Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pandora - Slacker - Custom On-Line Radio

Perhaps you've read about or even visited either Slacker or the Pandora on-line radio sites. Both sites have a variety of on-line stations but also offer the ability to make a custom station just for the listener. Pick a style or an artist and you decide how deep the library will be, which songs are your favorites, and what artists to include in the mix.

Now they also offer portable players. Pandora has units that take a stream from wireless connections wherever you can get to one. Slacker is a little more interesting as it uses a cache system to load up the player quickly then allow you to keep listening even while you are away from the stream. Slacker is also working with a satellite system so you will be able to listen on the road. Slacker has negotiated rights to the music on the system and are not burdened by the Sound Exchange royalties world but Pandora could be in trouble as streaming fees increase. There are some unique limits - both offer the opportunity to skip a song and move ahead but only 5-6 times in an hour. With Slacker you can purchase a premium subscription and skip as much as you want.

Ok fancy tech, but how well does it work in the real world. I decided to put together a station myself and see how well it works. I was a big fan of the Byrds and it's been years since I spent time with their music so I chose them as an artist to center my station around.

When I punched up the Byrds artist station on both Pandora and Slacker it was a unique adventure. The Byrds show up about every 15-20 minutes or so on the Byrds station on both services. On Slacker the rest of the selections are from all kinds of bands that were either influenced by the Byrds/CSN world like Tom Petty or REM and the rest are bands either from the era (Beatles, Grateful Dead, Airplane) or that share a folk style (Dylan, Fairport Convention, Lovin Spoonful). You can set the mix to be more obscure or familiar or center it on an era (but here are no currents or recurrents to work with). On Pandora the mix was very different with tons of new Indie bands (some we've never heard of from indie labels) in the mix and very few 'era' moments.

You can also create a station so I tried to build My Byrds Radio. By selecting songs as favorites I was able to build a list and then set the station to mix in those favorite songs either once in a while or a lot. But, I had to listen to each song all the way through - a long process just to build a Byrds station. Trying to steer the station away from the long Fairport Convention songs or the Grateful Dead jams I didn't want was going to take forever. On Pandora it was even worse as most of the non-Byrds songs were indie bands even a rock programmer couldn't ID that sort of sounded like alt/pop versions of Byrds songs. Sorry I got other things to do - it would be better just to go to my CD collection rip off the Byrds CDS and a few other bands into a Byrds file on my MP3 player and sit back and enjoy.

Still it's an interesting option. It may catch on and become the next interesting application of Internet radio. While Slacker may not have Sound Exchange over it there are still issues with the system that are designed to limit the system so some fees can be collected or so you will be stimulated to go out and buy some music instead of putting in so much effort to build your own world. Pandora on the other hand will sit on the edge of its seat till the CRB decides the fee issue.

Is it a threat to terrestrial radio? Maybe but it's a lot of work to make any of these services personalized. Yes some will jump in, but they won't quit listening to us.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Big Market Rock Sign Ons - What's UP

This past week we've seen Clear Channel in Philly flip it's rumba/Hispanic station to somewhat library based Alternative stations Radio 104.5 and in San Francisco CBS dumps talk Free FM for a Classic Hits format with the old KFRC call letters. In Philly you can check out the station at

Why would these groups jump into rock based formats in Major markets? Just a few years ago Clear Channel was moving rock signals into Hispanic formats - is there a taco under your chair? And when CBS lost Howard most of the rock leaning stations quickly left the music behind for talk. We've all seen the trend of rock declining over the last 5-7 years in ratings so we have to wonder why?

PPM is the answer. Rock shares seem very likely to increase as we now see the initial data coming out from Houston and Philly. You can read more in my PPM review on the McVay web site here. I also just finished a piece for the site that digs much deeper into the potential for Rock formats in the PPM world read it here. This is going to be a BIG trend in the top 10 markets over the next 2 years and we could very well see a revival of rock formats in all the top 30 markets over the next 5 years. PPM different sample methods and systems compiled with the meter automatically recording listening instead of relying on recall and writing it down seems to be finding a lot more shares for Rock formats.

In Philly WMMR's shares are up 84%. Now we have to wonder - how far off is the diary system? We look these topics and more in the report the McVay Media site. Hope you can check it out.

Have a great weekend.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The ART of Coaching

Finally we are into Summer and for my son it means BASEBALL. Last year I helped out as an assistant coach and quickly found out how hard it is to get 11 ten year olds to listen and focus on learning to first back up for a fly ball. This year I'm watching some experienced Little League coaches work their magic and watching them work reminded me of the challenges we all face in programming in coaching the talent on our teams.

In baseball (and in most team sports) winning comes not because of 1 person or a great manager. It comes because the whole team comes together with a spirit and a focus that makes winning almost a forgone conclusion instead of a surprise. But, how do you as the manager create this magical moment? Here are some thoughts that I try to keep in front when helping PDs become better talent coaches:

LISTEN - You can't coach your afternoon guy if you never get a chance to hear the show. You also can't coach unless you spend the time to have real interactive conversations with the talent. Just telling them to tighten it up and do better billboards isn't coaching. You have to ask some questions about them and listen carefully to what they say. Learn their fears, frustrations, turn ons, and habits.

THE 3 Cs - The key steps to building talent always follows the 3 Cs:

  1. Comfortable - You can't be entertaining, compelling or funny if you are uncomfortable. We've all seen the stand up comic that's scared to death on stage. Even though the material may be very funny it's tough to laugh when the talent is obviously scared or distracted.
  2. Consistent - It takes a long time to really build an audience. Most of it is done one listener at a time and you have to be consistent in the personality you project for everyone to 'get it.' That also means being prepared. Just like a great batter who steps into the box with his feet in the same spot, his hands at the same height, and his legs bent just right every time your talent has to be set for every break.
  3. Compelling - You have to have something interesting to say - if you don't it might be better to just shut up.

AUDIENCE: This is 'stolen' from Tommy Kramer who is a great talent coach. Ask most of your talent if they would like to be the SUN (provider of all heat, light, and great sun tans) or the Moon (a rock that orbits the earth and reflects the light of the sun). Most would say - THE SUN. They view their role as beaming all their personality, music and thoughts down to the residents of earth (your market) and getting paid a ton to do it. Really the better answer would be to be the Moon. Listening to and learning as much about your audience as you can and reflecting back to them is the real key to welcomed into their cars, homes and offices on a regular basis. Make friends not followers.

BE PREPARED: You can't 'just wing it.' The goal may be to be comfortable enough and consistent enough to be able to 'sound' like you are being spontaneous and just letting the words fall out, but to really achieve that you have to know where your are going before you crack the mic. Often times a lot of the best on-air talent are very creative people and getting organized and being prepared are areas that happen in the other side of the brain from creativity. Creative people have to work harder at being prepared and if they don't work at it in live radio it's easy to have a bad break or show.

Another thing I'm learning from the Little League coaches this year is you have to practice a lot if you want to see the kids become real good players. You can't just do a little infield before the game and see the team really improve. You have to work with your talent every week and in many cases (like the morning show) probably 3-4 sessions a week. Ideally a PD with 4 live dayparts and 2 weekend people should be spending 12 or more hours a week coaching the team. Yes a quarter of your work week if you are off air. It's a lot of work and often some of the hardest work most PDs do. It's not easy to sit with a morning show and inspire them - but great PDs do it.

In today's world we often don't have the time for real coaching. How often do you see the PD who has 2 -3 stations to cover and still does a mid-day shift. Often we wonder why a station isn't making big progress, we have the music right, the imaging is great, and there's enough marketing, but it's still not gaining. I bet if you start building the talent into real players you'll see the progress. But, it will take time and lots of effort.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Lessons for Radio from the new TV World

The recent news of the downturn in viewers for TV in this Spring's sweeps may represent a trend that could be in Radio's listener ship soon (if it already hasn't arrived). Nielsen data shows a loss of 2.5 million viewers for TV this Spring when compared to a year ago. There are a number of excuses from the earlier move to Daylight Savings Time, DVRs, on-line viewing, and so many viewing options that it might be hard for any person (or rating service) to keep track of. You can read the AP story here.

Some of the issues here are somewhat tied to the Nielsen policies struggling to work with all the new options to view a show. How do they track DVR, on-demand, video pod casts and watching on the computer? Not all of this happens in front of the magic Nielsen box next to the TV.

TV has also been pretty active in promoting all the options for viewing a show. Look at the shows that have younger (18-49) followings like Lost or 24. They actively promote the podcasts and on-line viewing and even offer 'extras' if you tune in there. They know the future of their shows brand lies in being on as many media options as possible. But, we may be in a world where no one ratings service can track all the options?

Some might also see all the new media options as the core cause of lower viewership and force us to tune in Monday at 9 if we want to see 24. That would be a mistake. Limiting the options will only weaken the show/brand over the long haul. Taking away the flexibility here is almost like taking away the viewers freedom - they will rebel. Other shows could jump in and take full advantage of the options and win the time slot pushing you down anyway.

We see the same issues showing up in Radio. No one gets credit for Podcasts and many streams are not counted due to the AFTRA commercials being cut out. How will we get credit for the future of HD radio in non PPM markets, listening on Cell Phones (if we are able to go there) or delayed DVR style options that will soon be in radios?

Perhaps we need to have a 'brand rating' system where all sources are taken into consideration. When they count up the revenues from a movie everything comes into play - theatres, DVDs, on-line downloads, subscription TV channels, selling the movie to TV networks and even airline viewing revenue all shows up.

The news here also shows us the new reality ahead for our business. We will be talking to fewer listeners, but we will likely still reach more than most other options. Don't expect the networks here to lose much because of the lower viewer ship this spring. Even if they have to rebate some dollars because they didn't achieve promised levels to some advertisers they will find a way to adjust their rates and advertisers will pay. TV reaches too many people and is still to powerful of a media. Radio has the SAME advantages.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

HD Radio - the Tortoise we hope?

We all know the tale of the Tortoise that beats the Rabbit. In many ways the role HD Radio is taking is very similar to the Tortoise - but will we win the race? Right now it isn't looking good. We've seen another round of studies from Bridge Ratings shows very little progress for awareness or usage of HD Radio. Even though most of the 'spot tracking' we see week to week show the HD Radio Alliance in the top 5 for national spot exposure. In all the top 50 to 100 markets we hear lots of spots selling the 'hidden channels' and 'higher quality' and pointing you to the latest retailer that has signed up for the exposure.

While having the product available and seeing the prices come down as more retailers jump in is some progress for us on the radio side the consumer could care less. We have to face it until we get some compelling programming on the 'hidden channel' or start to do something unique that makes having the higher quality sound stand out we won't crack the ice here.

Look at satellite radio - they spent tons (probably way to much) on content. Lots of big stars with their own channels, big sport franchises, and they took many of their music channels and spent the dollars to put some people on the air. HD Radio has mostly put up a bunch of side channels that are just jukebox-line extensions of the existing brand. Having a deep cuts channel on the side of your Classic Rock station isn't much. Probably more of a distraction to the audience if they had an HD radio.

When you look at something like KZPS and their move to Lone Star and a Classic Rock/Americana/Texas rock/Country mix it is unique and very different. You could see that there would be some interest in Dallas - it's a bold move to put it on the regular signal. While it could be an innovation and might bring some notice for HD Radio it's sort of going backwards. Instead of leaving it on the HD side and promoting it to help get HD radio going they kill the HD channel. Imagine in the days of FM growth if the album/progressive rock stations of the day or the beautiful music stations that were just starting out got a buzz going and then flipped the signal to AM. Would anyone have bothered with FM radio? The difference then was that FM was a HUGE step up in quality and with Stereo once you heard it moving it back to AM would have killed the buzz. Even then look at all the mono-FM converters we had in the early 70s and look at all the mono-FM radios that were factory installed. The programming was cool enough it was even worth it without all the improvement in quality.

If we want HD to work we need to start putting in a programming effort. Here's a few ideas:

  • Fill it with Feature Shows: Imagine a whole Sunday with re-runs of Little Steven's Garage or Flashback. Maybe a whole month of 2 for Tuesday. How about a special celebration of the Police for a full month before they come to town - go beyond just loading up Police songs get all the old interview shows, maybe some live concert recordings, invite the audience to leave greetings for the band and other friends that like the Police. If you run Bob and Tom day make every Monday all B/T all day with best of bits running all the time. I know many of these ideas will take some permission from the syndicators or the bands but I bet a few phone calls could get the ball rolling.

  • Let your jocks loose: So you're evening jock is a progressive rock fanatic. Let him build a nightly show with Gentle Giant or King Crimson tracks - but make sure he actually talks about the songs and doesn't just play them. The staff used to have crusades musically - but maybe we've killed all of that with 'does it test?' It's time to bring that back big time.

  • Local Music Shows: Not just 1 song a night from a band, but let it loose with 6-7 hours a night. Let the bands submit interviews and tell us about themselves.

  • Promote it: We are spending a lot of time selling what HD Radio is. But, without programming that matters it's nothing to the audience. If the sell is 'you can only hear it on HD Radio' and the programming is compelling enough they might tune in.

USE YOUR WEB SITE: Can't stress this enough. You can stream the HD signal on your site and you have to do it. Even after we get millions of HD radios out there the reality is that the computer is the radio of the future. You can start building lots of fans and audience right now if you stream - maybe they will buy the radio if they hear the product - they can on line.

We are moving rather slow - especially in the programming side. It was nice to have the 75 channels as a quick fix from the 'Format Lab' but much of this was imitations of satellite formats. It's time to do this on a LOCAL LEVEL. We all know our advantage here is to be LOCAL and build a community around the station. Yes it will cost - look at all the losses we saw from FM stations in the 60s and 70s. But, if we just sit here the rabbit will get so far ahead we might as well crawl in our shell.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Is Web Site More Important Than The SIGNAL????

A recent R&R article with Clear Channel EVP Tom Owens had a very interesting quote:

In an exclusive interview in the April 27 Group Programmers Special Issue of R&R, Clear Channel executive VP of content development Tom Owens explains how rapidly changing consumer preferences are leading to “abbreviated” on-air content, where terrestrial stations are the bait, the Web is the catch and all roads lead to cell phone content convergence.

You could interperet Tom's quote here that the Web is more important than the terrestrial signal. Actually I sense Tom is really seeing that the Web Site is a hugely important interactive opportunity for your station and brand. The opportunity to dig in and offer podcasts, videos, downloads, and extended content from and around our broadcasts is a golden opportunity we are all missing. Taking the interview you had with a big band and taping it, or taking the un-edited version, or creating 'extra' moments from it and loading it up to the site for everyone to catch at their convience is a great opportunity. This is just one idea - there are many more and we often don't take the time or ignore the web opportunities.

The new world in the audience is INTERACTIVITY. With all the toys and tools of the web and it's spread to every nook and cranny of our communicative world radio has an opportunity to GO BEYOND BROADCASTING and start INTERACT-CASTING. We are no longer 'broadcasting' our format, music, opinions, or personality to the masses - we can now invite them into the dialog and the product. While our options on-air may be a bit limited to a few phone calls and features our the options on the web are limitless.

Yet, we often see programmers and management viewing the web as some kind of competitor instead of a partner and very valuable tool to build your brand and station into a multi platform monster.

Tom also points out that 'all roads lead to cell phone content convergence.' Radio used to be everywhere with portable radios, in the car, in the office, and at home. But, most radios just recieved our broadcasts and the audience passively listened in. Now Cell Phones are the 'everywhere appliance.' As cell phones become even more 'connected' radio will need to attach ourselves to this appliance somehow.

One thing I can't believe we don't start promoting and building up is FM Radio's in Cell Phones. It's really just a cheap extra chip in the phone and your station is connected. No web surfing fees, no data packages needed, and it even comes in when the service is weak. There are plenty of phones that have them.

Check out this one:

Beyond promoting these phones we need to start looking more and more at options to promote our entertaining content to any and all media within reason. Radio is no longer one of 2-3 options for enteratinment - it's one of thousands maybe millions. We can't overtake the rush of options only become a part of them.

Your Web Site or a Cell Phone interaction are not more important than the broadcast signal - but unless we start interacting with the audience on as may platforms as we can they will find plenty of entertainment in other places. We can either become a part of the new world or be buried in the old world.