Tag Archives: WMEX

We Are the Choices We Make

WSM(15)From my earliest days, I knew what I wanted to do in life. Drive a car, fly a plane and be a disc jockey.

I know, they don’t seem like big hairy audacious life goals, but to an eight year old, they were.

Disc Jockey

You might be surprised to learn that the goal of becoming a professional disc jockey on an AM radio station came first. I actually had to have my mom drive me to the radio station and pick me up after my shift and I’m sure it was a kick for both of my parents to hear their youngest son on the radio.

My mother was a radio listener. My father never was.

Driver’s License

By the time I got my driver’s license and was graduating from high school, my radio work had earned me enough money to buy my first car and head off to college.

My course of study in college was in physics and education. I was on the path to becoming a teacher. My parents didn’t feel that becoming a full-time disc jockey was a career with any future and wanted me to have a college degree and a career I could fall back on.

While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I worked to get an FCC license for an FM radio station for my college and became the first general manager of WJJW 91.1FM. Between classes I DJ’d on my college radio station, and on weekends, holidays and summers, earned money working in professional radio.

I never had a student loan and between my radio work and playing a trombone in professional marching and concert bands, I not only paid for my college education but saved some money too.

1968 was when minimum wage paid the most money per hour in the history of the minimum wage law in America. You can’t do what I did on minimum wage today.

Airborne

Flying a plane wouldn’t happen until 17-years later. I was promoted to general manager of WIIN-AM/WFPG-FM in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The previous general manager had worked out a trade deal with our local airlines, which also provided our news/talk AM planeradio station with local traffic reports during beach season. When I took over the job, everything was already in place for flying lessons and I took advantage of the arrangement and learned to fly.

Soloing a plane over the South Jersey Shore Beaches in the summer time on the weekends was such a thrill.

Teaching

IMG_3351Whenever people would ask me what I wanted to do next with my life, my answer was always the same, teach. Yes, I wanted to teach at a college or university the very profession that I had spent my entire working life doing, radio.

When Clear Channel was doing major RIFs (Reduction In Force) in 2009, I one day found myself with a surprise visit from my Regional Vice President. For the past year, I had spent being told who I needed to terminate next in my radio stations and I knew this time it was me. It was the worst year in radio I ever had.

The good news was, I saw in Radio Ink that Western Kentucky University was looking for a broadcast professor to teach sales, management, history and other radio/media courses. The position perfectly described my background and because of my two college degrees, both in education, I knew I had found the final path of my professional life.

I moved to Kentucky. Helped Dan Vallie to create the KBA/WKU Radio Talent Institute and over the course of seven years did research on the future of radio, along with creating this very blog, that I’ve been writing weekly for over five years.

Disc Jockey, Second Act

Before retiring from the university, Joe Limardi, then operations manager for WSM 650AM in Nashville, invited me to come to Music City and do a radio shift on The Air IMG_2368Castle of the South. Joe Limardi had been a guest professional broadcaster in my Capstone Class at WKU and it was during his lectures with my students that I learned that Joe had grown up listening to me on the radio back in our hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts on WBEC 1420AM. Joe always thought of me as a disc jockey and little did I know I inspired him to pursue a radio career.

IMG_2352I had not been behind the mic on a radio station in 35-years. I had a 10-minute lesson in how to run the control board from Joe and then was off on my own to do the next four hours on The Legend WSM.

Soloing on WSM that day was a thrill, one I had not had since my flight instructor got out of the plane one day and said, “Take it around by yourself.”

But my disc jockey second act didn’t end that day, I continue to do a VT midday shift (EST) on WMEX-LP out of Rochester, NH and heard worldwide on TuneIn Radio.

One thing is clear, we are the choices we make.

Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do it.

 

 

 

 

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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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