Tag Archives: Walt Disney

Radio’s Moment in Time

Fleming

Sir Alexander Fleming

Like it or not, we’re making history. 2020 will be a year studied by future generations when it comes to, what to do and what not to do, when faced with a global pandemic.

History only gives us two prior events that don’t even come close to what we’re going through today, the 1918-1919 flu pandemic and the 2008 financial crisis. COVID-19 is so much more than either one of those for a multitude of reasons.

1920 Commercial Radio is Born

Following the two-year 1918 flu pandemic, commercial radio would be born in November 1920 with the licensing of Westinghouse’s KDKA in Pittsburgh.

Beside radio, the list of inventions that would shape America in the 1920s were the automobile, the airplane, the washing machine, assembly lines, refrigerators, electric razors, instant cameras, jukeboxes and television.

TV wouldn’t really take hold until after the end of World War II.

Transistor Radio

In the 1950s when TV invaded American homes, and pushed the radio out of the living room, there were many who prophesied about radio’s demise. What would give radio new life was the invention of the transistor radio and the placement of radios in the dashboard of automobiles.

One of the songs of my youth was by Edwin Starr, a song called “War.”

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, why’all

War, huh, good god
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing, listen to me

While I can’t say I disagree with the inhumanity of war, saying it was good for “absolutely nothing,” is to not acknowledge the volume of technology we enjoy today that was developed as a direct result or evolved from military conflict.

War accelerates technological developments on a global scale.

Penicillin

One of the most important inventions of the 1920s was the development of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming, a Professor of Bacteriology at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. Sir Fleming’s studies of bacteria led to the creation of an antibiotic that kills bacteria and prevents them from growing and multiplying.

Because Sir Fleming wished to get penicillin into the hands of as many of the sick who desperately needed this antibiotic, Fleming never applied for a patent.

One sometimes finds, what one is not looking for. When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.

— Alexander Fleming

Ironically, it wasn’t until after the bombing of Pearl Harbor that mass production of penicillin would occur. By D-Day in 1944, penicillin production had been ramped up to produce enough of the antibiotic to treat all the wounded in the Allied forces.

Prioritizing People

If history teaches us anything, it’s that Americans win when policy makers prioritize people. The GI Bill for example, gave returning veterans a chance to acquire skills, and seize educational opportunities that would have been difficult for them to pursue on their own.

Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines and its first CEO, built his airline on the principle of prioritizing people. Forbes wrote:

For almost 30 years we’ve been asking, “What if you could build a company that is as human as the human beings in it? What if you could create a culture that inspires passionate people to come to work fully awake, fully engaged, firing on all cylinders because they know they are doing epic work?” 

What if you could create a culture that inspires people to come to work, fully engaged, firing on all cylinders?

Herb did it.

Kelleher said, “I’d rather have a company bound by love than a company bound by fear,” and for 46 consecutive years Southwest Airlines growth and profitability showed what that can produce. Sadly, Herb Kelleher passed away at age 87 in 2019.

If there’s any industry that’s been hard hit by COVID-19, it’s the travel and leisure industry. So, how is the current management of Southwest handling this business crisis? On July 26, 2020 Southwest management announced it will not furlough or lay off any workers on Oct. 1, the first day it is allowed to, per its CARES Act terms saying, “We have no intention of seeking furloughs, layoffs, pay rate cuts or benefits cuts through at least the end of the year.”

Where Are We Headed?

No matter what business or industry you’re in, we’ve reached that moment in history where it’s time to focus on where we want to go and not where we’ve been.

The COVID-19 global pandemic is a war on our health. Like military conflicts, it is causing the world to change at an accelerated pace.

The challenge for all of us is to seize the moment and not be afraid to reimagine every aspect of our lives. How and where we live, how we educate the next generation, what our business models should look like, and how we embrace diversity and talent on a global scale. It’s our moment in history to let go of the past.

100 Years of Commercial Radio in America

2020 marks the 100th Anniversary of America’s Radio Broadcasting Industry. In the 1950s, television forced radio to re-invent itself and become the industry that many people, like myself, grew up with and made our career.

I’m sure the radio people of the Golden Age looked down their noses at how radio was changed by my generation, but we created a communications  product that reached virtually every American.

COVID-19 and the internet are forcing radio to do that once again.

As Walt Disney famously said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

What’s your dream for this moment in time for radio?

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Think like there is no box

78One of the things you often hear people say is you need to “think outside the box.” You’ve probably heard this cliché so many times that you want to punch that proverbial box out. So when I heard Ziad Adbelnour say “Don’t think outside the box. Think like there is no box,” it got me thinking how you might do this for today’s radio.

Walt Disney

I just spent a week in Orlando. I went to Disney World and experienced an environment Imagineered by Walt. Imagineering, Disney said, was a blending of creative imagination with technical know-how.

Carousel of Progress

I first experienced Walt’s Imagineering at the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York City. My dad worked for General Electric Company. We got discount tickets to the fair and went both years a couple of times each year. My favorite exhibit was GE’s “Carousel of Progress.”

It was a theater that revolved around a center series of stages that showed how technology evolved over time improving the lives of families and ended with a glimpse into the future.

That exhibit still exists in the Land of Tomorrow at Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando and I went to re-live one of my fondest childhood memories.

Walt conceived of the Carousel of Progress himself.

8 Principles of Imagineering

Alex Wright explained the way Walt Disney worked in his book “The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland.” There are eight principles: 1) Area Development, 2) Blue Sky, 3) Brainstorm, 4) Dark Ride, 5) Elevation, 6) Kinetics, 7) Plussing and 8) Show.

So how would these apply to radio? Let me take a whack at that.

  • Area Development: means the first impression your radio station gives off; the grounds, lobby and overall look your facility make on everyone who comes to your station. Have you stopped seeing what others see when they arrive?  Look at your property again with fresh eyes.
  • Blue Sky: means when you start thinking about anything new generate as many ideas as you can. Anything is possible. Nothing is out of bounds. The sky’s the limit.
  • Brainstorm: When any group brainstorms the only rule is there are no rules. Nothing is a bad idea. The whole reason for brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as you can.
  • Dark Ride: While in a Disney theme park this means a ride that is all indoors, where every element can be controlled, in a radio station, this should mean the layout of your broadcast studios. Are they able to be lit to individual tastes? Does everything work as it’s supposed to and kept in operational condition through preventative maintenance? Is the chair comfortable? Can a person(s) stand if they want? How about the HVAC? When I toured the famous RCA recording studios in Nashville where Elvis recorded, I learned that they had multiple light conditions to bathe Elvis in the kind of mood lighting to fit the song he was recording. When recording “Are You Lonesome Tonight” Elvis decided none of the available lighting schemes worked and so he had every light turned out and the band, engineers and Elvis recorded the song in total darkness. If you listen to the end of that recording you can actually hear Elvis bang his head against his microphone because he forgot where he was and couldn’t see it in the dark.
  • Elevation: A series of drawings to bring clarity to the project and guide construction activities. In radio, this would be a fully written out plan of action so that everyone is on the same page in executing the plan.
  • Kinetics: Walt wanted to know how everything would move in one of his attractions giving it life and energy. For radio, our remotes need some serious kinetic thinking. Taping a station banner to a card table and calling in the breaks on a smartphone is not getting the job done for the listener or the advertiser.
  • Plussing: This is perhaps my favorite one of Walt’s eight principles. With Disney, nothing was ever finished. He was always thinking how everything could be made better. Plussing is non-stop Imagineering to provide continual surprise and delight to all.
  • Show: For Disney everything was part of the show. It’s why all of the people who work at Disney are considered cast members, even the people picking up the trash. How important is it to be so fanatical? Very. In addition to Disney World I spent a day at Universal Studios in Florida. I only have one word for that day’s experience: disappointing. I won’t ever be going back. Those that were with me maybe summed it up best when they said of the rides, “they are all the same ride, only a different movie is played.”

More Outside the Box Ideas

One of the things I try to do in this blog is look at other industries and find the lesson for radio, broadcasting or education that can be applied.

Another is reading a variety of things that literally have nothing to do with one another. Being a curious personality helps here, but it also exposes you to new worlds.

In fact, my office at work and home is filled with a variety of knick knacks that to the casual observer have nothing to do with one another. That’s because they really don’t. But they caught my attention and stimulate my thinking.

“Today you hear people talk about ‘thinking outside the box.’

But Walt would say, ‘No!

Don’t think outside the box!

Once you say that, you’ve established that there is a box.’

Walt would refuse to accept the existence of a box.”

-Jim Korkis, Disney Historian

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Words Matter

74The words you use can make all the difference in the outcome of whatever you’re trying to do. Visual mediums can get lazy with wordcraft thinking the visuals will carry the message. Radio can’t.

Writing Persuasively

Colleges teach two kinds of writing: creative and journalistic. One is made of whimsy and the other is fact-based. Effective radio ads are written to persuade. Few do.

Cliché Town

In my sales class we spend time exploring how to write messages that cause the listener to see themselves doing what it is we want them to do. People must first envision something in their mind before they will ever actually do it.

Walt Disney said:

“If you can dream it, you can do it.”

So you’d think that when my students produce their radio ads in their sales presentation during finals week they would be filled with persuasive wizardry. They’re not. They’re filled with all of the tired old clichés that comprise most radio ads. Why, because they’ve been brainwashed with them without even realizing it. Even though they have no impact, rating a big zero on the persuasive scale, they are still filling their brains.

Clichés Have No Father

While we’ve all heard them – like “plenty of free parking,” “committed to excellence,” “fast friendly service,” “these prices won’t last long,” “in business since 19–,” – and know them, we have long stopped connecting them to anyone or any business. They are in a sense orphan phrases that fill-up an advertisement but don’t deliver the goods. And they usually are what cause an advertiser to say “radio doesn’t work.”

You don’t listen to clichés and neither will anyone else.  Stop using them.

Google It

George Johns is a famous programming consultant and he puts it this way:

“He who controls the language controls the budget.

We don’t Bing or Yahoo things we Google them.”

Google means search. It’s why the parent company re-branded itself from Google to Alphabet.

What’s Your Point?

Whether you’re selling advertising for your radio station(s) or you’re writing radio copy for one of your clients, you should distill your message into a single compelling sentence.

The last presidential election had two candidates. One candidate made a consistent, compelling point and the other had a “basket of deplorables.”

Long after people have forgotten all the dry details of the race, they will never forget those red ball caps and that single compelling sentence.

Final Point

It’s a New Year and time to stop using worn-out words and tired old clichés. To quote the great advertising man David Ogilvy:

“You cannot bore someone into buying your product.”

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Radios Go High-Definition

37That was the headline that appeared in the Baltimore Sun on January 7, 2004. Unfortunately, unlike HDTV (High Definition Television) HDRadio never stood for “High Definition” radio. And maybe that was the first mistake. HDRadio was simply a name they chose for the digital radio technology.

The iPod was introduced in October 2001. Steve Jobs introduced this music delivery changing device this way. Only a month earlier, XM began broadcasting the first satellite radio programming to be followed four months later by Sirius satellite radio. So by 2004, digital radio was already late to the party.

KZIA-FM Z102.9 saw Kenwood USA sell its first digital receiver in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to take advantage of KZIA-FM’s HDRadio broadcasts. “This is a significant move,” Michelle Abraham, senior analyst at In-Sat/MDR, a market research firm in Arizona, said of the roll-out of digital radio equipment. “It may not seem duly significant in the beginning, but in a few years from now, it will be a huge leap.” The hope was it would prove to be competitive to the newly launched satellite radio offerings from XM and Sirius (now merged into a single satellite company). HDRadio was also seen as improving FM to have CD quality sound and making AM sound like FM. It was heralded to help struggling AM radio stations.

Solving a Problem That Didn’t Exist

What HDRadio did for FM radio stations was solve a problem that listeners to FM didn’t feel existed. No one who listened to FM radio was complaining about the quality of the sound of the transmission. (They were complaining about other things, like too many commercials.) And for AM radio stations, it meant people buying radios for a service that didn’t offer anything they really wanted to hear or couldn’t get from someplace else. AM radio was now the service of senior citizens who already owned AM radios, who grew up with AM radio’s characteristics and whose hearing was not the best now anyway. So HDRadio for AM wasn’t something they were asking for either. Worse, AM radio stations that put on the new digital signal found it lacked the benefits of skywave and often interfered with other company AM radio stations as the industry quickly consolidated radio ownership.

Industries Most Disrupted By Digital

In March 2016, an article published by Rhys Grossman in the Harvard Business Review listed “Media” as the most disrupted by the growing digital economy. Turns out if you’re a business to consumer business, you’re the first being most disrupted by digital. The barriers to be a media company used to be huge, but in a digital world they are not. The business model that media companies depend on has not adapted well to the digital economy.

Education – Disruption Ahead

Having moved from media to education I only got ahead of digital’s disruption for a while. But even those industries that had perceived high barriers of entry are finding those walls crumbling quickly. Grossman says fifty percent of executives see education being impacted in a big way in the next twelve months.

Where Are The Radios?

Edison Research did their latest “Infinite Dial” webinar and the slide that most impacted me was the one about radio ownership. From 2008 to 2016 the percentage of people in America that don’t own a single radio in their home has gone from 4% to 21%. When Edison narrowed this down to household between the ages of 18-34, non-radio ownership rose to 32%. Mark Ramsey’s Hivio 2016 Conference had one Millennial describe a radio set as being “ancient technology.” Ouch!

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Jerry Lee’s WEAZ in Philadelphia was giving away high quality FM radios to increase listenership to not just his radio station but to FM radio. And KZIA in Cedar Rapids gave away HDRadios to allow people to hear their new signal. It now appears time for the radio industry to begin giving away AM/FM radios every time they are doing station remotes, contests or appearing at venues that will attract lots of people.

Elephant in the Room

But the elephant in the room remains the broken media business model. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television – any media that is ad supported – will be challenged to find a way to capture revenue to continue.

As Walt Disney famously said “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make movies.”

To anyone in ad supported media, we would agree we do it for the same reasons.

The $64,000 question is how.

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3 Leadership Lessons

Being a leader today is not for faint of heart. Gone are the good old days of simply planning your work for your business and then working your plan. Today, leaders need to solve problems and think creatively. They need to, as Wayne Gretsky so eloquently put it “skate to where the (business) puck is going to be, not where it is.”

Leadership today is all about inspiring people and empowering them to believe in themselves, their company and the path that lies ahead.

Whether that business is a radio station or a university (where I now work), the task is the same.

Lesson #1: Don’t run your business poorly

Leaders lead by example. People will follow more what you do than what you say. If you misuse your expense account or run your personal mail through the office mail machine, others will follow your example regardless of what the “official policy” is on personal use of the mail machine or what qualifies as a legitimate business expense.

In a radio station, sales people aren’t programmers and program people don’t sell. So sales people don’t have a say in programming decisions and programming people don’t set advertising rates.

Leadership means getting the people who are skilled at what they do to “Just do IT” not somebody else’s “it.”

I worked for a radio station owner who had a favorite phrase, “Money makes honey.” He knew that you needed to have money coming in the door to pay for everything his radio stations did and so he took the sales aspect of running radio stations VERY seriously.

Walt Disney put it this way “I don’t make movies to make money; I make money to make movies.”

Lesson #2: A Unified Vision is Key

 I used the words “unified vision” for a reason. Most folks would have said “mission statement.” I am not a fan of mission statements for a couple of reasons. They are often crafted by committees. Like the old joke about what’s a camel, it’s a horse created by a committee. So most mission statements are too unwieldy and no one can remember them much less carry them in their heart as a guiding star.

Leaders like Steve Jobs create a vision for their company. Steve’s was to create “insanely great products.” He didn’t say make the world’s best computer, iPod, tablet or iPhone. He just said whatever Apple is committed to making, it would be insanely great.

Lesson #3: Your Product is Job One

 In higher education, the product is the quality of your teachers, facility and the success of your graduates. In radio, it’s the quality of your air personalities, content, facility and the success of your property to serve the community, advertisers and listeners.

American broadcasting executive, Randy Michaels, once said at a conference I attended “you give me a poorly programmed radio station with a great sales force and I’ll lose you money, but if you give me an excellent programmed radio station with a mediocre sales force, I’ll make you money.” Randy was always clear that the way to make money in radio was making the radio product job one. (Sounds like Walt Disney, doesn’t it)

Look at any successful company and you will see that the product comes first; always.

The challenge in a digital world is that things are changing more quickly than at any time in history. Innovation isn’t a luxury; it has to be an integral part of your business plan. The only constant is change.

The trick for both radio and higher education is to innovate without tinkering with the core product in the process. You also don’t fear cannibalizing your core product either.

Again, Jobs didn’t tinker with his iPod while developing his iPhone, but never worried that his iPhone and later his tablet would cannibalize his iPod and MAC in the future. (Note: the era of the iPod ended in 2014 with the introduction of the iPhone6. Over 400 million iPods have been sold.)

But when you have instilled in your people a unified vision like to make insanely great products, you have sowed the seeds of success into the very fabric of your organization.

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