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.