Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Perfect Cultural Storm

Okay, I admit it: I am absolutely fascinated with the fascination over a worldwide cultural phenomenon called Dancing With the Stars. Until my friend Lou Vito told me his kid was going to be on the show, it barely registered on my pop-culture-o-meter. Big mistake. Any show that can smoke another worldwide phenomenon, House, with twice the ratings, had better darn well be on my—and all of our—radar.

And now I am kind of hooked—not only by the trials of everybody’s second-favorite-with-a-bullet snowboarder, but the sheer down-market genius of the thing. The concept is solid; the production values are amazing; the hosts are better than you’d think the show deserves, but they fit perfectly; and the whole thing takes on a larger-than-life aspect that is truly compelling.

When I was consulting KIIS-FM, the first thing I told them was, “You are in L frigging A. Own it.” In other words, people expect the output of the entertainment capital of the world to be awesome. (Are you listening, Mr. Leno?) DWTS delivers in spades.

I just hope Louie doesn’t get on American Idol. I have to draw the line somewhere.

This article first appeared in the Small Market Radio Newsletter, of which your faithful blogger is editor and publisher. He is also its circulation manager, and as such encourages you to subscribe thereto.

Is the Sinking Ship Half Empty or Half Full?

The mood in the halls of last week’s radio gathering was decidedly mixed. There is a frightful amount of fear in the ranks of those who focus on the myriad new threats to our business. Sure, the argument goes, in the past we’ve faced down a flurry of new-at-the-time media—think television, CB radio, 8-track tapes, CDs—but not all at once. Today it’s a veritable blizzard of new technologies and applications that can pop up literally overnight. . .and melt away just as quickly.

On the other hand, those whose mood rings glow violet-green (Google it) fall into one of two camps: those who don’t see the light of the train bearing down on our industry, and those who intend to catch a ride.

I’ll bet you didn’t jot down on your wish list, “I want to be in the radio business because I love getting my butt kicked by a bunch of competing media in a giant technology-driven Whac-A-Mole game.” Easier would be nice, but what are you going to do?

No, seriously, what are you going to do?

Many of our best and brightest have left the business—all too often the business left them, actually. Some are taking their skills and experience to other businesses, or at least are hedging their bets by spreading those qualities around.

At the NAB Radio Show, a certain kind of schism surfaced that we haven’t seen in some years, between those who get it and those who don’t. And, as so often is the case, the dividing line runs down the middle of the hallway between sales and programming.

In recent years, sales and management people have been able to keep up, at least superficially, by using product jargon more or less correctly—whether they understand what they’re saying. But with the onslaught of new threats and opportunities that programmers are first to understand and embrace, the other side of the hall is lagging behind.

Exhibit A: The difference between the programming and group heads sessions at the Radio Show. Let’s just say that how to navigate the current landscape has not fully trickled up.

Cut to small market broadcasters, who, as usual, were under-represented at The Show. . .but who have an understanding of the climate that is both clearer and fuzzier than their larger-market counterparts.


While small market folks may be less wired into the trends being followed by large market folks, they know their own markets better. As such, they peer, like Max Headroom, 15 minutes into the future. We cannot afford to fall behind what our listeners and advertisers are doing and thinking; but it’s just as dangerous to get ahead of them.

For example, in some small markets it’s important that a radio station stream at least its local programming; in others, not so much. Ditto cellphone-ready websites, texting, Tweeting, and so on. And the operators of those stations by and large know what they need to know, and make it their business to know it.

So, as usual, a radio operator’s industry outlook is directly related to his or her field of vision. Those of us who manage our businesses with our checkbooks. . .know the spouses and families of our customers (and, for that matter, many of our listeners). . .are working for the betterment of the communities our stations serve. . .and have a strong streak of self-determinism. . .simply cannot be overcome by that onrushing train.

All hail small market radio!

This article first appeared in the Small Market Radio Newsletter, of which your faithful blogger is editor and publisher. He is also its circulation manager, and as such encourages you to subscribe thereto.