Thursday, May 22, 2008

Radio: The dreaded three-day weekend

Today’s the day when everyone in radio will say to their comrades, “Hope to see you next week…”

It’s another dreaded three-day weekend – the ideal time for chains to chop staff and flip formats.

Shock deadens when you learn that the downsizing occurred days ago. That’s the benefit of long weekends.

By the time Tuesday rolls around, the carnage and chaos will be old news.
Humans are creatures of habit and given the choice will invariably go to what is most familiar.

When familiarity disappears, so does loyalty.

When loyalty disappears so do ratings.

I liken perpetual format changes to restaurants that go out of business only to be replaced by other restaurants that go out of business a couple of years later.

People who love food and cooking believe they’d find bliss in opening a restaurant and managing it the way they should feel it should be managed.

The trouble is that a love of food and cooking doesn’t assure the success of a restaurant any more than a love a books assures a successful book store.

Doing it right takes a skillful business mind, unimaginable hard word, and a hell of lot of luck.

Here’s the problem. Radio doesn’t want skill and hard work. It wants cheap and part time, no benefits.

You’d think it’s bad enough that the majority of radio stations will keep their studios free of the stink of human with voice-tracked countdowns and syndicated specials.

They’ll be a handful of stations that will do it right – and actually encourage time spent listening. But handful means few.

I know, I know. We’d all like to go back to the time when radio took seriously these long three-day weekends – and in the pre-FM (find me) days when top 40 radio would battle-to-the-death to lock in listeners to their stations for the summer season.

It would take something super-special like Drake-Chenault’s History of Rock & Roll, to trigger a station to deviate from its regular format over the long holiday weekend.

The decline of three-day weekend programming started when it became so much easier to just slot part-timers or pre-record the A-team to run down a station’s top 500 as a play on the Indie 500. It worked best for formats like oldies, which had the tonnage of titles and AOR, which, by the late 70s was already top-heavy in classic rock.

Today, stations not a countdown weekend or syndication just go on automatic pilot.

Schedule and print. Sometimes days in advance. It’ll be the same music, the same pre-recorded voice tracking whether it’s a sunny day or pouring rain.

If you’re doing the barbeque/party circuit this weekend, I predict that the music you’ll hear will not be coming from a radio.

Most of what I learned about programming a radio station I picked up listening to top 40 radio in the sixties.

Radio was run by radio people. They understood the true ownership rule – and it’s wasn’t just own mornings, own the day.

It’ was all about owning the soundtrack.

Own Memorial Day and you’ll own up to July 4th. Own July 4th and you’ll own up to Labor Day. Own Labor Day weekend – and you’ll be in perfect pole position to own the fall book.

Prove me wrong. Hope to see you Tuesday.


Anonymous said...

Hi John,

Yes, I couldn't agree with you more. I'm a radio listener who feels betrayed by the cheapening of programming service locally, and that's why I've pretty much switched over to satellite and my iPod. I miss the localism, but I'm not holding my breath that it will ever return. The people who control the industry seem to contradict themselves in that they provide less and less local service but vehemently oppose other services (like internet and satellite) from picking up the slack. Certainly the FCC doesn't seem to be able to see through this ruse.

Yes, it's a dreaded three-day weekend with less local and original programming on the air than the last three-day-weekend. I just hope we don't have a tornado or local emergency.

Anonymous said...

"Radio was run by radio people."

Really? Like who?

Radio was run by snake oil salesmen. Or maybe drop the snake oil. Radio was run by sales people. Used car salesmen. Furniture salesmen. Insurance salesmen. If they made money someplace, they'd use their newfound wealth to buy a radio station. None of them knew much about radio. Other than if they owned it, they could use it to sell stuff.

I'm tired of all this re-writing of history. I was there 40 years ago. I know the truth. It wasn't the romance that Gorman writes. Even the stations he worked at were raped by greedy owners who knew nothing about radio. But he's turned a blind eye to the corruption that used to go on.

Newspapers used to own radio. In cities like Lexington and Louisville Kentucky, Washington DC, and Chicago. Now, they call that media concentration. Back then it was business as usual.

Insurance companies used to own radio. Nationwide. National Benefit Life, and many more. They used radio to help door to door insurance salesmen. They didn't know squat about radio. They promoted those door to door salesmen to GMs of the radio stations. Google Bud Wendell and read his bio.

There isn't a single thing being done by today's radio owners that wasn't done 50 years ago.

Jeffrey Meyer said...

I agree with the first poster to an extent, however, I don't think that the radio industry intentionally created the scenario described, it’s just the way things turned out. It’s also perfectly legitimate for the NAB to try to stomp out competition, such as WiFi and satellite radio, in an effort to protect their turf, but what is really galling is that the FCC seems to be going along with it.

In other words, the FCC is denying the American public the opportunity to have other sources of news, entertainment, and other media by going along with the NAB. That doesn’t sound like serving the public trust to me.

Anonymous said...

Certainly there were good and bad owners. Among the absolute and worst and cheapest to boot were the Richmond Bros. who owned WMEX in Boston and WPGC in Washington. You never wanted to be last in line cashing your pay check. They always shorted the account. When Max Richmond died it was assumed the worst was over until his replacement Bob Howard turned out to be an even cheaper bastard who enjoyed docking employees for the most minor infractions. Those were cheap shopkeeper types. Not like the slime and corporate lowballs running radio today. I would take a Max Richmond over Farid Suleman, Mel Karmazin, Dan Mason, and John Hogan any day.

Anonymous said...

John, Next Media didn't even wait for tomorrow. They started letting people go this week in the name of the poor economy. We have to let you go but we didn't want to do it. They let some good quality hard working people go too.

Wonder how many Dan Mason, John Hogan and Farid will let go tomorrow in the name of the poor economy.

At least now they have an excuse. The poor economy. Blame everyone except yourselves, gentlemen. That takes guts.

Anonymous said...

"In other words, the FCC is denying the American public the opportunity..."

Huh? All of those things are currently available. How is the FCC denying anyone anything?

Did the FCC create the billion dollar debt the satellite companies have? No. Did the FCC force internet broadcasters to pay a performance royalty? No. Did the FCC control the over expansion of the FM band? No.

Anonymous said...

Something is up. I got an e-mail this morning from my boss to stop by and see him this morning and he did not add "before you go on the air."

I don't want to give my name/city. I am #1 in my daypart with the target demo and have been here for 10 years. I realize that is no longer enough.

Anonymous said...

I think you're only presenting one side of it.

Today, the top name talent in radio has a contract. In that contract, it states that the talent and his staff must have holidays off. Not only can't the station use the big name morning guy on the holiday, but they can't even use the side-kicks. It's in the contract.

Second, with regards to the Drake-Chenault syndication, there used to be only a couple of companies offering such programming. Today there are hundreds. All of it at the level of what D-C did 40 years ago, all with superstar interviews, all of it with celebrity talent.

Third, you're forgetting that everyone wants the long weekend off. Even the part-timers. This is the slacker generation. They work to live, not the other way around.

Yes, ownership is not as it was, but employees aren't the way they were either. It's changed all the way around.

Anonymous said...

There is a rumor going around that K-Rock is going to flip formats this weekend on

beggin' to differ said...

I'm not sure what station you work at. It is not the same where I am.
Only AM drive is under contract It is a boilerplate take it or leave it deal. No one else is under contract and most dayparts are vt. Market in top 25. There are no slackers here. Maybe you work at one of the exceptions or a top five market. Consider yourself lucky that you have lucked in to something few of us in radio experience anymore.
Regarding Drake-Chenault. Yes there is Premiere and dozens of others. The quality level is not even close to History of R&R and that is the technology of today versus the old cut and paste tape edits of the D-C era.

Anonymous said...

"Only AM drive is under contract"

That's what I said: Top name talent.

You have stars and you have everyone else. Not everyone is a star. The idea of having a station line-up of stars went away in the 70s, as the number of stations in a market exploded.

"The quality level is not even close to History of R&R..."

Once again, today the issue is quantity. Too many radio stations with too many employees, too many syndicators, too many shows, and too many mouths to feed. It's like in sports, after expansion hit the NFL.

You'd think more is better, but it's not.

Bob A Booey said...

So you mean to tell me that Bill Wills is under contract and Mike Trivisonno is not?

Anonymous said...

Now i know why they named it Next Media. "NEXT?" He loved his chopping block.

Anonymous said...

No the FCC did not create the deregulation. That was congress. What the FCC did under Chairman Mike Powell was to look the other way when all the move in and payola deals were done with his blessing.

Anonymous said...

"What the FCC did under Chairman Mike Powell was to look the other way when all the move in and payola deals were done with his blessing."

I don't think he "looked the other way." He continually petitioned Congress for more money to do the kind of watch-dog things people were talking about. And Congress continued to cut their budget.

It takes money and people to regulate. Our government is broke. They can barely keep up with the basics.

Anonymous said...

"So you mean to tell me that Bill Wills is under contract and Mike Trivisonno is not?"

Are either of them working on Monday?

Anonymous said...

I'm just waitin' for July 4 so I can cap my old lady during the chaos of the fireworx...

Rick Savage said...

I think all the radio stations should just close up shop and VT all day 24/7 365 Days a year.

David Edweirdo said...

There are lots of reasons for voice-tracking all weekend. In one market in 1972, a station was automated and placed 3rd in 25-54 adults. That should be proof enough that it works.

Anonymous said...

LOL !!

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

I think you're really on to something. This was a flurry of job losses announced this morning, and it looks like one of them might be in on this discussion.

Anonymous said...

Automated beautiful music worked once upon a time and they were usually the top rated FM in the market. But that was yesterday and yesterday's gone.

The future belongs to LIVE. Those that survive will be LIVE. Those that don't will DIE.

CBS cut said...

How about the e mail I just received that said in form letter style that my station's format is changing and I do not have to come to work on Tuesday and that I can pick up my check and my belongings in the station lobby on Tuesday and I have to make an appointment to do so in advance with HR.

No advance notice. No nothing. Just this delivered at 2:00 p.m. today.

Anonymous said...

K-Rock is going off the air. I guess Nard will have to go back to the Wolf in Youngstown

KRock fan said...

When is K-Rock going off the air?