Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My Summer Surf-sation stations

I hope your Memorial Day weekend was as nice and relaxing as mine was.

It got me to thinking.

I’m often misinterpreted on my opinion of terrestrial radio. Let me get a few facts straight. I don’t believe terrestrial radio is dead. Far from it. Let’s make that clear.

Of all existing agencies by which information and entertainment are conveyed or transferred, radio remains the most accessible medium.

There are roughly four terrestrial radios in an average household. Nearly every car has one. They’re portable. You don’t have to be hard-wired. You don’t need a Wi-fi connection to listen.

And there is the opportunity, though often unrealized, for a wide variety of format choices.

Radio’s problem – and it’s a serious one - is the product it’s delivering not its physical unit.

A common enemy unites people and industry. Had there not been satellite radio and iPods – the radio industry would have to create something to blame for its loss of audience and revenue. Successful products create their own competition. When they merge with another company of similar passion one and one will equal three.

The year is 1965 and the biggest mistake Playboy magazine publisher Hugh Hefner is about to make is not creating Penthouse magazine first. Had he created his own competition, he’d still have those clubs and hotels that had to be sold off at a loss when his company went south. Hefner reacted to Penthouse by buying the North American rights to a French magazine, Oui, which he attempted to make edgier than Playboy. He was too late. Oui was his HD radio.

Ever walk into a building that houses an emergent high tech company? Compare that to visiting a radio station. Creativity breeds creativity. Fear breeds fear.

Many of the characters running radio are not entrepreneurs. They have their fat contracts and golden parachutes. They collect huge salaries and have liberal expense accounts while paying their underlings with anxiety and disdain. They don’t care about the product. You can’t accuse them of selling out because they never bought in. It’s rampart dumbassery. Please tell me what was Clear Channel’s exit strategy ten years ago? BainCapital?

I still use the radio and fervently trust the medium can be saved – and grown.

It’s Friday and I’m listening to WATD, an FM that serves the south shore of Boston, to check the local news, weather, traffic, and high tides.

I love WATD. It’s a genuine community radio station. Their listeners know well in advance of road closings, detours, and special events so there are no unwanted surprises when traveling through the south shore or down to the Cape.

I enjoy hearing spots voiced by local business owners – Boston accent at all – and if I find myself at a store or business I heard advertised on WATD, I always let them know. For the record, it sounds like WATD has a significant number of local advertisers.

WATD, which is licensed to the south-of-Boston suburb of Marshfield, Mass, is a full service news operation and not typical to what small market radio has become over the past decade.

Since 1991 WATD has earned eleven national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) and an additional forty five awards in the RTNDA/New England regional competition. They’ve also won over 30 awards from the Massachusetts/Rhonde Island Associated Press division.

In hours they’re not doing news, depending on the daypart, they’re Hot AC or oldies – and they do have the customary weekend programming many locally owned and operated stations have. Even in those hours, they do continual local and regional news and information updates. Live and local. What a concept!

Once I had the local news and information needed, I switched over to WMVY, the Martha’s Vineyard triple-A station, which provided me with hours of pure musical diversion.

I love WMVY, too. They provide a musical soundtrack to Cape Cod and the islands. I heard a lot of songs I hadn’t heard in a while and enjoyed most of them. I also heard some new music, half of which inspired me to learn more about those artists. Remember when all music radio used to make you want to do that?

It was the ideal audio milieu to a lazy holiday summer weekend. I don’t mind hearing the jet skis racing along the shore. They’re as much as part of the summer sounds as those single engine planes flying overhead, surveying the coastline and kids playing in the sand. But nothing compares to being in the sun and surf and hearing a radio station play your favorite music.

I was plugged in and listening to same stations others with similar tastes were listening to at the same time. I felt part of a community – and, in doing so, spent significant TSL with them.

It also reinforced my belief that every profession has its lunatic fringe. The lunatic fringe of radio programmers is occupied by a group of people who are convinced that everything can be solved with data.

A few weeks back a program director of a struggling music station told me he was perplexed by his ratings. He’d followed the rules and regs primed by his current paint-by-numbers consultant; carefully mined his research and perceptual studies – and ended up losing substantial audience. His TSL was also in the toilet. I asked him how his station felt emotionally – and how he’d define its personality. He asked me to explain. Another victim of paralysis by analysis. If you can’t feel your radio station and define its personality, you’ve already lost.

The Harvard Business School has a new slogan, which says it best: Great minds think alike...and that's the problem.

Both WATD and WMVY are judiciously and keenly connected to the Internet as their companion medium. Both stations stream on line, which allows one to hear them anywhere – worldwide.

One could argue that those stations exist in this manner only because they have mom and pop owners. I neither agree nor disagree. They may not have the enormous debt service the chains have – but they still have time to sell and numbers to reach – and they’re up against clusters from Clear Channel, CBS Radio, Entercom, and Greater Media, all of which have clients on the south shore of Boston, and Sandab, Quantum, and Nassau on the Cape.

So WATD and WMVY, along with the sun, the sights and sounds of the coast, the hot dogs, hamburgers, and home-made potato salad, topped off by my favorite Harpoon IPA and a new brew, Magic Hat ‘s Hocus Pocus (gets my approval) – made the long weekend a memorable experience.

I wrapped up the evening watching the Red Sox play the Indians. I could’ve listened to that on the radio, too – but TV won out on that one. I’d already given my life to radio for most of the weekend.

9 comments:

bruce said...

Glad to be subscribed, John, and enjoying your blogs. In your opinion, is there currently a major market station in the rock genre that is both doing things right and getting the numbers? KROQ here in LA comes close to that, but they aren't nearly as spontaneous as they'd like people to believe.

John said...

I find myself gravitating much more to terrestrial stations that live stream on the net. I enjoy the geographic feel that can eminate from the station. Regionalism in terrestrial radio...what a concept. WMVY is a good example as is KPIG, the longest running online stream. Also the countless public stations such as WWOZ out of New Orleans. Heck, I even wish I could here the ad breaks that have, for the most part, been blocked due to the ad industry crap from a few years back.
As for stations doing it right...compelling radio and good numbers...though not at the top of the market I'd think WXRT, Chicago qualifies.

Anonymous said...

I live in Hingham and listen to WATD almost exclusively. I used to be a WBZ listener and even bought time to promote my Quincy based company there. Last year I bought time for a fraction of the price on WATD and got ten times the results I did from WBZ. John Gorman is right about bringing back regional radio. It supports the community and it provides an opportunity for the independent business owner to reach customers for a fraction of the price. That is good business. I am a radio fan and was told about your blog from my former account executive at WBZ who also agrees with you.

Anonymous said...

You parallel my radio listening habits. I like WATD for news and information and WMVY for music although sometimes they get a little over indulgent and inside. I find it interesting that WMVY can do better programming than WBOS and WXRV in Boston. WBOS is a joke and WXRV tries so hard to be "hip". If that midday woman tells me one more time how she knows some famous artist or used to live where the Stones shot a video I may have to delete that station. I already deleted WBOS. Maybe they should have sold WBOS to the Red Sox when they had the chance.

Anonymous said...

WMVY is not as good as they were even a couple of years ago. They need competition. Their elitist attitude sucks

Anonymous said...

i have to agree on wmvy. it was a good station. i dont like listening to a station that makes me feel i have to be part of a special club to listen. my musical tastes lean close to what wmvy was not what they are now: too hip for the room. ill stick to my ipod.

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