Sunday, December 28, 2008

The 00 Decade

Happy New Year!!!  We're into 2009 this week and the last year of the first decade of the new century.  We've been defining the decades for a long time.  It probably started with the Roaring 20s and picked up steam in the 60s and 70s.  The revolution of the 60s and the wild days of the 70s, the conservative and yuppieness of the 80s and the digital 90s decade all had 'themes' that defined the trends in our culture.    

These themes all have had a lot of influence on our music and entertainment choices as well as evolving new media.   The 60s brought on the maturity of network TV, pop music super stars with music as a revolution messenger, and the top 40 format,  the 70s saw the beginning of Cable TV, the evolution of FM radio and a continued growth of the music industry into the Super Groups.   The 80s conservatism re-established Pop music trends, saw cable TV evolve to a new norm, and FM radio grew to the dominate music platform.  The 90s brought in the digital revolution which evolved over the decade finishing with a wealth of new WWW based media on a platform that was a government project at the start of the decade.   

The 00's or Ought decade or maybe the twenty-ohs is nearing an end and Jonah Goldberg from the National Review Online (and CNN) makes some interesting observations in this article.  

Goldberg's observation's on the 00 decade being one of self centered-ness maybe best illustrated on the factoid from the 90s that bottled water consumption passed beer in the decade.  Goldberg notes - Beer gets the party started.  Water is the thirst quencher of choice for the solitary fitness addict,.   Beer the outgoing social drink - passed by bottled water and it's inner driven world. 

He also notes that the Ipod follows a similar trend - the personalization of music and entertainment generally.   An inner driven world where music is personalized - not shared or experienced in a community like a live performance or a radio station where we all hear it at the same time.   He goes on to point out the IPod culture, is a mix of self-promotion and atomization: broadcast yourself, indeed.   

Yet at the end of this decade perhaps we are seeing a big clue that the tide is turning away from this me driven, self absorbed, over personalized and customized world of the 00s.   

A key clearly stood out in the election - Change was the KEY mantra and turning out in big crowds and joining in a huge community voter turnout were the clear signs.   From a world revolving around the solitary keyboard and monitor to communities filled with real people and personalities.  A movement from individualistic concerns to UNITY.   A movement away from 'greed is good' to a far more social and sharing society?   The signs are starting to show up on a very regular basis.   

This could be a great movement for radio to re-invent itself upon.   Don't you think???? 

Hope you had a great holiday and are ready for the evolution that starts in 2009.   

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Opportunities for Radio- The Wrap

Looking back on the 4 opportunities for radio that we've covered in the last few weeks I bet you can't believe they are SO SIMPLE.   Outside of building our brands into the web and embracing new distribution channels most of the opportunities here lie in getting back to the basics of our products.  

Focusing on our LOCAL presence, being special and creative, and refocusing our sales effort to be effective with the new competition are ingredients we've all used over and over.   Yet, the only plan we seem to see right now is cut costs in every direction, and many of the cuts are no doubt going to hinder efforts in these basic opportunities.  

Yes keeping or re-building local presence means keeping people in the building on the air and in the streets.  Being special and creative also means having the staff to create and execute.  Refocusing the sales effort will also take time, good sales folks and a well crafted plan.  While there are not many low or no cost solutions here I bet most of you could build a plan and find a way to make it work even in the present tight times.   

If there ever was a time to pull it off - it's NOW.  With the economy in a holding pattern and so many advertisers rethinking their whole approach Radio has a golden opportunity to come out of the down cycle with a big rush.  

No doubt advertisers will be looking for low cost opportunities to get their business' flowing again.  Radio to the rescue with huge reach, low costs and so many opportunities to get images and messages to the consumers.  

Our biggest problem is that our image is tattered with many advertisers.  We are not the new 'sexy' media.   But, we are the affordable, big reach, still local, and we can be as creative with the message as well as any other media.  That is the message we need to get out there right now.  But we need to start building a focused plan on both the local and national level.   

Yes we are the underdog in many ways, but just like so many success stories where the underdog pulls out a big win we need to set the table for our wild card team to bring home the winning run.  That takes a plan and the team to execute it.  

Friday, December 12, 2008

Opportunity #4 - Sales Make Over

While there are a lot of opportunities for product rebirth in the past 3 pieces of this series I sense that seeking out new opportunities in sales may have the most potential. Having said that I'm not a sales department expert. Yes, I've worked with some talented sales people and managers and seen both success and disappointment. I've also been in on many a budget session as the sales leadership laid out their plans and reviewed that past year.

From my 'outside the box' perspective I see a lot of potential for the sales teams to really ramp it up and improve.
  1. Radio HAS reach: Just this past week Arbitron released their Radar report showing that Radio reaches 234 Million people 12+ and older in the average week. That's up from 232 last year. In the younger cells - teens radio reaches 90% and with 18-34s it's 92%. Can you find a web site (outside of Google - maybe) that reaches that many people? If you want to get your message or product in front of 92% of the population at a reasonable cost you just can't beat radio. More and more big products are figuring it out - Walmart has finally recognized it, Geico, a bunch more. Hershey recently admitted that it's strong 3rd quarter came from using radio more in their marketing. You see people jumping over web sites that have 100,000 people hitting them in a week - so what, when you compare that to radio its peashooter territory.
  2. Radio IS Local: For the retailers and services in your area Radio reaches them better than any other media.
  3. Radio is a bargain: When you look at the prices we have for the reach it can't be beat.
  4. Radio is proven: If we look at all the success radio has brought in the post WWII marketing period there's no doubt the media works.

These are just the top 4 reasons, but do the sales teams of today really understand these clear and simple advantages? Or are they caught up in endless data crunching for CPMs, rankings, and market shares? Are they watching other weaker and less reaching media walk in and steal away business with products and web gimmicks that are clearly not proven?

I often wonder if the sales teams of today know who the competition is? Do they understand Google Ad Words and how they are used? Do they see opportunities in spreading clients media to both the web site and the station? Do they know what the web metrics are and what are the most popular sites selling space in your area? I can remember the sales teams of the past having 3 day sessions on selling against the Yellow Pages or Newspapers in the 80s? Do we have anyone helping build the case for radio over the web today?

Radio could hold the KEY for many business' to getting out of this recession. Face it much of the problem we have with the economy is that the consumer is spooked. The crash of housing, credit/banking/investment, and the market damage from all that has everyone frozen. Discretionary income has just about dried up all over the country - if we don't need it we aren't going to buy it till we see some signs that the storm is over. It's going to take marketing for most of the business' to get the motor going again and we have great advantages with our huge reach, lower costs, quickness in creativity, and local market coverage.

Now is the time to train and build the sales troops for the opportunity ahead. The storm we are in will pass and it's a golden time for radio to come out roaring again. Hopefully we'll have enough creativity left on the product team, but we're also counting on having a sales team that's ready to play in the new world of media and marketing. If you're a manager or sales leader it can be your time to hit the weight room and train for the new season ahead - this could be your year. Great teams are made in the offseason and shine in the real season - this is clearly the off season.

It would help if our industry would ban together and really make the story for radio. Yes we have the Radio - It's On campaign. Forget the slogans - how about getting out the FACTS. Maybe a campaign in Advertising Age, maybe using the web ourselves to market ourselves. How about dropping all those HD radio spots (for the wasteland it is) and just spend the time and effort talking about radio and the power of it's audience? The RAB and the NAB need to step it up NOW. There's a lot more to do than hang around Washington and lobby.

Next week I'll conclude the Opportunities Ahead segment - looking forward to the holidays and hope your's are happy ones.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Opportunity #3 Web and Content Distribution

Of course there's tons of opportunity in getting our content into distribution channels beyond our towers and by building a strong presence for our brands in the new web driven culture. But, these opportunities have been growing for 10 or more years and really what have we accomplished?

Most of our web sites are just afterthoughts, a small billboard on the web of the station. There's some news feeds, content usually available on any 'home' page like Yahoo, AOL, Comcast, or now even IGoogle. In Rock there's usually a babe of the day - as if you couldn't just hit 'hot girls' on a search and get way more than we'd ever own up to. The local weather is often there - as if didn't work? Sometimes there is even a few pics of the Halloween promotion even though we're into December. A few have started podcasts and download of bits from shows. Most have some loyalty database program that mostly just sends emails or awards some prizes for visiting the site. But, for the most part hardly any of the radio sites are real destinations for the listener. Once in a while they are checked out.

A lot of you have streams up now, but have you really listened to them? With all the spot substitutions and really very little content those of us who do bother with the stream have lots of cheesy instrumentals to deal with while at least the tuned in audience gets commercials. The quality on many streams is also pretty bad. The processing is often taken before it hits the real processing gear for the transmitter and levels jump all over the place.

There are lots of services that do offer decent streaming and do help you substitute commercials with some content or promos. Some stations also do little features and some even sell the streams to a few clients and bother to run extra spots for them with special copy on the streams. But, for the most part we tend to just get the feed from the board to a computer and away we go. I did drop in on a few Liquid Compass streams and was surprised at the quality and the content around spots. There are services out there, but we don't seem to care on many sites.

We have to start investing TIME, MANPOWER, CREATIVITY, and ENERGY into the sites if we expect to have anything meaningful happen here. As noted in earlier posts in this series our biggest opportunity is LOCAL. We already have a big brand on the streets of our hometowns and if we can get the eyes and ears in our area code plugged in we have plenty of audience and a sales/creative team to help the local clients diversify on both the web and radio with our big brand.

Start by looking at what you can offer:
  • Local Entertainment Guides

  • Local Restaurant Reviews - from the audience

  • Complete local bar and club listings - with maps and places for the clubs to update their info.

  • Full coverage of local events with photos, and videos.

  • Let the audience in - send your pics of your Halloween party or costumes for all to see.

  • Links - Not just text links, but how about links to the local school site, local golf courses, attractions, museums, sports teams, etc.

  • Cover Your Format - If it's rock invite the audience to comment on Guns N' Roses new cd, let them post videos of them doing Rock and Roll Train on Rock Band.

  • Video - Tape everything. The cameras are easy to use and cheap - you can get a hard drive HD video one for $300 and edit the videos right on you computer. If a band stops by tape it all for the audience to see. If you do a bar night tape the highlights and also save the still pics.

I often wonder why we don't create a real Facebook and MySpace style page for our promotions with video, music, pics and also places where the audience can chime in. There's tons of ideas that are all local and all about your station that could be on the site. We don't need another RSS feed with news that we probably saw somewhere else. You need to either build you LOCAL ADVANTAGE or BUILD YOUR STATION on the site. The other stuff is probably a waste of effort or space.

There are also new opportunities to add streams. So Metallica is coming to town - how about an all Metallica Stream for a month before the show? When Gun/Roses released how about a stream with all G/R on it all day?

Promote your station and web site all over the web. When Obama was running he had banners on tons of sites to turn out the early vote. They read your IP address and directed you to the info for your area. You could do the same for your station - you pull up a site in your market and your station's message (maybe a morning show board, music flash, web link) hits the screen. It may cost something, but I bet it's not as much as you spend in outdoor in many markets. Also look at using some Google tricks with Adwords in your market. Again we haven't used this for our marketing but it could be very effective and may cost less than we think.

We do see the big radio groups signing on with some web radio systems, others linking with streaming systems, others producing content like Stripped and the Previews on Clear Channel, but instead of building national brands we could have a lot more impact by focusing on OUR LOCAL WORLD here. In many markets the door is pretty open and we have links to talk to the whole market over our air to build the sites. We also have a local focused sales team that can pull some revenue here. We really don't need more nationally controlled sites with the same content on 100 rock stations. Developing unique local content on 100 rock stations would give our audience reasons to make a home for us on their computer.

The other opportunity is getting to cell phones. A few have started invading the I Phone apps with 'tuners to get streams' on the phones. Soon we'll see this for many cell phones beyond I Phone and we need to be there. Also working on using texting and phone messaging to integrate them to news feeds, contests, podcasts and other features to try and get to their phones. Also consider ring tones - making up morning show bits, songs, and other possibilities for ring tones could be great.

While we don't need to jump on every web idea, we do need to pick out the ones that we can exploit on a platform of building a unique spot on the web that is LOCAL , BUILT ON OUR BRAND/PRODUCT and

Investing in all of this is another issue. Everyone is tightening, but the opportunity is ripe and urgent. We have to expand our distribution or watch our world shrink every day. Yes it takes time and hard work, but the opportunity will never be better - in fact we've wasted many years already.

The key is to get organized first and see what you can accomplish with a little effort now. Many of the content issues on the list above could be just assignments that only take 15 or 20 minutes a day to accomplish when spread out over the staff. Others will take more effort - getting the stream cleaned up could be a challenge with all the production needed.

Our other advantage here is the ability to build our web world from our big reach on air. Some stations do a good job of promoting their web site and others just take an occasional punch at it. You have to make it worth going to and also make sure everyone knows. Remember that you have the audience to make sure they know - but you have to promote it.

We have all the tools to make a lot more impact on the web. It's time to start using them.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Opportunities Ahead #2

Be Special: In our overcooked quest to be consistent and drill ourselves into the audience's brains, because ratings were mostly about un-aided recall, we've fallen into a very repetitive format drill.

--The breaks happen at the same calculated time every hour.

--We do 9 or 10 or 30 minutes of music every hour.

--The jock format is backsell, liner, billboard all the time - of course we open with the calls and positioning and the game is how many time can we drill it down without sounding way too obvious. Why listen - you know what they are going to say and we also nearly always know that a long SPOT set is next so let's just move on and ignore the jocks.

--Every hour is the same - you can almost smell the current tracks coming or the power 70s song in the mix.

--And it's the same day after day - week after week.

It's no wonder we can just 'hard drive' it and no one even notices.

Why does every hour and every day have to be the same?

If the new Guns and Roses is out today can't we break it up and throw in a few phones or play it a bit more than we would normally?

If it's Halloween can't we fire up some theme music around it, maybe drop in a 'haunted house' backdrop over the breaks, have the audience talk about their costumes and parties?

If AC/DC or even Seether is in town why not celebrate with some special music sets, maybe catch the band after the sound check or if you can't get that set just invite the audience to get fired up for the show on the air.

Nothing special today? Make it up - rewind back to the 90s for a 3 pack every hour and a little history of the era and maybe a few bands that we all remember but don't test in power anymore.

Yes, we all know the dangers of trying to spend a whole day with a one-hit wonder band or digging too deep into the music, but do we have to take that all the way to being so predictable and boring?

I bet if you could do a 'vulcan mind meld' with the audience you'd find that many of their complaints of being too repetitious and the same music 'over and over' are more directed at our formatics than they are at our playlist.

When we do research in Rock radio one of the highest testing features is nearly always Two For Tuesday. It's a day when the whole stations sounds different with 2 songs from every artist and one that we've done since the late 70s. We really don't know if it has killer numbers in the ratings with the diary system and so many filling it out 2 days later, but I bet when we start breaking out PPM numbers in markets where the feature runs you will see Tuesday is worth something.

The key is not to get too cute here or get too far from playing big artists and making sure the big hits are always close at hand.

It also doesn't always have to be music driven or filled with talk. You could use your imaging to have fun and entertain also. How about a 'quick movie clip' day dropping a few quick 10 sec movie audio - you could also have the audience guess and win a DVD or movie pass (movie Monday?).

Just remember that if you promote it for a few days and make it memorable on the air you don't need to do it for 5 years in the same repetitive manner to make it work.

Surprise them and you will entertain them. Be consistent to a fault and you will just be predictable and boring.

The problem we face in programming is that we've built this overly consistent and predictable system and now it's the norm and the rule. Our desire not to 'screw' it up and turn everything into a formula has closed more doors that it's opened. It's also produced an operation that is so easy for a computer to duplicate. Yes it keeps the meters humming on the transmitter, but does it make a warm spot in the audience's head? On top of that you don't need the annoying staff with their expenses, health care, and needs for a little extra every year on your back.

I the new world anyone with a stream can do the more music format and now you can also sort of do it on your Ipod, and let's not forget personalized streams like Slacker. Why does the audience really us? If you are just hitting F10 on Selector and firing the log off to the log interface why should we listen?

For many stations it may be too late as the budgets have already hit the wall and digging out the resources to find the time and effort to make a station that really entertains could be too big a mountain to climb. But, the opportunity to build a truly special station in your market has never been more open than it is today. The good news is that we still have a strong reach and considerable cumes to work with. Let's use them before they dry up.

Mix it up, make it special and make sure they know about it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Opportunities Ahead #1

Be Local: No doubt the biggest opportunity for radio is that it's LOCAL. While most of the new media, cable networks, broadcast networks and nearly all the web is national or even world wide most of the audience's world lies in their local area. We all know this, but in the end we do little to capitalize on it.

We used to at least cover the local news, but now that is even in the backseat or not on the air at all for many stations. Much of our programming has become networked through syndication and our music playlists are tailored to national trends. It's resulted in one of the biggest complaints we get about terrestrial radio - it's the same everywhere.

Even if you have syndicated personalities like Bob and Tom you can work to make them at least seem local. Working them into your local segments through production, making them part of your promotions and imaging with a hometown spin can help. But, you have to back up that morning show with strong local personalities in the other dayparts.

You also have to give your local talent the room and coaching to build a local presence. If all they do is read the positioning, backsell a song, ramble through a liner and billboard you might as well voice track it from another market.

The key to making it happen is in designing the station to have room for the talent shine. Then you have to back it up with careful coaching and making sure they are well prepared for every opportunity. They also have to build themselves into the community both on and off air.

The stations I work with that do the best job in building their personalities into local fixtures put a lot of effort into working with the talent. Most of the PDs meet nearly daily with every jock and take 15 minutes to see what they are building into their shows. The staff knows what is the most important thing in the audience's world and also what is the most important thing going on at the station that day. These are the basic building blocks to making their show pop.

Spending 45 minutes with the other dayparts (outside of mornings) most days is a simple task and one that clearly pays off.

You also have lots of avenues to be local in your imaging and promotions. How many times do we jump on an AC/DC concert in another market and forget to look for ways to make it local? While the prize may be in Chicago why can't there be a local angle to doing it in Madison?

We also have to make sure we are present at as many local events as possible. Entertaining the local audience in our backyard has to be a top priority.

Being local is really central to all the next 3 or 4 opportunities we'll cover in this series, that's why it's FIRST ON THE LIST. Make it your top priority and you will have the foundation for a new world for radio as the biggest and perhaps the last local media in your community.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Opportunity Lies Ahead

As the buzz of the election winds down it's time to act. Obviously Obama has a very long list, but so does our world. Some may look at all that's ahead and just get depressed. Others will see the opportunity to march boldly into a whole new world that's filled with fresh potential. Right now the environment reminds me of an old lyric from CSNY's Deja Vu - 'the darkest hour is just before the dawn.'

Obama's team summed it up with a great 1 word positioning statement - CHANGE. Hillary and later McCain wandered through the positioning statement of the week - Maverick, Country First, Experience and on and on. Obviously the election became a huge win and now we await action on all the dream, hopes and promises.

In our Radio world there has also been lots of talk about change, but is there any action? Are we seeking new opportunities or just cutting back in every direction trying to save the the month or quarter?

The opportunities are really pretty obvious and Next Week I'll tackle the 4 big ones that lie ahead.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Lessons for Radio From Campaign 08

As we head towards the polls after the long election campaigns there are some lessons for radio programmers and managers from the efforts of McCain and Obama.

Polls: Most polls show Obama having a healthy lead and poised to win, but can we trust the polls?

The polls are handicapped by 2 events. 1st is the cell phone onlies that are difficult to reach and now make up around 20% of the population. In the under 35 age cells the cell phone crowd is bigger and reaching them is very hard for polling services. Also determining if the respondents will actually vote is another problem. Working with samples that voted last time ignores all the people that were newly registered and many of them came from an all out effort from Obama.

When you consider that we measure our success in 'poll like fashion' with Arbitron or BBM in Canada we also face the same problems with the cell phone onlies. It's a big issue with Arbitron right now and we also struggle measuring the younger cells.

The Web and New Media: This whole area will likely turn out to be the KEY if Obama wins. Look at some of the ways Obama used the new world of the web and database management to build huge advantages:

Fund Raising: While the numbers are not official yet, in mid August Obama had 390 million raised and we know he did 150 million in September so it's pretty safe to say he had over 600 million in contributions. McCain had to work with the federal matching funds system and was limited to around 85 million. Obama worked much of this on the web and much of it from small donations. Yes there were some high priced celeb dinners, but it didn't make up most of the 600 million.

McCain didn't have anything close to this effort on the web and mostly relied on some big fund raising events. In the end Obama was able to keep up a huge TV effort, spend to help register tons of new voters, be the leading spender on Radio, advertise all over the web, and also put up offices in any state he wanted to with tons of volunteers and staff members. With 600 million he had the firepower.

The Database: Obama built the email database at every turn. Wanna go to any Obama event - your email address got you in. Visit the web site and you're email address was a huge goal. He even tapped off the convention with an event for over 100,000 in the stadium and much of the goal here was to get 10 of thousands of email addresses from the key toss up state of Colorado. McCain on the other hand claimed that he really didn't know how to do email. Yes, McCain's web site did try to build a database and his loyal followers did set up an email network - that often spread out emails that seemed to come from radical followers (Obama is Muslim, etc).

The Web: As we travel with our browsers in the final weeks nearly every site has Obama banners on it. Most are focused on 1 message - get out and vote early. The strategy is simple to get anyone who can vote out early so they don't walk away waiting in a long line. The effort is on CNN, Yahoo, MSNBC, and any other site that had decent traffic. You can click on the banner ad and be directed to how to vote in your state and community.

When McCain attacked Obama's tax plans Obama put up a site where you could enter your income and basic tax info and get an instant comparison of the McCain taxes and his plan. Using the web he took it right to your level, whatever it is.

New Media: Obama used streaming video on his site and all over You Tube to get messages across, show big speeches and make sure that any messages were available on your schedule. Many of Obama's supporters also put out their own videos and songs adding to the content. The 'Yes We Can' video has over 10 million views. McCain's most viewed video was one done by a McCain hater with 7 million views. While Obama was risking his message being distorted the 'all out access' had to have helped build the impact here.

Using Traditional Media: Obama way outspent McCain on TV and did much of it on a local level in the key states. And in the end his 1/2 hour TV show to finish off the last week of the election was also a big move that kept McCain in the background and on the defensive.

Lessons: A lot of the campaign tactics and strategies are similar to what we face in radio. In so many ways our product is a popularity contest and really running for President is also largely dependent on popularity. Obama was able to overcome big hurdles from his experience, his name and even his race to run a campaign that looks like it will win.

He did it by using all the new media tools skillfully. McCain seemed to run a campaign as if the web was a new fangled thing that looked confusing, complex and not worth the effort. No doubt the next campaign - win or lose next Tuesday - the Republicans will take a loooong hard look at how to use new media and the web.

Regardless of who you vote for here you have to see that skillful use of new media and the web is crucial if you want to win here in Radioland.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Radio Week That Was 10/28

Wall Mart 400% more Radio Usage: Over the last year the big box of all big boxes has really pumped up it's radio spending and now reports big returns. Big Box stores have ignored radio for the most part and usually spend on TV and Newspaper inserts. For years we've seen the local Stereo Shop close up as Best Buy hits and radio loses. Could the tide be turning? Let's hope so, but why did these national chain stores and restaurants blow off radio in the first place? I bet the lack of a simple way to buy radio on a national scale was more the reason than the reach or effectiveness of the media. We still need to find a way that's better the national rep and while there have been ideas nothing seems to be advancing in our economic and creative freeze. Still, this is a story your sales team should be armed with. If the most frugal - penny pinching - store around is advancing in a tough economy with radio so can many others.

Layoffs: Every day the list gets longer as everyone tightens the budget for 09. We've seen it nearly every year for the last 5 or 6 and the drought in our products is not getting any better with fewer people to create the programming and sell it. How can we expect to make progress with all the competition from new media and how can we make an impact in the new media world with no hands on deck to sail the ship? Sooner or later we need to make an investment here.

Rock Music Making Big Waves: With AC/DC's new CD topping the charts and the audience buzzing about the return of Guns N' Roses after 13 years Rock music remains in the fore front. Metallica is still burning up the charts and there are still lots of other rockers with strong showings no matter how you measure it. Managing the A and B current categories has never been more important than is is right now. Have you been to a Wal Mart in the last week? The whole store seems like AC/DC has taken over. There are posters all over the place, lots of AC/DC clothing and even non-stop videos on the TV screens. The only thing they left out was having the Greeters decked out in AC/DC gear - how about one of them in a 'Hells Bells T Shirt."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Radio Week That Was 10/21

The story that stood out was all the changes in the creative teams in satellite radio as XM and Sirius began the meat of the merger. When you stand back and look at the 2 services XM really put up a lot more into the music channels than Sirius. Sirius really ramped up the expenses when they lured Howard away and paid tons for sports rights. The bidding wars for content were mostly to impress Wall Street at any cost and we all know the costs are rather high.

The music channels were really a bargain. Most just had a programmer and maybe a jock here and there. XM was more focused on trying to bring in some unique formats and building on Lee Abrams theory (a well founded one) on 4 types of programming that addressed listeners who were casual to rabid. XM spent a lot on imaging the stations, running special programs and profiles, having artists stop buy, covering live tours, and keeping the music channels pretty active. Sirius pretty much pressed play and ran with 1000 in a row on a group of stations that really just covered the basic format food groups we have in most major markets.

XM felt that the music channels brought in around 70% of the subscribers and a wide range of people. Sirius was a lot more focused on the talk side and 'Howard's World.' The one problems there is where is the growth? How many more Howard Heads do they expect to find willing to pay out for the service? Yes, lots signed up when he moved over, but the fans are either there or not by now. You don't see a bunch of 22 year olds with their first job and car jumping all over signing up for Howard.

The sports channels probably still have growth in them - they have all the major sports covered and there are plenty of fans. The talk channels are OK, but there aren't any big hosts here and in most markets the talk fans have a wide range of choices in many cases on regular radio.

The new programming order with the merged services is mostly living on Sirius' energy. And in the music side it's pretty much just the basics. The huge Washington HQ for XM is probably pretty much a ghost town as the world now revolves around just delivering the hits.

For the terrestrial radio side it's good news. There will still be 2 services to choose from for a long time splitting the effect and now we don't have much on the 'music side' to compete with. No doubt with the slump in car sales and the new opportunities for 'add on gadgets' from sync systems with I Pods to WiFi to navigation aids and more video options. It also looks like the next big deal in cars will be more centered on MPG than so much focus on the dashboard.

You also have the debt issues with the merger and Sirius/XM needing to raise a ton of money in 1st quarter. They really can't really move to just 1 audio service and then use the band width to venture more into video for a new revenue stream - you still have over 1/2 of XM people to service and the receivers are not compatible.

It all adds up to a very tough business model. While Mel may dream of being the leading content provider in audio as he claimed in one of the addresses around the merger - it's not going to happen without some creative people and unique programming.

While satellite radio's impact on terrestrial radio has gotten past the peak it's now going downhill. It's likely that these moves could steepen the slope. For 'regular' radio we still face lots of challenges, but it looks like satellite radio is in the rear view mirror. If you're looking for some really talented people there's even more to choose from.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Radio Week That Was 10/14

PPM: While the economy continues to be a wild ride we also still have the PPM controversy with NY and NJ looking to stop PPM with law suits.

This past week we got the first look at some of the new PPM markets - NY and surrounding areas, LA and the vicinity, Chicago and San Francisco/San Jose. So let's take a look at a few markets to see what the big difference is when we compare the 12 plus shares from July, August and September in the PPM world to the 2007 12 plus averages over the 4 books:

  • New York: The Hispanic stations are off around 2.3 shares and the Urban/Rhy station are really up around 1.5 shares 12 plus over their 2007 share averages. While the Spanish formats did fall over 20% the Urban's are actually UP. The other winners were N/T (up 3.8 shares), ACs (up 2), Rock (up 2) Classic Hits/Oldies (up 1.6) and CHR (up 1 share).
  • Los Angeles: Hispanic shares were off just 1 share under 4% and urban shares were off 1 share which is around 10%. The gains were similar for the rest of the formats.
  • Chicago: Urban was off 4 shares, Hispanic down 1.5 shares while Rock picked up 4.2 shares, AC was up 3 shares, and N/T was up 2.4 shares.

Yes there are some big moves here with so many of the NON-Hispanic and Urban formats gaining a lot of market share. But, outside of the Urban fall off in Chicago there isn't that much downward movement. In the high Hispanic world of LA they are only off 4%. In NY look at the gains for the Urban/Rhy formats! Consider that this summer was dominated by a huge political season the big N/T gains could roll off after the election, those N/T shares could stabilize a little more as we get into 09.

Perhaps I'm biased, but it seems like a lot of action to go to lawsuits and state motivated legal action over these comparisons. We've all had books that moved up and down 10% - perhaps we should have called the state AG instead of the Arbitron rep.

Economy: While these swings and the recession (yes we are in one even through the govt. won't admit it) can be tough times for the sales team as well as the budgets. But, keep in mind that radio has CLEAR advantages for advertisers:

  1. Those who take advantage of the moment and market their product with a well targeted message can make huge gains in this economy. Just like those who bought when the market hit bottom last week made huge gains this week, the same happens in the market place.
  2. Radio is a bargain: The rates and production are reasonable to low and you can reach HUGE audiences without blowing the bank account.
  3. Radio is proven: This isn't some Internet gamble that may not draw business. The radio model has worked for years.

It might be time to revamp the pitch and re-tool the packages with these 3 facts as keys.

It's also time to take advantage of the opportunity to build your product. We all know the road to making great/entertaining radio will come from having compelling products that interface with the community and entertain beyond the music. Reach out and really enteratin the audience - they need it. It's also your opportunity to invest now and really make gains as the markets recover.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Radio Week That Was 10/6

1. PPM and Cuomo: This saga continues as minority broadcasting groups try to kill PPM so their ratings won't suffer. But, to try and make it illegal in some way is completely stupid. The only valid issue here is sample, and yes Arbitron will need to work more on sample and cell phone only households to deliver more reliable results, but it's not an easy task. PPM is far more accurate in collecting the data and the only finding you are going to see in a court ruling will have to revolve around the in-accurate diary system which they are trying to keep? Anyone can see the motive here - politicians trying to build a career from a case/publicity, like Elliot Spitzer did!!! Mr. Cuomo 'don't waste you time and our industry.' Grab a power switch somewhere else.

2. Arbitron looks at 50 diary markets to implement more cell phone household coverage in samples. Great news, but we need to do this in all markets PPM and Diary. The land line telephone is over as a communication device. It would be great if they would at least let us know which 50 markets they want to start with.

3. ABC looks at a Youth Movement: The network releases last week that they are focusing on 18-49s as they look for new products. Our whole industry is so far behind on this issue and we all need to reach out to younger audiences. Now is the time - as we come out of this economy you can bet that the working youth will be the catalyst not the depleted resources of the boomers.

4. Economy: The 'bailout' passes but we are still in a big economic mess. The public gets this one even though they don't understand the 'naked short selling' or the 'derivatives' they do understand that a bunch of highly paid Wall Street types made off with huge bonus' and paychecks on their backs. A lesson for us - 'the audience is smarter than we sometimes think.'

5. Economy and Formats: We've all seen down turns in the economy trigger gains for Country, but Rock radio can also grow as times get tougher. While the country themes of overcoming adversity, living in tough times, and a generally positive outlook are often cited as reasons Rock also has some themes in the music that sync up with the times. The rebellion side, tough times angle and reality of the music often cuts through. Look at the early 90s downturn and the rise of grunge. Look at all the new bands like Linkin Park, Stained, Disturbed and others that grew in the post 911 downturn. The late 70s was also a tough time that brought a rise in rock's popularity. With Metallica heading up both sales and download charts, ACDC on the way, Guns/Roses out shortly, Nickleback out soon and lots of left over music from earlier releases in 08 it will be a banner year.

6. Your Stars: How well prepared are your personalities for their show? What are THEY really bringing to the listening experience? I bet if you took an air check and just cut out the positioning, call letters, simple music IDs, and things like weather/traffic you'd have very little 'personality' to show. Air staff members become personalities by what they bring to the party not just by hanging out at the station. We are a third of the way into the Fall ratings period - how entertaining are we?

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Radio Week That Was 9/29/08

Here is the weekly review of Radio and related news on September 29th.

1. Was Letterman Mad or what. After McCain blew him off and ended up on Katie Curic's news Letterman really took him to task. Who had the bigger audience? Probably Letterman by a mile and he also got more from the web and other media coverage of his reaction. While we can see that McCain didn't feel it was time for jokes he could have turned the bit serious - Letterman's done it many times with other guests.

2. Rumors of the new 'Cumulus' lead smaller market ratings system keep popping up in the trades, but who is it? What is the plan here? For sure it's a big job, but let's hope they don't drag this out to the point where it really doesn't matter when the news hits. More and more this is looking like a re-run of the Clear Channel lead effort that ended up dry before this one.

3. Paul Newman passes while that's sad news we all have to cover it in our morning shows. Next time you might look up Death Pool Dave (not related to me) at A great site with actual death pool watch updates. There are also on-line death pools with points (sort of like fantasy football) - usually you get their age minus 100 in points. It's weird but also entertaining and Death Pool Dave is a great interview.

4. The Web: Notes from various stories:
  • Your Stream: Bill Conway (PD at KOIT) noted at the NAB that he was disturbed with the sound of his stream with all the filler junk inserted int he spot breaks to cover over the 'voice over talent issues.' He noted that only 10% of the spot content in most streams needs to be replaced. As a listener to lots of streams I join Bill in asking- why do we rarely even hear any spots at all when only 10% of them really need to be covered. The stupid PSA, goofy instrumentals (some sound like the came from old porn movies) and long winded promos are annoying to say the least. It's time we demand more from our streaming providers in substitution software. Surely we can find a way in our digital studios to mark the spots that need to be replaced and let the rest run. If we are going to go head to head with all the web based stations we need to make this work!!!
  • Pod Casts: An idea of the week - how about a 2-4 minute summary of your morning show for the week? Great download of the best moments all quickly edited together.
  • Are all our Web Efforts ignored at the buyer level: John Hogan was addressing a gathering of buyers in NY last week and noted that Radio has done a lot with the web and the buyers continue to act as if radio is sitting on it's hands. He's right - look at all the CC, CBS and other group efforts with lots of content and many experiments with lots of new ideas.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Radio Week That Was 9/22/08

Thought I'd add a weekly feature to the blog and review some quick highlights from the past week in our radio world. Last week was pretty dramatic:

1. Economy Hits A Wall: From the coverage on CNBC it looked like last week was as near to a Wall Street meltdown as 1929. It looks like some of the storm has passed, but like IKE we have a huge expense cleaning up the mess. For Radio we didn't need this news as no doubt capital for business will be in short supply and the American economy will likely be in a funk for quite a while to say the least. We all know this will make the going even a little tougher as Radio looks to evolve into a lot stronger platform in the midst of so much new media competition. We're all going to have to get bold and creative and quick.

2.AFDI: Clear Channel wraps up their radio group meetings with an appeal to the troops to Actually F*** Doing It. While some criticize the CC team for using the language and a phrase that Lee Abrams used in his blog a few years ago the spirit is right. Gotta quit talking and start doing.

3. NAB: The convention is over, but is anything going to evolve or was it just another hang out convention?

4. CD's May Be Replaced by Micro SD-Cards? Wal-Mart and Best Buy are teaming up with Sony, Universal, EMI and Warner Bros to use the Scan Disk Micro SD cards and put CDs/Albums on them. Art and liner notes will return (yeah) and there will be plenty of room for you to store your songs on the memory cards also. They can plug into phones, MP3 players, your computer and are not copy protected. Sounds interesting, but will the current downloaders buy in?

5. PPM: The recent legal attempts by 'we like the inaccurate and outdated diaries because we looked OK in it' groups continue to hold PPM back. It's time for these folks to accept the reality and get out of the way of more accurate and reliable ratings data.

6. Looks Like Rock Radio Ratings are improving: Maybe it's the wealth of good new music, better sample return in both diaries and PPM panels, or maybe it's the Guitar Hero/Rock Band video games. Whatever the reason Rock Radio is mostly up in ratings across the country. Unfortunately Arbitron has discontinued their national format trends report due to the problems related to combining PPM and Diary data. So we really don't have any nationwide data to trend on here, but going through the top 30 markets I see 5-6 that are close to flat, 5 or 6 that could be ruled down and the rest are UP. For the stations I work with in both the U.S. and Canada nearly all were UP this past Spring. It's a good time to ROCK.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Authenticity Part 4 - The Wrap

We wrap up being Authentic with the audience with 3 tips:

1. Be Viral: When things happen in unique and unexpected places they can look more authentic. Showing up with a integrated presence in the streets and on the web woven into the event/site can get your message across around the hype filter.

2. Use your audience: They believe themselves. Having the audience spread the word in their own style and words is a lot more authentic than the big voice guy. Just make sure the audience says what they want - not 'which station rocks your town.'

3. Be Unique: Stand out in your words and presentation and surprise them. Think way outside the box and you'll hit 'authentic' a lot quicker than using the same old tricks.

Lastly remember that Image IS the Key and you build that image one sweeper, promo, billboard, and impression at a time. Lose the focus on the image just a few times with the audience and all your hard work can be lost. Once you grow that authentic image work with it carefully to make sure it sticks. Once you lose it you see that the audience doesn't forget.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Living Up - Authenticity Part 3

As we move through a series of thoughts on Authenticity In Radio the key for part 3 is LIVING UP. I don't mean living beyond your means but actually the opposite. Living Up to what you claim.

Once you pull out the hype and quit making statements and claims that you can't live up to you have to find selling points and claims that you CAN live up to. Also keep in mind that longer claims usually set off the Un Authentic Meter.

While there are many stations that stand out with high Authentic scores one great example to listen to is The Drive in Chicago. The main claim for the station is basic and simple - The Sound Track of Our Lives. Notice that they use 'our' not 'your' - which would assume that somehow they knew Your life.

The presentation is also low key. There isn't a big voice booming announcer making sweeping big balls statements. The avoid the laser shot gimmicks in the production and often rely on classic song hooks to showcase the 'soundtrack.'

And when you look at the results the Drive has pushed past the legendary Loop complete with Brandmier. They have also run past WXRT which likely had the 'authentic' Q-score before the Drive signed on.

Another tactic that works - a sense of humor. You can make big claims, but make it obvious that it's a joke. Just remember that humor has a limited shelf life.

Repeating it over and over is also a way that we often rely on the 'drum it into their heads' that often backfires. The more we bang the drum the more often their BS meter goes off. When you do hype it up or use humor watch out - don't overstay your welcome. Keep track of how many times you've run a sweeper or promo and consider that with most stations that have a TSL around 30 1/4 hours a week it only takes 40 plays of the sweeper to get over 60% of your cume hearing the message 3 or more times a week.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Over Hype - The Core of Un-Authentic

In today's radio world we seem to gravitate to Hype almost naturally. Look at our positioning. There is hardly a station that can't avoid falling into- the BEST - The MOST or The Number 1 trap. The contesting is also filled with it - we can't just have the Winter Escape - it has to be The Ultimate Winter Escape. Then you look at the features, special programs and weekend themes and we've added another layer of hype. The air staff often falls into the 'sound' repeating the hyped up positioning with that 'extra' hype in their sell and fills the breaks even more fomatic hyped up billboards.

What really lies at the core of HYPE is making claims that you can't justify or that are subjective. Who is really 'the best?' Can you prove it with words? Rarely can you make claims like we do and expect the audience to ever really believe them. But, for years radio programming has followed the old marketing model. The reach and frequency game of repeat the same message so many times that it reaches the whole audience and then do it enough till it becomes drilled in. Hypnotize them and they will do anything or believe anything.

This game worked well when we only had a few media to work with and were not saturated with marketing. Now that we are swimming it in all the time and so much of it follows the reach and frequency hype model the audience is not believing it any more.

Getting rid of the HYPE in your station will be a tough task but one that you have to accomplish if you are going to stand up as a hip and credible brand with the under 40 year olds. Cleaning it out of your imaging, contesting, jock presentation and your marketing will take years. These habits run deep in our products and we won't get a lot of recognition for the efforts for a while. The audience expects hype from radio - it's become cliche.

OK so what happens if we commit to cleaning out out the hype - how do you sell the product to the audience? That's what we'll explore in the next segment building Authenticity Back Into Radio in a few days.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Authenticity - The Key To Reviving Radio - Part 1

We've all recognized radio's issues and concerns as we've watched our 'stock' fall with the audience over the last 10 years. In the end our media just isn't 'hip' anymore and with so many new media entries to choose from the job of taking on so many challenges looks daunting from the product and sales side.

While all of these challenges may seem new, radio has actually faced many of them before. As FM radio was taking shape we faced a lot of the same core issues. AM Top 40 radio ruled the land and it was packed with hype. Phony DJs, overly tight playlists often playing the top song every hour, and imaging that was anything but authentic. A lot of the audience was expressing the same issues we see now that radio had sold out and was no longer hip or a source of music discovery.

In those early days of FM being authentic was a core value. Even if you picked a phony name you had to have one that was more of a natural nickname than a hyped up image. Stations didn't position themselves as the Best or the Most they strove more to be unique. The presentation was more 'laid back' and the messages between the songs were more informational than fixed on selling the product. The playlists were a lot wider and deeper than the top 40 AMs with a freedom that lead you on more for what you might discover than what you already know. While you may feel that the description here was mostly about 'progressive radio' or the origins of the AOR format these values were also present in the Beautiful Music Formats and the AC stations of the era.

Radio began to regain it's ties to the audience and the shift to FM was on. In the early 70s only 10 to 15% of the listening was on FM, but by the end of the decade it was over 50%. Of course it moved to the 80% range through the 80s.

Looking at today's 20 something and younger generation that seems to be at the core of radio's woes the one thing they are looking for is AUTHENTICITY. In the oversold world that they have grown up in they can smell a sales pitch miles away and usually run from it.

Radio is full of gimmicks, hype and illusion -- all detractors of AUTHENTICITY. From our 'THE BEST XXX' claims to the over dramatic contests, gimmick names for the stations, and endless formatics designed not to entertain but to drill images into the audience's head.

If we want to revive our product with the audience under 40 AUTHENTICITY will have to be at the core of our values. Over the next 2 weeks let's take a look at some ideas you can use in your station's culture and foundation that will breed authenticity. Hope you can make it back and I also hope you will add to the party with a few comments.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Exposing Your Content

What are you really doing with your content?

Are you just putting it through the transmitter?

While most of our audience uses the transmitter we all know and see all the expansion of distribution channels.

For example look at a cable TV show like Mad Men from AMC. The whole first season can be watched on DVD, On Demand/Comcast Cable, and on the web site. You can also watch the shows on Mondays (it airs on Sunday night) on line or through On Demand.

With all that distribution you may wonder - isn't this killing their ratings. Why would anyone tune in on Sunday nights for the regular broadcast? Well the reality is that it doubled the numbers for the show as the new season began a couple of weeks ago. They went from around a million viewers to 2 million and now the award winning show is starting to catch on. Watch as AMC pulls off a hit. Much of the work was done by spreading the distribution. Now that the audience has started to discover the show from all the distribution channels they are developing P1s. Otherwise AMC would have had another award winning show that got missed in the maze of 300 cable channels and so much other media.

Could Rock Radio benefit from a similar strategy. You bet.

1. Pod casts - Some stations use them but I bet 90% of you have only 1 or no podcasts on your site.

2. You Tube clips - How much as your station or team posted from station events, guest shots on the morning show, or even just a tour of the station with some pranks from the staff.

3. Collections of morning show bits.

4. Replay the phone calls from your afternoon show.

5. How about a new rock pod cast every week that doesn't air on the transmitter but only on the web with comments on new artists and songs.

6. Maybe a place for local bands to showcase their videos and music complete with reviews and chats.

Most sites I visit don't have much that really pertains to the station or it's content. In Rock we seem to have lots of girl pages (as if there isn't any more revealing content in this genre on the web), RSS music news feeds (wow Billy Joel is on tour), some corporate stuff (the Clear Channel web feeds), the link to streaming, maybe a list of the last songs played, a chart so you can buy songs, hype for the database, bios of the jocks, and hype for the contests.

Where's the audio - this is supposed to be RADIO. And is it local? In the content arena this is supposed to be our biggest card to play.

Are we worried that if we leave the content on the web that the audience won't dial us in to hear it? We are way past being exclusive - now is the time to be INCLUSIVE.

We all know the problem here. Most stations have no resources to get their content to the web. It takes human effort to get it there and with so many stations running so bare boned on staff we can't get ahead. As we come out of these tough times hopefully we can put asside some of the resources to start building a purposeful world here. AND SOON.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sales Solves All Problems?

In the 80s as a programmer I heard the claim in a station strategy/budget session that 'SALES SOLVES ALL PROBLEMS.' In that case we had a solid product and really the sales effort was doing well but the potential to grow was clearly there and the team responded. While the revenue gains didn't really solve ALL problems it did exceed the budget and on paper we had won.

At that time we all bought in as the extra sales effort meant more resources to keep the product competitive and ahead. That statement has popped up a number of times and in many ways it became the mantra of business strategy for many station and group strategies for our industry.

Clearly sales generates the revenue and that is the lifeblood of any business. But, you still need a product to sell. In our case we still need a strong and healthy audience.

Does the business plan of your station or group still living in a world where you expect sales to solve ALL problems? It's obvious that we need content and product to sell. With all the new media in the advertising holding and building an audience has never been more challenging. Are you investing enough to get the job done? It's a simple question, but one that we are obviously not asking enough as we watch new media invading on our shares of the market more and more every day.

Building a product that draws both audience and advertisers is a careful balance. Throwing money at the product or making it all product and slighting the sales side doesn't work but, making it all sales and ignoring the product doesn't work either. It's all about balance - are you balancing your resources?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Air Staff Critique

Sitting down with the air staff one on one with a trusty air check is probably not on the top of most PDs punch list most days. Over the years it's become almost a forgotten PD art. With voice tracking, digital/computer studios, and more and more formatic rules I bet most of the talent on the air has had very few of these meetings in the last few years.

In fact I've run into studios where you can't even run an air check, unless you tape the whole show off air. These are important meetings and you probably should be meeting on on one at least twice a month with everyone.

So where do we start? Just cue up the breaks and hit play?

Really the better meeting comes when the PD has taken a half hour or so and reviewed a show before the talent arrives. Although I usually review a whole station over a number of dayparts one of the tricks I use is recording the station's stream and going back with a generic wave editor and running through a couple of hours of breaks. You can get stream recorders from a bunch of on-line download sites ( - Absolute Sound Recorder 3 - is one of many shareware programs you can use).

The keys to look for in most presentations:

  1. Is the talent COMFORTABLE on the air?
  2. Are they talking TO the audience or announcing over them?
  3. Do they know WHO the audience is?
  4. Are they TOPICAL to the target audience?
  5. Are they PREPARED?
  6. Are they EXECUTING the basics - call letters, billboards, liners, and most important interfacing with the music.

The key is picking one of these topics for each session and focusing on just that area.

To get the talent into it - try brainstorming instead of preaching to them. Get them involved in answering these questions and let their ideas and thoughts jump out. If you do you will make a lot more progress with each session.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


One of the biggest complaints on radio that we constantly see in focus groups, listener panels, and just talking with the audience in passing is 'it's the same list of songs over and over.' We've all heard it and for the most part just thrown up our hands over this BIG issue with the audience.

We've all done the math and know that the minute we expand the playlist the ratings fall off as the audience can't keep up with the depth of the playlist. If we don't play the top testing current hits 20 or 30 times a week the audience's time spent with the station won't allow them to hear them enough to become familiar. The ratings consistently show that the bigger the list the harder it is to attract large enough cume to deliver a competitive share.

It's all translated by the audience as tight corporate playlists that don't challenge them or match what they can now carry around on any MP3 player.

We've faced this before. Many of you may not have been around at the time. Back in the early 70s top 40 radio ruled the world and was mostly on AM. As FM was building one of the cornerstones was the 'progressive rock' and early AOR formats.

Most of the AM - Top 40 stations had playlists of around 100 songs. At some the top song of the week was played every hour at the top of the hour. It truly was the same songs over and over. The top 40 DJs talked over the music with hyped up voices, on air gimmicks and a bunch of one liner jokes in some cases.

The complaints we heard as FM was launching on radio programming are not much different than what we hear today. As rock radio planted it's seed there were 4 rules:
  • The DJs pick the music
  • No talking over the songs
  • No Hyped up voices - be laid back and just talk to the audience
  • Blend the music together with segues and fewer interruptions in the hour.

While the FM rock audience didn't seem that big at first it grew as more and more got FM radios and by 1980 FM Rock radio had evolved to race past most of those top 40 stations and built a bond with the boomer audience. Yes we did build a controlled library with card systems and did play the hot current songs in a rotation over the day. But, the perception that the DJs picked the songs was still central to the format.

As music scheduling systems came about the jocks were taken out of the music selection process and pretty soon they were more used to sell liners, billboards, and maybe toss in a little audience interaction on the phones.

What would happen if we brought the air staff back into the music selection process now?

We've all watched the launch of the "Jack" formats and their positioning statement - Playing Whatever We Want (or something close). Often the first adaptors for the Jack stations come from an audience that remembers the day when the jocks picked the songs. We often found in the early research that it was Classic Rock and Rock listeners that jumped on the Jack stations and cited the positioning as a key reason to try the station. Of course most of them didn't stick around when they played ABBA and other train wrecks trying to prove their point. Also not having jocks on the Jack formats made you wonder - who is the WE in playing Whatever WE Want.

Is there a way to get the air staff more into the music? We all know there is and it's time to start experimenting. We all know that the listening 'math' won't allow a jock free for all, but just going around with the air staff sounding clueless and totally uninvolved in the music isn't working either. There's a middle ground here that need some exploration.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Lesson From WKRP

All of us in Radio have laughed hard at WKRP over the years. The bumbling GM, the sexy receptionist, the geeky news guy, the sold out sales guy and the jocks trying so hard to be cool. In typical sit-com structure the jokes and stories all revolved around the personal problems of the characters. It was all about their lives within the halls of the radio station. We rarly saw any interaction with the audience. Once in a while we'd get a caller on the air and a few storylines showcased contests or concerts but that was about it.

Part of the plot of course is that WKRP was a losing radio station. It sat at the bottom of the ratings and we can only imagine that it was also at the bottom in revenue. We never got to see a budget meeting - I don't think they had a budget. KRP did climb to 6th in the ratings in one of the eposides in the final season. But, the humor and drama came from the characters within the building.

Perhaps WKRP could have been a winner if the team had been paying attention more to the audience than how much office space Les Nessman had or who Jennifer was dating this week.

But that wouldn't have been funny. KRP is not real it's a sitcom.

How much effort and time is spent in your building with the internal drama? Could spending all that effort on the audience drama be more productive?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cell Phone ONLY Households

The National Center for Health Statistics has released the bi-annual survey on cell phone only households for the 2nd half of 2007 and the 18+ percentage of cell phone only households is now up to 15.8%!!!!!

This percentage has grown from Jan-June 2004 at 5% to nearly 16% in just 3 years. And the growth is really increasing. The percentages grew 14% in the last 1/2 of 2007 compared to the first half. Looking further back the percentages from the first 1/2 of 2006 were up 6% over the last half of 2006. At this rate of growth the numbers will quickly hit 20%, it could happen when they release the first half of 2008 around September. So it's likely that right now we are over 20% of the adult population in cell phone only households. By the end of 2008 we will probably be over 25%.

They are also tracking the people who may have a land line but take nearly all their calls on the cell phone. That's another 13.1%. So nearly 29% of the households really don't use the land line as a phone. When Arbitron calls - 29% of the adult population is out of the game. And I repeat it's growing every day.

Now look at the data by age cells:

-------Jan-June 2004 ---- July-Dec 2007

18-24 ---10.3%--------------30.6%

25-29---- 9.9% --------------34.5%

30-44-----4.4%-------------- 15.5%

45-64----- 2.3%-------------- 8.0%

65+ ---------.9%-------------- 2.2%

This is not just 18-24s and college students - look at the rate of growth in 30-44s and now the biggest percentage is 25-29s. If your target audience is 18-44s you are well over 20% of the households using only cell phones. The number is even higher if you factor in the land line households who really don't take calls on the land line.

You can read the study here.

Using landlines for Arbitron samples and research in general is quickly becoming a very biased sample that leaves out big chunks of the population. Obviously we NEED new answers here. Find a way to call cell phones or start using the web, email, myspace?, maybe text messaging, or other new ways to contact the sample. Our data is quickly becoming too in-accurate to be credible even with People Meters we still don't have a reliable and accurate sample with land line phones as the base.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

So Where Are The New Format Ideas?

As we approach the Summer it could be a great time to see some fresh thinking and new ideas in formats and new approaches in radio programming. In many ways Summer is a time when the ratings pressure is off a little in the 4 book markets to launch something fresh and new or roll out a few experiments and see how they sound.

Last Summer we saw the 'Movin' format get rolling in a number of markets, but now it's pretty much looking like this adult rhythmic approach is not exploding. The summer before in 06 was really the wind down of a 2 year period where the Jack/Variety Hits formats were the news, but for the most part they have stabilized or even faded away in many markets. Last summer we also saw a number of Oldies stations re-vamp themselves as Classic Hits and bringing in a lot more 70s/80s titles.

So what could be on tap for this year? There are some ripe territories that could be up for grabs:

  • 90s Rock - In the late 70s the oldies format was born, in the late 80s we saw Classic Rock flourish, the 80s formats largely came into being in the late 90s and here we are in the late 2000s. There is a lot of great rock from the era and a few stations have already started in this direction this year. You many not have heard of them as the launches have been rather low key and involved existing rockers tweaking their approach. The climate is ripe as today's 25-40 year olds all spent their teens and early 20s in the 90s. The dawn of Grunge, Alternative, pop alternative, Active Rock and 90s metal are all part of the rock side of the 90s and lots of it still tests very well.
  • Youth Formats - We have given up in many ways on the teens and 18-24s in our research and experiments in recent years. The news isn't good and we haven't even looked carefully at this market, perhaps due to tightening budgets. It's time to get off our butts and at least take a long hard look at what could be an exciting radio product for the 15-25 year olds. Is anyone doing anything? Doesn't look like it but it could be a spot to work on. It's going to take a lot of new thinking, social networks, texting tricks, unique web approaches and a whole new approach to music. In many ways it's a lot like the launch of young formated youth stations on FM in the early 70s. They threw out every rule of the AM top 40s to make an impression and the going was tough for a while, but look at the big winnings 10 years later!!!
  • 90s-Current based AC - A few jumped when the 'Fresh' approach hit in NYC, but there hasn't been much news of recent. This approach to get the more mature 25-44 female could work well in lots of markets.
  • FM Talk - We've been talking about it for years but very few have turned it into a strong format.
  • Rock - In almost all forms could be a good move this Summer. The music is in good shape for currents and the classic forms of the music reach into the 50 plus audience with ease now. There's Rock out there for people from the late teens all the way to the 60s in some form. Now with PPM finally moving into the top 10 markets this Fall and we're still seeing stronger shares and cume for Rock in PPM than in the Diary system.

It could be an interesting summer, but it could also be a drought in creativity and experimenting. Even though our industry desperately needs to innovate with our products there doesn't seem to be much attention focused on it. The top news seems to be the Clear Channel buy out, which is no doubt distracting all the Clear Channel stations from investing or experimenting for a while. There is also lots of news on the economy and struggling revenues which is another deterrent to innovating. We're also continuing to invest a lot of time and effort into HD Radio and not gaining anything for it. Perhaps it's time to get back to focusing a lot more on our product and the audience.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Al Ries - Views the Internet and Mobile Net

Al Ries' involvement in the revolutionary 'Positioning' series of books has always put Al's thoughts and observations high on many of our must read lists.

I caught his recent Advertising Age article on the state of media and the emerging Mobile Net (the web on your cell phone) - the third screen. Al feels that this media is the 'next revolution' joining the big leagues of media - Books, Newspapers, Radio, TV, Internet.

It's a bit scary as Al makes a number of observations that are astute:

Fasten your seat belts. On the horizon, there's another profound shift in media, consumer behavior and technology coming. In the near future we are likely to welcome the arrival of a sixth mass-communications medium. And what is this earth-shaking new medium? It's the Mobilenet. The what? Surely you are joking, Al. The Mobilenet is just a subset of the internet. Just another way of going online. Just another way of surfing the net without using a computer. That's why mobile devices are commonly called the "third screen." Third-screen thinking is going to cause you and your company to miss the boat.

Which big brands were created by moving content from one medium to another? Very, very few.

Moving The Wall Street Journal online didn't save Dow Jones from the clutches of Rupert Murdoch for just $5 billion.

Moving ESPN onto cellphones didn't take it to the big leagues.

So far, moving TV shows to the internet hasn't created as much value as one internet site, Less than 20 months after its launch, YouTube was bought by Google for $1.65 billion.

Hopefully Radio will keep evolving with new ideas and strategies for the Third Screen-Mobile Net, but Al's point here is that the real 'killer ap' in the new 3rd Screen world will probably not be a line extension of our brand on a different distribution system. We need to think WAY OUT OF THE BOX.

One of the 'dreams' we all have on the web and new media is that we can extend our brand with all it's reach and content (if we don't cut the heart out of it) to the Web and Beyond.

Al's point here is - don't count on it. Read Al's whole article here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Comedians and Morning Shows

It would seem obvious to go looking at the local comedy clubs for talent when you are on the hunt for a morning show member or even to build a show around, but it rarely works. We've seen some pretty talented people like Whoppi, Adam Corolla, and others jump in and end up struggling in radio.

I've fallen into this challenge a few times and it's always tough. The stand up comedian has build their world around a live audience, maybe a 10 minute routine that they can repeat night after night, they can use pretty much any language they want, and there's also the opportunity to put physical and visual bits into their work. Of course radio is way different. You will need a lot more that 10 minutes of material and you have to make it fresh every day. Watch the language, no feedback from the audience while you're performing most of the time, and you have to work in an audio only platform. The biggest difference is most comedians are really addicted to laughter and in most settings on the radio they don't get any except from the others on the morning show team in the studio. It's almost like a band that can't hear their performance.

The masters of using stand up folks have to be Bob and Tom. They have a long list of regulars and Tom does a great job of setting them up. But, notice how they have avoided hiring on a 'regular' that becomes a real player everyday in the show.

It's tempting to hang out at a local club, watch some great talent entertain the audience and take the plunge and put them on your morning show. But, beware that club is a very different world than your studio.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

BA Goes to Online Music Research

Allen Kepler (Pres of BA Research) announced a big move for BA with the launch of his PMM (Personal Mix Master) on line music research this week. While Allen sells the new product as part of Earth week since his staff will no longer be polluting the planet zipping from market to market in planes, trains and automobiles the real advantage here is lower cost, more convenience for the participants and better research. You can read the release on the BA site.

Some of the highlights include random placement of the songs. The order is no longer fixed for the songs in the online testing world. We all seen the first 25 or so songs in an auditorium test come back with nice scores then the fatigue starts to set in and little by little the scores fall off.

The other is careful panel management. We've mostly relied on using panels recruited from the station's database or pleas on air and on line to sign up. While we usually ended up with a big panel there really wasn't much screening and you would rarely see P1 listeners from competitors in the sample. BA feels they have the screener down to be able to fine tune the panel and represent the target.

The panel can take the test on their schedule and pause the test when they get fatigued or distracted. They can also slow down the pace of the hooks to their liking and re-listen to songs if they want a little more time to make up their minds.

With all the data collected on line it's a lot easier to build a quality panel with people from any market. In fact given the short comings of phone listings and the burden of random number generating to even get close to a sample the is open to the market it's a lot better. You also have a world with cell phones, VOIP lines and other systems where you can live in a market and have numbers from area codes thousands of miles away.

All of these are great advantages in music testing.

A lot of researchers have been a little skeptical of on-line research. Not being able to 'see' the sample in a room, lack of screening, and the concern that you are using a different recruit than the telephone based sample we see from Arbitron are all concerns. But, the paper and pencil days are ending for the top Arbitron markets and really doing paper and pencil research with almost anyone under 40 is so yesterday.

I'm a fan of going on line, as you may have read in past blogs. Working with Solutions Research in Canada we've done on-line perceptual and music tests for over 2 years and the results are great. The costs are also lower and the results come back quicker.

Having also worked with BA on a number of projects over the years and watching their innovation years ago with the Mix Master dials system they do good work. We can expect to see quality data.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Heard Here, New Ratings System?, and Bob

3 pieces of news stood out for broadcasters this week:

1. Cumulus decides to give Arbitron notice that their stations in markets outside of the top 100 will be looking for a new ratings service. They open the floor for bids that would provide a service that seems mostly concerned with getting sample sizes that would be a lot more reliable than the Arbitron model.

While it's a great idea and I looking over their request for ratings proposals its filled with lavish 'dreams' of what medium and smaller market reports could look like. Plenty of qualitative data, healthy sample sizes and the potential of avoiding recall methods (like telephone surveys and diaries use).

We saw the same show 4 years ago when Clear Channel put out a similar request and what happened. Nothing. In fact if just faded away with a few inches of coverage in the trades.

What will happen here? Unless someone steps up with a cheaper version of PPM and can somehow find a way to build a panel that includes the cell phone only world probably nothing.

There are potential systems and vendors out there that could make a run here. But, can a system be developed for the smaller markets that is profitable? It's going to take more investment to build a data collection system and healthy panels. Will medium and smaller market broadcasters be willing to pay the freight?

When you look at the way most stations use the ratings data outside of the top 100 markets I wonder if most would say - who cares. These markets are out pacing the bigger cities in revenue growth because they are built on local direct advertising and don't live in the agency driven, cost per point, and try anything on the Internet world in the bigger markets.

Still, I hope we end up with something here. At least some pressure on Arbitron to do something. The world where we have PPM in the top 50 markets and a system of diaries and weak samples in the rest of the world will only make ratings worthless outside of the PPM markets will end up hurting in the long run. More and more we are seeing national chains moving their boxes and restaurants into the smaller markets and to get them you will need some proof of your audience.
2. The Spring NAB in Vegas launches RADIO HEARD HERE. It's great to see the NAB doing something positive to unite radio. Don't know if this creative will cut through with the rather retro looking logo and the viral video pieces are rather long, boring and don't talk to the audience. We do need to communicate our real value with our huge reach, ease to develop a message and our power to build your brand in a controlled market and this campaign will help. Frankly I think we'd be better off shelving all the HD spots and spend our resources here for now.

3. Bob Pittman speaks at NAB. Look at these highlights from his address:

Radio is mobile, it’s easy to use, it has a lot of choice,” Pittman said.
Repeating comments we’d heard him use previously when talking about new
media, he said what makes a great consumer business is convenience and brand
– and “radio wins on both counts.” The one-time radio programmer noted, “I
think there are probably no better brand builders in the world than radio
programmers.” Despite all of the hype about the Internet replacing
broadcasting, Pittman, who is currently an investor in radio and TV groups
as well as new media, insisted “the Internet is not television or radio.”
People still turn to broadcasting for entertainment, while they use the
Internet to manage their lives.

Bob's always made a lot of sense when he speaks and it sounds like his address in Vegas was true to form. Thanks Bob.