Friday, July 22, 2011

The Air Aces

The recent passing of an old friend Allison Harte from Grand Rapids brought up a lot of memories of working with her and an amazingly talented team at WLAV.  

At WLAV the on-air team were (and still are) named 'Air Aces.'   It was sort of a tradition that reflected back on the 60s tradition of naming the air staff.  You had 'The Good Guys' - 'The Boss Jocks' and a number of other names.  I guess the thought was to brand the air staff and build them as a team.  I bet Air Aces started as a sarcastic response to this Top 40 marketing ploy by a station that prided itself in not being anything close to the top 40s of the day.   We'll top their Boss Jock hype - we'll be Air Aces - way cooler.

But, the reality was that being an Air Ace at WLAV was a true honor and much like being a skilled fighter pilot it also required that you be very talented and serious about your craft.  Over the years the Air Aces became way more than just voices between the songs.  They cut through and bonded with the audience in endless ways.  Some of them like Kevin Matthews and Rick Rumble cut through with amazing comedic moments.  Others like Aris Hampers brought an amazing wealth of music knowledge and understanding.   Aces like Tony Gates dug into the community and the music and built a loyal following.

Allison was was sort of the 'sister' to the whole team of Air Aces.  A daring and bold Air Ace herself that always put the listener first, brimming with energy, a genuine love of the music and a big heart for the community.   She was also authentic and honest with the audience.  Her real name was Prudence - not a great radio name so of course it was changed to Allison Harte.  But, she didn't hide her real name or the fact that Allison was made up.  She was active on the phones, always looking to jump out of the studio into the streets, and not scared to stand out or take chances behind the mic.

Being an Air Ace went beyond just a branding gimmick.  The real key was that many of the Air Aces understood this more as a goal of bonding with the listener, the audience and the community.  They honed their talents and built their on air presence to ace the task of building a bond with the people on the other side of the mic.

While many reading this never heard Allison on the air, but you can still learn a lot from her work.  Next time you look at your show think of the qualities that made her an Air Ace and work on mastering the craft and art of entertaining an audience with just your voice and words.  Yes these are pretty obvious qualities, but how often to we really find them in today's billboard/liner/positioning phrase break?  The true Air Ace took their opportunity to bond to entertaining heights way beyond.

Thanks Allison - RIP.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rock Is NOT Dying

The news that Randy Michaels' new Merlin Media is likely moving Alternative stations in NYC and Chicago to News Talk has promoted a bit of a debate on the health of the Rock formats and especially the ones that lean on Newer Rock in their mix.   

The first reaction came when John Gehron had the following quote in a Chicago Tribune article

"In many of the major markets, rock is struggling," said Chicago radio veteran John Gehron, who is serving as a consultant for Merlin Media. "It's not the dominant sound that it was in the '60s and '70s, when rock really was the sound of a generation."

This prompted an old friend and pretty much the founder of Rock Radio Lee Abrams to publish a piece in Radio Ink where Lee covers the history of the format and seems to conclude that the 'Rock Era' may have passed on - read it here

Really the news here is that 2 stations (both Alternative) in top 3 markets are shifting formats to News Talk.  Why?  Probably the 2 biggest reasons lie in the future of the very profitable news talk format on FM and the huge revenue potential at stake for the 2012 battle for the White House.  

Just look at the revenue opportunities in the last election and now with the caps off on letting special interest groups spend money for candidates and issues the flood gates will be open.  Randy is also a complete expert in this format.  PPM has been kind to AM News Talk outlets, but we also know that they live in a world where FM radio is still the dominate band for 30 years.  It's way overdue for FM talk to make a big impact.   Randy's assumed plan to re-enter radio with new FM News/Talk properties in 2 of the top 3 markets is shear genius.  His revenue picture will be amazing when he caps his first year in business with millions in campaign revenue.   

But, IS ROCK RADIO really suffering?  If we take a look at the shares in the top 20 markets the data I dug up below from shows lots of top 20 markets where the Rock share of the pie has increased in the last 4 years.  
Yes the rock shares are up an average of 18% - note that the comparison is indexed here and 100% would be no increase or decrease.   I did not include Puerto Rico in the list.  I also included Adult Alternative stations and added them to the 'New Rock' side of the ledger - since all of them do play some new rock.  Alternative and Active Rockers are considered New Rock here.   

The other big news here is that all of these markets shifted from Diary to PPM except Houston and Philly which were in PPM in Fall 07.  Note that those 2 markets rock shares are mixed with Houston off 17% and Philly improving 9%.   

In fact Chicago is one of the most improved markets with a 50% increase.  Much of this coming from stronger shares for the Drive, the Loop and XRT.  New York was up 56% with RXP and AXQ both showing higher shares in the PPM world.  

The other factor in the perceptions of the health of Rock right now lie in the glare of the music spotlight.  It's squarely on Pop, Rap, Rhythmic and a bit on Country right now.   New Rockers are lying rather dormant - but the tides will turn there.  We've seen these cycles before.