership because it “looked easy” and made a bundle of dough. As more radio stations came on the air, it drove up wages, increased competition and increased multiples for valuing radio properties when they were bought and sold.

If this type of growth and expansion was all that was taking place, the “circle of (business) life” would have seen the radio industry slow down as the overcapacity from all of the new radio stations fought over the not-as-fast-growing advertising pie. It’s similar to what happen to the casino industry as expansion took off in America after just Nevada and New Jersey were no longer the only two states to license casino gaming.

Enter the great disruptor; the Internet. Radio, as we all once knew it, would be changed forever. For the Internet would now provide the world with an infinite number of “radio” options, like Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, RadioTunes et al. All trying to be ad supported like OTA radio.

Clay Christensen wrote about what happens when an industry is disrupted in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma.  He tells the reader how incumbent companies often respond to their disruptors with disastrous consequences.

Radio looked at the Internet as a “free broadcast license” and put their OTA signals onto a stream and then tried to squeeze a little extra profit by running separate ads on the stream versus over the air. It created a little extra money for the radio business but created a less enjoyable listener experience.  Sean Ross recently wrote in his newsletter “Ross On Radio” how different and better a radio station he listens to online sounded when he actually traveled to the market and heard the same station over the air. The difference was in the breaks and it was HUGE.

It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom.

Southwest Airlines has enjoyed four decades of profitability. Like Walmart, Southwest had a root purpose for existing. Sam Walton’s Walmart mastered logistics to keep prices to his customers low and Herb Kelleher’s Southwest focused on constant improvements to make travel by air more affordable to more Americans. Like all successful enterprises, they put the customer first and profits were the result of doing everything else right.

For radio to be successful on the Internet, it needs to create a better user experience that attracts and delights the listener or that creates a new and different user experience that will enrich the end users’ lives. Radio, over the air, FCC licensed radio has the best platform to promote its Internet products. The possibilities are infinite. But each product must have a purpose beyond just making a buck.

Businesses that grow have a purpose beyond profit. Businesses that focus their growth on profits won’t have either growth or profits.

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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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The Limitations of a Spreadsheet

This is probably going to make me sound ancient, but I remember doing my radio station budget with a calculator, a #2 pencil and a Big Pink eraser. I wasn’t alone; everyone did their budgets this way once upon a time.

In those early days of computers entering the radio station, the first department I remember computerizing was the traffic department. Oh, I so remember our doing that transition.

We were going into our first holiday weekend, that time when traffic needs to prepare five traffic logs for each radio station to get through a three-day weekend. What was supposed to make us fast and efficient saw us spending time going into Saturday to get the logs done. I remember the look on my traffic director’s face. It was one of those “are you going to make me do this again” kinds of looks. (I did)

Computers weren’t really all that fast in those early days, but the promise was clearly there that this would be a better way over time.

Seeing budget time coming up, I said to my business manager, let’s take a course at the local community college in Excel and do our budget this year on a computer. She loved the idea and the two of us went back to school to learn how to use Excel spreadsheets.

We cranked out our first budget and it was amazing. It was clean, easily read and best of all it showed that we were going to have a great year for the company.

Everything was great, until my boss, one of the two owners of the group showed up to review my budget. He was NOT impressed that we had computerized the process. He basically said I don’t care how it looks or what it says, but is it right. He then proceeded to take a calculator out of his pocket and crunch the numbers. Very quickly he found all kinds of errors.

Color me embarrassed.

The bad news was we hadn’t mastered the Excel spreadsheet in our first attempt doing our station budget on this computer program. The good news was we were able to fix all the problems and hand my boss a revised budget for him to take back on the plane to the home office.

The following year, the home office announced that all radio stations in the group were to do their station budget on Excel.

Spreadsheet programs, as it turns out, can allow us to manage a lot of numbers and monitor what’s going on in our businesses. They are invaluable, but not omniscient.

Results can’t be engineered. Just simply knowing the inputs doesn’t allow one to always accurately predict the outputs.

It was Benoit Mandelbrot who first said that economic analysts were too dependent on “Joseph effects” which means things happen in a continuous and predictable model and turning a blind eye to “Noah effects” which creates chaos and completely destroys those same models.

Another way of saying it is that when something doesn’t fit your nice little model, just ignore it. That’s never been a solid plan. It’s why people don’t often see stock market crashes coming or innovations like the iPhone, the Internet and WiFi, but these things always happen and when they do they steer the course of history.

Remember the financial crisis of 2008? Mandelbrot understood how things like this happened. (Noah effects)

In the world of radio today, we have BEATS 1, Pandora, Spotify and others. Over-the-air broadcasters did not see these “Noah effects” on their data driven and ROI focused spreadsheets. They were living in “Joseph world.”

In his new book “Team of Teams” General Stanley McChrystal tells the story of when he took over Special Forces in Iraq. Specials Forces was winning every battle but America was losing the war. McChrystal learned that the problem wasn’t that his teams weren’t doing their jobs right but that they weren’t doing the right jobs.

McChrystal says “In complex environments, resilience often spells success, while even the most brilliantly engineered fixed solutions are often insufficient or counterproductive.” For many radio companies the problem isn’t that they’re not performing to plan, but that the plan itself is flawed. It often is based on assumptions that don’t hold true in every radio market the company operates in.

The answer to this problem is to hire great leaders and let them lead.

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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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