Friday, May 16, 2008

Look Ma, No Data!

Being a radio guy, I was interested in this article from today's issue of Tom Taylor's excellent daily radio e-rag:

Who’s really #1 in Seattle? That would be public radio's KUOW.

This is a fascinating exercise in almost any Arbitron-rated market – unearthing the 12+ shares for the popular non-com stations and plugging them into the Arbitron-released rankings alongside the commercial stations. In the case of Seattle, the Post-Intelligencer’s Bill Virgin did that and discovers that the University of Washington-owned KUOW (94.9) would handily beat out CHR KUBE (93.3) as the #1 station in the Winter book.

You get similar results in other markets that have a high percentage of college graduates (and often, colleges). In Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, WUNC (91.5) regularly appears at or near the top of the heap in the Research Triangle. Ditto for KQED in San Francisco. And don’t even ask about Ann Arbor.

This parallels my own in-depth survey, undertaken at great cost - namely, I had to put two hours of my life on hold - conducted yesterday when I received a visit from Justin the Cable Guy. (If you must know, my digital cable box showed NO DATA after 4 PM every day - a total bitch if you want to see who's on "Ellen" - and the PPV screens took longer to load than it takes NetFlix to arrive in the mail.)

Anyway, Justin - probably not his real name - hey, do you remember the name of your cable guy? - noticed the KIIS-FM bus card in my office and struck up a conversation about radio ... how's Rick Dees doing? (Hanging by a thread at MOVIN, thanks for asking) ... what about Ellen K, the total babe? (A very nice lady, probably thanks to her Iowa roots) ...

Not Justin, but pretty close

I should mention that Justin could have been from Central Casting - part Larry the Other Cable Guy, a dash of Jim Carrey - burley, goateed, probably stops off for a Frosty One with the other Cable Guys after work.

So after asking his polite questions about KIIS-FM - about the answers to which he could care less, judging from the fact that he kept asking the same questions - he told me he listened mainly to NPR.

That would have taken the wind out of the sails of lesser radio mortals, but it just so happens that I went to school with, roomed with, and got the first radio job for Robert Siegel, so I could continue to impress and amaze Justin. The Cable Guy. (Boy, that's depressing.)

Justin went on to tell me that he had satellite for a while because of Howard Stern (right with you there, buddy - my wife used to do massage therapy on Howard's mother, and Howard beat my ass in Hartford; it would have been more embarrassing all the way around if those situations had been reversed) ... but he only listened in the car and doesn't commute that much these days.

So there you have it: an empirical validation (n=1) of the findings of that fly-by-night outfit, Arbitron. Hey, I just did what most of us consultants do anyway - dress up personal, anecdotal experience as "research" to sell our points of view. Only this time, the sample came to me.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bias? What Bias?

A couple of weeks ago I learned something about how people get their news ... what it says about journalism in general ... and what we can learn from it.

I was talking to a friend of mine in the Midwest - let's call him "Bill" - who was telling me about attending a recent forum at the University of Iowa featuring Karl Rove. "I was close enough to see his beady, evil eyes," said Bill. (Call me psychic, but from his subtle verbal cues I was able to discern that Bill may not be Mr. Rove's biggest fan.)

Bill went on to describe the proceeding, telling me that Mr. Rove's responses to the moderator's questions were, variously, outrageous, evasive and outright lies - which prompted the audience to erupt in what you could call a loud and colorful "No Confidence" vote. (Remember, this was a firsthand account.)

Being a fellow traveler when it comes to Mr. Rove, I wanted to see his shameful display for myself, so I went to YouTube and searched for "karl rove university of iowa."

I watched the beginning of the forum, courtesy of something called The Iowa Independent ... and found a significant difference between the actual event and Bill's version. The forum began innocently enough, and Mr. Rove had barely said a word when members of the audience started shouting invectives like "murderer!", "traitor!" and my all-time favorite, "[unintelligible]."

Loathe as I am to give Mr. Rove credit, I have to admit that he was graceful under fire. In fact, the crowd's boorish behavior had me feeling sorry for the guy.

This incident reminds me of several things that we in radio have to remember:

People remember what they want to remember.

When we report news, not only do we want our stories to be accurate and unbiased when they're heard by the firsthand listener, but we want them to survive retelling. You may think that's (a) beyond our control, (b) not our problem and/or (c) impossible to influence, but it's none of the above. After all, the last thing you want is for somebody to spin some scattered version of a story and attribute it to you! Keep your stories clear, straightforward and simple and you'll make a difference.

Commentary is fine as long as it's labeled as such. Sometimes it's not as obvious as we think it is. Our choice of words, phrases and emphases can convey bias. We have to be aware of what we're writing or saying to keep bias where it belongs.

We have a big enough problem with real and perceived bias abounding - from Clear Channel to Rush Limbaugh to Air America. But at least your listeners can trust you.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Can't We Just All Get Along?

I followed with interest the story about a patent-infringement judgment against Clear Channel. The story, as reported in Radio Ink:

Federal Jury Finds Clear Channel Infringed Patent

LUFKIN, TX -- April 24, 2008: A jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas has found that Clear Channel Communications infringed on Grantley Patent Holdings' patent for an integrated inventory-management system for multiple radio stations and has awarded Grantley $66 million. The jury also found that the infringement was willful, which gives the judge the option to triple the award.

Grantley filed the case in November 2006, alleging that Clear Channel's Viero inventory-management system infringed on several patents related to Grantley's sister company Maxagrid International's system.

"We are very pleased that the jury understood the complex issues in the case and found that Clear Channel had infringed Grantley's patents," said Ronald Schuts of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, one of the attorneys who represented Grantley Patent Holdings.

I know the people involved, and this is what happens when a company is so big and diverse that Doing What's Right is often supplanted by Doing What's Good for the Company.

Call me an idealist, but there is no reason the two cannot be synonymous. All it takes is two qualities:

  1. The ability to take the long view
  2. A reasonable ethical framework

I like Google's mission statement: "Don't be evil." Whether they live up to it is debatable - I'm a fan - but the statement is kind of like the game of checkers: simple on the surface, but maddeningly complex beneath.

With its hegemony throughout the world, Google has to navigate some treacherous waters; it's hard to be big and not evil.

Ditto Clear Channel. Whether a company that controls so much of our industry - check out their web site and prepare to be astounded at how many ancillary businesses they own - is good for our industry is debatable ... but they are a lot better for our industry when they act a little less like the 1200-station gorilla and more like a good citizen, with all our interests at heart.