Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Radio: Happy belated Birthday, Telecommunications Bill

A happy belated birthday to the 1996 Telecommunications Bill.
It turned 12 on February 8th.

There were many good reasons for not throwing a party this year.
Number one – we didn’t want the radio industry to set itself on fire while blowing out the candles.

Face it. You’ve already burned your listeners, your clients, and your once loyal employees.

And what have we learned over the past twelve years?

Commercial radio still believes its own hype when it comes to having compelling content.

At least that’s what most of those attending the 2008 RAB convention believe.

There are those that preach the need for radio to be portable again.



It’s not about making radio portable – it’s about giving consumers reasons to listen to it.

Radio isn’t dead.

Sunday’s New York Times mentioned the 30 million-plus daily listeners of National Public Radio's Morning Edition news program. In 1980 they had an audience of just 2 million. It also pointed out that Morning Edition and its afternoon news counterpart, All Things Considered, are the second and fourth most listened to radio programs in the country.

Radio? Dead? Hardly.

Don’t try to pass off the NPR shows as national. They break for local news and information – and cover their markets better than the commercial news- talks in most markets.

Provide inimitable and compelling content– even in the twenty-first century - and you will get people to listen to radio.

RAB CEO Jeff Haley has good intentions when he said, “the goal is to have an FM radio in every PDA and cell phone” - and to do so over the next five years.

But he missed a few vital points.

Here’s one: With exception to NPR and a few still-popular morning shows, most of radio’s destination content is on AM - news, sports, talk, and information.

I hate to say it. Most I know aren’t listening to radio – other than NPR and sports. They get everything else on-line.

Those I know that Podcast use it to time-shift NPR programming that may not be on at a time when one can or wants to listen.

It’s safe to say that no one’s interested in a podcast of a midday voice-tracker.

How can anyone take the radio industry seriously when it’s incessantly contradicting itself?

Spare me the excuses about radio being challenged by iPods, Internet radio, satellite radio, and video games.

The best content will always win – regardless of medium.

The average household has four radios. Almost all cars have a radio. That doesn’t mean they’re being listen to. If radio underperforms, listeners go elsewhere.

Let’s create the perfect world scenario where every man, woman, and child in the U.S. had portable access to terrestrial radio.

Add access to those HD Radio side channels, too.

I’ll even take it one step further – let’s say all of those HD Radio side channels had – don’t laugh - compelling programming, too.

The result? It would kill commercial radio. The audience would be spread too thin among too many stations.

Don’t worry. It’s not going to happen. HD Radio is a non-product, a non-entity. You know it and I know it and Peter “Sgt. Bilk-o” Ferrara knows it.

Bilk-o’s not going anywhere and neither are you as long as you fall for his shams.

I believe Sgt. Bilk-o’s lies about HD Radio as much as I believed Roger Clemens’ testimony to Congress.

The real dilemma facing the industry is that there are too many radio stations.

Here’s why the NAB’s Radio 2020 is David “Fumbles” Rehr’s dumbest campaign to date.

Three words: Reignite the passion. Let me had a fourth: How?

You will not reignite anything by gutting established morning shows. You will not do it with voice-tracking in dayparts when most people listen – and interact.

You will not reignite passion by having managers and programmers accountable for multiple stations and, in some cases, multiple markets.

Reignite the passion? Here’s the problem. Only losers say that.

New media gets a chuckle out of our predicament, because radio’s a laughingstock, more so now than ever after the combination of the HD Radio Alliance and the NAB’s bungling Radio 2020 campaign, which will do absolutely nothing for no one.

We used to have programmers and managers that were hired for their specific knowledge of certain formats. Today, the business calls for a – pardon the name – Jack of all formats and master of none.

I’ll give you three more words: Attention to detail.

A few weeks back Advertising Age did a story on Andy Berndt, who left Ogilvy & Mather to join Google’s Creative Lab. Here’s what he said, “Google’s a giant lab. It doesn’t have fundamentally scientific structure. Sometimes the thinking happens after the doing.”

Remember when successful radio stations operated like that?

Remember when radio was the acquisition tool for clients to get customers to their stores?

All of that seems so twelve years ago now.

Then there’s production. Most station production departments are so overloaded and understaffed that there is no time – in fact it’s frowned upon – to create cinematic-style production for local clients.

And when you lose local, you’ve lost it all.

Happy Birthday, Telecom Bill.


Kingfish Stevens said...

Well put. I wonder if Bill read the bill before he signed it. Repeal the communist act of 96 and return the airwave to the people.

Splicer said...

(I deleted my original comment by accident)

As a Production Director that started working in the business before the Telecom Bill and have continued working steadily since, I could not agree more about your point regarding what I do. The Sales Depts that I know of are absolutely concerned with quantity over quality. I'm often embarrassed by some of the work I do which is considered acceptable to A.E.s and clients. On rare occasions, I've actually had the time to take a dull as dirt script and rework it into a spot with character voices, sound effects and musical cues - as you said, cinematic. Invariably, I'll get the call a day later saying that the client was just looking for a rip and read.

These days, my creativity is used to create imaging and promos for our midday show and to do comedy bits for our evening host. Not that the listeners appreciate any of these things, but doing them keeps me from going crazy.

in a northeast city said...

JG - Right on the money today. Each year we try to do more with less people. Successful businesses HIRE people. Downsizing is for losers too. I have watched the dismantling of this once great station that had tremendous pride in product. Ratings are down, revenue is down and our fearless leader fires much of the workforce then puts out a memo which does NOT even acknowledge the number of jobs he terminated. Reallignment, streamline are b.s. words and nothing more. I pray you are right about devaluation of radio because if radio has a lower overhead and the quality people to program, market and sell it this medium could have a healthy future. I also agree wiht you about HD Radio and the NAB. Give up HD Radio. It is a failure. Do it sooner than later and be ahead of the game. The NAB ought to be fighting the RIAA to prevent both terrestrial AND INTERNET RADIO which is terrestrial's future too from being taxed and tormented by these foreign owned labels. I show your blog to my GM who agrees with you too. I do hope your vision of what will happen with this industry comes true.

Anonymous said...

NPR and public radio is growing for a number of very good reasons, not least of which is that it has to provide a worthwhile service if it wants listeners to support it! They're not as gullible as advertisers whose spots ends up the eighth of nine in a row.
For my part, I've pretty much kept my radio at that end of the dial ever since a certain programmer had his station sold out from under him back in the mid-'90s. I turned on WMMS the day Nationwide took over, heard "Tush" by ZZ Top and that was that. Keep up the great work!

Krieger said...

I am a little surprised that the industry didn't acknowledge the anniversary/birthday date. Then again - what is there to celebrate?

Radio shot itself in both feet, both hands, and so far has just missed severing its aorta.

This industry will not come back unless the values equal worth and that means true value.

fab said...

Your blog entry today should be sent to Radio Ink, All Access & all the other radio trades. It needs to be read by the right people.

I think agency people should read this too. Radio has potential and the only reason it cannot be met right now is our lack of leadership.

Jay Marvin said...

Happy Birthday to no one. Telcom 96
has wrecked radio as we know it. It's now a world where fiction is truth and truth is fiction. These big corp owners are like slum lords who take everything out and put nothing back in. The way to take on NPR, the net, and IPod? Have people do more with less. Dead air? No problem. Lack of local content? Nothing to worry about. Good people on the air? Why bother. Production elements crashing together? Why not. Long stop sets? Bring it on. Thanks Bill Clinton, thanks congress, and thanks to the FCC.

Tony Mazur said...

I was young (8) when the bill was passed, so I have been privy to corporate garbage and half-assed content for much of my life. Shortly after the bill passed, my favorite radio stations were bought out by bigger corporations (Radio One, Clear Channel, Infinity, etc.), and instead of alternative rock, I heard "blazin' hip hop".

As you mentioned, I only tune into terrestrial radio when there happens to be a local sporting event on the dial. Otherwise, I listen to uncensored, crystal-clear content on my XM Satellite Radio unit.

Gerry said...


Glad to see you writing about something other than Clear Channel. Nothing against you covering what they are up to. It is a need to know.

I like your blogs best that address the overall problems of the industry.

Those running it today aren't.

Anonymous said...

I believe it is redundant to tell Fumbles at the NAB that something is for losers. Everything he does is the way only a loser could run things. What a joke. The same with his comrade Sgt. Bilko at the HD radio alliance. Losers all the way. How do they have jobs?

Cut said...

Thank you for acknowledging the plight of production directors. There was a time when we were encouraged to be creative and now it is strictly piece meal. No one cares about anything except tonnage. I put a little extra time in a spot to sell the product better and I was told by the GM I had spent too much time on it and the client wasnt worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

Only losers run organizations like the NAB and HD Radio Alliance.

ad person said...

good news: the rab had some life this year. real issues were discussed and no one mentioned a word about hd radio. at least not in my circles.

bad news: most managers still believe the problem with radio is the marketing of the product not the content when the opposite is true. they convinced themselves that what they are putting out over the air is compelling. as long as this industry believes that we will have a problem of stagnation.

the solution: you said it. bring radio values down to a realistic level. allow more buyers, more companies and bring back competition. if the debt service is far less there will be more money to build and develop the product.

its not rocket science mind you.

Anonymous said...

From your lips to God's ear.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy listening to WLW from Maryland (Scott Sloan, Bill Cunningham, and Truckers' Network), only when it is not f'ed-up by WOR's IBOC hash, and to WABC's Saturday Night Oldies. Otherwise, the rest is pretty pathetic, except for WBBM's news and WCBS's coverage of the Yankees. The GD Bilk-o and Struble crapping-up the AM band - we'll keep posting endlessly on the Internet, until HD/IBOC is dead-and-buried!

HD Radio is a farce!


Radio Nowhere said...

I used to love radio...being on the air, doing occ. production, personal appearances. That was before twelve years ago and the past twelve have been the worst for my life and career. Thank you, Randy Michales, John Hogan, Dan Mason, Mel Karmazin, Peter Smyth and the rest of you that destroyed a once great industry.

Mike In Austin said...

Well said! What radio is missing is compelling content. Virtually every music radio format offers the same thing and the "human" aspect is completely missing or stifled. DJs are all very similar with no personality - they are not allowed to have personality. Why listen to radio if I have an iPod with my own music on it? Radio has to offer more than my iPod - it has to offer programming, personality, fun, and most of all entertainment!

Jay Marvin said...

CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT, and drop the HD Radio con.

Anonymous said...

I worked at NPR. It IS mainly national. No one tunes in to hear the rip & read local news done by the college kid with pimples. The local stations have no money for staff, because folks have discovered they can listen without paying. NPR stations that don't have the fortune to be owned by colleges are struggling.

NPR on the other hand has more money than Clear Channel. Why? Because they got a ton from Ray Kroc's widow. They don't own any radio stations (which means they don't own money pits), and they understand the internet. Too bad most of their affiliates don't. But that's because the kid doing rip & read news in the breaks on Morning Edition would have to also be webmaster.

Anonymous said...

"What radio is missing is compelling content."

Radio has TONS of content. The problem is few people are interested in it.

There is no such thing as content that lots of people will find compelling. Content is individual. I only care about my favorite songs, political opinions I agree with, and people I like. For free, with no commercials. That is not the radio business model.