Tag Archives: WMEX

What’s the Purpose of a Radio Station?

WSM Tower SiteRadio is a business.

Peter Drucker said the purpose of a business is to create a customer.

For radio, that means creating two types of customers: 1) a listener and 2) an advertiser and when done correctly, a radio station makes a profit.

Making Money

For most of my radio career, radio enjoyed a revenue expansion that rivaled the infamous “internet bubble.” Owning a radio station was considered a license to print money. Bottom lines often delivered a profit of 25 to 50% or more, so, while those profits were noticed by Wall Street investors the ownership limits on radio stations kept them away. Investors were frustrated that there was no way to scale up the size of a radio broadcast company.

Telcom Act of 1996

Then President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It relaxed radio’s ownership rules making it possible for one company to own multiple radio stations in a single market.

Wall Street loved the change! The money poured in from eager investors, and companies like Clear Channel, Citadel, and Cumulus quickly bought as many stations as they could using other people’s money. Mom & Pop radio operations had multiple companies vying for their properties and radio station values soared.

Ownership Limits

In 1953, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted its so-called 7-7-7 rule to encourage diversity of broadcast ownership. In essence, no single owner could own more than 7 AM radio stations, 7 FM radio stations, and 7 television stations in the entire United States of America.

By July of 1984, the FCC said they sought to encourage media competition and increased the number of radio and television stations a single owner could control to 12-12-12. The FCC Chairman was Mark S. Fowler. The President of the United States was Ronald Reagan. The five member FCC was 3 Republican appointees and 2 Democratic appointees. The vote to expand the ownership limits was 4 to 1 in favor.

“Bigness is not necessarily badness,” Chairman Fowler is reported saying. “Sometimes it is goodness.”

The New York Times reported reaction on Capitol Hill to the expansion of ownership limits this way:

On Capitol Hill, there was mixed reaction to the plan to abandon all limits on broadcasting ownership in 1990, although sentiment has grown in recent years for raising the ownership maximum somewhat.

Representative Timothy E. Wirth, the Colorado Democrat who is chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee, said, ”The 12-12- 12 rule is just as arbitrary as the 7-7-7 rule.”

Mr. Wirth said a broad bipartisan consensus in Congress favors adoption of ”objective, long-term rules that assure diversity and competition.” He said such rules would provide for increased broadcast ownership but would not completely deregulate it.”

He went to say “If they deregulate in 1990, we could end up with a handful of companies owning every broadcasting outlet in the country.”

President Ronald Reagan

Reagan loved two things, cutting taxes and eliminating regulation. Remember Reagan famously said that “Government isn’t the solution to our problems, government is the problem.” Reagan’s pick for FCC Chairman, Mark Fowler, fully embraced this vision and actively applied it to the FCC.

However, the prediction of Congressman Timothy Wirth wouldn’t come into existence until President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It would be the first significant overhaul of the 1934 Act in more than sixty years.

Radio station ownership in the first five years under this new act went from 5,100 owners to 3,800.

Instead of opening up ownership to new and more diverse ownership, it created an opportunity for media monopoly. The Wall Street funded radio companies could now buy out the Mom & Pops and the temptation to sell at never-before-seen-multiples was too good to pass up.

Operating in the Public Interest, Convenience and Necessity

When no one really knew what radio broadcasting would become, they did know they wanted radio to be a communications business that would serve its community of license for convenience in good times and of necessity in times of trouble. The airwaves were considered to be owned by the public, so operating in their best interests was a requirement to being an FCC broadcast licensee.

Changing Competitive Landscape

Historically, radio stations competed against one another. Most markets had such battles as, WLS vs. WCFL, WMEX vs. WRKO, WPTR vs. WTRY, KHJ vs. KRLA etc. When FM radio began to take over from AM, a station such as WABC no longer had just WMCA to beat, but now WTKU-FM too, which offered better fidelity and stereo. This new radio competition replicated in every radio market in America.

Then came Satellite Radio, followed by Pandora along with other pureplay streamers, and podcasts so that today, the radio competition landscape lines are blurred beyond recognition.

Mission vs. Platform

Today’s communications company needs to clearly define its mission and needs to earn the trust of all of its stakeholders. That means building trust between its employees, advertisers and listeners.

We need to stop thinking of “radio” as AM or FM.

We need to think of radio as being the audio leader for creating an environment for convening and supporting groups. We need to be preparing for a future that is still coming into focus.

 

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Are We Losing the Next Generations?

Growing up in western New England, the transistor radio would impact my life and career. Radio has been in my blood as long as I can remember, but it would be my Zenith transistor radio that would first allow me to explore new stations, new music, new personalities and new ways of delivering content without the supervision of my parents. My transistor radio and ear piece would make me the master of my own radio dial.

Growing up, it seemed like most radio markets had two radio stations battling for the teenage ear. WPTR and WTRY out of Albany, New York’s capital district would be mine. Each of those radio stations would bring their mobile studios to our county shopping center and broadcast LIVE. It was such a thrill.

Hartford had WDRC and WPOP. Boston had WMEX and WRKO. Philadelphia had WIBG and WFIL. Chicago had WLS and WCFL.

New York City would finally be a battle between WMCA and WABC for the Top40 crown in the Big Apple.

What made traveling around in my folk’s car so exciting was that each of these radio markets and radio stations were special and different. The personalities, the promotions, the station jingles and yes, even some of the music was unique to each station and market. Local and regional bands could be heard hoping to be discovered and go national with their music.

Radio stations all did music research back then and printed weekly surveys charting how the hits were doing from week to week with local listeners.

That was then, this is now. Larry Rosin at Edison Research says that today “virtually no radio stations perform formal research for music among teens nor target teens directly in their marketing strategy.”

I’ve sold “old people radio formats” where the presentation was quick to point out that what advertisers should be focused on is not the age of the audience but the amount of money they control and have as discretionary to spend as they wish.

I’ve also sold “young people radio formats” where we pointed out that kids are the masters of convincing their parents and grandparents to get them anything they wanted, so please don’t focus on how young they are. I mean once my boys were out of the house, I no longer went to Mickey D’s and ordered “Happy Meals.” (That made me very happy!)

Radio has always focused on the “family reunion demo” aka 25-54 adults; though that demo is shifting upwards with the aging baby boomers to 35-64 adults.

When Radio Disney was born and focused on little tykes, it appeared there was now a radio operator ready to pick up the torch for young people listening to radio. But then radio was shocked the day Disney announced it was selling all but one of its owned and operated Radio Disney stations. Radio Disney basically operated on AM radio. AM radio is no longer used for music listening by the public and so was Disney just abandoning AM radio for FM radio? No. Radio Disney had established a strong beach front on two audio delivery mediums; SiriusXM and online listening. (It also benefits from the Disney TV Channel on cable, satellite and streaming via the Net.)

It should also be noted that around the time Radio Disney was coming into existence that the radio ratings company known at that time as Arbitron began to measure listening audiences down to age 6+ with their new PPM device where as the diary previously only measured “adults 12+.” When Nielsen bought Arbitron and rebranded the radio ratings service Nielsen Audio it kept the 6+ listening metric. Nielsen also now is trying to establish a listening service that will measure all audio listening consumption across all platforms. Can you see where this is going?

Radio listening is a habit. My father never acquired it. I was raised on it. My sons were raised on it. But I see my grandchildren are holding iPad-like devices and easily navigate their parents’ iPhones.

You would have thought that with more radio stations on-the-air in America than at any time in history there would be more variety than at any time in our history, but that’s not the case. There’s actually less variety.

After launching two Smooth Jazz formatted radio stations and falling in love with the artists and their music I now can only hear this music streamed online. So like my grandchildren, I’m forming a listening habit that doesn’t require a radio; just my iPad or iPhone.

I believe the future is going to be all about being the best at something, not necessarily garnering the most people. Radio was always about getting the most ears. Everything was based on CPP (cost per point), but in a world of infinite choice, the best will dominate.

Radio can play in this world if programming is turned back over to people who program their passions to others just like themselves.

Steve Jobs made Apple into the world’s most valuable company by focusing on design (in radio, that’s programming) and making products that he and his team wanted to have for themselves (building a radio station that you not only own, but love to listen to yourself).

Radio is either going seize the day or have a seizure.

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