Monday, July 14, 2008

Radio: EmmiS.O.S. - a review


Last week, radio stocks took their tumble and Emmis became the lightning rod for all things wrong with radio.

It’s not fair to single out Emmis except that when you have underperforming (putting it kindly) properties in the top three radio markets you become a case study - plus picking on Clear Channel is so yesterday.

Let’s pay a quick visit to those cities and Emmis' problematical stations.

In New York, Emmis has WRXP - a rock format designed by committee. Don’t get me wrong. I’m the last to recommend or support specific format definitions – but, now, after umpteen weeks I have to ask, “What are you?” Don’t say evolving. Every format is supposed to do that.

When RXP signed on, its web site carried an exhaustive rationalization for the first two songs it played (R.E.M.’s new “Supernatural Superserious” and the Velvet Underground’s thirty-eight year old chesnut, “Rock & Roll.”) to define its format. That page has now disappeared from view.

Remember that Lovin’ Spoonful song, “It’s like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll?” Exactly. If you have to explain….

RXP was too hip for the room. It pitched the hipster. Mistake number one. Hipsters don’t like anything popular. A successful format needs its superstars and established artists. Don't want to go that route? There's always college radio. That's what it's there for.

The original alternative rock format of the eighties and early nineties was, with few exceptions, a one-share format because most dropped artists from airplay once they gained mass acceptance. That meant the playlists of alt-rockers were top-heavy on acts that could draw fifty people on a good night.

Gray hairs will recall a time when the album rock format would delete artists from its library when they had a crossover hit. Artists like Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young "sold out." A top 40 hit translated to a kiss of death for the band from the hipsters. These album rockers weren’t even cracking a one-share back then – and for good reason.

In all fairness, RXP just got a new PD – a creative, innovative PD; they’re still hiring an airstaff, and fine-tuning their music. But I ask…why? Those elements should have already been in place when RXP signed on. It was rushed-on the air for all the wrong reasons.
*
In the age when radio was still cool you could build a station while it was on the air. Z100 in 1983 is a perfect example.

But in these modern times, when attention spans are minimized, you’d better be right the first time. You may not get a second chance to win over potential listeners.

In Los Angeles Emmis has Movin’. Two words: Jammin’ Oldies. Three more: Just as successful. When someone digs themselves in a hole, you don’t pick up the shovel and dig another one right next to them.

Let’s visit Chicago and Emmis’ two shattered stations – victims of paralysis by analysis. In the latest Arbitron both stations are tied for 19th place.

Remember when these stations were to be “reinvented”?

I deliberately sent in an application for that job – just to see if it had anything to do with straightening out their two troubled stations’ programming. It didn’t. The Coot had that part “under control.” In other words, it wasn't his fault they had no listeners. It was the marketing. Uh-huh?

The Loop? A station that’s lost in music, lost in time. Its talent trapped in a dated, image-less station stuck in an unholy relationship with prophet of doom. There’s no excuse for the Loop’s lock at the bottom of the Arbitron though the Coot always seems to find a dozen of them up his sleazy sleeve.

Then there’s Q101. The Coot doesn’t know his alternative from active rock. Music on shuffle? That’s so Jake! Did he even read his own “bedroom” “study” (quotations on purpose)? If he appraised his own “research” he’d learn that the alternative rock audience doesn’t want to hear some radio station’s shuffle – especially a commercial station they used to listen to until it got too Edged out – and doesn’t have a remote idea what alternative is or what music is popular today to its listeners.

Here’s a free clue. Not every male listening to rock music is a member of Knucklehead Nation. In fact, most aren’t. Capish?

I think the Coot needs a new slogan for his “research” and unctuous cheerleading: Fake – but accurate.

For Emmis, I agree that obits have been precipitately posted and its requiems are being prematurely sung.

There’s a difference between committees and teams.

A camel is a horse designed by a committee.

I know of no successful radio station built by a committee but I can easily recognize the most successful stations as the end result of teamwork.

I’d try explaining teamwork to the Coot but, once gain; it would be like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll.
----

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here's what I've noticed: The people who are shouting the loudest now about radio stocks were also complaining when the stocks were at their peak.

Nothing has chganged here about the people complaining or what they're complaining about. The only thing that's changed is they have something new to point to. So at least you're consistent.

The issue here isn't radio stocks, or even what they're doing. You guys have come to certain conclusions about these companies. It really doesn't matter who runs them, how they're run, what happens to their stock prices, or any changes they might make. None of that matters.

A lot of CC haters loved Emmis because it was still run by a radio guy, who loves radio, and gives his people a lot of room to do what they want. Jeff knew he needed to get his stock off the tabel a long time ago. That's why he attempted to go private. If he had, he would be in the same place as Greater Media. But his stockholders fought him, and he lost. So now he's taking his medicine.

The funny part is that all the things you're complaining about with RXP in New York are exactly the things you wanted radio stations to do a few years ago. You wanted them to hire knowledgable DJs who pick their own music, not using a corporate playlist, and talk intellifently about the music. Now your claim is they're too hip for the room.

That's what these blogs are all about. You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't. You're an idiot when your stock price is high, and an idiot when they're low. That's what Glen Frey was singing about in the song "Dirty Laundry." Kick em when they're up, kick 'em when they're down, dirty laundy.

I can't wait til you get a station to run. That's when I'm starting my own blog, called "DirtyLaundry.com."

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with you about WRXP. I would prefer hearing some REAL people not posers who have to remind me how hip and cool they are. Maybe they should go back and look at old videos of the original MTV jocks. Hear me out. They used to play a somewhat eclectic mix of music combined with the hits and it worked. Don't try so hard that you have to play some obscure Smiths tune to prove you are cool.

Anonymous said...

I had high hopes for RXP. Not any more. I think radio forgot how to entertain its audience. The jocks don't know how to talk to the audience. The music is too all over the place to enjoy it for longer than two or three songs. I don't necessarily agree with your viewpoint on hipsters but I can understand why you feel a mish mash of music works best on college radio.

Anonymous said...

Dude, you sound bitter and old.

Anonymous said...

I believe Gorman's point about WRXP and radio in general is that you do need a set of rules or parameters and from there you customize them to the edge of rule breaking. I will give WRXP another listen based on Gorman's comments about the new PD. I listened to them 3 o4 4 days after their premiere and I found them to be as you say 'too hip for the room' and trying too hard to be cutting edge. They promoted their non-format format with liner card style mentions. If they were trying to capture the original WNEW-FM vibe they failed. We should have a good adult triple A format station. We could also use a good rock station. (sorry KRock you don't cut it.) For that matter we could use a real classic rock station that plays more than a couple of hundred tracks repeatedly. Until that happens I have my ipod on shuffle.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there is something odd about a station that tries to pawn itself off as a "free form" station signing on without jocks. So what committee was chosing the music for RXP before they hired jocks? I wanted to like it enough to drift over from the left side of the frequency. After a few days I had had enough. Did they do some research project to determine the perfect New York hipster? If they were trying to do a "world class rock" on us it failed. Rock and roll is fun. Triple A is quality music. The two can coexist as it does in other cities but their sound of "New York cool" leaves me cold.

Anonymous said...

You are dealing with an old boys fraternity. Fred Jacobs is an employment service first, a consultancy second. He has a wit and can cover his ass with endless reams of research. You be the judge of how real his research is. He has had successes and failures which puts him in a league with most of us except that he has it down to a science how to deflect his shortcomings on to others. Many programmers and even a couple of general managers were fired because he found ways to fix blame on them to the managers they answer to. Fred and his brothers built one of the most successful consultancies. He has Arbitron and iBiquity among his high-paying clients. He is the master manipulator and knows how to play one side against another better than almost anyone else in the business. I think he is a hero.

Anonymous said...

Leave Jacobs alone. This is a warning. You mess with the wrong guy.

Radio Hannibal said...

I'd give RXP some more time. Yeah, I know investors want immediate results but I've always contended that in this state of radio it would take a station about 2 years to find it's stride and audience.
I'm still rooting for them.

Anonymous said...

"Leave Jacobs alone. This is a warning. You mess with the wrong guy."

Ok, Fred, now we can have your ISP turned off for making threats.

Anonymous said...

I have to be honest with you. I listened to RXP but found myself right back with XM. XM offers far more alternatives and its music stations are far superior to anything I can find on commercial or even college radio. Sirius's music by comparison is nowhere near as good as XM's. I can get my fill of every kind of music genre I want in ten stations on XM. Why would I want to subject myself to a radio station programmed by committe?

Anonymous said...

who can sell a salesman better than another salesman? fred jacobs & his bros & staff are good salesmen. most gms and group heads are former sales mgrs & aes so it stands to reason why jacobs can close deals w/those stations. he knows how to sell them & his pitch that he is an invaluable partner to radio programming & promotion wins them over. he collects a nice % of the action for hd radio sign ups & labels have a cozy relationship with him too. he is a master of sales who doesn't know the first thing about programming or lifestyle. everything he blogs about has been covered by blogs. he rewrites them in radio-ese. i want to see jacobs get more clients because the day will come when i will be up against him in a few markets & then his life will be miserable because i know where he buried the bodies & what a phony he is.

Anonymous said...

who can sell a salesman better than another salesman? fred jacobs & his bros & staff are good salesmen. most gms and group heads are former sales mgrs & aes so it stands to reason why jacobs can close deals w/those stations. he knows how to sell them & his pitch that he is an invaluable partner to radio programming & promotion wins them over. he collects a nice % of the action for hd radio sign ups & labels have a cozy relationship with him too. he is a master of sales who doesn't know the first thing about programming or lifestyle. everything he blogs about has been covered by blogs. he rewrites them in radio-ese. i want to see jacobs get more clients because the day will come when i will be up against him in a few markets & then his life will be miserable because i know where he buried the bodies & what a phony he is.

Mad World said...

Ask Fred about how he ruined the Edge in Buffalo.

Jed Fracobs said...

If you want to see what a real phony Fred Jacobs is and you have teens at home show them this: http://www.thebedroomstudy.com/. It's safe. This is Jacobs bedroom study, the one where he has teens explaining what they want from media. He did this in conjunction with Arbitron which means Arbitron paid him to do it. Don't give your kids any preconceived notions about it. Ask them to watch it. I guarantee they will tell you within the first few minutes that these kids are paid actors. In fact your kids will get a real kick out of this because it is so off kilter. You kids will also tell you the real story on their media use. Some of it anyway.

bobyoung said...

Just the fact that Jacobs still thinks that HD should have been a winner and that there is something the matter with us 99.999% of consumers who would rather listen to an acoustic Victrola than HD proves that he's a hack. And yes I know ibquity is one of his clients, he now showcases that fact in his blog since he has gotten so many anti-HD posts when he writes about trying to understand why for the life of him HD isn't in everyone's living room and car by now because it's so wonderful, etc, bla, bla, bla. He's truly puzzled (and clueless).

Bob Young
Millbury, MA

Anonymous said...

The same ideas get cycled and recycled. How many WQIV, WAPP, WLIR ad nauseum stations have we had that went absolutely nowhere.

The same with that Jammin' Oldies format. I was hooked the first time I heard it. A week later after those songs lost their "oh wow" I never wanted to hear them again. The same is true for 80% of Jack. Movin' may look good on paper but does not feel good on the ears.

The Loop is a sad, sad story. It has been lost for years. Even going back to DeCastro. He put a nice spin, that is all. Q101 was for a moment a very good alternative rock station for the time. They ran into problems when they pimped Eddie Vedder's mother and Pearl Jam dissed the station at the stadium.

Emmis lost its soul when it went on a buying rampage. They wanted to keep up with the Clear Channels and CBSes. In doing so they fell into the same trap the bigger boys did.

I don't see radio making a comeback. Joh, I'm sorry, I would like to agree with you. I don't think there are enough people or enough time to turn its fortunes around.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for exposing the huxter Fred Jacobs and his merry men of carnival barkers. You have to question the intelligence of some managers and even owners who use his services especially when he is a pitchman for HD radio that has cost this industry millions in equipment, license fees and other charges that will never be recouped.

Anonymous said...

"I don't see radio making a comeback. John, I'm sorry, I would like to agree with you. I don't think there are enough people or enough time to turn its fortunes around."

Amen. Where's the future for radio? The listening demo is less and less appealing every year and the target demo finds the technology offensive. Ads have been discounted so low the medium is widely perceived as worthless.

Want to see first hand what you're up against? Walk into a client's office and try to convince him radio should be a bigger part of his plan. Talk to a group of teens and tell them they should be listening to radio. You'll get about the same response. I'm not saying it's impossible to revive radio, just that it will never happen.

Anonymous said...

re: last anonymous.

I agree with you in part. I do think there are probably a dozen or so individuals and maybe the author of this blog is one of them who can revitalize radio. Radio has to take on a new meaning and a new importance. It has to coexist with the internet and be its partner not adversary or just a value added.

Millions paying for XM and Sirius radio tells me that there is still a market for radio if the right people own it, manage it, program it and sell it. Provide what XM and Sirius do on terrestrial and you may see radio's fortunes change.

Rid radio of outdated formats, ideas, promotions and salespeople that pitch radio the same way they did thirty years ago. Times change, change with them.

Anonymous said...

John, You and your readers should know that Fred Jacobs ripped you off again in his latest blog: http://jacobsmedia.
typepad.com/
jacobs/2008/07/the-prod-room.html.
After reading his piece I went back to your blog and noted that he rewrote what you wrote about production on April 28 of this year and even went back to your October 10 2007 piece. Jacobs imitation did not have your detailed analysis. Chances are he couldn't figure it out anyway. He basically bullet-pointed your material. Since you have called him out for the fraud he is that the last thing he should do is copy items you wrote months ago.
As radio continues its slide and TSL erodes further he will announce his retirement. There is not much more money he can make of this industry now that he helped destroy it.

Anonymous said...

Good blog. I am glad you are saying give the PD (Leslie Fram) a chance and I understand why you didn't use her name but had a link to it. She should not have to be burdened with their false start. I felt the same way with RXP. It was a pre-fab hipster format. Since then it has been at best a fair to poor radio station considering what it can and should be doing to reach the adult rock audience. I will give it a chance and give it the opportunity to find itself over the next few months. I agree with you that Emmis really botched RXP's debut.

Anonymous said...

"Provide what XM and Sirius do on terrestrial and you may see radio's fortunes change."

The most popular channels on satellite are the ones that duplicate programming on FM.

The basic difference is satellite is subscriber-based, and FM is advertiser-based. If FM didn't have to appeal to advertisers, it would do what satellite does. Or if satellite had to appeal to advertisers (as some of its channels do), they wouldn't offer the musical diversity.

The other fact is satellite is national, FM is local. If local stations were programmed nationally, they could combine their revenues and hire better quality talent.

The changes FM radio needs to make in order to compete with other media won't be popular among bloggers and older radio employees. If you really want radio to change, it means giving up on the outdated concept of "live & local." It simply doesn't matter today.

mr answer said...

"The most popular channels on satellite are the ones that duplicate programming on FM."

I don't believe that to be true but I have no statistics to prove it. All I know is that everyone I know loves XM's Deep Tracks and most of the other rock stations. I do, too.

"The basic difference is satellite is subscriber-based, and FM is advertiser-based."

There are commercial stations on both XM and Sirius.

"If FM didn't have to appeal to advertisers, it would do what satellite does. Or if satellite had to appeal to advertisers (as some of its channels do), they wouldn't offer the musical diversity."

I don't think radio has a choice. They have to change and move toward the 21st century and recognize that they are out of touch with today's music listener.

"The other fact is satellite is national, FM is local."

FM isn't local. Corporate playlists, voice tracking, syndication? That's anti-local.


"If local stations were programmed nationally, they could combine their revenues and hire better quality talent. "

They already are programmed nationally. There is little no regionalism on most contemporary music playlists. You can show me maybe a few exceptions but that is it.

"The changes FM radio needs to make in order to compete with other media won't be popular among bloggers and older radio employees."

I think a Deep Tracks format on FM would bring back a sizeable 35+ male audience.

" If you really want radio to change, it means giving up on the outdated concept of "live & local." It simply doesn't matter today."

That is wrong and that is why terrestrial radio is dying and it can't service its clients. There is little local about local radio today. Their greatest selling point is thrown away.

Anonymous said...

John, Leslie Fram was in one of the papers yesterday. I don't remember it other than her statement about not having to rely on research to add new music.

It's too bad Emmis did a false start on RXP instead of waiting for a PD. There are those that cumed the station early on in that will be hard to draw back if at all.

I knew of some people that no longer listen to radio that checked RXP out and were disapointed. Maybe they like me will give it a second chance.

I like your pointed comments about Fred Jacobs. He is not the only villain. His nepotistic consultant company is a good place to start. He is so transparent in his support for HD radio. He has not been successful at convincing the big three to add HD radio. They now have more important things to worry about then some aged idiot trying to pitch a dead technology. How he became a rock consultant will always be a mystery to me. He never knew about rock radio to begin with. WRIF's success was Doug Podell not Fred Jacobs.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the doomsday types that predict radio is dead. I think when we get better owners and more of them we will see change and improvement. I know radio has to crawl back from ten years of being Karmazined, Hoganed, Sullemanned, and Dickeyed around. Get rid of the problems and find the solutions. Regarding the HD radio fiasco...did the HD Radio Alliance ever think that those two letters - HD - would become the most hated in the alphabet. HD TVs are having problems, antennas are not picking up signals, there are incompatabilties with cable and satellite and the installation and support costs are sky high. Geek squads don't come cheap. Why would a radio group want to use those same letters?

Anonymous said...

I just read your blog on Emmis and Jacobs.

First Emmis. That company has been a disaster for years. It used to be highly respected. That changed when Jeff wanted to become a sports mogul. Then came deregulation. Then came the hip hop stations and shootings. Then came more expansion. Jeff lost control of his company and that put Rick way over his head. Making a bad situation worse was Cummings's dependency on old school consultants like Alan Burns, Fred Jacobs. They don't have it anymore. I am not sure if they ever did, really. They took Emmis on a magic carpet ride. The Jeff and Rick I know never would have consented to Movin' or RXP.

Ex Cleve Now JRZShore said...

Hey Gorman, Leslie Fram must have read your Buzzard book and studied up on the way you programmed the old WMMS. This was in R&R this morning. G-Man, when did you first do this? I think it was the mid seventies and for every major concert event. At least Leslie is borrowing ideas from the right person - or did you feed her this idea? Here is the story:

"WRXP Listeners Not Booing
They’re yelling “Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce!” Why? Emmis’ WRXP/New York is doing
something pretty cool for all the diehard (is there any other kind?) Springsteen fans in the Tri-
State Area who attend Bruce & The E Street Band’s July 27, 28 and 31 shows at Giants
Stadium: They will supply concertgoers with the perfect soundtrack to make their crappy
drive home survivable — by replaying each show’s unique set list in its entirety. Now how
much would you pay? As we speak, WRXP is rolling through an extended four-day “You’re
the Boss” weekend, playing a bunch of Springsteen tracks and blowing out concert tickets.
One grand-prize winner will also win pit passes for the shows and an autographed copy of
Springsteen’s Music song book."

If you are working with them, G-Man. Good. If they copied your old ideas that's also good. That used to be one of the coolest things you would do on WMMS. I remember even coming out of smaller hall shows like Golden Earring at the Allen and hearing three G.E. tunes in a row just after I got in my car. When it came to Springsteen, the Stones or any of the big acts of the day you were plugged in.

Thank you, Leslie Fram. You are getting the spirit. While WAQX programs their shitty classic rock a week in advance you are up to the minute.

ex lakewood said...

i am an ex clevelander living in Westchester county. I listened to RXP the first week or two it was on the air and was very disapointed in the music mix and the person I heard on the air. I found your blog from the buzzard book site. After reading your most recent blog I checked out RXP again. They have improved but they are no WMMS. The Bruce programming is not bad. It does not have the same excitement your staff created when Bruce or other bands of note came to town. It would be an improvement to have an actual FM station to listen to and enjoy. College and public is good don't get be wrong. The problem I have with them are speciality shows or going off on music tangents to show how cool they are similiar to early RXP. I think RXP needs a dose of Jeff and Flash, Matt the Cat, Kid Leo, Denny Sauders, Betty Corvan, B.L.F., Deeya, Ruby and your expertise. Too bad you guys can'[t reunite and do it from Cleveland.

Anonymous said...

The most popular channels on satellite are the ones that duplicate programming on FM????
how?....no one can duplicate what Sirius "lithium, hard attack, alt nation, hip-hop nation, shade 45, backspin, howard 100,101, etc.) they have a huge playlist compared to the short list of songs terrestrial provides...do you even subscribe to sat radio or are you one of those donkey's praising HD radio and its numerous flaws

Anonymous said...

"Sirius "lithium, hard attack, alt nation, hip-hop nation, shade 45, backspin, howard 100,101, etc.) they have a huge playlist"

They may have a huge playlist, but a very small audience.

The only satellite stations, other than Howard Stern, that have any audience are the ones that play mainstream music with short playlists. This comes from their own published data.

Anonymous said...

First you said:

"They have to change and move toward the 21st century"

Then you said:

"There is little local about local radio today."

Which is it? Move to the 21st century, or stay the way used to be done?

We can see the future. Listeners don't care about local. If they did, they wouldn't subscribe to satellite or listen to internet radio. Neither of them are local. If people cared about local radio, we'd see more local artists, instead of what we have. If people cared about local, there would be more support for the local radio shows that currently exist.

No one cares about local. That's why radio is in trouble.

Anonymous said...

"There is little local about local radio today. Their greatest selling point is thrown away."

Maybe you can be more specific and name a market where there is no local radio. A friend of mine was telling me that Hackettstown NJ has a 10K AM that's live & local 24/7. There's LOTS of local programming on the radio today.

Anonymous said...

You actually think these guys could run a station (again)? The world has passed them by, and they are pissed! A blog is a great way to blow off steam while you wish you were in the game on a winning team. 33 comments so far? Is that YOUR cume or AQH?

Hey! Did I ever tell you about the time when I........

Anonymous said...

>> You actually think these guys could run a station (again)? The world has passed them by, and they are pissed! A blog is a great way to blow off steam while you wish you were in the game on a winning team. 33 comments so far? Is that YOUR cume or AQH? <<

Speak for yourself. Some of us are still playing in the Super Bowl and agree with what's being said here, you speculating doochebag mental midget.

Anonymous said...

"Some of us are still playing in the Super Bowl and agree with what's being said here."

If you're actually PLAYING in the Super Bowl, and not someone's water boy, then you know what's being said is a load of crap. You'd only agree if you were a groundskeeper.

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