Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Radio: Who do you trust?

Let’s rest the perception argument for a moment and look at radio’s problem another way.

Radio lost trust.

It has gone from being a soundtrack of popular culture to something that gets in the way of it.

Talk radio is self-serving. Rock radio is hopelessly lost. Traffic reports are more often wrong than right. Most presuppose that a talk station’s newscast has a schema.

You cannot put the words radio and fulfillment in the same sentence any more.

As a replacement for providing listeners what they want and need, they are given what a small few self-proclaimed experts believe they can get by with.

Listeners, they feel, will submit to and benefit from whatever programming is presented to them. They are treated as employees of the radio station – not customers.

Don’t like it? Leave. And they did. Radio’s favorite acronym – TSL – isn’t what it used to be.
Remember how that Janus Funds rep pimped their investment in Clear Channel seven, eight years ago? “They have to listen to the radio. They don’t have a choice.”

And, truth be told, nearly everyone in the radio business started believing that one. Some still do.
Most radio chains are in denial of the transparent world we now live in.

As open source became commonplace, radio became a closed source.

Not only are there alternatives to listening to the radio, there are places on line where the disgruntled can vent about a multitude of products they feel fall short of serving their needs.
If radio wants to be around for the next decade it will have to create a culture of trust with its listeners.
That’s another reason why the major radio chains have to pare down – in some cases drastically pare down its radio properties to a pragmatic operational size.
Understand that there is nothing to hide. There are no secrets.

Remember when AMFM rolled out the Jammin’ Oldies format on a number of their stations? The format wasn’t even an hour old and the stations were running a number of pre-recorded announcements, allegedly from listeners who loved the station and made the switch.

Do you think anyone believed that hype?

Did it enable trust between the radio station and its listeners?

And it’s only gotten worse, much worse, since then.

Here’s a fact. Radio is not dead. Even now, there are listeners in search of formats.

Their obstacle is that terrestrial radio doesn’t know how to reach them.

There are certain laws and rules that never change. The law of physics and the rules of running a successful radio station are two that come to my mind.

No matter what the mode of transmission, provide compelling content and your potential audience will find you – even if it’s not easy to.

Let's pay a visit to WNYZ/New York – known by its growing loyal listener fan base as Pulse 87.

It’s essentially a low power analog TV station licensed to New York on Channel Six but is promoted and marketed as a terrestrial radio station. It carries an inimitable hit music dance format on its audio subcarrier – 87.7, which some – but not all FM tuners can receive. Pulse 87 is also accessible in streaming audio.

With exception to some spotty areas, Pulse 87’s terrestrial signal can be heard in New York’s five boroughs, much of Long Island, Westchester, Rockland, and areas within Northeastern New Jersey.

Its format features familiar rhythmic hits mixed with the new music and the most-requested dance club tracks.

In reality, it’s what you could call the natural progression of the original Hot 103 (which became Hot 97 following a frequency change) dance hit format.

So it should be no surprise to learn that person behind the programming of Pulse 87 is Joel Salkowitz – the architect behind the original Hot 103- Hot 97 when that format dominated New York in the late eighties and early nineties.

At a time when a station I knew well - Z-100 was battling WPLJ – Joel took Hot 103 – with a directional signal, no less (that changed with the frequency switch), and filled a huge hole for a format playing dance music mixes of the music from Z-100 and PLJ’s playlists.

This past March, Mega Media Group, the company that is leasing the audio signal from licensee Island Broadcasting, cut a deal with Arbitron to have Pulse 87 rated on its PPM surveys. It’s not counted in Arbitron radio surveys since WNYZ is not licensed as a radio station by the FCC.

But a customized Arbitron research report showed WNYZ with 540,000 person radio cume in the New York metro – a surprisingly strong showing for a station not heard on a standard frequency position.

Put another way – those 540,000 had to seek out Pulse 87. They had to find it. It did not find them.

Pulse 87 is promoting in all the right places and know where their potential audience resides. And even its fans are spreading the word. Even on YouTube.
And how about that? Here's a radio station that found trust!


Anonymous said...

Great post, John. I guess two more stations this week have lost trust in their ability to survive while they keep bleeding red ink. Just pulling the plug is one way of handling the problem. There appears to be no end of sight to the losses.

Anonymous said...

"If radio wants to be around for the next decade it will have to create a culture of trust with its listeners."

"Who (whom?) do you trust?"

"Well… as I have stated before, Ibiquity’s numbers for total multi-cast (HD-2) formats cannot be trusted. It’s not true. Those are inflated false figures, that would disappoint and anger any consumer investing in an HD radio. For Buffalo, NY… their website states that there are 13 stations broadcasting in HD (one of those being AM), with a total of 24 stations multi-casting in HD-2 (seperate format). It’s not true. I wish they would read this! They are spreading lies. And I as a consumer am not happy about it. Only 11 total FM stations in Buffalo are really broadcasting in HD… and only 4 of those have a separate multi-cast HD-2 format on the air. A few others have an HD-2 'feed' but… they are broadcasting the same format as their ‘main’ analog (i.e. HD-1) station format. A message to the President/CEO of iBiquity: You want to gain the trust of the consumer, then update your website so that it rings of truth and not lies."


Does that apply to iBiquity, too?

Anonymous said...

The paradigm is no longer WIXY vs. WKYC, or AM vs. FM, or AOR vs. top 40, or even broadcast vs. satellite/internet/HD. The paradigm in the age of podcasts and downloads is "my content" vs. "someone else's content," and that's a match radio will have a very hard time winning.

Anonymous said...

The word you forgot to mention is passion. Few have it in this business anymore. Joel Salkowitz could not cut it in the radio world of illogic and luckily hooked up with the people that helped put together Pulse 87. Could you imagine trying to pitch one of the terrestrial chains on this format? It wouldnt make sense to them. Joel has the passion to make it happen and he found the right people and the right vehicle.

Jose Fritz said...

...but since The Pulse is technically a VHF TV station, will they be forced to go HD in February of 2009? Will the Salkowitz experiment vanish from the radio dial?

Anonymous said...

Given your background in the AOR format, you may not agree with me on this, but I truly miss the old Great Trails Broadcasting Top-40 stations. They not only had a great way of presenting Top-40 in a very upbeat format, but the professionalism of their announcers made listening to their stations a total treat. Listen to some of the airchecks on the 1080wklo.com tribute site, or more recently on Z-93 in Dayton or 92-X in Columbus. They had the right product with the right presentation. Why does Top-40 sound so slow and flat-footed these days? Why do all the announcers sound like high school kids just out of puberty instead of the old announcers who had real pipes like what you hear in those WKLO airchecks? I don't know the answers as I'm not in the radio biz, but I can listen endlessly to thos old airchecks while current Clear Channel Top-40 is about as interesting as walking into a Sears store. Plain vanilla.

Anonymous said...

Actually, a close cousin of the Great Trails stations was WIXY-1260 in Cleveland. These stations all had great announcers and a great sound. Just the production value of these stations was music in and of itself. I don't know if its the automation, or just the corporate clones running these stations, but Top-40 doesn't "kick" like it used to for me and it has a lot to do with the way the stations are now presented.

Anonymous said...

Hey, do you think anybody out there even bothers to save airchecks from WNCI, WKFS or WAKS? Of course not! Is anybody going to bother putting together a WNCI, WKFS or WAKS tribute site 30 years from now? Of course not! Muzak is just about as exciting to listen to. Don't get me wrong, the personnel at these stations are highly competent professionals, but that may be the problem. They are too competent, too smooth, too intentionally unentertaining. Once they took the entertainment value out of radio, they took the fun out of it.

Anonymous said...

WNYZ and other LPTV stations are exempt from going digital next Feb. That is good news for stations like WNYZ that use their audio (there are 4 or 5 other stations doing similar radio instead of TV programming) but bad news for other LPTVs that run television programming.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this fits or not. The most least trustworthy of the radio chains Clear Channel just signed long term deals with the very people that drummed up the national contesting scams, pay for play and other failing CC schemes.
Long term contracts? John Hogan must want to keep himself surrounded by the same inept managers that destroyed the company. In Clear Channel we have no trust.

a respectful admirer of good programming said...

John, you and Salkowitz are among the best programmers I have had the opportunity to work with. You guys truly it and know how to mix entertainment and business. You have insight to and respect for your audiences. Glad to see Joel with a successful new project. John, we need you back in action, too. You can bring back the rock format.

Anonymous said...

Great post. And a great analysis of how radio needs to rebuild. Unfortunately, it can't/won't. The fact is that leveraged, corporate-owned stations simply don't have the time or resources to reinvent themselves. We all know the drill. They'll squeak along during the recession. A few bankruptcy reorganizations, etc. Then this recession will pass. The directive from management will be to firm up EBITDA and make it smooth, the way the money guys like it. And it will be off to Wall Street again for another round of deals. By the time these stations are available for sale to white knights at reasonable multiples (I'd say in 10 years), they will be so weak that radio will essentially just disappear. Who wants a broadcast license when no one will be listening to broadcast? The Pulse87 model will be what remains. But that type of programming will have found a home on the Internet. Broadcast Radio will be dead, all but for a handful of odd applications.

And by the way, one thing you may or may not have realized is that this recession is great news for one entity: ibiquity. This sets up a perfect scenario to walk away from the technology without infuriating the patsies who already invested. Now when HD Radio dies, ibiquity will blame the recession, lack of ad revenue, cash-short consumers and the weak Christmas season we have ahead. It will be spun as the perfect storm that killed HD. That analysis will write itself and will be sold as industry gospel by this time next year. Bet on it.

Anonymous said...

John: I am pleased to see that you are one of the few not viewing this industry in black and white. It is true what most people in this business say about radio. It is over in its current state. It did get too large and these major companies did not know how to run them effectively.

Had these companies relied on their local management they may have had a chance in some cases.

I think like you that we will see more owners owning fewer stations and a lot of real broadcasters getting into the mix.

What concerns me is the lack of new programmers and personalities. Where will they be found?

I will say that your piece on Joel Salkowicz's Pulse 87 was inspiring in that it proves that if you do have a product to serves listeners wants and needs they will use it. That cume is very impressive. Is there a demo break out or is that strictly the 6+ PPM?

I am forwarding your blog to everyone I know in the industry.

Anonymous said...

I will be happy when both you and Joel are active in this business again and putting your respective formats on the air everywhere.

I am an oddity. I like both rock and dance. I used to listen to the original K-Rock and WNEW-FM in NY and switch to Hot 97-103 for the change of pace.

His station sounds hot and I have no problem picking them up in the city.

What NY needs is a rock station. K-Rock is for skateboarders, AXQ is okay if I want to hear the same music I have heard for thirty years over and over and over.

I can't even listen to WRXP. It is the worst rock radio station I ever heard. Their music is all over the place and hosted by condesending djs that sound like they were thawed out from the seventies and back to doing one ups on how much music knowledge they have.

I don't have to listen to radio and until Pulse I was hardly did. I have an iPod, I listen to internet radio. I had a satellite receiver but could not justify paying for something I should be able to get for free.

Anonymous said...

Come on already Gorman, Its the same old b.s. repackaged & repackaged & repackaged. No matter how ya cut it, G, radio is dead, dead, dead.

Once trust is lost it doesnt come back. Joel S. is lucky he is in NY where dance music never goes out of style. The only reason he is doing it and not Emmis is because they have their heads where the sun don't shine and repuatation for thuggery with their hip hop formats.

If Joel did nt do it someone else would have by now.

Gorman, ya follow, that is one station in one market. Give me a dozen other examples how radio can earn its listener's trust back.

I'm waiting where are you?

Connie said...

Hey, John. Good for Joel Salkowicz to find an oddball frequency and pull it off. At least he did not try to do it on HD. He would still be waiting for his first listener.

No matter how good the programming is I do not envision anyone buying a HD radio to hear it.

Salkowicz has a popular format and something missing from the market. Fill a void and they will come as long as you keep it on an existing frequency.

Has any HD radio station ever rated in the NY PPM?

Connie said...

Hey, John. Good for Joel Salkowicz to find an oddball frequency and pull it off. At least he did not try to do it on HD. He would still be waiting for his first listener.

No matter how good the programming is I do not envision anyone buying a HD radio to hear it.

Salkowicz has a popular format and something missing from the market. Fill a void and they will come as long as you keep it on an existing frequency.

Has any HD radio station ever rated in the NY PPM?

Anonymous said...

John Hogan believes Clear Channel is in the content business. He’s right!
But the question is content for who? If it’s content for people who admire
Mediocrity then Clear Channel is on target. The reason radio sucks these days is obvious, it all sounds the same. I’m tired of hearing the same 200 songs again and again and robot jocks. It sucks! AM radio is dying is because it all sounds the same. If you love right wing conservative talk then you’re in luck, and I’ve got hundreds, maybe thousands of stations you’ll love. If you want something else, sorry Charlie you’re out of luck!

“Following the herd is a sure way to mediocrity” Patti Wilson

And HD radio, what can I say. We now are offered more of the same content that sounds better.

Anonymous said...

Those that defend the radio of today like to look back and point out that the same accusations have been levelled on radio programming forever. Tight playlists, annoying jocks, too many commercials.

The complaints may be the same but the definitions are different today. There are far more commercials - even more than in the days of top 40 when stations broke for A SPOT between every tune or every other tune.

The jocks are either voice-tracked, Howard Stern wannabees or conservative/libertarian talk show hosts that all sound alike. No originality.

The playlists are ten songs shorter and the difference is that there are more formats playing the same music at a time when there is good new music but not format to play them on.

Yes, radio is worse today than it has ever been at a time when it considers everything around it competition.

Anonymous said...

Good for Joel Salkowitz. He struck a nerve with his audience. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a listener actually made his/her own video commercial for Pulse 87.

It is not "build it and they will come". It is "build what they want and need and they will come".

Sally said...

hey john,

thanks for turning us on to this station. it reminds me of old hot 103. feel like a kid again dancing around at work.

thank you for the audio link. we are going to hook it up to our intercom.


Anonymous said...

So now we know why the other terrestrial radio stations are so scared s#!tless of Arbitron's PPM.

If Pulse 87 can get numbers they have to be taking them away from other stations.

Worried Z-100?

Anonymous said...

To comment 12.

With new regulations and watch dogs back on Wall Street it is going to be difficult for radio to do business as usual.

I think we will see some massive unloading at fire sale prices coming up in the next 6-9 months.

Those that get out sooner get out better. You may take a haircut. It will still beat the scalping the ones get who wait too long.

Radio may not be over. It may be going under some interesting reorganization.

Anonymous said...

Look at the enormous debt companies like Emmis have. Jeff may whine about how unfair, unjust and unwhatever Wall Street has been to his share price BUT LOOK AT HIS HUGE DEBT. The same applies to many radio groups. They bought up stations like drunken sailors on payday at obscene multiples. There is no way they could ever make that money back. Wonder when these guys will ask for a bail out? We should go back to the old fashoned but tried and true system. If a company can't afford to run a radio station and serve its community of license, it has to relinquish it. Pure and simple. They messed up. Too bad. It's just like the employees Jeff and others are firing. You didn't live up to your potential so guess what - you don't have a job anymore.

Unfair? Not at all.

Anonymous said...

Clear Channel cuts are coming........Soon.

Anonymous said...

John Hogan is going back to Randy Michael's back up playbook which was to eliminate smaller market stations entirely. Eliminate the metro for the TSA/ADI and simulcast major market stations to smaller markets with some adjustment to allow a number of inserted local spots. CC's first mission is to get their syndication signed up which is what they are doing now. My advice to anyone in a smaller market CC station - start looking for work now.

Anonymous said...

Only a matter of time, John. The NY press is making fun of Sumner Redstone. Wall Street is laughing at Mel Karmazin. The old guard is falling while choking on their greed.

Pick up the Pieces...uh huh, uh huh.

Anonymous said...

The Radio Ink publisher claims that the NAB is forecasting radio's end:


It seems like everyone is mourning radio's death already. Members of the NAB board were reportedly moping around and sharing their stories of doom and gloom at the recent board meeting, which was like a wake for radio.


Anonymous said...

Doom and gloom forecast by the NAB Board? LMAO Maybe they should take a page from the automakers, who bring out "halo cars" both to inspire car enthusiasts and to create interest in the entire product line! The radio afficionado of today finds nothing redeeming or the least bit interesting about corporate radio. It is as exciting as Muzak and it's not fun to listen to anymore. It's like when General Motors started making look-alike cars ... Once you have lost the radio afficionado, your business is officially dead.

Tony Santiago said...

It's been a labor of love that we've been pushing Pulse 87 everywhere! Between my work on the Unofficial Pulse 87 Fan board and running the New York Dance Music Coalition, we have definitely helped push awareness to this station! At a time where radio has become stagnant and predictable, the fun has been brought back and Pulse is doing it! 540,000+. Imagine if the station WAS above 92 and had a signal!

New York radio has been missing something like this for quite awhile. Now its time for other markets to look at a dance contemporary/rhythmic format for success in their markets

jeeva123 said...

Nowadays everywhere seems to be a business trend.These stations have very well announcer and sound effect.


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