Monday, July 30, 2007

Some Good Signs For Rock Music/Radio

Usually twice a year we take an in-depth look at the Spring and Fall Arbitron Format analysis where they gather all the ratings from the top 100 markets and break them down by format.

The news is usually released after all the books are out and nearly always headlines another decline for all the rock formats. The facts are there as we can see the last 8 years showing a steady decline in most demo breakouts. We've all been hopeful that someday we'd see the tide turn here and perhaps it could come as we get the first 2007 numbers in just a few weeks.

Even if the numbers don't show a turnaround yet there are lots of signs that one is happening on a number of fronts:

  • Rock is HIP again - Look at all the signs from the huge popularity of Guitar Hero, overall CD/download sales of rock acts, the summer concert sales picture, and the 'Indie Rock' movement in the 16-22 age group. Look at the music out right now from Linkin Park, Foo Fighters, Finger 11, Velvet Revolver, Ozzy, Pumpkins, White Stripes, Nickelback and other fairly well established acts. We also have lots of new artists breaking
  • PPM - Suddenly in the markets where PPM will be taking over there is a rush to rock. New York and Philly both signed on new rock outlets and expect to see more in the top 20 as the year progresses. PPM finally shows a lot more acceptance and listening to rock radio than we've been seeing in the diary system. Arbitron will also likely be trying to shore up the sample issues in the diary a least a little. There will still be over 200 markets on the diary system for years to come and of course we all need confidence in the numbers. Both of these events could combine to 'turn the tide.' We will probably see some confusion in the Format reports from Arbitron as they phase in PPM data. The data is different in diary and PPM and there will be issues combining it for a national perspective on formats done with 2 different methodologies.
  • Howard's History is fading - One of the big reasons we saw declines in 06 was from Howard leaving and seeing many of the CBS rock stations either change to a full talk format or at least have their ratings chopped up over Howard leaving.
  • Other Formats - Look around at the other formats - CHR is struggling a bit as a lot of the core younger audience is very into other media. Country seems to be in a little lull for artists right now - no one is crossing over or getting huge notice outside the format core. A/C doesn't have a huge new artist and note that Christmas music is months away rock could benefit. Urban is also a little light lately as the rap/hip hop artists are not as rebellious and authentic as they were a few years ago - too much commercialization and bling have worn out their welcome. Hispanic may still be impacting some markets but here we also see a leveling of the playing field as PPM will not show as much listening as we see in the diary where Hispanics can 'vote in a diary' for their culture and language vs. recording what they actually listen to with a PPM monitor.

We're about 3-4 weeks from the report and it could be a confusing one from Arbitron, but the signs are there. Now back to trying to best my son's score of 99 on Kiss' song Strutter on Guitar Hero - a song rock radio added nearly 20 years before he was born. I bet we'll see even more teen and 18-24 number for Classic Rock formats over the next few years and we'll happily have Guitar Hero to blame.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Completely Missing The BOAT

After reading Little Steven's comments again on the state of the record industry a few follow up thoughts came to mind. It's rather obvious that the record industry hit a real opportunity and crossroads in regards to downloading music vs. the old CD/LP/Cassette distribution system they had built their business on. We've all seen industries tank because they didn't see the rushing train of the future heading full speed right at them.

When you look at the record industry they totally missed the boat and are sort of rotting having run a ground. Their big mistake - why didn't they just offer up a few million (a lot less then their legal fees, funds going into Sound Exchange and suing their own consumers) to the teen age Shawn Fanning (creator of Napster) back in 1999 and build a whole new distribution system on his model.

Look at Yahoo who paid Mark Cuban huge sums to just buy Real Audio and build their audio distribution platform. The record industry could have taken the same tact and built a huge profit center - instead they allowed Steven Jobs to build it 5 or 6 years later and use it to sell his I-Pod and in the end that device will control their future. They also started a little fire within a whole new wave of costumers who set out on a mission to embrace the new world of distribution and build it with or without them.

In many ways radio is at the same crossroads with new technology. We can't join together and just buy out streaming, social networks, widgets, cell phone or WiFi distribution but we could at least be a huge player with our experience in providing content. Instead we've been cautious, penny wise/pound foolish, and just plain cheap in jumping into the new area.

It may not be too late!!! Frankly we need to look beyond HD Radio and take our brands to the whole new interactive, web based, and world market arena. No, we won't find a huge pot of cash 6 months after we start, but we will save our industry and be a part of a whole new world of distribution. Let's not make the same mistake as our friends in the record side.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Recently you've probably seen the industry sites and blogs dealing with the comments and 'findings' expressed by a Texas based economics professor Stan Liebowitz on the relationship between Radio and Records. His angle is that the time spent with broadcasters playing music on the radio has actually hurt sales of new CDs and artists has of course run counter to all that we know about how much radio airplay (on any band - AM/FM/Satellite/Internet) has contributed to the awareness of the artists and their songs. Most of us who have been a part of exposing the music to lots of people know that it has helped many artists get exposed and many to make lots of $s. But, we see the record/artists industry grasping for more fees and 'taxes' associated with exposing their creative works and Mr. Liebowitz's claims here only fan the flames. Of course anyone on the planet knows that most of this was the record companies and perhaps some of the artists clinging to the old analog/cd distribution in an obvious consumer conversion to digital. They missed the boat so let's go drum up revenue somewhere is a 'cheap shot' but one we all have to answer.

Recently Dan Kelley who hosts and also has a great background as a programmer and ops manager in our industry passed on Little Steven's comments on the whole issue. Remember that Little Steven is a very talented guitarist from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and also a host of Little Steven's Garage as well as an actor in the Sopranos but his perspective here is well thought out and does have a balanced angle on the issue. I have copied his comments from his Billboard Garage site below - I think we'll all agree with his well stated observations:

GARAGE ROCK July 21, 2007

As even the slowest of us start to realize there will be no getting out of this permanently bad economy, that it isn't a cycle or a temporary blip, we will begin to see the last vestiges of reason, logic, pride, quality, integrity and dignity fly out the window.

Of course few of us will notice since most of those things have been systematically compromised, trivialized and marginalized by our corporate elite, and Lord knows our government, for quite some time and live on in our culture exclusively in disparate groups that by now must resemble religious cults and pitifully handicapped social niches.

The latest evidence of this sad loss of logic, pride and integrity comes in the form of a feverish obsession by virtually everyone to make all those greedy, evil radio stations pay for the privilege of playing our precious records.How dare they!

The free dance is over, buddy, it's time to pay the piper! It's perfectly obvious that this has been the problem with the record industry all along. Too much damn airplay!

And now that we've figured out that radio is the enemy, we're going to need a spokesman to voice our feelings and calm the outraged millions of customers who are angry and embarrassed at having been hoodwinked into foolishly buying records simply because they heard the song on the radio.

And ladies and gentlemen—right on cue—here he is:University of Texas at Dallas economics professor Stan Liebowitz, who argues that radio "acts as a substitute for music sales. If they weren't listening to the radio in their cars," he opines, "they might buy more CDs. "What else is he teaching those lucky kids in Dallas? That those oil wells out the window are the real keys to the greening of America?

With all due respect, professor, why will everyone be buying these CDs, or downloading or whatever? Because they like the artwork? We have talked about, right here, the new ways people hear music and its significance especially for young bands: ads, videogames, TV, movies, ringtones, car horns, whatever.But can any sane human being think all that can ever replace a great radio station?

Could it be that the professor has forgotten, or is too young to know, that there would be no record industry without radio?

Does anyone think it's a coincidence that ever since radio has been playing less and less new music, new music sales have gone down?

And now we want to make it less profitable for radio to support new music?I am a songwriter and a performer and I own record companies and publishing companies and I do not believe radio should pay anything to anyone.

And I mean every kind of radio.Let me go further and say anyone performing a song on TV or in a movie in a concert context shouldn't have to ask permission to do it or pay anyone either.Soundtracks? Yes, that's different. Videogames? Yes. Ads? Yes.

But radio stations and concert performers shouldn't have to pay for promoting our music and helping us sell it. Radio is the greatest thing that ever happened to us all, not counting Les Paul sticking that pickup on his guitar—which also worked out quite well.

The record industry, the publishers and our government should be doing everything possible to help radio, old and new, and start treating it like the national treasure it is instead of trying to kill the golden goose that's carried everyone for 60 years.And as for you economics professors, how about you spend some time figuring out why the value of the dollar is worthless and leave the music stuff to us?

See you on the radio.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Covering All The Bases

Taking EVERY opportunity you can is both a challenge and also a big key to building your stations into a giant machine that constantly builds it's brand and community image. In today's world of the Internet we also need to take an 'uber-presence' to all the opportunities in the on-line world. Here are some examples and thought starters:

Key into The Audience's World - What are they talking about right now? Consider these examples from current events:

  • Friday the 13th - It's coming this Friday.

  • Live Nation - Just this past weekend many stations took the Premiere Network coverage.

  • 07-07-07 - A big event this past weekend did you jump in or didn't bother.

  • Heat Wave - Really the whole country was pretty hot for the whole past weekend and we pretty much knew it was coming.

  • Summer of Love - For Classic Rockers a natural it was 40 years ago when the genesis of the format was hatched in hippie heaven.

The Local Community - It's the middle of summer and lots of local events are probably going on in your area. How many of the state fairs, local ball games, softball leagues, blues/wine/balloon/air shows/state fairs and other festivals did you station show up at? This time of the year you should be out at nearly 1 a week and some weeks maybe 2 or more.

The Web - If you tune into NBC Nightly News you may have noticed their 'everywhere' promo campaign. NBC is going ALL OUT to embrace nearly every media with the Nightly News brand and make sure they are a lot more than just the evening network news cast. Just like radio evening news has been decaying over the last 20 years with 24 hour news networks, the Internet, and so many other viewing options in today's 100-400 channel world. Instead of just fading away - NBC plans on being a big news brand even after the evening news fades. Look at the on-line and new media options with the content from the nightly news:

  • Net Cast - You can watch the whole 1/2 hour show anytime after 7p eastern online.

  • Story Files - On the web site every story and the video is kept for review. Watch them anytime.

  • Pod Casts - A wide range of podcasts of the big stories and some background that didn't make it to the nightly news cast can be downloaded to your I-Pod or MP3 player in both audio and video formats.

  • Cell Phones - Get the headlines and alerts via text to your phone anytime.

  • Cell Phone Web - Access the site in mobile formats with less graphics.

  • Widgets - Download a display for your desktop or you can also post it on your web site or blog with all the headlines and links build in.

  • Blogs - A full daily blog with 6-7 entries from the whole NBC reporting team. Also a world blog with international stories.

  • Website - Obviously the launching pad for all this along with constant updates on the news 24/7

You can probably count on them to announce a social network system, a video posting for news you caught on your camera, and probably a special I-Phone site with features custom built for their browser.

NBC is leaving no base uncovered. It's an example we can all follow both in the streets and on the web. I know many of you are looking at this as a mountain of work requiring a huge time consuming effort and a small staff that's already multi-tasking all over the place just to stay on the air. Yet I bet if you organize your priorities, plan ahead, and communicate with the whole team you can make a lot of headway. Now is the time to start thinking about how you can make 2008 a big year for your station. Taking some time this summer to plan out 2008 and build a stronger web presence could be your start to covering all the bases next year.

So many times I see stations that are not reaching out on the air and in the community enough. They just seem content to play the music, run some commercials, take care of the client remotes, and generally phone it in. Even though some of your efforts will not be huge successes out of the box every hand you shake or interaction you have with the audience WILL pay off.