Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

A few days ago I received a nice gift from my friends Stuart Sharpe and Shayna Sharpe at Regional Reps: a coffee mug.

Now before you conclude that devoting a blog post to somebody giving me a promotional mug is a waste of precious Internet resources, let me explain. (By the way, it is predicted that the Internet will be swallowed by the sun in a mere 2 million years. Consider yourself warned.)


First, the mug was sent via U.S. mail in a box with no packing material whatsoever, and yet it arrived unscathed. I have sent indestructible lead weights via U.S. mail, with bubble-wrap, peanuts and boxes within boxes, and they still managed to break in transit.

Second, the mug could not have been more timely: my old “I Heart Tony Hayward” mug inexplicably developed a leak about three and a half months ago.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ignorance of History

Surrounding the death of the founder of our newsletter, we have spent a couple of weeks drenched in nostalgia and apparent longing for the good old days, I would imagine that our younger readers are a bit confused. What good old days?

Even someone who entered our industry in the year of our founding, say at the age of 23, would be 50 today—hardly a younger reader.

Working the other way, a 30-year-old radio person with ten years under his or her belt signed up in the year 2000. By then, the seismic shifts caused by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 were pretty much behind us. That radio person’s world has always consisted of mega-groups, market managers and regional DOSs. The concept of “seven and seven” is as foreign to him or her as, well, Foreigner.

But really, why is it important that anyone remember “Inner Sanctum”? Or “Make Believe Ballroom”? Or any of the great radio personalities down through the ages—whether Arthur Godfrey, Jean Shepherd, George Michael, Dan Ingram or—and he’d hate me for including him in this list—Rick Dees? (A certain consultant wrote a great piece listing all the accessories any old jock can relate to, like Ampex 350s, carts and 77DXs. . .but he’s notoriously protective of his work, so it will never appear in these pages.)

What about Newton Minnow? Reid Hundt? Miles David? Eddie Fritts? (Or David Rehr, for that matter?) Gary Fries?—and he will hate me for including him.

One of my favorite quotes—and I’m a huge quotes guy—is from early-Twentieth Century Spanish philosopher George Santanyana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So, whippersnappers of the radio world, why should we take seriously Santanyana and something he wrote 107 years ago? Why is any of this important?

In truth, most of it isn’t. Most radio ramblings can be chalked up to the fact that each of us has a time of life that is most comfortable to recall. (Ask any Oldies programmer.) Each of these eras is the best for those who cherish them, but one isn’t inherently, historically better than another.

I think there are two aspects of history—radio’s, America’s, the world’s—that we disregard at our peril.

First are the lessons that, if well learned, will keep us from making the same mistakes again. As one who has weathered more than one downturn in his career, I feel for the first-timers who assumed the boom would last forever. Learning a little history might have helped them to cope better.

Second are the people who have displayed inventiveness, integrity, intelligence and leadership in their lives and careers. If more of us studied those people and followed their lead, our business would be a better place.

Fourth Estate Fire Sale

Back around the time our newsletter began, I consulted a station whose owner would gleefully frame and hang on his office walls the last editions of failed newspapers. He had maybe four or five of them.

We all thought it was great fun to find weakness in a strong industry, in a formidable competitor.

If that owner were around today, his walls would be, well, wall to wall with framed failures. And it is no longer great fun.

I for one feel that our society would suffer a great loss were printed media to become extinct. I get a lot of information online, but that medium doesn’t offer the quality or depth of a New York Times or a Wall Street Journal. Yet.

Actually, I’m more of a weekly kind of guy. I keep up to date by listening to the radio and checking my Google Reader, but for perspective, I turn to Time. But in the wake of the Newsweek situation—they are for sale, but who’s going to buy?—I fear for the future of the genre. Those Times are getting pretty thin, after all, reflective of a precipitous drop in circulation.

As much as I lament the inevitable, I have no printable words for the recent FTC idea-floating exercise designed to rob the strong and subsidize the weak—or should I say, rob the just getting by and further subsidize, since periodicals have long enjoyed a more-than-generous postal rate. (All I can say is, this idea is comparable to something else that floats.)

It’s one thing for our federal friends to exercise their power over electronic media to achieve their selfish and/or ill-intentioned ends—the cigarette ad ban and campaign finance reform come to mind—but now they want to add insult to injury by taking our money and giving it to a competing medium?

Why not? Since the beginning of time—well, 1926—we’ve been the low-hanging piñata for our governmental masters. I can only hope that this floater is so manifestly wacko that for once it’ll be flushed without further ado.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


BOB DOLL It’s not often that we have a feeling of closure when a close friend dies, but I must confess to that feeling among the many that rushed in when I learned of Bob Doll’s passing. It turns out that just last week I had the opportunity to thank Bob for the many ways he enriched my life, all of which sprang from his giving me the opportunity to publish this newsletter.

Read what I said

Our inbox is brimming with notes about Bob, offering sympathy and remembrances. Many people tell basically the same story of their first encounter with Bob: when asked where they’re from, and mentioning the name of some tiny town that barely rates a dot on the map, Bob responds with a complete rundown of the stations in and near that town, replete with ownership history—and, more often than not, at least one colorful personal anecdote.

Bob and I were close, but we only spoke maybe a couple of times a month. As I reflect on our loss, the lyrics of a James Taylor song come to mind:

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

I’m not qualified to comment on Bob’s current whereabouts or whether he’s aware of the outpouring that his passing has prompted. But I can conjecture that if he were in fact a witness to the proceedings, he would wonder aloud, probably with a mild profanity, just what the fuss is all about.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Polar Extremes

As a parallel entrepreneur—which term I may as well claim to have invented (patent pending)—I’ve always pursued things that interested me. As a second-generation broadcaster, radio, of course, is—well, I was going to say my #1 interest, but in the unlikely event my first and only wife stumbles across this essay, I’d better say #2. After that love, manifested in our newsletter, my two biggest passions represent where we’ve been, and where we’re going.

In the Where We’ve Been Department, there is my card-and-gift business (, which uses the quaint delivery system known as the U.S. Postal Service. How innovative is that?

As antediluvian as it seems, sending a heartfelt thank-you or greeting card is today unique and memorable, simply because so few people do it. (Just ask the red-ink-drenched U.S. Postal Service how few.) Virtually every sales consultant talks about sending cards and notes to commemorate sales calls and contract anniversaries, not to mention more prosaic events like birthdays and holidays, to set yourself apart. I salute those who take the time to put ink to paper and keep a storehouse of stamps. For the rest of us, there’s an online-based system that automates the process from composition to fulfillment, for about a quarter of the cost.

My other love—the Where We’re Going part—is my web-development business (, in which we spend whatever time we’re not actually building sites to stay current with emerging technologies, so we’ll be ready to roll them out when our small and medium markets actually adopt them. It requires a combination of art and science to know just when to introduce a feature. (I wish there were an app for that.)

Here’s a useful takeaway for you: Right now everybody is talking about texting, Twittering and Facebooking, but nobody is talking about mobile web sites. As important as social-networking may be—and don’t believe the huge numbers in some recently-published research, by the way—it presumes an underlying ability to drive people to your website on the same platform they’re using for the other stuff. You’ve just reached them on their cell phones, and now you expect them to stop what they’re doing and find a computer for the payoff? I don’t think so. We need to stop playing radio’s favorite game, Buy the Hype, and instead play a game we can win—Listen to My Market.

All this Internet stuff is enough to make my head explode. I think I’ll take a break and send a card or two. Even though I’ll do it online, the basic process hasn’t changed in 200 years. . .and I don’t need any research to tell me how many people in my market have mailing addresses.

RAB Resurgent

With the RAB’s announcement about its expanded, enhanced online presence, there is evidence that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the demise of their services department have been greatly exaggerated.

There is so much emphasis on all things digital today that we sometimes lose sight of the fact that 90-95% of our revenues still come from good old radio sales. And radio salespeople still need the basic tools to present our medium and our stations in the best light.

While the days of 800-232-2121 may be numbered (my estimation, not the RAB’s position), the days of lie ahead.

No, Thank YOU

At the end of this week’s E.O.M. column in the Small Market Radio Newsletter, Bob Doll thanks me for allowing him access to these pages. We all know that the reality is just the opposite: we owe Bob a great debt for the wisdom he shares with us periodically in this periodical.

I use Bob as a litmus test to determine whether a person is a real radio person, or a phony poser. Not that this business has any of those. (Again, I’m kidding.) Real radio people look past Bob’s facade of a slightly befuddled, long-winded older gentleman and see the real guy—a steel-trap-minded walking Wikipedia of radio facts and lore.

I was first introduced to Bob at some convention somewhere—I’m sure Bob remembers exactly—by another of radio’s true originals, Mr. Drop Turkeys from a Plane himself, the one, the only Steve Bellinger. I may not remember where or when, but I remember vividly Mr. B’s words of introduction: “If you’re smart, you’ll listen to every word this man says.” Perhaps because any relationship would look easy compared to the one I had with Steve, I heeded his words about Bob, and I’ve never regretted it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Are We There Yet?

Last week in our newsletter we ran an article from Time magazine extolling the virtues of Internet radio and, along the way, sounding the death knell for local radio. 

It is an article of true faith with me that radio is infinitely resilient. While I do not know what our responses will be to future assaults, our history is rife with examples of clever responses to past threats. Whether movies, television, 8-track tapes, CB radio, 3D movies, Walkmans, iPods, home entertainment systems, cable radio, and now the Internet, radio has proved time and time again its ability to reinvent itself.

There are those who bemoan our rather paltry share of total advertising revenue—always hovering in the 6-7% range, more or less. I agree that given the power of our medium to produce results, that number should be much higher. On the other hand, in the face of the ongoing, accelerating fragmentation of media, maintaining a relatively stable market share is no mean feat.

Besides, what does a percentage of total advertising revenues really do for us, anyway? The wonderful thing about small market radio is that the macro metrics are meaningless. We get up every day and go out and sell radio advertising and serve our customers. It’s really a very simple process.

“But wait,” you may argue, “I have a publicly-traded company and the health of our industry matters very much to our lenders, thank you very much.”

I’m not so sure. From what I’m hearing, the people who are still—or once again—loaning us money have a much better, albeit hard-won, understanding of how our business works.

As I said up front, the solutions to our current challenges are as yet out of sight; but without doubt the challenges will be met—probably with another radical rethinking of our business model, it must be said, during which not all will survive—and radio will continue to hold its own.

Oh, and one more thing: for the first time in the history of our medium, we have the opportunity to become what threatens us. Yes, the Internet is more pervasive and fundamental … but it is also a level playing field that veritably invites our participation. Individually and collectively, we ignore that invitation at our peril.

Waiting for the Future

I can’t wait for my vacation this year. The missus and I will use our jet-packs to hop over to the airport, where our personal helicopter will whisk us to the space center, where we’ll board the Southwest shuttle (weightless peanuts!) to the Moon. (The Dark Side Hilton has an incredible fly/stay deal right now on

Oh, wait. No can do … even though these are all things that were to have been commonplace by now, according to predictions made 15 or 20 years ago.

Well, never mind. I’ll spend my vacation listening to my voice-activated Internet radio in my car, and my Internet TV all over the house.

Oh, wait. Those prognostications, made five or ten years ago, have yet to occur as well.

It seems that we’re always five years away, but it takes us 15-20 years to get there—assuming the idea was a good and practical one in the first place. (Jet packs? Personal choppers? Not so much.)

So, in the tradition of deferred predictive gratification, allow me to look ahead …

  • Radio and television stations will abandon their over-the-air signals by 2050. All television will be received via cable or the Internet; radio, mostly the Internet.
  • Satellite radio, seeing itself as a content provider rather than a delivery medium, will morph into another set of Internet-delivered, advertiser-supported channels, with no more chance of succeeding than you or I have.
  • HD Radio, which has no content in and of itself, will become irrelevant.

If you’ve gone to the trouble and expense to install HD, don’t despair. When the vinyl (well, glass, originally) record was invented, nobody foresaw the CD. In fact, our modern age is probably the first in which we know beyond doubt that every advance will very soon become outmoded. (Have you bought a computer lately?) Most of the time, we even have a pretty good idea of what will outmode it.

So, HD operators—and indeed all of us, who are surrounded by technology with soon-to-expire freshness dates—be of good cheer: the future always takes longer to get here than we think it will.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Letter to the Speaker

Dear Ms. Pelosi,

I note with no little chagrin that the perpetual pander-fest that is Congress has once again spoken through you when you—you choir-preacher you—told the RIAA that “the rights of performers are not forgotten.”

Your confusion is understandable. Many people brighter and more knowledgeable than you, even, believe “the rights of performers” and “the concerns of the record industry” are one and the same.

Nancy Pelosi

True, there are many performers—overwhelmingly the successful ones, the fortunate albeit forgetful few who have been able to redeem their souls from the company store—who side with their foreign-owned masters in advocating the Performance Rights Act. But any performer, however successful, who is truly concerned for the music industry as opposed to the record industry, will tell you what a colossally bad idea it is to penalize the one medium above all others that sells records and builds careers.

Madam Speaker, may I refer you to a list of quotes—published in the 3/25/10 issue of The Small Market Radio Newsletter—from dozens of performers who have consistently, publically stood by radio and who are eternally grateful to our medium. A recurring theme in those quotes is, “I owe my career to radio.” (Have your people contact my people and we’ll give them access to our back issues online.)

That said, Nancy—may I call you Nancy? I respect your office and your service, but I don’t call any of my other employees by their last names—you have every right to your opinion, however politically calculated. Of course, if you and your brethren truly represented your constituents, you might think twice about backing an outfit that sued hapless mothers and children for hundreds of thousands of dollars—each!—for what they packed on their iPods.

But please recognize that you are in the minority—even within your own party. Healthy majorities in both the House and Senate have cosponsored the Radio Freedom Act, which prohibits the imposition of a tax for performance on local radio. Yes, it’s a non-binding resolution, but how can a legislator cosponsor our measure and then vote Yes on its polar opposite?

Oh, wait, this is Congress we’re taking about here—members of which have selective memories, to put it benignly. (I vaguely recall that one of your colleagues, the senior senator from Arizona, ran for high office as a “maverick.” But either he suffered a senior senator moment or my memory is playing tricks, because John—he works for me, too—recently denied that he’d ever said he was a maverick. Rewriting history would be a lot easier, wouldn’t it?, if we had an Orwellian Ministry of Truth. Come to think of it, maybe we do.)

But I digress. The real purpose of this epistle is to remind you—you universal health care champion you—that there is nothing healthy about the Performance Rights Act. In fact, it could be downright toxic to the very performers whose rights you’ve vowed to uphold.

No, that’s not a threat. Unlike other industries you’ve tried to reign in recently, radio is too busy serving our communities to cook up vengeful, retaliatory strategies to prove the law of unintended consequences. But there is a reality of which you—you limousine-riding, perk-enjoying you—are unaware: in the world of non-deficit spending, if a new cost is imposed, another cost must be cut. And fiscally-conservative operators—yes, Nancy, they do exist, albeit far from the Beltway—will act on the realization that we can neutralize a tax on playing music simply by not playing music.

Are you ready for Rush 2.0?

If nothing else will, that should scare you straight.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Missing Discourse

As I was pondering my reaction to a sales piece by Jim (Taz) Taszarek in this week’s newsletter—wherein he posits that rate integrity is a Bad Thing and rate flexibility is a Good Thing—I recalled the many conversations I’ve had over the years with our industry leaders about things like rate integrity, finding new salespeople, selling against cable—you know, all the stuff that preoccupies us and probably always will.

Then I got to thinking, what would such a conversation with Gordon Smith be like? With Jeff Haley?

Putting aside for a moment the unlikely scenario that any of us would be kicking back with Mr. Smith or Mr. Haley and BS-ing about radio, if such a conversation were to occur, I suspect there would be a lot of blank stares coming back our way.

And suddenly I felt very lonely.

Up or Down

It seems like we’ve been at this performance tax legislation business for about 100 years. I am probably the most politically naive person on the planet, but I can’t help but wondering whether we shouldn’t just vote on the darn thing already.

As I write this, late at night, past deadline, much too late to call my friend Dennis Wharton at the NAB for a reality check, I’m guessing that bringing the matter to a vote right now might not be in our best interests—even though our own Radio Freedom Act has such strong support.

And that’s what I don’t understand: How can a legislator who has signed on to our (admittedly non-binding) resolution turn around and vote for the very measure that our resolution opposes?

Talk about naive. . .

Bust a Rate

I suspect that Taz’s point of view on the subject of rate integrity—he’s not a fan, urging flexibility—will touch a nerve in many small market and local-direct broadcasters, as it has in me.

We all live in small communities; regardless of the population of our trading area, there is a handful of people with whom we deal—and they all talk to each other. If in my local market I were to adopt the freewheeling approach advocated by Taz in his column, I don’t know if I would go out of business, but my standing in the community would certainly go down the drain.

Sure, there were times when I would accept a lowball rate from an ad agency or large regional advertiser, and I’m not proud of the fact that I did so knowing it was unlikely that word would get back to my local florist or banker.

I’ve always operated on the philosophy that if one day all our rates and all our deals with individual advertisers appeared in the local paper, I could justify each and every one of them based on frequency, class of service, and so on.

So, I have to wonder whether observing rate integrity in our local markets is a product of hubris or practicality?

Remind me to ask Gordon or Jeff the next time we’re kicking back.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Good Idea Gone Bad?

While rooting around the Internet the other day, I flashed on the Small Market Radio Operators Caucus and wondered whether they had never put up their new website, the prospect of which was announced with a great flourish a couple of years ago.

Well, no joy. The new web address,, displays a “coming soon” page, it has for the past two years. The old website,, hasn’t been updated for that same amount of time. I haven’t checked in with Ron Davis, the last chairman I knew of, but judging from the lack of activity, I infer that the organization is all but dead.

Should we lament this loss? That depends on whether you think that small market radio is adequately represented in the halls of power. Small market operators do prowl those halls, but as one who has done some prowling himself—well, lurking, anyway—I can tell you that it is easy to lose touch with those who sent you there in the first place.

I know that our small market leaders have our best interests at heart, but it is all too easy to get caught up in the art of compromise … all too easy to mistake the game for the objective. That’s where a grassroots organization like the SMOC comes in. Our leaders have to be reminded of what’s important to us. It’s not that they don’t know; but it’s up to us to keep our hot topics top of mind. An organization like the SMOC—if it’s viable—can represent us in number to our leaders.

The irony here is, the organization that represents us to our leaders needs leadership. But more importantly, the organization needs the active participation of large number of small market broadcasters. And this, sadly, the SMOC has never had. Personally, I think that there is a huge number of issues for which we need strong representation. It is so easy for us at our stations, focusing on making our business work from day to day, to disregard the larger forces that impact our livelihoods. It’s a little late for new year’s resolutions, but I urge you nonetheless to resolve to invest a sliver of your time to think about some of these larger issues—and to do something about it.

Maybe the death or dormancy of SMOC is not a bad thing ... if it forces us communicate our feelings about radio’s flashpoint issues directly to the small market broadcasters who can make a difference; herewith, good folks with whom to start:

RAB Board

Bud Walters, The Cromwell Group
John Dille, Federated Media
Rolland Johnson, Three Eagles Communications
Gunther Meisse, WVNO/WROM
Steve Newberry, Commonwealth Broadcasting.

NAB Board

Howard Anderson, KHWY
Ron Davis, Butte Broadcasting
Randy Gravely, Tri State Communications
Jerry Hanszen, Hanszen Broadcasting
David Hoxeng, WYCT
Julie Koehn, Lenawee Broadcasting
Steve Newberry;
Susan Patrick, Legend Communications
Mary Quass, NRG Media
Dana Withers, Dana Communications

If you don’t know anyone on this list, or if you know a number of people on this list, start by contacting Steve Newberry at (270) 659-2002 or Not only is he on both boards, but he’s the chair of the NAB Joint Board; when it comes to clout, you can’t get much cloutier.

Much has been made of the “one voice for radio” initiative, where the industry speaks as one. I submit that it’s equally important that there be one voice for small market radio. Let ours be heard!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Talking Points

It’s gratifying to hear a member of Congress uttering talking points that aren’t utter nonsense for a change. We especially appreciate the words of Rep. John Dingell in defense of local broadcasting against the Evil Axis, a.k.a. the RIAA, in the copyright fight. Indeed, we could not have said it better ourselves. That’s probably because we have said it ourselves—word for word.

A well-organized political party—you know who you are—has proved the value of staying 100% on message, using the same words and phrases over and over to drive a point home. Thanks to the leadership of the NAB, broadcasters are benefitting from that same unanimity of expression. The most pertinent example is our constant, consistent use of the term “performance tax.” It’s accurate, and it efficiently re-frames the issue. Ditto the reference to “the foreign-owned record companies.” (The only thing that would be more heinous would be if they were all based in France.)

Radio people, especially, are hard-wired to understand these concepts: everyone who’s been in our business for longer than a week knows that on-air repetition of the same concepts, words and phrases—like the station calls and slogan, for example—is extremely powerful.

Attempts to harness the wonderful diversity in our industry generally meet with less than stellar success—you know who you are, too—but in some cases it’s critical that we speak with one voice. We may not win every battle, but we’ll win more than our share.

The Web Dilemma

From my discussions with small market broadcasters, I’m getting that opinion is divided about 50-50 on the importance of your website to your overall operation. Some see the Internet as a big part of their—and radio’s—future, while others see it as a wasteful distraction.

Since folks on both sides of the issue are reporting that their web revenues account for maybe 5-7% of total revenues, this is a case of seeing the glass half empty or half full—or should I say, 95% empty or 5% full?

I certainly believe the Internet represents significant potential to our industry, and my web-development business aims to help broadcasters realize that potential. But I stop short of predicting that our online activities are our salvation.

I also disagree with those who, in their missionary zeal, declare that their websites can succeed on their own, untethered to their radio stations. Sure, the big guys from Amazon to Zappos exist in a worldwide environment where no other medium can meet their reach needs, but that’s not the case in our local markets. Google processes over a billion search requests a day, so even with click-through  rates averaging 0.5% of page views, that means the search behemoth generates five million click-throughs every day.

Local market websites, on the other hand, generate daily page views in the hundreds. The most successful small market sites we’ve seen, in a month with lots of bad weather and a big murder trial, will attain 100,000 views. Applying the interactive-industry-average, total click-throughs, for all advertisers, amount to 500. In a more normal month, cut that number in half.

As with radio ratings, misuse and misunderstanding of web metrics abound. Time after time, we’ve seen panic at renewal time, when it’s evident that the laws of Internet advertising are immutable, and the expected spectacular results never materialized.

While Internet revenues should be tracked separately, in any local market you need to use your radio stations to drive traffic and boost click-throughs by selling the benefits of doing so.

One thing is clear: a website is not a radio station. On your station, you have the capability of managing hundreds of clients and ads. On your website, you have neither the technology nor the real estate to sustain a similar strategy. On most radio stations, growth comes mainly from selling more ads. On your website, visual cacophony can quickly take over—and drive traffic away.

Is the Internet our future? Yes and no. If you use your website to extend the interactive communication you already enjoy with your listeners, and to provide a richer experience for your advertisers and their customers, your online slice of the pie will grow. If you expect your Internet tail to start wagging the radio dog, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Leveling Effect

Broadcasters in markets of every size are beginning to see that things are turning around for them. Many broadcasters, looking back a few months, have concluded that this was as bad as it ever has been in their careers.

Amid all this and doom and gloom, I can think of one positive thing that the recession has done for our industry. It has leveled our business, to the extent that large market operators and small market operators are focused on the same thing for the first time in a long time: building local direct business.

Whenever I talk to a small or medium market broadcaster, there is an underlying sense of confidence and control over their environment. Those broadcasters know that the key their success and growth lies in their hands. They can go out every day and sell more ads.

Sure, in bad times it’s more difficult to do, and we’ve all certainly experienced the frustration of falling behind. But it is nothing compared to the frustration experienced by the large market broadcaster who has built a successful career on taking orders from time buyers. When national business went in the tank, those same large market broadcasters literally didn’t know what to do. They turned in desperation to their local advertisers and discovered, as most of our readers have always known, that presenting the benefits of radio to real, live business owners is productive, rewarding and—dare I say it?—fun.

In fairness, I should point out that there are a great many excellent broadcasters in large markets. I should also point out that most them came from small markets.

The Worst Remedy Ever

We are (hopefully) emerging from a long dry spell. Broadcasters have had to make many difficult decisions to maintain equilibrium during these times, but one move stands out as being a really bad idea, the consequences of which will be felt for some time to come.

I’m talking about the tendency of operators to slash their sales training costs during bad times. While this may result in relief in the short run, the long-term consequences are disastrous. Without proper training and support, what salespeople you have left are ill-equipped to take advantage of the turnaround.

We’ve all had to be very creative to preserve any sort of bottom line at all, but let’s learn this lesson well: Doing anything to the detriment of the revenue center of your radio station is a bad idea.

Not a Bad Idea After All

Stacey Woelfel, Chairman, Radio Television Digital News Association——stumbled upon my earlier posting that we small market operators need to work together to ensure we are represented, and have a seat at the table, at all influential industry groups:

I’m all for your idea of getting together a small [market] radio representative to run for the [RTDNA] board. If you’re able to make it work, let me know and I’ll let him/her know how to get involved.

Thanks to Stacey for his encouraging note. The door is open; let’s walk through it.

The Tangled Web

Something that is been occupying a lot of my time recently is relaunching our web development business. We sort of got into the business by accident about a year and a half ago, but we tapped into a very real need and desire on the part of small market broadcasters everywhere to have a high-quality website at a small-market-affordable rate.

While we are proud of the work that we’ve done for clients thus far, we had seen the need to move up a notch to reflect what’s going on in the interactive world. Accordingly, we are rebranding our business as, and we are putting together what we humbly consider to be the Absolute Ultimate Radio-Specific Content Management System. It’s a lofty objective, but as the only web developer with solid small market management and ownership experience, we think we can pull it off. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Strength in Numbers

We always look for small- and medium-market representation in our industry organizations; unless it's there, those organizations can be blind to the concerns and workings of what is arguably the most vital part of our industry.

For example, we note that the regional directors of the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) include no small market radio news directors, and just one medium market ND.

Granted, the RTNDA isn’t exactly a must-belong for most of us, but it would be productive for us to have a presence. Wacky thought: What if a bunch of stations in a region or an affinity group (like the Presidents Club or the Idea Bank) get together and buy a membership for a broadcaster willing to take on the responsibility?

Here’s one for you: the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Yes, membership is pricey, but to paraphrase, many wallets make light work. And who doesn’t agree we should have a seat at that table?

Small market radio complains that its voice is not heard in many quarters. Well, let’s get organized, pick our targets, and step up.

The Never-Ending Story

I’ve been talking to a lot of broadcasters lately about the state of radio sales training. The resources are there, from the excellent RAB programs to a bunch of solid, basics-based independent consultants (many of whom are contributors to this publication). But in the current environment, we’ve cut back everywhere, including in places maybe we shouldn’t—which, in my opinion, includes sales training.

But even in the best of times, it’s easy to be discouraged in that area. No matter what we do, no matter how much training, support and money we throw at our salespeople, our turnover rates are astronomical. Who wants to throw money down that black hole?

The RAB, recognizing the problem, has had a policy where if a salesperson you’ve run through one of their programs leaves you within a certain amount of time, you can send another one free. That’s a great benefit, but there’s still a time/money investment at stake.

I recently asked former RAB Chief Gary Fries, the biggest proponent of street-level sales training ever, whether in his 15 years at the helm of that organization he ever felt, on the one hand, that the battle was being won. . .or, on the other hand, discouraged that it wasn’t. His response could only have come from someone with roots in small market radio: No, the tide hasn’t turned. . .and no, he never got discouraged. “You just get up every day and do your best,” he told me.

And isn’t that what we do anyway?

The lesson is this: no matter the leakage—which can be mitigated by better hiring practices, which can be learned—we’re much better off investing in good sales training, in good times and, especially, bad.


I think we need to acknowledge that despite all the drama Arbitron is enduring in the PPM arena, it is not preventing them from making constant improvements in the diary methodology. I know Bill Rose and Ed Cohen well, and they and their team are absolutely, unequivocally committed to giving better service to Arbitron’s diary clients.

Now, if we broadcasters could just learn how to use the information properly. . .

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Good for Radio. Bad for America?

Like many, I was stunned by the Supreme Court’s gratuitous decision to remove limitations on corporate advocacy spending during political campaigns.

Broadcast interests and analysts are busy counting the money; certainly, the battered broadcast industry can use every scrap of good news, and I for one would not for a moment suggest that anyone stand on principle—not that we could, legally, anyway. But we need to see beyond self interest in all cases, or we become part of the problem.

In that spirit, I am of the opinion that this is an improper, impractical extension of the legal notion that a corporation is a person, with all the attendant rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

What’s significant here is the amount of money that major corporations can bring to bear on political causes they favor or oppose. This is good news for broadcasters—especially TV broadcasters, to whom most political dollars flow anyway. But it’s extremely bad news for those among us who cling to the notion that ideas deserve more than sound-bite treatment. . .that an examination of facts and motivations should inform our votes more than hot-button, often illogical—if not downright false—rhetoric.

We’ve come a long way from the high-minded reasoning put forth to justify the Lowest Unit Charge rule of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971: In order to qualify, as we all know, the candidate must appear in the ad—the implicit argument at the time being that the candidate would use that opportunity to express ideas and positions. Well, we all know how well that has worked out.

But this week’s court ruling offers no such alleged benefit to the populace, however specious. It is a straightforward opinion that corporate interests are under fire and deserve the opportunity to fight back. It neatly side-steps the commonly-held view that modern corporations usually operate solely in their own interest, with little or no social conscience.

Politics has become all about the money. Nowadays more media attention is paid to how much a candidate has raised than to where the candidate stands on the issues. Our system of government has quietly morphed from a democracy (well, technically a representative democracy or a republic—Google it) to an oligarchy—defined by Wikipedia as “a form of government in which power effectively rests with a small elite segment of society distinguished by royal, wealth, intellectual, family, military, or religious hegemony.”

Viewed in that light, all the Supremes did this week was take one more step away from rule of the people. In the midst of perhaps the biggest political mess of my lifetime, it might not be the worst thing that’s happened to the American people lately. But it sure doesn’t help.

RIP: Jim Quello

I did not know Mr. Quello but I know many who knew him well. They, and our entire industry, were influenced by this fair-minded, common-sensible gentleman.

He always struck me as a dedicated broadcaster, but one who always tried to focus on the greater good.

I can’t help but wonder what his take would have been on this week’s Supreme Court decision.

RIP: Air America

The troubled progressive talk network finally gave up the ghost this week, and a memorial service might well be held for a fair and balanced radio dial.

In the wake of November’s general election, liberal talk radio was eagerly anticipating the turning of the tide. The same people who propelled the election of Barack Obama and a decisive Democrat Congressional majority would, the reasoning went, tune in massively to hear fellow travelers match rants with the right.

As it turns out, progressive talk, like progressive everything else, went AWOL.

Regardless of what has or hasn’t happened in national politics, it’s clear to me that progressive talk radio will forever be a sliver format, sustainable only in the certain large cities and college communities, and a struggle even there.

Maybe it’s because that audience is well served by public radio. (Not just a few radio operators offer a nightly prayer that Arbitron will never list non-coms in its surveys, because they would change the game forever.)

Maybe it’s because as its problems compounded, its talent lineup became more and more insubstantial; founding personalities Al Franken and Janeane Garofolo, along with the likes of Thom Hartmann, Randi Rhodes and Rachel Maddow, found other things to do and/or places to do them.

Maybe it’s because that end of the political spectrum comprises people who can’t agree on anything, thus making the worst kind of radio—not to mention political—constituency. (More than once recently I’ve been reminded of Will Rogers’s quip, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”)

Whatever. Air America is out of business because it didn’t get the votes. The people have spoken. Rush Limbaugh lives to rant another day. Ron Reagan? Not so much.


Legendary WABC programmer Rick Sklar once summed up his programming philosophy by saying, “You can’t get hurt by what you don’t play.” (Fun fact: at one point his entire current playlist was 14 records, which he masked by assigning higher numbers to some songs—“number 18,” “number 27,” etc.)

But I digress. Mr. Sklar seemed to imply that, in general,  you don’t miss what you don’t have. But after twenty-some-odd years of looking forward to the RAB’s first-quarter gathering, I have to admit that I miss it.

It’s mildly depressing to visit the RAB website and not see the trademark ballsy tagline-de-l’année. . .to be able to reach RAB staffers relatively easily, because they’re not scurrying around prepping for their show. . .not to be swapping Amfac elevator stories with other MLC veterans.

Ah, but memory plays tricks as well. What began as the anti-convention—limited registration, training-driven, no hoopla, all business—evolved (some would say “devolved”) into another numbers-driven, pack-the-seats, squeeze-the-exhibitors, book-the-noms-du-jour event. (They did it well, but still. . .)

When Fall rolls around, I still feel a little back-to-school tug after all these years. And this year, I’m feeling a little unrequited RAB love. Let’s see if the beefed-up RAB presence at the NAB shows assuages it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Broadcasting's Loss

I first met Paul Hemmer some 25 years ago when I consulted WDBQ and he was its market-dominant morning guy. I’ve been surprised by the caliber of small market talent many times, but Paul was and is a standout. Over the years Paul had chances to go to The Show—which in that part of the country means Chicago—but always opted for the rich, balanced life only small market America can offer.

In addition to his amazing radio career, Paul is blessed with a wonderful wife and two great kids. He’s a world-class musician: a cassette of big-band music by his band—featuring his son, Steve, who also pulls an airshift on KGRR—is among my prized possessions, and he has had at least two of his original musicals performed on local stages.

Above all, Paul and his wife, Jan, have given back to their community in too many ways to enumerate or describe.

Our industry will be diminished by Paul’s departure, but I wish him all the best in his next chapter. No one deserves it more.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Customer Service is Alive

Recently I experienced an example of superior customer service and was told of another. We do so much complaining about bad service, it’s important to recognize the opposite when it occurs. And, as usual, these stories provide valuable lessons we can apply to our own business.

LOOK FOR WAYS TO SERVE. My friend Steve was in an Apple store recently doing some window shopping. He had his iTouch with him, and the earbuds/mic cable set that came with it. In the course of his discussion with one of the geniuses in the store—isn’t that what they’re called?—he mentioned that his mic had stopped working.

Without another word, the genius pulled out a brand new set and swapped it for the defective one. No receipt. No interrogation.

The move was totally unexpected and blew Steve away. Sure, the thing retails for $35, but Apple’s got maybe a buck fifty in it, so if you think about it, it’s a total no-brainer. But how many companies would not only do it, but empower (or, better still, encourage) a local store clerk—excuse me, I mean “genius”—to make the call?

SIX MAGIC WORDS. I’ve been a Verizon customer for years. Love the network. Love the service. Hate the phones. But no phone has pegged the suckometer like the Samsung Omnia.

The phone is so bad that between my wife and me, we’ve replaced it eight times in less than a year.

So I called Verizon and told them I didn’t want to play the replacement game any more, and their stock solutions—a different phone but with lots of contractual strings attached—didn’t work for me.

Then the rep used the six magic words: “What do you want to do?”

The question so took me by surprise that I didn’t have an answer. . .but I promised to call them with one after the weekend.

When I called Monday, I was connected to a guy who listened to my answer and made it happen—and then some. The upshot: my wife and I are getting the phones we want—the Motorola Droid, if you must know—as an even exchange, and we still have the option of upgrading on schedule in August.

I am not happy about this. I am positively giddy.

My friend Warren Lottsberg has a saying: “Today it’s not enough just to satisfy your customers. You have to surprise and delight them.”

What I wanted from Verizon was less generous than what they gave me—I was prepared to pay a discounted price for the phones—hence my giddiness.

The lesson: Listen to the customer and figure out how to trump his/her desired outcome. You’ll have that customer for life.

And with any luck, he’ll tell his story to thousands of readers in his newsletter.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Corporate Culture

With the crap-storm surrounding Arbitron these days—the PPM smack down and the prevaricating CEO have provided a two-course media meal—my faith in the company has never been more pronounced.

Sure, Arbitron is a good friend of my newsletter, but if I didn’t believe what I just said, I would say nothing at all.

While others see a weakened, vulnerable behemoth, I see a company that is growing stronger.


It’s all about the core values. I never had the—whatever—of getting to know Mr. Skarzynski, but I can say without qualification that everyone I know at Arbitron is sincere and honest to a fault. I could not have said that, say, ten or twenty years ago, and I don’t know who gets the credit for the sea change, but my impression is that the people at Arbitron today are decent and real.

In such an environment, the character flaws attributed to Mr. Skarzynski cannot thrive. Whether an interim leader or a more permanent occupant of the office, it is up to Mr. Kerr—who comes from Meredith, another good company—to restore Arbitron’s good name—which, given the company’s traditional flashpoint role, is destined never to be that good anyway.

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe the good guys can win. I know that smart, honest ones can.

PS: In my experience, the same good qualities are alive and well at Nielsen and Eastlan. Let the games begin.

The New Emergency Reality

It began, arguably, with the events in China some 18 months ago, where millions of Chinese were joined by citizens of the world in using Twitter and other so-called social media to circumvent that country’s suppression of communication. Now, these new media are vying for hegemony where radio has always dominated: emergency situations.

Once again we lifelong radio people are being given a choice in how we regard our medium: are we a technology or are we a content provider?

If there were ever a clear signal, Haiti is it. In fact, one article we used as a source for our special report on Page 5 did not even mention radio at all in its recounting; it cited the roles of “TV and social networking sites” in helping the Haiti relief effort.

Aside from yet another possible PR nightmare—our rear-guard defensive position has always been our unique ability to render service in emergency situations—we need to embrace any and every technology and platform that not only will increase our power exponentially, but will, more fundamentally, keep us in the game.