Monday, October 12, 2009

Radio (No) One

You’re Radio One. You’re trying to make ends meet with 53 radio stations in 16 markets - and it’s not going so well.

Ever since those no good, rotten bastards at Arbitron rolled out the Portable People Meter (PPM), your urban formatted stations have gone into a ratings free fall. Since your ad rates are based on Arbitron data, the lower your ratings are, the lower your ad rates will be. The lower your rate, the more challenging it is to service your massive debt.

You’re Radio One and you’ve called for Rep. Edolphus “Eddie” Towns (D-N.Y.) to take care of your business on the Hill.

See, Rep. Towns as head of the House Committee for Oversight and Government Reform subpoenaed the Media Ratings Council (MRC), an independent industry org that certifies media ratings, to turn over audits of Arbitron’s PPM system to his committee.

After reviewing their findings, he accused Arbitron of “persistent problems” with their minority sample.

Let’s take a peak at their study. Towns’ committee issued a statement saying the subpoenaed documents proved that Arbitron recruited a sample audience of 5,400 people in New York - but only 2,700 — half of the sample — provided actual data.

His report stated that “the radio listening habits of over four million ethnic minorities are represented by only 500 Arbitron recruits” - and that similar sample problems are occurring in Arbitron PPM rated markets nationwide.

No one will argue that Arbitron's PPM isn't flawed. It's a slight improvement over the diary, which has been in operation for how many decades? Still, it's a 20th century flop. Had it been introduced in the late eighties or early nineties, it would've had its decade of fame. But what might've worked a twenty years ago isn't going to measure up in 2010. Not when you're selling against on-line, which can provide up-to-the-minute detailed data.

In research and information, methodology is vital. The manner in which data is mined circumscribes the results. The PPM is already old and in the way.

Some media experts believe that urban radio listening is down for the same reason that rock, alternative, and Triple A formats are taking it on the chin. Who's going to carry around an object that makes them look like they're being monitored by their probie?

Then you could also argue that urban format listeners - like those rock, alternative, and Triple A formats suffered audience erosion because most aren’t programming what their potential audience want to hear - and they can get what they really want on-line, on satellite radio, or listen to their own music on an MP3 player. .

The way radio is formatted today, an active and seasoned listener is least likely to listen to terrestrial radio. There are better options than formats as dated as the PPM's technology.

The contemporary hit format is racking up numbers because its tween and very young teen audience, still in their musically instant gratification current music phase, which terrestrial radio satisfies with tight high-rotation playlists. There are exceptions, of course, though very few, and they tend to be the few stations independently programmed for the market they're in.

Classic Hits does well because it's the new old fashioned adult contemporary - music for passive people who don't care about music that much but want to hear something in the background at work - in settings where terrestrial radio is still present.

You’re Radio One and faced with declining numbers you must be certain that every penny of potential revenue gets on the books.

Or do you?

The competition is always intense, but today, we have a new Dumbest Radio Rule to add to the never-increasing list of terrestrial follies.

Let’s visit this Radio One market’s policy. I don’t want to give away the market since I don’t know if the decision originated there or from the corporate office.

Here’s part one. If you don’t get your weekend and first-of-the-week spots in by Wednesday, they won’t run. No exceptions.

When spots don’t run, Radio One loses money.

Part two, should your Radio One account exec be on a forced, unpaid “furlough day,” on a day you want to buy time - forget it. You can’t. Add this. Just like those restaurants you never go back to - there aren’t any substitutions allowed. You can’t ask for another AE to write up the order.

I’ll say it again. When spots don’t run, Radio One loses money.

It’s another dollar chasing a dime. Maybe you’re saving some production o.t. and a few bucks with your unpaid furloughs. - but it’s not worth the business you’re not writing.

But wait. Let’s go back to Rep. Eddie Towns. Was he not part of a group that also included House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan) and that met with senior Obama administration officials this past August, demanding that minority broadcasters - including Radio One - be on the receiving end of a government bail out? Did Towns claim the station owners had a right to tap into the Troubled Asset Relief Program?

(There was a mayoral candidate in Cleveland named Bill Patmon who said on a Sunday morning TV political show that the government should bail out Clear Channel. Maybe he was gunning for an endorsement.)

Do you think Radio One should start saving their properties by having systems in place that insure that clients who want to advertise on their stations can advertise on their stations?

Just asking.

Last time I checked, that's the way commercial radio still made its money. Selling time.


Anonymous said...

May as well be a newspaper or magazine. Do they ask for cash with copy too? What a joke. Part of the allure of using the radio was the ability to get on the air at a moment’s notice. It will cost more but you can address any situation. Now, it is just a romantic memory, kind of like having on-air talent in the studio...

Anonymous said...

Radio One is every bit a mess that Clear Channel and Citadel are. Thanks for mentioning Radio One. That company has wasted more money on foolish ideas and yes they were convinced they would get a bail out if things got rough. Then again so did Clear Channel. Fools, all of them.

Anonymous said...

Radio One has had more false starts and stops. Their talk network, their inability to keep a staff together. I have never seen a more mismanaged company. You can talk about Cumulus and Clear Channel all you want. Nothing compares to what goes on here.

Anonymous said...

I heard Bill Patmon on WKYC that Sunday morning. He wanted to bail out Radio One and Clear Channel and the newspapers. Hope he never becomes mayor of Cleveland. He will spend money he doesn't have. Who was the name of the rep that got caught doing a favor for Clear Channel outdoor to give them a prime spot for a billboard in exchange for a "donation". That story was hot for a moment.

Anonymous said...

Look at the money they are saving with production and salaries. So they miss a few spots, big deal!

Who runs this company?

Anonymous said...

Besides Clear Channel, Radio One was one of the iNiquity investors in the latest round of financing. The HD investors will never recoup their investments, as iNiquity relies on HD Radio chipset sales and licensing fees. Obviously, HD Radio is a last-ditch effort by the Big Boys.

Anonymous said...

They hired AL Sharpton, the world's leading ambulance and police car chaser. What else would anyone expect from this company?

Anonymous said...

The good news is Radio One saved $200 in overtime costs. The bad news is it cost them $2000 in business.

Anonymous said...

There are dozens of stories of how radio lost thousands while trying to save a nickel and a dime. This is not as unusual as you may think. I worked for Cumulus. There is more waste and loss there because of trying to save money. Quite similar to your Radio One story. I don't know if Mr. Trust Fund applied for a bail out yet. I wouldn't be surprised. It's so Hah-vard.

Anonymous said...

I know this happens. I heard it from one of my clients who buys radio and got the double whammie from this company. He couldn't get a buy placed because his guy had a furlough day and no one else could write the order. Then on the same call he was told that an order he had placed earlier would not run because it was turned in too late and the production department was "closed". Maybe they have the attitude that having the only African-American formatted stations in town lets them get away with that. I hate to tell them but clients are buying cable, local TV and print and getting better r&f than they could from Radio One. They may be the only game in town for urban radio but they are far from the only game in town to reach their audience.

Anonymous said...

This is how Pop Matters explained CHR radio's comeback. I don't agree with it but it does make a few valid points. too.
Part one

We don’t know yet whether Lady Gaga is the Sylvia of 2009, destined to be remembered only when today’s listeners play dinner-party trivia games asking for the names of her Top 40 hits.

But we do know, without looking it up, that Sylvia sang “Pillow Talk” and that Ms. Gaga represents a musical genre — the Top 40 — that is once again drawing attention for its diversity, its ubiquity and its cultural stickiness.

Radio stations that play what’s most popular are on the upswing, even as the charts are growing musically diverse again, a sort of long-distance dedication to the similarly inclusive 1970s golden era of Top 40.

This past summer has seen records set for most consecutive weeks at No. 1 by a single artist (Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling”) and most consecutive weeks for one song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours”).

Anonymous said...

Part two

Meanwhile, Casey Kasem, the link between countdowns past and present, retired during the summer from the specialty countdown shows he was still emceeing. Ryan Seacrest is the “American Top 40” host today’s target audience of teens and young adults will remember.

The Top 40 has never gone away, of course. By definition, it reflects what’s popular, and something always is popular, whether you like it or not.

“You play the hits. You play ‘em to death. A lot of people object to that, but the masses listen to it,” says B. Eric Rhoads, publisher of Radio Ink, a radio industry trade publication.

“We’ve done loads and loads of research over the years. You’d go into a focus group, someone would say, ‘You play the music too frequently and I’m sick of it.’ And yet when you create a format that does exactly what they say they want, they won’t listen to it. What’s magical about the Top 40 format is it’s kind of contrary to what people say they want, but it always works.”

But beyond the general criticism of Top 40 — that it represents what’s easy, comfortable and familiar, rather than what’s going to move music forward — there have been periods in recent decades when the record charts turned off significant portions of the populace by being too thick with boy bands, rappers or chest-pounding Canadian divas.


Anonymous said...

Part three

Today’s Top 40, by contrast, is a musical masala, mixing rock, country, hip-hop and commercial balladry, a close analog to how it was in the 1970s heyday.

Is it embarrassingly overburdened by the use of Auto-Tune vocal processing? Yes. Do the rock and rap tunes lean toward the bubble gum side of those genres? Of course.

But the top 10 alone for the week of Oct. 10 features the Peas, a hip-hop group; Miley Cyrus, a Disney product; Gaga, a dance chanteuse/performance artist; Taylor Swift, a country singer; Mariah Carey, a veteran balladeer; and Kings of Leon, a rock band.

The only thing missing is a flat-out novelty song. Who will step up and serve as the Ray Stevens (“The Streak”) of the new millennium?

“It’s a broad range of music, just like the ‘70s,” says Sean “Hollywood” Hamilton, who hosts radio shows in New York and Los Angeles and the syndicated “Weekend Top 30” countdown.

“We’re very bullish on Top 40 right now,” says Julie Talbott, executive vice president of affiliate marketing for Premiere Radio, syndicator of “American Top 40 with Ryan Seacrest” and scads of other talk and music programs.

“From (ratings) book to book, we’ve seen sizable increases, sometimes up to 17 percent” for Top 40 formats, Talbott says. “Within specific markets, we’re seeing room for additional Top 40 stations.“ lists 944 U.S. stations playing Top 40 or the similar Hot Adult Contemporary formats as of September, up from 879 a year earlier.

We could debate quality, contend that the Black Eyed Peas aren’t Gladys Knight and Kings of Leon aren’t Lynyrd Skynyrd. But then we’d have to admit that adults of the 1970s probably said Knight and Skynyrd didn’t measure up to Chuck Berry and Fats Domino.

“It’s actually probably in the best, most cohesive shape it’s been in in 10 years,” says radio consultant Sean Ross, vice president of music and programming for Edison Research.

“There is probably a ton of virally generated music that Top 40 programmers know nothing about. But those kids (listening to those songs) have self-selected themselves out of the radio audience, and the kids who are left are the ones who are happy to listen to Pink and Kelly Clarkson with their moms.”

Apple Inc. has played a prominent role in the re-emergence of a more broad-based pop universe, partly because digital music buyers pay for singles rather than albums, partly because a mass, digital marketplace is a counterweight to radio’s tendency to follow industry fads as much as fan taste.

“When we began including digital downloads in early 2005, it reinvigorated the charts like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” says Silvio Pietroluongo, director of charts for Billboard. “Once we introduced downloads, the consumer voice once again became a huge part of the chart.”

Anonymous said...

Part four

Ross agrees and adds the TV-and-music juggernaut “American Idol” to the list of major influencers.

“Idol” launched hit-makers with crossover appeal, he says. He cites “Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” a single from a 2004 record, as a key moment: “That helped make it much more of a pop world, in terms of being the first record in a while that other formats were jealous of,” Ross says.

Another significant hit this summer, Ross contends, was “Boom Boom Pow.” “It represents what’s happening in terms of dance music and R&B and pop converging,” he says.

At WXLC-FM in Lake County, Ill., north of Chicago, the format is the sort of adult Top 40, known in the industry as “Hot AC” or “Modern AC.”

The difference, says program director Haynes Johns, is that his station targets people 21 and older, while pure Top 40 radio includes teenagers as well.

“My analogy would be, ‘It’s like an amoeba,’” Johns says. “It’s always changing depending on the product that’s out there.”

By skewing more to adults, the station has more options to pick and choose from, but he says positive music is doing particularly well these days.

“People are looking for something to take their mind off their troubles,” Johns says. ” ‘Now that you mention it’” — referring to the Black Eyed Peas’ party anthem “I Gotta Feeling” — ” ‘I am going to have a good time tonight.’ Remember when ‘Celebration’ came out from Kool & The Gang? We couldn’t play it enough.”

WDVD-FM in Detroit has been successful with a similar format, morning man Blaine Fowler says. A lot has changed about the music business, he says: “My kids are 13 and 11, and I think between the two of them, they own three CDs. They buy songs instead of albums.”

But one thing remains true: “You’ve still got to play the hits.”

And there is, in radio, one other enduring truth to consider: What’s working now probably won’t a few years from now. And we’ll all be wondering, “What has happened to the Top 40?”

Anonymous said...

You mean they didn't learn anything from the NAB or the RAB? How odd. How about Radio Heard Here? I think Radio One came up with the sequel: Radio NOT sold here.

Anonymous said...

Bail outs are so much easier. You can keep on making the same mistakes over and over while others pay your freight. I am surprised that the Mays family didn't jump on the bailout bandwagon while Bush was still president. It would have been a nice parting shot.

Anonymous said...

Radio One believes the have a huge niche and try to exploit it to the fullest. What they don't understand is that the Internet provides many alternatives. Radio One like so many other chains is driven by corporate offices and has very little localism and independence. In other words they do not do much for the cities of license they are in. Radio One had the attitude that they have to be bought in order to reach the African-American community and that is where they were and are dead wrong. The African-American community does not need them. They need us. That's what the corporate people at Radio One will never understand.

Anonymous said...

I hope to see Radio One among the chains in the past tense. Like Clear Channel, Citadel, Cumulus, CBS and so many others, Radio One never treated its employees fairly and as a result suffered high turnover in both air talent and management. They have always been fiscally irresponsible and at times an embarrassment, best illustrated by their public announcement that they too would begin to take payola for airplay since everyone else was doing it - and then firing a music director upon learning she was already on the take. It was actually Radio One's payola coming out announcement that caused the feds to crack down on pay-for-play which dominated radio playlists earlier this decade.

Anonymous said...

Cathy Hughes, the CEO of Radio One denied wanting a bail out but yet was involved in that meeting on Capitol Hill for minority stations to get a piece of stimulus. Radio One is run like that. Say one thing do another.

Anonymous said...

Should we be thankful that Lew Dickey isn't the only idiot running a radio chain today? Should we be thankful that there are a whole lot of idiots running most radio groups today?

In the old days the FCC would take away licenses from those who didn't know how to run them.

Anonymous said...

No surprise here. Most stations I know have the following profile:

- One sales director who's desperately hoping to avoid the jump to selling cars.
- One account sponge. He's been around forever, drinks with the bosses, and has managed to sponge up all the easiest accounts.
- One hustler. He's the guy who, against all evidence, believes he will succeed by closing the most business. But he's so bitter, he nearly strokes out by the end of every day. When they finally rip off one account too many from him and he flips out, the sponge will suck up his accounts and live off them until the next hustler comes along.
- As many dolts as the station can round up to sit around and act stupid while pretending occasionally to sell something. These are the guys the sales director is so terrified of that he lets the sponge suck up the good accounts because at least he'll keep some of them.

Now corporate orders furloughs.

No way the account sponge lets his accounts work with anyone else. And he's got the boss' ear. He knows first hand how accounts get stolen.

No way the hustler let's anyone near his accounts. He's already so pissed and paranoid he probably has them calling him directly on his cell anyway. And he'll write the business furlough or not.

The sales director? He'd be the logical choice, but he's so F-ing stupid he probably couldn't even help the client anyway.

The dolts? No one wants them anywhere near established clients.

So what would you do? Seriously. That's the reality you're up against. The problem with your scenario is that you think someone else could or would actually write the business as a stand in, when in reality they'd probably f-up the relationship, either unintentionally or more likely deliberately. Hate to say it, but I'm with this Radio One manager. Losing a little business is better than losing it all.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 5:50 -

What happened to management at radio stations? I think the scenario you paint at Radio One is also true in a certain CBS radio market where the market manager hired his own daughter to be an AE and made other AEs give up their best accounts to her. Then it was learned that daddy & daughter cut themselves a trade deal at a trendy resturant that only they are allowed to use. He is cutting some long time employees on and off the air but get this. He hired his other daughter to work in a highly paid position in the promotion department.

Anonymous said...

You made some valid points. There are exceptions of course. Some CHRs still do well because they sound good (WKSE in Buffalo for example). THere are still some heritage stations that may not be that good but still draw numbers (WDVE in Pittsburgh). Most hip hop/R&B stations have been flying on auto pilot for years and like many other formats have little in common with what you call providing a 'soundtrack' for its audience. A good piece on the whole. My experience with Radio One is that the problems you illustrate are not across the board at this company but do exist at a number of their stations. As a result they underachive in ratings and revenue.

Anonymous said...

This is the most absurd news I have ever read. For Radio One to allow this is ridiculous. There is such a tremendous vacuum of leadership in the radio industry today and it shows!
Just look at the comments from that individual at one of the Radio One stations. There is no intelligence there. Just politically motivated b.s.
When the chains start falling I am sure Radio One will be among them.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 6:23

The BS is amazing, isn't it?

I have to admit I'm no longer in the business, but I watched this industry slide up close for about 20 years. Ethics and standards have left the business. Years of cost-cutting and chipping away at employee morale has resulted in no remaining sense of honor or commitment. No one looks beyond their next paycheck.

The first sales department I ever knew was like a family. At the last group I worked for, the account execs would barely talk to each other. Sad.

Anonymous said...

"The first sales department I ever knew was like a family. At the last group I worked for, the account execs would barely talk to each other. Sad"

Ain't it funny--the first/last on-air staff I was part of followed that same arc.

Of course, Clear Channel helped us *not* talk to each other even more by firing 6 out of 7 of us, but even before then, we were not exactly the "team" that existed in my first few stops in this business...

The current crop of managers tries to tell us we're living in the past, wanting the good old days. My response--absolutely. I would work for the family-owned small businesses again in a heartbeat.

As for Radio One--boo-frickin'-hoo. Go bankrupt like any other business and quit playing the race/minority card. Or, play the race/minority card and ask your listeners (YOUR listeners, not MY tax dollars) to support your "quality broadcasting".

Anonymous said...

Your competition should other stations going after the same audience and dollars you are. Competition should not be internal. When it is the station loses by a self inflicted wound. Read Gorman's Buzzard book. He had a powerhouse station that was never defeated from the outside. It met its fate by internal struggles when competition and politics took over the hallways and studios of WMMS. We have seen this movie many times over and it always ends the same way no matter how many times it is remade.
Radio One like Cumulis, Clear Channel, Citadel, CBS Radio and others will meet their end by their own self inflicting wounds. The politics at these stations are killing them alive. That comment from the Radio One person said it all. Everyone is protecting turf instead of working as a team to achieve goals.

Anonymous said...

PPM's. They can, it appears, also register internet listening if the station puts a PPM encoder on their internet feed.
While ARB says they aren't counting this yet..
This it it. Now we have a real way of measuring listening to the internet.
Anywhere. Anytime. Real data. The stuff sales and money are based on.
Bye-bye RF radio! In less than ten years, it will be history. No more transmitter sites, towers, government regulations.
Hello new platforms, creativity, unprecedented choice, unlimited jobs and career opportunities.
Are you listening?
Are you ready?

Anonymous said...

Waiting to hear when the other evil empire starts to topple... Maybe by the end of the year?