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.