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."