Tag Archives: WTOP

What Great Radio & a Great College Experience Have in Common

For over four decades, I was a professional radio broadcaster, before beginning a second career as a college professor. Both of these professions hold a special place in my heart.

The “R” Word

The one student element that is critical for an impactful higher education experience is building relationships. Unfortunately, this global pandemic has disrupted both radio and higher education; in a similar way.

Think back on your own education, what do you remember most about Intro English or Chemistry 101? If you’re like me, not a darn thing. But what you probably do remember are those professors, classmates, or advisors that made a real impression on your life and the decisions you made during your years at college.

“Personal relationships are really fundamental to college success, “ says Dan Chambliss, co-author of “How College Works.” “It’s the people, not the programs, that make the difference.”

It’s those relationships which engage the student that are so critical for colleges trying to attract and retain students.

Radio Personalities

In the radio business, it’s the radio personality who builds a relationship for the station with the listener.

“Not everything that can be counted counts,

and not everything that counts can be counted.”

-William Bruce Cameron

 Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking

Mike McVay recently wrote this about the importance of the radio personality:

“Every radio station needs a Star. Who is that one personality that your audience will think of when they hear your station’s name? You can’t win without a radio star. Smart companies know this and they invest in personalities.

Developing an emotional connection between your on-air personalities and listeners is an effective way of ingraining the station’s brand into the listener’s memory.”

What Mike is saying is how important building relationships between the radio listener and the radio station is to a station’s success; and how it’s accomplished through the radio personality.

Business 101

Whether you’re running a college or a radio station, one thing is true for both businesses, it’s easier – and less costly – to retain an existing student or listener than it is to acquire a new one. People in sales and advertising have long known this maxim when it comes to building a client base.

In a college, it’s the faculty that are critical to establishing strong relationships with the students; and in the radio business, it’s the radio personality that is critical to establishing a large and loyal listening audience for the radio station.

Radio & Emergencies

When the first winter storm of the 2022 season struck the Washington, DC area, traffic came to a standstill on all the major highways and byways along the Mid-Atlantic coast. One person who found themselves stranded on I-95 for over 20 hours shared their thoughts and observations about the emergency situation on Facebook. Let me share with you the part that caught my attention:

“Local radio is actually corporate radio, and except for the repeated promos (“you’re listening to the rock of Fredericksburg” type BS) so there was no news or information on the radio.”

Radio broadcasters are usually quick to point out that in times when cell service goes down, that they are the citizen’s only link with the critical information they need.

Well, guess what, this person also wrote:

“I had no (cellphone) signal, GPS stopped working and I couldn’t contact anyone or look up what was going on, I imagine this was because too many phones were pinging off of too few towers in the affected areas.”

What could have been a moment of radio magic, turned into a moment of listener misery.

The Customer Experience

I used the wisdom of Shep Hyken in my university broadcast sales training classes. Hyken is a customer service expert. He writes:

The one statistic that matters most is if the customer(listener) comes back. You see, customer(listener) loyalty is not about a lifetime. It’s about the next time… Every time! So, what are you doing, at every point of interaction you have with your customers(listeners), to ensure that they come back the next time they need what you do or sell?

How do you think all those stranded motorists felt about their relationship with radio if all they could find up and down their car’s radio dial was automated music and syndicated talk programming?

There’s no doubt in my mind that those motorists who could receive WTOP’s radio signal were kept informed about their situation, but I still remember the words of a local AAMCO Transmission shop owner, who was one of my first radio advertising clients, that said to me how concerned he was to ensure that every local transmission repair owner treated his customers right. He said that all it took was one miscreant to have the consumer label all transmission repair places as “crooks.”

With the plethora of radio signals crowding today’s airwaves, the chances for a bad listener experience has never been greater.

And that should be an industrywide concern.

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Why I Stream ALL My Radio Listening

Twelve year ago, radio broadcast engineer Tom Ray, penned these words: “Unless we give Joe Consumer a reason to go out and purchase an HD Radio for his car – until he can obtain it easily and at a reasonable cost, and a device that works – I fear HD Radio is going to go the way of FM quad and AM stereo, relegated to the scrap pile of history.”

Tom Ray wrote his article for Radio World when he was the vice president/corporate director of engineering for Buckley Broadcasting/WOR Radio in New York City. He was a strong and vocal supporter of HD Radio and his WOR was one of the first AMs on the air with an HD Radio signal. So, any broadcaster that read Tom’s article, “HD Radio Shouldn’t Be This Hard,” should have taken it as a wake-up call about steps the radio industry needed to take to stay relevant in their listeners’ lives.

Buying a New Car in 2010

Tom is a loyal Ford customer, so when his Explorer went to the automobile graveyard with 230,000-miles on it, Tom wanted to get a new Ford Escape, equipped with HD Radio. The only problem was, Ford wasn’t putting HD Radios into their Escapes, instead, they were pushing Satellite Radio. (Tom noted that his wife listened only to Satellite Radio in her car, saying “in her opinion there is nothing worth listening to in New York’s Hudson Valley, 50 miles north of New York City.)

This should have been yet another radio industry wake-up call about its future.

I encourage you to click on the link and read what Tom Ray wrote a dozen years ago about how difficult it was to put an HD Radio into a new car which, at that time, didn’t offer OEM HD Radios and how he, as a broadcast engineer, was totally frustrated trying to install an aftermarket one.

Streaming Radio at Home

Since Christmas 2017, when my wife gave me my first Amazon Echo smart speaker, our Echo family has quickly grown to four of these devices. There is nowhere you can be in our home and not ask Alexa for something.

Since 2017, all of our in-home radio listening is via streaming.

While we also occasionally streamed radio in the car, on all of our road trips from 2018-2021, SiriusXM always seemed to be offering a 3-month free listening trial that I can honestly say we enjoyed the listening to. But, I’ve never been a subscriber, because other than road trips I spend very little time in the car.

Streaming Radio in the Car

In October, while enjoying my latest free 3-month trial for SiriusXM radio, I decided it was time to bring my in-house streaming radio habit into both of our cars. We own a 2006 Subaru Forester and a 2009 Honda Accord.

The Subaru doesn’t have an AUX input, the Honda does.

Streaming in the Subaru was accomplished with a Blue Tooth receiver that will broadcast on any FM frequency (88.1 works best). In the Honda, this same device’s output was plugged into an AUX receptacle.

The result is, as soon as either my wife or myself enters one of our cars, the Nulaxy KM18 immediately pairs with our iPhones. I installed the AINOPE Car Phone Holder Mount to hold our phones, and keep them easily assessible to control whatever we would like to listen to.

Total cost for each car: $33.43. Time to install, virtually nil. I just plugged the Nulaxy KM18 into a power port and it was operational. The AINIOPE holder easily clamps to an air vent on the dashboard and holds any smartphone.

Unlike the nightmare that Tom Ray experienced back in 2010 trying to put HD Radio into his car, this installation by me, a non-engineer, was a piece of cake.

A Call to Action

I recently sat in on a Radio World webinar called “A Call to Action, radio’s existential battle for the dash.” Paul McLane, Managing Director of Content/Editor in Chief of Radio World at Radio World/Future U.S., hosted the webinar and did an excellent job. However, one particular piece of information shared during the presentation that I thought was crucial was, how Mercedes Benz was equipping their vehicles’ radio screens with the following pre-sets: SiriusXM, FM, AM and TuneIn Radio.

TuneIn Radio is the App I use for most of my radio listening, but why was it chosen by Mercedes Benz? Turns out the answer is, “TuneIn’s radio stations can be accessed worldwide in 197 countries on more than 200 different platforms and devices.” TuneIn says it “provides the displaced radio listener a connection to home with local, national, and international stations anywhere they go and on any device.”

In other words, why would any audio consumer need DAB, DAB+, Digital Radio Mondiale, HD Radio, AM or FM when they can receive any radio station in crystal clear audio via streaming?

With the exception of the proprietary content offered by SiriusXM, everything else is available via streaming at no charge.

Cellular Plan

Now it goes without saying, that streaming consumes data. Each cellphone service provider offers different plans and different price rates. My wife and I are on Verizon’s unlimited phone/text/data plan. We have no landline phone in our home and our iPhones are our lifeline to being connected with each other, our family, our community and the world.

I’ve found streaming radio in our cars provides us with audio quality that is pristine. There’s no buffering or dropout, and it’s been a more reliable signal than AM, FM or SiriusXM radio, especially when traveling through tunnels.

Streaming Apps

I thought you might be interested in knowing what streaming Apps I have on my iPhone, here’s the current list:

  • TuneIn Pro
  • Audacy
  • Pandora
  • Spotify
  • Amazon Music
  • NPR ONE
  • YouTube
  • Simple Radio
  • StreamS
  • Apple Podcasts
  • AccuRadio
  • 650AM WSM
  • Stitcher

Why I Prefer Streaming My Radio

We live far enough away from Washington, D.C. that radio signals for WTOP or WETA experience lots of noise and dropout, depending atmospherics, sometimes making them totally unlistenable. However, their streams are always crystal clear.

This fall Sue and I escaped to Cape Cod for a week and when I get on the peninsula, I love turning on WFCC – Cape Cod’s Classical station – 107.5 FM. Now with streaming radio, I can dial up WFCC on my TuneIn radio App and listen when we’re back home in Virginia.

Full disclosure, I am the midday DJ on WMEX-FM in Rochester, NH. But even if I weren’t on the station, WMEX-FM would be my #1 pre-set for streaming. Gary James, the station’s morning man and program director, puts together a music mix that I find absolutely fabulous. It’s the music of my life.

Which brings me to another important point, radio today is global. No longer is your radio station competing just with other local stations, but radio that is streaming from anywhere on planet Earth.

Streaming also makes it possible for ON DEMAND spoken word radio, also known as Podcasts, to be easily available in the car.

Simington on Streaming

FCC commissioner Nathan Simington recently addressed Ohio broadcasters saying, “content delivery power had shifted away from broadcasters – stations and networks – and toward ‘online platforms,’ something he thinks the FCC needs to recognize in its quadrennial review of media ownership regs.”

He warned that:

  1. “Online media platforms are growing rapidly and threaten dominance over traditional media platforms; and
  2. Broadcast advertising revenue has flatlined, having been siphoned off from higher margin online platforms.”

The Future is Streaming

88% of the world’s population now uses mobile broadband as its main source of internet access, and nearly 90% of homes in the United States now have internet streaming. 2021 saw an estimated 22% ad industry growth rate, which Magna Global said was “the highest growth rate ever recorded” by this agency, beating a 12.5% growth rate recorded in the year 2000. The caveat however is, digital dominated traditional advertising raking in 64.4% of the growth in ad spending.

RAIN reports “The U.S. recorded music industry will exceed a 48-year revenue record set in 1999 (based on current estimates),” all coming from revenues paid by streaming music services.

The Harvard Business Review recently published “4 Principles to Guide Your Digital Transformation,” by Greg Satell, Andrea Kates and Todd McLees. In it, the authors wrote, “digital transformation is not just about technology. We’re desperately in need of a shift in focus. Leaders must inspire and empower their entire organization to boldly reimagine their work environment, customer needs, product offering, and even the purpose of the enterprise.”

Tom Ray was the proverbial “canary in the coal shaft” back in 2010, with few paying attention. Sadly, based on the early news coming out of the 2022 CES in Las Vegas, nothing has changed.

We’re living in a communications revolution,

bringing about changes that will be both

permanent and irreversible.

Revolutions never maintain or preserve the status quo.

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Does Radio Sound Choppy to You?

What I mean by that “choppy” observation is that radio has lost its flow. Today’s radio for the most part is herky-jerky. On-air production is constantly starting and stopping with every programming element and to a life-long radio guy, poor on-air production grates on my ears. It’s like a train wreck.

Where’s the Flow?

What I loved about listening to radio growing up was each station’s on-air production. The flow of programming elements was exciting. A radio station’s jingles flowing into the next record with the air personality working their magic in the mix.

But today, we hear a commercial end – a jingle plays and ends – a record begins – and then maybe an announcer (I dare not call them a “personality”) read a liner card. It’s all so disjointed and it’s anything but smooth.

Moreover, every programming element is generic. The station has no local feel about it.

Great On-Air Radio Production is Hard to Find

One of the stations I enjoy listening to for great on-air production is WETA-FM out of Washington, DC. WETA-FM is a classical music station, but its flow is seamless. Its personalities are personable and, for me, they are the #1 reason I so enjoy the station, along with the fact that WETA-FM brings this same detailed attention to every programming element.

Another Washington, DC radio station that delivers flow, personality and is a pleasure to listening to is News Radio WTOP. This radio station is usually the nation’s top billing radio station and has won every radio award; more than once.

You can’t transplant either of the stations, as they are fully programmed to serve their marketplace and no place else.

Syndication & Voice Tracking

The reason most radio stations don’t have great on-air production and flow can be attributed primarily to syndication and voice tracking.

With syndication, stations on the network need to all wait for network cue tones to fire their programming elements. Also, if their local production isn’t perfectly timed out, there will be gaps between the programming elements or a programming element will be cut-off.

The other problem with syndication is that it’s not unusual to hear a radio commercial repeated more than once in the same break. I’ve heard the same commercial play three times in a single break, sometimes this occurs with the same spot playing back-to-back.

With voice tracking, an announcer is tracking for multiple stations and never is really able to focus on a single station or radio market. It sounds like they’re talking at me and not to me. Often, they seek out generic content that can be tracked in multiple markets. I don’t need Facebook content read to me, I’m on Facebook.

The Listener Experience

Great radio is all about creating a fabulous listener experience, unfortunately that is rare on today’s radio dial.

Sadly, I understand how under-staffing means that today’s radio talent is wearing multiple hats (often more than four, according to the latest research from Fred Jacobs) and has little opportunity to give any one of their responsibilities more than a moment’s focus.

I often think what your favorite NFL team would look like if the quarterback also was the team’s coach, punter and played defense.

Or how would football fans feels if their team was under the same ownership as three other NFL teams and their quarterback also played for one or more of those other teams.? My thinking is that this would spell the beginning of the end of raving football fans.

Well, as I travel around America, I hear the same announcers on multiple radio stations.

How can any radio station expect to have listener loyalty when their on-air announcers don’t even have station loyalty? Listeners know great radio when they hear it. They will continue to listen to your station only until something better comes along, and we all know it’s easier to retain a listener than to acquire a new one.

Until the listener experience is Job One, today’s radio will be contributing to its own undoing.

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AM/FM or just FM?

HD FM Radio ReceiverThere’s something that’s been troubling me for some time. It’s the radio industry’s habit of reporting radio listening results by calling it “AM/FM” versus what it really is, virtually all FM radio listening.

Nieman Lab

Who could not be buoyed by this headline from Nieman Lab: “AM/FM radio holds strong for American listeners.”

But is it true?

When I read the ratings reports from both PPM and diary markets, I see an FM world.

Don’t get me wrong, I grew up on AM radio and recognize that almost every market has a heritage AM radio station that still garners a big audience. I’m not blind to the wonderful ratings of 1010 WINS in New York City for example.

But there are only 26 all-news terrestrial radio stations left in America according to Nieman. This popular format is missing from the majority of America’s radio markets.

WTOP

WTOP logoWTOP was built on AM radio. It moved its entire operation over to the FM band and grew its audience, revenues and lowered its listener demographic. People who never heard this radio station on its AM dial position were suddenly newly minted fans of their all news format.

The FCC Saves AM Radio

The FCC’s mission to save AM radio is to give these radio stations an FM dial position using a translator. What are we really saving? The AM band or a particular format that a radio operator created on the AM band and now, to survive, needs to move it, like WTOP, to the FM side of the dial.

WIP

WIP logoFrom my blogging, I get lots of feedback about a variety of things concerning broadcasting. One reader wrote to me about his father, a sports fan, who turned on WIP-FM to hear the latest chatter. WIP-FM was broadcasting a game of no interest to his father, so his son said to him, why don’t you turn on WIP AM610. Sadly, this person wrote the audio was unlistenable. He wrote: “You’d think the FCC would mandate that AM have standards for audio quality in receivers.”

WSM

WSM logoWhen I was living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, I couldn’t receive 650AM WSM in my office, even though my office looked south and my antenna was able to enjoy a full wall of windows. The noise floor both inside my university office as well as around town while driving in my car made the station unlistenable. WSM was once listened to all the way to Louisville in northern Kentucky. Instead, I downloaded WSM’s app and could enjoy the radio station in crystal clear stereo. (I see WSM has stopped subscribing to Nashville Nielsen Audio ratings.)

BBC

BBC logoThe British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) did a review of the range of services it offered on the AM band (called medium wave across the pond) and it included a financial review of all its services too. They concluded the ROI (return on investment) in AM was not there and announced they would be turning off some 13-AM radio stations in January 2018 according to Radio Business Reports.

WHVO

WHVO logoThere’s a great radio operator in Cadiz, Kentucky by the name of Beth Mann. WHVO is her AM radio station at 1480, but if you go on her website, you won’t find any mention of this station being on the AM radio dial. It’s promoted as WHVO 96.5 & 100.9 FM.

Bottom Line

It’s time to face the fact that AM radio needs to be re-deployed for a new service. Current radio station owners should be given a viable FM dial position that replaces their AM service area, and doesn’t require multiple translators to attempt to accomplish this task. (Note: WHVO needs two translators to deliver the signal of its AM 1480.)

It’s time to allow those same dedicated radio broadcasters to sell off their expensive AM tower sites and turn off their AM stations that consume electrical power with no real ROI.

Ecclesiastes 3

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven…”

AM radio’s time has come and gone as the mass communication delivery system it was from the 1920s to the 1970s, much as radio replaced vaudeville.

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 for AM radio listening when FM signals outnumber AM signals by four and a half times in the USA. (FCC BROADCAST STATION TOTALS AS OF JUNE 30, 2018:  4,633 AM signals / 20,758 FM signals)

That’s why I believe we do no service in promoting radio as “AM/FM” and not being honest about where virtually all of the radio listening is really taking place.

Sadly, AM radio is to broadcasting as coal is to power generation. It was the perfect solution in its day.

 

 

 

 

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