Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Radio: Campaign research wanted

Yesterday. That was the day that was.

It started with a candid and rational radio industry article in the Wall Street Journal by media reporter Sarah McBride: Heavy Debt, Fewer Ads Put Radio Firms in a Squeeze.

It didn’t cover any new ground other than updating the investment community that the bad news about radio has only gotten worse.

What did raise a few eyebrows and filled my in box with observations – both negative and positive – was her use of an idiom I’ve been applying for the past year to depict the deterioration in radio station valuation – fire sale.

Though radio’s contribution to the unemployment line was mentioned, the industry’s imprudent investment in HD Radio was not. She covered that folly last week.

It’s time for radio to stop blaming external forces for its calamities. Hauling out the old enemies list on cue - the iPod, Sirius XM, and mobile phones is like calling the turntable, the CD player, the Walkman, and the auto cassette player competition in the seventies through the nineties. Actually, back then there were some radio stations that did consider the latter three competition. The losing ones.

And blaming SiriusXM? I know Mel’s saying it could be up to fifteen years before they’re able to fully integrate the two services – but I’m more concerned with whether they’ll be around fifteen months from now considering their pecuniary instabilities.

The only way to get an edge in any fight is by identifying the fear in your opponent. You can fight and win against someone twice your size with the resolution to win. Lucky sperm clubs and industry connections mean nothing when it’s just you, your opponent, and the gloves are off.

Whenever an industry's business plan reads "buy them now and figure out what to do with them later," it’s doomed to fail. When radio hired an unlimited number of unqualified, untrained sales people and set them loose on the streets - with orders to sell against new media it set itself up to fail. In the process, the industry let its content rot.

Young people aren't listening to the radio at all. No reason to. It doesn't provide their soundtrack. Those in older demos that do listen are listening less.

The radio industry isn't dead. It’s in stasis. It has to ally with new media and rebuild and develop content for survival and future growth.

Raise your hand if you believe Paragon Research’s claim that more people are listening to the radio.

Thought so.

I got the same response when I asked if anyone believed Paragon Research’s claim about the rising popularity of HD Radio, too.

Those that know or have worked with me know my feelings about radio research.

Most of it is crap and easily manipulated to show whatever results you want it to. That does nothing for no one in the long run.

If there is one single problem I can identify with most radio research is that most persist on asking the wrong questions.

Even worse. How many station groups do you know that applied research results from one market to another, under the assumption that they were similar enough to do so?

My favorite? Detroit, Philadelphia? Both the same kind of lunch bucket market. Use Philly’s research.

A couple of stories that should’ve caught the radio industry’s eye – but didn’t – dealt with President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign and post-campaign on-line strategies.

Let me clue you in. Radio has much to learn from Obama’s campaign.

Let’s start with the second story first. On November 5, his team launched Change.gov. - an interactive site, which allows users to learn about Obama’s executive priorities and his upcoming agenda – and to provide their own input and participation through pages named Share Your Story and Share Your Vision.

Could you imagine a radio station inviting its listeners to partake in its programming decisions? Too radical for radio – but not for a new President?

Another feature in Change.gov allows prospective applicants to apply for positions in the Obama Administration.

Scratch that for radio. It’s not hiring, only firing.

It’s been mighty cold in Hell this week. Maybe that’s why the Republicans countered Change.gov with RebuildTheParty.com – as a means to win their self-declared “technology war” against the Democrats through social media.

But here’s the first part of the story. Prior to launching Change.gov, the Obama camp already had a database of three million-plus. Change.gov will only add to it.

Obama did what radio fails to do. He fashioned a social network that can micro-target specific groups on certain issues. They can be logged demographically, regionally, and by rank of importance.

Let’s not forget that radio was the original social network - from nightly requests and dedications on top 40 radio to talk formats. Instead of defining Facebook and MySpace as competition, the radio chains should’ve bought them instead. And what did radio invest in? Millions wasted on HD Radio licensing and conversions.

You must never forget who you are. But somehow radio did.

Just prior to Obama’s acceptance speech, the three-million in his data base received this e-mail:

Friend —

I’m about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first.

We just made history.

And I don’t want you to forget how we did it.

You made history every single day during this campaign — every day you knocked on doors, made a donation, or talked to your family, friends, and neighbors about why you believe it’s time for change.

I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent, and passion to this campaign.

We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next.

But I want to be very clear about one thing…

All of this happened because of you.

Thank you,


Could you envision a radio station personality sending out a client-sponsored e-mail blast before his or her show? I could. Imagine recapping a major concert or event from the previous day or promoting the premiere of a new song that will be premiered later that day? Local talk radio could advance-promote topics.

True, it’s a little challenging to pull off if one is voice-tracked from another market.

Are you as amazed as I am when told by some self-appointed radio specialist how the “average listener” doesn’t know the difference between live and voice-tracked or pre-recorded?

This past Sunday, the op-ed pundits weighed in on how Obama would deal with the realities of Washington. Obviously, the holy war to save our economy is imperative– and most agreed that several campaign promises may have to be back burnered until the main event can be fought.

Last Friday, NPR brought up Obama’s disdain for lobbyists – and how these influential blood sucking two- legged mosquitoes will not be easy to eradicate in Capitol Hill culture. But with Obama’s administration having facility to poll and retrieve opinion from its data base on a myriad of issues, it will present opportunity for his administration to counter lobbyists with tangible citizen opinion and persuade compromise on their behalf. Lobbyists won’t go away – but they’ll now be faced with the prospect of being sprayed with the equivalent of Deep Woods Off.

Conceive of radio having the same user input for its talent, its music, its topics, its promotion and marketing? Think of how it could also sell clients that have soured on radio.

And what could radio learn from this? Lots! But will it? Or must it take a fire sale and new owners that recognize that we’re in the 21st century in order to breathe life back this industry?


at least i still have a job said...

John, You are so, so, so right about research. Few stations are doing research/ Now we and they rely on dated research, sometimes years old. There are no visionaries in department head positions in radio today so it is little wonder why radio is so out of touch with the world today.

Old Mr. Boston said...

My program director said to our consultant who also does our research: Can you make it say this?
He said: Sure.

He was pushing a personal project and wanted favorable research to back it up. The consultant obliged. John, FYI. The consultant is someone whose number you have already. I thought you would like to know.

Anonymous said...

hey john you are right about the old days. the loser stations blamed walkmans for their bad ratings but never explained how other stations stillhad good ratings. in those days people listened to the radio to hear new music. even if they bought an album and listened to it on their walkman they always came back to radio for more. its not the same today. radio does not play music anyone wants to hear.

Anonymous said...

You keep talking about a fire sale as though it's a good thing.

Anyone who has ever shopped at a fire sale knows who goes there. The bottom dwellers. The catfish. You don't find folks looking to spend money, invest in infrastructure and personnel. You find bargain hunters looking to get a steal and rape some more.

I predict that those new owners of broadcasting will be far worse than the old owners. They won't be looking around, asking "How can we better serve the public." They'll be looking at how they can make money and further their own personal agendas.

You see a lot of this now in AM radio. What were once proud powerhouses of music and entertainment are now bartered religious stations. That is the future of radio.

So before you talk about fire sales, consider what that could mean. People with money and a plan for growth don't need to buy at fire sale prices. They can afford to pay market value. The ones who need to buy at fire sale prices are the ones who'll cut and slash some more.

Anonymous said...

Paragon sure knows how to sing whatever song its clients want it to.

Anonymous said...

Fire sales are a good thing because Clear Channel, Citadel, CBS and other companies proved they cannot manage smaller markets effectively. Let them stick with the majors. For the rest of us it would be a marked improvement to have new owners that understand how to maximize localism and make it profitable. It was done before the telecommunications act of 1996 and can be done again. The message that seems to be repeated on this blog that I somewhat agree with is that radio can marry itself with new media are enjoy new success.

bobyoung said...

John said: "Last Friday, NPR brought up Obama’s disdain for lobbyists – and how these influential blood sucking two- legged mosquitoes will not be easy to eradicate in Capitol Hill culture."

I think you were too easy on those crooks who are politely called lobbyists, try blood sucking, rabies spreading vampires who circumvent the will of the people and do the bidding of the big monied corporations constantly. Bush loved them.

Chase Marc said...

How about Critical Mass Research. Never met a respondent it didn't like.

Anonymous said...

It would be easier to list the few research companies that haven't ripped off radio.

Anonymous said...

Until radio gets its pride of product back I expect a continuation of poor (if any) research being executed by most groups. Ours stopped doing research. We use other markets's instead because they have the best numbers even though their market is nothing like ours either in musical tastes or competitive.

Tim Wallick said...

John you out did yourself with this one, a powerful message to the suits.

to bad they chose to continue on the path of self destruction.Im convinced they do know what needs to be done.I only question why they fail to act to this day.

I do think the fire sale is coming
as there are just to many stations period.

friends ipod with commercials said...

I thought I was the only one who thought Paragon's research was crap.

Radio’s leaders are driven by blind ambition. They’ve ruined it.
Uninformed presenters with verbal diarrhea and bland music formats composed from shallow over researched playlists. Most listeners today treat it as background noise. What a way to cheat advertisers and don't get me started on 8 to 10 commercials (interruptions) back to back.

And who can listen to AM radio? And I’ll say it’s not the sound, it’s the content stupid. Listeners find mostly wall to wall self serving talk show host’s
spewing twisted facts and information.

Anonymous said...

"I thought I was the only one who thought Paragon's research was crap."

Yea, those fuckers, just like Jabcobs, are huge IBOC-shills, and on iNiquity's payroll.

Anonymous said...

The problems radio and it’s leaders are facing comes down to three words. Short-term greed.

Radio’s CEO’s can’t be that stupid, though some days you really have to wonder. In all honesty, radio’s great leaders, had to see the signs of things to come, but instead chose to believe their own hype, simply because the money and bonuses were that good. I’m sure managers and employees drank the kool-aid too just to keep their jobs.

Just look at US auto manufactures. Very smart people right, but I’m sure they had to know making smaller, fuel efficient cars, that customers wanted and would buy was the future. But instead the big three focused on selling suvs and trucks, because the money and bonuses were that good.
Again another industry is circling the drain because of short-term greed.

I know you believe radio’s future is content and we have some of the best talent. I believe you’re right, but the morons who run radio will continue to fire people. Radio’s talent pool has reached the tipping point where talented people have already left, or were forced out, leaving the industry with button pushers and a few brave talented souls.

Believe this, within 10 very short years, every car will come equipped with wireless Internet access. And anybody left in radio will be competing with people listening to emails, being read, thanks to the on board CPU. Your listeners will be downloading mp3’s or listening to Pandora, Last.fm, Jango and others. FM radio lost the jukebox war, they just don’t know it yet. AM radio will survive so long as its older listeners continue to live.

Prepare, drink the kool-aid if you must, bigger changes are coming to a radio station near you.

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading an article from a respected advertising magazine that forecast a "severe" downturn in advertising in 2009, as if what we're seeing now isn't severe. They're forecasting national down at least 11.5%.

This isn't going away anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

Radio got rid of the very people that could have save it - the creative. They fired creative production directors in favor of those that could churn out spots like a Costco checker. They got rid of creative program directors in favor of those that could handle a half dozen stations with no attention to detail. They got rid of creative air talent in favor of voice tracking. That is why radio is dying.

On line librarian said...

John, have you noticed that Jerry Del Colliano has been ripping off some of your blog stories for his own. What you wrote about at the beginning of the week he did today.

Anonymous said...

>> John, have you noticed that Jerry Del Colliano has been ripping off some of your blog stories for his own. What you wrote about at the beginning of the week he did today.

My take: Great minds think alike.

a fan + supporter of all of them said...

this sounds like someone trying to start something. del colliano, gorman, hanson - all of the bloggers/sites we read are coming from the same place. they know what radio is and what it should be. frankly, i would prefer to see these guys running the radio industry (and labels too). they could turn things around quickly. the decade of firing everyone's own mistakes is coming to a close. the day cbs gets wise to how dumb and clueless dan mason is. the day cc gets wise to how dumb and clueless john hogan is. the day citadel gets wise as to how dumb and clueless farid suleman is will come. i hope gorman, hanson, del colliano, etc. are ready to step in. i will welcome their version of radio because they understand it best.

Anonymous said...

"i hope gorman, hanson, del colliano, etc. are ready to step in."

The minute they do, they'll become as clueless as the people they replaced. That's what always happens.

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