Monday, December 24, 2007

Radio Can Get It Right Online

I've stumbled across something that could be a bigger danger to radio's expansion into the Internet realm than all the streaming fees the government can throw at us: it's exemplified by a web site called purports to report traffic statistics for any web site you specify. The problem is, their web stats are estimates, derived from the browsing habits of those members who volunteer to download a monitoring application. And any time you derive data from a subset of your universe, the data will be inaccurate to some degree.

I was introduced to by a potential advertiser to my newsletter, who showed me a analysis of my web site ... where the numbers were about a tenth of the actual, bot-free numbers reported by my hosting company and ad-serving company ... and where they ignored completely our companion directory site, on which our clients' banner ads also appear.

Thanks to, potential advertisers can get data on your radio station's web site without the expense of subscribing to a reputable paid service (like Arbitron Online Radio Services) or the bother of contacting you directly. Potential advertisers probably think the data are accurate enough. This hurts them, because they make buying decisions based on bad data; and it hurts you big-time - especially since even the busiest local radio sites have traffic that pales in comparison with national and worldwide sites.

Just for fun I went to and plugged in the web sites from some top-rated New York stations. In most cases, issued this warning: "We have little data for, so these are rough estimates." In other words, even a high-traffic major-market radio site has a small audience in Internet terms.

Myriad other services, including radio's own Arbitron, measure Internet traffic by means of statistics. But why, when exact usage data are available from the every web site's hosting company, do we use inherently-inaccurate estimates?

There are two concerns with the "exact" usage data:
  1. It can easily be inflated by the use of automated "bots" to hit a web site again and again.
  2. Web site representatives - whether inadvertently or on purpose - often misrepresent the data, confusing "hits," "page views, "visitors" and so on.
So credible data have to be free of the former, and have to be presented consistently to avoid the latter.

I have some suggestions to bring credibility and reliability to radio web site statistics:
  1. Establish a web site that has statistics for every radio station in the U.S.
  2. Derive the statistics from a formula including the stations' own verified server-generated numbers, combined with estimates from a reputable survey company (like Arbitron).
  3. Present all stations' statistics in a consistent format.
  4. Include definitions of all parameters presented ("hits," "page views," etc.).
This web site - is available, by the way - could be overseen by the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) with the support of major broadcast groups, similar to the structure of the Radio Ad Lab and the Radio-Mercury Awards.

At first, the task of developing such a site seems daunting, but once the protocols are established it should be manageable. Further, I submit that such a site, if not absolutely necessary, is vital to make online radio easy to evaluate and to buy.

Over-the-air radio is notoriously difficult to buy, primarily because there is no such coordinated industry-wide effort. We have the opportunity to do it right on the web ... and if it works, maybe we'll be motivated to replicate that success back here on Earth.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Pendulum Must Swing

As a result of my little talent coaching deal, I've been talking to lots of jocks and others who appreciate good radio talent. Something that recurs in most of these conversations is how pathetic the pay for announcers is these days.

A good friend, a longtime PD/morning guy, wrote me,
My own son has reached the point of total job frustration and is looking at other career options. He loves our home town, and he really doesn't want to move to another market, but it's his only hope for any decent money in the future. So he's preparing to take a civil service exam and hopefully get a job with the Post Office. Average starting pay with USPS is $20 an hour plus significant benefits.

Did you know that the average postal worker makes $57,000 a year? How many jocks - pardon me, air personalities - do you know making that kind of money?

Several years ago, when I suggested, at a corporate meeting, that we give the announcers raises, the CEO said, "Announcing is a poor career choice. If they don't like it, they should quit."
After years of depressed salaries for the talented folks who keep this business rolling, it's time to start paying them what they're worth. I noted in a previous posting that many smaller operations cannot afford to pay more, and I respect that - because I've been there. (A responsible solution, I think, is to use technology to have a smaller staff so you can pay each one more - but that comes with its own set of consequences, for sure.)

I'm sorry, but when big publicly-traded companies decimate air staffs and pay less and less to the survivors when they're profitable anyway, something is severely out of whack. I understand the dynamics of return on investment, but at some point investors - in any company, in any industry - have to develop a conscience. They have to balance their greed with an awareness of the price being paid down the line.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Procrustean Problem

I was talking to a major-market jock today and he told me about when he worked for a top-rated, legendary station in its format ... then it was sold to a megagroup. The management team swept in and announced that henceforth the station would be programmed exactly like all the other [format] stations in the group. The result: a great radio station became an average one.

The same thing happened to me - different market, different format, same story. Great became average.

A long time ago I was VP/Programming for a six-station group (in six different markets - remember them?) that prized individuality. Each station was unique, because each station fit its own market. Each station was great, in its own way, and each station dominated its market.

In an earlier post I referred to the legendary Procrustean bed, where everyone was forced to be the same size. We've got to stop applying this thinking in our medium! It's time we untethered our stations!

Any day now, some creative soul with some under-performing stations will do just that. Some such stations won't make it, but I'll wager some will write the story of the return of great radio.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Fellow Travelers

Last night I sent out the first edition of my newsletter for jocks, Radio Voices. As whenever you do something new, I had some apprehensions about how air talent - different experience levels, different markets, different formats, different ages - would receive it.

I'm happy to say that none of the responses was negative, and I seem to have struck a chord with jocks new and old alike.

One very experienced, very good fellow, from an Eastern large market, is interested in my talent-development services because he's finding PDs nowadays are too busy, too distracted and too overloaded to give him guidance and feedback - not to mention "too unqualified."

Another jock, an up-and-comer in his third or fourth job, doing mornings at a small Midwestern station, e-mailed that he picked up a useful tip or two, and that he'd forwarded the thing to a bunch of his friends.

Actually, I did get one negative-ish response, from a manager, who responded to a comment about there being plenty of sales consultants while radio's future lies in better talent: "What I think the world needs even more than air people is salespeople. We are always looking for sales reps." Having managed stations, I agree about always looking for sales reps ... and really good ones are rare ... but so much of the industry is focused on finding, training and keeping sales people, I think we need to balance the scales a bit.

I was corresponding with my friend Tom Taylor, a veteran radio journalist who does a daily e-mail called Taylor on Radio-Info (, and gave this apologia for what I'm doing:
We who love radio see that the most unfortunate effect of today's consolidated industry is fewer opportunities for jocks to grow; there is simply no farm-team system any more. But the only way we can remain a vital medium and stop - maybe even reverse - listener erosion is for our air talent to be the best ever. The only way I can see to bridge the gap is to help talent get better - not by "teaching" them not to say "outside" when they give the weather, but guiding them in the intangibles of one-to-one communication and connection.
And that's what it's all about.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Perfection or Connection?

I was perusing another talent coach's web site recently; it was chock full of the kind of advice programmers have been giving jocks ever since the first radio consultant told Marconi to tighten it up.

I certainly don't mean to snipe, although that has been a proud radio tradition ever since the second consultant attacked the first consultant for not having a format for Marconi to follow. But we have to stop distilling radio magic down to a set of dictates.

My first taste of this was when the first researchers - who gave Marconi the first safe music list - started giving their medium-market morning shows a bunch of sure-fire ways to win, based on a statistical analysis of large-market morning shows: "Seventy-one percent [or whatever] of winning shows have a male-female team" ... "62% do these bits" ... and so on.

At the time, we all sat around the table, nodding sagely - and this was before PowerPoint, even - but in retrospect it is laughable. The morning show, or any personality, who wins does so because they engage the listener. Sure, there are other factors, but winning starts with the connection.

We've all heard really mediocre talent executing everything perfectly ... but, God bless 'em, they still suck. And they will continue to suck, no matter how much material or how many rules are thrown at them.

The only way they won't suck - maybe, given that some people just shouldn't be in radio - is if somebody works with them on a much deeper, much more fundamental level ... helping them find elements of their personality that listeners will find attractive, and helping them establish that vital connection.

And that goes waaaaaaaay beyond rules and bits.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Fragility of Reputation

Back when I was just a baby consultant, a station manager called and wanted to buy my safe list of music for her format. I explained that I didn't just sell a list; I needed to work with the manager and PD to fine-tune the music for that market. She said, "Fine, but we're in a pinch, so send me the list and we'll follow up with you."

And, God help me, I did.

And that's the last time I talked to her, despite my many attempts to follow up.

Fast forward about five years. I was helping a client hire a new PD and this guy walked in, dressed like a slob, dripping with attitude. His answers to our interview questions were flippant or monosyllabic.

Finally, the manager told him, "I'm getting a strong feeling you don't want this job."

He said, "You're right. I'm just here because I want to meet the guy who f--ked up my station."

Yup, he was the PD of that earlier station. After we'd talked a while and he understood the situation better, he told me that one day his manager walked into his office, dropped my list on his desk, and said, "This is the music our consultant told us to play."

I learned a lot from that experience. I shredded my safe lists and have never since allowed myself to be in the middle of a situation like that.

That I know of.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Celebrating Success

My dear friend Paul Hemmer is a hero of mine. He has spent his entire career in one market. He spent 30 years at the first station he ever worked for; then he bought his own stations, where he programs and continues his 47-years-and-counting on the air.

Over the years, Paul has had many offers to move up - to Des Moines, Kansas City or Chicago, the Midwesterner's Holy Grail - but he has stayed put. Not only has he been waking up Dubuque, Iowa for 40 years, but he has a great family life - wonderful wife and two wonderful kids who are making their parents proud. He and his wife are active and prominent in the community as well.

Paul once confessed to me that he sometimes wonders about what Robert Frost called "the road not taken," as anyone would. But to me, Paul represents the best kind of success - not just in his beloved field, but in every aspect of life. And, funny thing, Paul's balanced life makes him a far better jock.

Why I Suck as a Consultant

In last week's Time, there was a commentary by Michael Kinsley about Mitt Romney's penchant for outside consultants, and how he'd use them if elected president. Kinsley has this to say about consultants:
What exactly do management consultants do? I asked this of a McKinsey [& Co.] recruiter many years ago. He said, "We provide expertise." I said, "But you're thinking of hiring me, and I have no expertise." He said, "We'll train you." Nothing about that interview dissuaded me from the view that consultants spend at least as much energy and brainpower selling themselves to clients as they spend doing whatever the client pays them to do.

In the beginning, at about the turn of the last century, what management consultants offered was much clearer. It was called Taylorism, after its inventor, Frederick Winslow Taylor. Taylor called it scientific management, and it involved slicing up industrial processes into bite-size tasks and then doing detailed time-and-motion studies to determine the most efficient way to perform them.

All that's left of Taylorism among management consultants today is a pretense to scientific precision in whatever it is that consultants do, which generally involves parachuting into some situation, being smarter than everybody else, coming up with a solution--or at least a PowerPoint presentation--and then leaping onto their horses and galloping away. Who was that masked man? At their best, consultants see a situation with fresh eyes and bring some useful analytical tools. At their worst, they are a prestige play verging on a protection racket. Hey, Mr. CEO: Every other big company has hired McKinsey. What's your problem?
With all respect to other legitimate radio consultants, it is easy to fall into the consultant-as-god mindset; after all, entire radio stations schedule their lives around us, and nothing is as heady as a room full of people listening to you with full and rapt attention.

Here's why I suck:
  • When they are, I clearly label my pronouncements as opinion, not research-backed gospel.
  • I admit when I'm wrong.
  • I don't think, say or imply that I know more about the station or the market than the client.
  • I do not come with a set of stone tablets (which are a bitch to get through airport security anyway). The best solutions usually come about as a result of collaboration.
Hey, we're all good radio guys, and you could be consulting for me ... but there is real value in having another good radio guy - one who knows what's going on in lots of different markets - take a look from the outside. That, to me, is what good consulting is.

And that should be enough.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Madonna or Joni?

Madonna Ciccone and Joni Mitchell: two very different artists who exemplify two very different - but equally exemplary - definitions of success.

Ms. Ciccone has remained on top because of her ability to reinvent herself over and over, to stay in sync with popular taste.

Ms. Mitchell, on the other hand, is an inner-directed artist who follows her own muse; every so often her music will enjoy transitory resonance with the public, but she has no interest in deliberately pursuing it.

I have deep respect for both Joni and Madonna. Each has chosen a different path, and there's room for both.

In radio, we each face the same choice: doing whatever it takes to move up, or doing your own thing and enjoying where it takes you.

Either one is fine, as long as it leads to some form of fulfillment. T
here's nothing more tragic than someone who regrets the path he or she has chosen.

To be happy in your work, you need to do what feels right; as Shakespeare wrote, "Be true to yourself ..." True satisfaction comes from embracing the consequences of your chosen path.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

NOW I Get It

I have a confession: For quite some time I have dismissed blogging as (a) an old concept re-hipped; (b) more ego-trips we don't need; and (c) hardly worth the trouble.

That was before I had a blog, of course. Now that I do, I understand better the dimensions of this thing, and in how many ways it facilitates communication.

I am especially delighted about blogging's ability to reconnect with longtime friends and acquaintances - in interesting new ways - and to make new friends easily and quickly.

I have reconnected, for example, with Dave Martin, one of the good guys and a true radio genius. We all owe Dave a big debt for his contributions to our medium. What I didn't know about Dave, reflected in his blog, is his eclectic intellect. Scary.

And I am connecting with new friends all the time - like Dan Kelley, a knowledgeable and fanatical Classic Rock expert; and Greg Cavanaugh, whose blog is called "Triple-A-Tunes."

Here's the fun part: as a result of Dan and Greg both finding my blog, they are now gratefully aware of each other's existence and shared passions.

So I officially recant my previous position on blogging. By the way, I also had trouble envisioning why anyone would ever need faxes, overnight delivery, e-mail or the Internet. Until I used them.

Maybe I should just shut up and adopt earlier.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Full Circle

I'm gratified that my tiny voice in the blogging wilderness is beginning to be heard, and that a lot of radio folks are advocating a resurgence of good, live talent.

I began radio life as a fan of the great radio stations all over the country: KHJ, KFWB, KRLA, KYA, KSFO, KDWB, WCFL, WLS, WABC, WMCA, WINS, WFIL, WIBG, and on and on. As Greg Cavanaugh wrote in response to one of my other posts, "The greatness of live talent is the essential 'glue' between the station and the listener."

I started professionally as a jock in the Midwest and Northwest, but I was frustrated by the lack of control I had over my shows ... so I became a PD. Talk about lack of control!

So, by the grace of one of the great men in radio, Marty Beck, I became the GM of a new station on Long Island, WBLI. I was 23 at the time and knew less than squat, but with the help of Marty, Jim Champlin and my friend, mentor and colleague Herb Usenheimer, we prevailed.

Anyway, as my career continued to pull me into the business side, I always maintained a fascination with - and awe of - talent. As consultant, I got to work with talent at the top of their game - Dees, Kraddick, Joyner, et. al. - and never lost the awe.

Even as I maintained an active consulting practice, I ventured into ownership - we built a teensy radio group in Southeast Iowa - and having sold the last of those stations earlier this year - I am returning to my first love, helping air talent. (Check out for details.)

I firmly believe that a better supply of better air personalities will save radio. We have enough good managers, sales managers, office people and engineers; but programming talent is what makes radio radio.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

One of the reasons we don't have more good jocks is that PDs tend to treat all their jocks the same - regardless of experience, skills and capabilities.

Greek mythology tells of the Procrustean bed, in which shorter subjects were stretched and taller ones were, er, shortened so everyone fit exactly the same. Some radio stations are latter-day Procrustean beds, insisting on absolute conformity from all their jocks.

The problem is, the best a programmer can ever hope for is the best work from the weakest jock ... leaving the better jocks frustrated and wasted.

Some programmers do this because it seems easier than constantly explaining to the lesser jocks why the greater ones have more freedom. And it is easier, because the alternative is actually giving each jock individual attention to bring out his or her best.

Sorry, but that is - or should be - a big part of the job. If radio is to be great again, we must invest in our talent. They will only be as good as we help them to be.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Safety Last

Recently I rhapsodized about great Top 40 radio in Philadelphia ("Hy Five"), and how we need to know our radio history to avoid the same pitfalls - and not to lose the greatness.

That reminded me of when Gerry DeFrancesco and I launched KISS-FM (KHKS) in Dallas. When Gerry asked me to do a format search for the station, I told him, "The market doesn't have a format hole ... it has an attitude hole." Everybody was playing it safe and behaving themselves; but nobody - especially the listener - was having any fun.

So we decided that CHR gave us the best platform for fun, exciting radio. We made the decision not to over-format the station - liners were strictly optional, and the jocks would be called upon to think (scary!).

Another station in the market had just flipped out of the format, so there were a bunch of jocks on the loose ... but unfortunately they were format jocks, more accustomed to reading liners and following a tight clock than they were to entertaining the listener. Even more unfortunate was the fact that we couldn't find any station in the country that would serve as an example of what we had in mind.

So we rounded up all those jocks and took them over to my room at the Embassy Suites and subjected them to hours and hours of Top 40 airchecks from the heydays of stations like WFIL, WABC, WCFL, KHJ, KYA ... jocks like Dr. Don Rose, Dan Ingram, John "Records" Landecker, Big Ron O'Brien and God knows who else. We cautioned the jocks to ignore the dated hokiness and appreciate the energy and connection these guys brought to the party.

It took them a while, but those jocks began to get it. As a result, "The New 106.1 KISS-FM" shook up the market from Day One ... the Dallas "attitude hole" was once and forever filled ... and the station became the contemporary benchmark for fun, entertaining radio everywhere.

Not only that, but when world leaders heard the station, they agreed to halt nuclear proliferation, eliminate poverty and restore dignity to every human being on the planet.

Yes, we were that good.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Joe Be Joe

A friend of mine in L.A. found this unattributed story while cleaning out some files. Enjoy.

It happened to Joe, an air personality in his mid 30's: he was in an auto accident and died. St. Peter greeted Joe at the Heavenly Gate and said he had two choices of residence areas: Professional or General. Right away, Joe said Professional.

St. Peter explained that admission to Professional would depend on how good Joe was at what he did. Was he really a professional?

"Oh, yes," said Joe. "I sounded just like Rick Dees of KIIS in Los Angeles. I even used the same model microphone; I tried to be like him in every way when I read or recorded spots, and did air shtick," said Joe.

"And did you sound just like him?" asked St. Peter.

"Not perfectly, but pretty darn close; even my boss said so."

"Entry to Professional level denied," said St. Peter.

Disappointed by the rejection, Joe blurted, "Hey, we can't all be Rick Dees!"

And St. Peter said, "You don't understand. You're not being turned away because you weren't a perfect clone of Rick Dees. You're being turned away because you weren't Joe."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Talent Can Bring Radio Back

This is not a great time for radio. (This is also not an original thought. So sue me.) But there's hope.

First, some real radio people are coming back into the business. They are hiring other real radio people to manage their stations, who are hiring real radio people to program their stations, who are - and this is where it gets really good - hiring real radio people for on-air.

I'm not saying that we're going to enter an era of unbridled creative expression ... 10-in-a-row is not going away any time soon ... but I think jocks will be appreciated as they have not been for a long time. I think we'll be given more freedom to do good radio.

But the freedom comes at a price. Jocks have to be ready for this freedom and not misuse it. If we take it too far, we'll be back reading liners verbatim quicker than you can say "less talk."

Are you ready?

Tracks of My Fears

Last week our friends at Clear Channel dumped a couple of jocks at my alma mater, KISS-FM (KHKS) in Dallas - including the midday guy.

Lessee ... last time I looked, Dallas was the #5 market in the U.S., and KISS-FM was the top contemporary station. Their morning guy, Kidd Kraddick, just dominates his time slot.

And now the show that follows Kidd's will be tracked? By some guy (a unisex term, BTW) in Atlanta - if they're lucky - who's wiped out from doing his or her local show, some production, a personal appearance, a van hit and God knows what else?

In what universe does this make sense?

Of course, the people who made this decision are so far up the food chain that they don't listen to the radio - they read financials. I'm sure this genius idea works well on paper.

Too bad it sucks for the station and its listeners.

How come we used to be able to do great live, local radio and make the numbers? How come we can't now?

Hy Five

The news of Hy Lit's death got me thinking about the great radio going on in Philadelphia in Hy's heyday and later. I first became aware of Philly radio in the late Sixties, after Mr. Lit, Jerry Blavett ("The Geator with the Heater," whatever that meant), Joe Niagra and other legends of the Fifties and early Sixties ... but just in time to experience one of the greatest Top 40 stations ever, Jay Cook's WFIL.

I was a baby deejay and wanna-be PD back then, and there has never been a better role model than WFIL. The jocks were the best: Dr. Don Rose, J. J. Jeffrey, Dick Heatherton, Jim Nettleton, Jim O'Brien, George Michael (yes, that George Michael) and Jay Cook himself. The boardwork was amazing: everything was voice to voice, so even commercials were mashed up, beds on top of beds so the voices would hit each other. (It's hard to describe;
check out to hear it for yourself.)

I think what made WFIL so transcendent was the show-biz of it all. Jay's appreciation of jocks and their talent gave the air staff the freedom to do great radio; mix in the format elements and the pacing and you had a radio station that grabbed you by the balls.

Later I had the honor of working with Jay Cook at Gannett. (I also worked with his son, John, who is a very talented PD in his own right; I know Jay was proud of him.)
That wonderful soul did so much for radio and air talent; we all him a lot.

There has been so much greatness in this business - great talent, great radio stations - and we need to recapture it for radio to recover from its current doldrums.
George Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." For us, the saying should be, "We need to remember the past so we can repeat it."