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.