Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Stream Police

What did we learn from Tuesday’s’s Day of Silence?

Start with Capitol Hill getting the message loud, clear and without buffering.

Play fair not pay fare.

It should be reason for recording artists to rethink their position on siphoning royalty rates from Internet radio, the majority of which do not turn a profit, but give exposure to artists who would otherwise get little to none from traditional media.

More important - their fans are against it.

Most important to artists – Consider the source. The labels. Do you really believe you’ll ever see any royalties?

It was somewhat disappointing that only half of all U.S. Internet radio streamers participated. Even a few terrestrial radio groups like Greater Media, Saga, Cox, and Lincoln Financial took their streams silent. CBS Radio and Clear Channel didn’t.

Now, for the question that counts. Was this protest enough to influence Capitol Hill to challenge the Copyright Review Board’s royalty rates?

We’ll see.

It’s not like Save the Net has high powered influence peddlers on its payroll. In fact, they don’t even have a payroll.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Congress investigated the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)? Now, that’s entertainment! There are enough illegalities in that org to keep a bunko squad busy for years.

Even the RIAA’s name is misleading. Only two of the “big four” label groups (which control close to 80 percent of the market) are American owned and operated.

That's a whole lot of foreigners having significant influence on Capitol Hill.

Here’s the dilemma. Satellite and cable channels are already paying the royalty freight. Exempting Internet radio will be a tough call.

Prove me wrong. I don’t see Capitol Hill blocking this deal or doing anything of substance in one direction or another. The House and Senate? They're on their extended July 4th holiday break. By the time they get around to doing something it may be too late.

The RIAA is sanguine that come July 15, they’ll just have to deal with terrestrial, satellite, and cable radio – the three mediums that register chart positions for their product in R&R and Billboard.

Their palms must be raw from high fiving each other when they got the Librarian of Congress to play their game.

Here’s the problem when dealing with the House and Senate. They’re adept at knowing things they don’t know you know so they can’t tell you. Other times they know things they don’t want to tell you. Other times they just lie.

Actually, the labels and the Hill have one thing in common. Both burn through their expense accounts after a tough day of sexually harassing their - depending on preference - male or female interns.

Who knows what terrestrial radio will do? To paraphrase that NRA slogan: If only terrestrial radio can afford the royalties, only terrestrial radio will be on the net. Either that or they’ll play the beauty contest card to please shareholders by telling them how much money will be saved by dismantling their streaming divisions.

To Internet radio operators, all who listen to them, and artists looking for exposure – July 15 is the due date. Between now and then - don’t give up the fight.

Canada Dry

First question. Surprised by the PUR (persons using radio) drop in Canada? I’m not.

Second question. Surprised that the greatest decline in listening came from 12-34 year olds? I hope not.

Third question. When will their spin begin? Any moment now.

We’ll hear the excuses about Canadian PURs being decimated by Internet use, iPods, satellite, texting, and video games. You know, the same stuff the lower 48’s been trotting out for the past few years.

Eleven years ago Canadian teens averaged 11.3 hours of radio listening per week. By 2005 – when Canadian radio deregulation was in full swing – that number plunged to 8.5. Last year it plummeted to 7.6.

PUR with 18-24 males slid from 15.1 hours to 13.7. 18-24 women down, down, down from 15.4 to 13.7.

Overall, Canadians listened to radio an average of 18.6 hours during last fall’s national "measurement week." That number’s tumbled from 19.1 hours in 2005.

That’s not a slump – that’s a dump

Why do these numbers coincide with radio deregulation in that country?

So what didn’t you learn, Mr. Canadian programming decision maker? Was it that when faced with new competition you try harder? Improve the product? Provide raison d'ĂȘtre for listeners not to abandon you?

In a battle of wits the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) came unarmed. Didn’t our Clear Channelization of radio teach you anything? Who advised you? Michael Powell?

No one doubts or argues diversion. What we have here is radio’s failure to communicate with younger demos. They aren’t offered motive to listen. The stations are homogenized, predictable, and out of synch with popular culture.

Leave it to the CRTC to follow America and allow fewer companies to own more radio (and TV) stations. What happened here is now happening there.

I was under the impression the Canadian national animal was the beaver. I stand corrected. It's the lemming.

Why follow someone else’s lead when they’re not leading?

Your media used to be so Apollonian. In a good way.

You’re Canadians, dammit! Look what happened when you let the NHL go south of your border?

You have Rush.

We have Rush Limbaugh.

Remember CHUM, Ltd.? Who would’ve thought they’d be on the block? Voice-tracking and corporate programming has become routine.

Sense a pattern here?

With few exceptions, Canadian radio now sounds as bad as much of the radio in the U.S.A.

Some Canadians blame us for ruining their radio industry.

At least we can blame the Canadians for one thing.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Silent Fight

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is Internet radio’s Day of Silence. Most, but not all, Internet radio streams will be mute.

Terrestrial radio simulcasters are on the fence. Greater Media will not stream, CBS will. Clear Channel, at least at this moment, will neither confirm nor deny what it intends to do, which is s.o.p. for those s.o.b.’s.

There’s no need to go into the rationale for this passive protest. It’s been covered here and elsewhere many times over.

After World War II, when some radio stations first played recorded music, the labels protested, contending that if recorded music could be heard for free, no one would buy it.

There was even an ephemeral flap about music being played on FM since that frequency could broadcast music in cleaner fidelity - and in stereo! That protest ended abruptly with the advent of the album rock format. The labels realized that they now had a frequency that could sell big records with small holes to the masses.

Labels have a history of challenging and being hostile toward new technology. They were against releasing music on compact disc before they were for it. They claimed CDs flawlessly duplicated their master recordings. They flip flopped when they realized that baby boomers would buy their vinyl record collection all over again on CD.

(Some labels, in their rush for greed, didn’t thoroughly check over their recording contracts, which, in some cases, had loopholes allowing artists like The Beatles and David Bowie control of their masters for release on CD.)

When did you start listening to music? How old were you? Six? Eight? Ten? Twelve? Age doesn’t really matter. What does is how you and your friends listened to music.

Of my five closest friends, two of us bought records – weekly. Three didn’t. But we all listened to the radio daily and had had our favorite songs. Those that didn't buy records couldn't be encouraged to do so. They listened to our stuff.

When radio fundamentalists seized control and changed it into a predictable antiseptic medium, younger demos, those most in tune with new media, found other sources and Internet radio and illegal downloading, along with word-of-mouth supplanted terrestrial radio as destinations for new music. Terrestrial radio played what they were paid to play while Internet radio provided the veritable cultural soundtrack. Those downloading new music based on street buzz and word-of-mouth do so to check out a recommended song.

Of those I know who illegally download music – of all ages – roughly two out of five, four out of ten - the same percentage as forty years ago - buy music. They replace an illegally downloaded song they like with a superior fidelity version from iTunes and delete whatever songs didn’t hit their hot button. The music buyer forty years ago didn't want singles that skipped. Today's music buyer won't settle for second-rate highly compressed versions of their favorite songs.

If you’ve read this blog before, you know my views as well as the facts about the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Calling them scofflaws and serpents is being kind. Some of the best embezzlers maintain impeccable reputations – but the RIAA can’t even pull that image off.

To the rascally RIAA a symbol is more important than the truth.

Moving right along, we come to the mailing lists of the major labels. They don’t promote or e-mail music to Internet radio stations and for good reason. The label promotion departments only care about chart positions. That’s why Billboard carries so many. Since they can’t track and chart Internet radio airplay (yet) – they ignore a potentially huge new music audience.

Even worse, the reprobates at the RIAA want to penalize you. The more listeners an Internet radio station has, the greater the fee they want to charge. Isn’t that rewarding failure? Isn't that just plain bass-ackward?

It’s not just an industry where rust never sleeps, corrosion is actually encouraged.

True, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Clinton in 1997. It may be law – but that doesn’t mean it's fair.

Among other things, my company, in partnership with another, offers career consultation to artists, which provides services and opportunities to maximize their revenue – including payment for performance – whether live or recorded.

Trying to rip-off Internet radio is not among them.

Getting their music exposed and reaching as many potential fans as possible is.

Even if I believed the RIAA – the lobby wing of the multinational label groups – would actually pay the performers for airplay, I’d be against it in its present form.

We know better. Most artists never receive all – and often any - of the royalties owed them. And it’s as prevalent today as it was back in the fifties and sixties.

What makes one think the ethically impaired RIAA would insure that every artist played on Internet radio would get their fair share of royalties? Absolutely nothing. We’re supposed to take the RIAA at its word?

To paraphrase an old R&B hit - who’s gonna police the R I double-A / while they’re out policing you?

The RIAA claims they’re getting ripped off by Internet radio? Pot meet kettle, kettle meet pot. They’ve told that lie so many times even they’re starting to believe it.

I won't even get into the RIAA's plans to go after terrestrial radio airplay, too - though I believe it's just a diversion from Internet radio's plight.

Click, if you will, the Music First Coalition’s web site.

I read where Motown artists like Martha Reeves (Martha & the Vandellas) and Mary Wilson (formerly of the Supremes) support this issue. I would, too, if my label never properly paid me the royalties due. Didn't Florence Ballard of the Supremes die broke while living in a Detroit housing project? Considering they were the Supremes – one of the top selling acts of the sixties – one would think that Flo would've been rolling in the dough.

Internet radio is a fledging industry. It’s where Internet commerce was a decade ago. To jump start Internet sales Congress agreed that retail business on the Internet would not be taxed.

Terrestrial radio likes to flaunt that Internet radio accounts for only one percent of total radio listening. That being the case, the law should be rewritten that any royalty rates should be calculated by profit. Once an Internet radio station turns a profit, charge ‘em a reasonable percentage based on the top of their rate card. It’s fair, it’s equitable – and it actually provides the labels – whether they want to know it or not – one of the best new mediums to expose their music, regardless of genre.

It makes sense.

Maybe that’s why the RIAA and the labels can’t figure it out.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Last Sunday I read through the department store circulars. All were pushing Father’s Day gifts. I gave Wal-Mart special attention. After all, they’re supposed to be promoting HD Radio, right?

Hmmmm. Didn’t see HD Radio in Wal-Mart or any other circular.

I started reading the Sunday New York Times. First section. Half-way through. Full page ad. “This Father’s Day get Dad what he really wants.” Sirius satellite radio.

For some mysterious reason, every Wal-Mart store I’ve stopped in over the past week didn’t have any HD Radio units displayed – and had none for sale.

And I got the same response I did three and six months ago when I asked about HD Radio.

“You mean HD TV?”

“No, HD Radio.”

“Do you mean HD DVD or Blue-Ray? We have those…”

“No, HD Radio. It’s a new product.”

“We have satellite radio.”

“No, HD Radio.”

I have yet to find one clerk in any Wal-Mart that even knows of HD Radio.

Let’s try Best Buy.

Identical dialogue.

Maybe I’m wrong about marketing. I’d swear that HD Radio manufacturers would team up with department and media-appliance stores to push their product for Father’s Day. After all, Dad’s so hard to buy for. Mel Karmazin knows that. That’s why he bought that full-page ad in the Times.

The only place we’re going to see HD Radio on display is at the Failure Hall of Fame. Even there it won’t get the prime placement given to Iridium, New Coke, Blue Pepsi, eight-tracks, and AM stereo. At least a few consumers bought into those products.

I have no desire, like others who advise radio stations, to promote HD radio. Maybe it’s because I’m not, never was, and never plan to be on Ibiquity’s payroll. I wonder if that's the reason why my invitation to Ibiquity's latest promo party got lost in the mail.

Some industry trades aren’t always known for their accuracy. They have to drink the Kool Aid since some of their revenues come from those full-page HD Radio ads.

Ibiquity must have the rubber stamp franchise at the FCC. They've closed more deals with the Commission in the last five years than Cal Worthington sold cars in the past thirty.

Just wait until you hear the digital hash on AM radio once HD Radio shatters that frequency. HD on AM conversion will be more expensive than FM’s conversion costs. In addition to upgrading equipment, they’ll be major elephant bucks spent to insure proper bandwidth, which will require a retuning of AM antenna systems.

Face facts. HD Radio doesn’t work. Period. End of story. Fini. Commit to memory the swindler…er…advisor that convinced you HD radio was worth the investment. Remember, Caesar considered Brutus a loyal advisor, too.

Bob Struble? Rhymes with Bernie Cornfeld.

It makes you wonder if Ibiquity’s side business is sending out e-mails guaranteeing you $30 million from a deposed Nigerian diplomat.

Let’s put it another way. Hypothetically visualize a world where every home in the U.S. has at least one HD radio. Every automobile in America has an HD Radio. Let’s even say that you can actually pick up the side channels with the flick of a button – and don’t have to jiggle that pig tail antenna to find a signal.

And since we’re taking our hypothetical HD Radio journey into the land of improbability, let’s say that every format on HD Radio complemented its host station.

Given that, no one radio station would have enough audience to buy time on.

Were you actually surprised with those PPM’s showing virtually no audience loyalty to any one station? Do you really want to spread your shares that thin with HD Radio? You'd be talking about a whole of stations sharing a zero-point-one or two.

Do the math. There aren't enough listeners for too many stations.

The first time I tried HD Radio it was in New York. Couldn’t pick up a thing – even with line-of-sight to Empire.

The second time I tried HD Radio it was in Cleveland. I was only able to pick up one station that stayed on longer than thirty seconds. (I had better luck with Internet radio back it the 28.8 dial-up days). One of the Clear Channel stations has a side-channel dedicated to forties and fifties hits – a cheap imitation of Music of Your Life.

Stop right there.

You’re pitching HD Radio. Who’s your demo? If in the real world you could actually buy an HD Radio at Wal-Mart or K-Mart or Best Buy, who’s most likely to buy one and why? Do you think someone 65 or older would buy it to hear a third-rate Music of Your Life format on a fourth-rate product? Come on, get serious.

I'll give you this. It's probably a thrill for those who'd like that format to hear Andy Williams’ “Canadian Sunset” for the first time in fifty years. It’s less of a thrill when you’re hearing it day after day.

Some canned HD formats rotate the same identical programming every four, six, eight, twelve hours every day. Free advice: At least do odd hours so you’re not repeating the same music at the same time day after day.

Or maybe they know the odds of getting in that HD Radio side channel for more than a few minutes at a time justifies the format's rotation.

You’ve heard of DUI’s. HD radio has created another acronym: DUE. Diminished user experience.

There is no compelling reason to buy an HD Radio. It’s too bad the companies that were snookered into going HD can’t sue. If Ibiquity was a country it would’ve claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

How about the classic rock station with a side channel for Hispanic hits? How does that relate, complement or expand the host station’s appeal?

I’m all for companion stations. In fact, it’s going to be essential.

But they’ll be on the Internet – where they belong.

Of those, the only successful ones will be those with formats that in some way complement its host station. Deep oldies, deep album tracks, deep hits – whatever.

As far as HD Radio goes. It’s in its own deep…well, you know.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Omissions Accomplished

How about that ___________? His comments in last Thursday’s ____________ trade got an active e-mail conversation with a group of industry friends and colleagues (including a few former clients) that went back and forth for much of that day and provided hours of comic relief.

Even the trade carrying the story wrote it in a style that satirized his vainglorious confabulation. ______ didn’t pick up on it because he was too consumed with counting the number of times his name was mentioned.

It’s the one where _______ gave himself a high five for the good showing ____ is enjoying since the ___________ market implemented Arbitron’s PPM.

He even provided a “betcha didn’t know” fact: Most Hispanic males speak English and listen to rock music!!!! Ooooookay! Gotcha! Brilliant! Bravo!

Think back to the 1992 Presidential campaign when George Herbert Walker Bush stopped in a supermarket to shake babies and kiss hands and became mesmerized by a bar code scanner. Same thing.

He brings to mind the lyrics from that Hall and Oates song: You're out of touch/I'm out of time.

He’s so past his expiration date that he’s put himself in the at-risk category for contracting Dutch elm disease.

I didn’t see the memo he sent to his rock radio clients but I’m sure it closed with: “Start planning your 2008 Cinco de Mayo promotions now.” His next epistle will be on how to speak English to the Hispanic audience.

You have to wonder if ______believes that Irish listen to nothing but jigs and U2; Italians listen to nothing but Sinatra, Dino, Al Martino, and any other entertainer whose name ends in a vowel, and Eastern Europeans only listen to polka and know all the words to the “Volga Boat Song.”

While we’re at it, let’s get to the real reasons for _____’s rise in the ratings. ______ must’ve had a senior moment when he forgot to mention the format change that provided the advantage to his station. When Joel Hollander dropped rock for Free FM on ____ it freed up rock TSL for _____. It’s not that ____ was a better station than ____. What made former successful was ___________ in morning drive. It was his second best market in the country. Everything else on that station was gravy.

Come to think of it, wasn’t ______ consulting ____ before they sent him a Dear John letter, wishing him well on his future endeavors?

So he crossed the street.

I haven’t seen anything other than the 12+’s but I’m willing to wage that the raison d'ĂȘtre was that an exceptionally small percentage of listeners that made ______’s ratings look good.

Maybe ______high five’d himself too soon. Clear Channel just switched their Hispanic _____ _____ format to rock in that market. As they say in _______, “what up, doe!” Even the deef and dumb cowpokes at the Double C Ranch in San Antonio have it figured out.

It gets better. I had to meander over to _______’s blog. Lately, he’s been doing…ahem…research on what the rock audience really wants. I think he uses a special model Magic 8-ball. The messages read: Cell phones are popular. Classic rockers listen to FM radio.

If you asked him the time, he’d tell you how to break a watch.

Don’t laugh. The guy’s actually brilliant. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he still gets kisses in the mail every month from clients that still believe his propaganda.

Future Shock author Alvin Toffler came up with a better depiction of what _______ advises: Obsoledge. Obsolete knowledge.

There are those atypical occurrences when he’s come up with a useful idea for his client stations – but, alas, even those don’t fall under the “even a blind squirrel finds an acorn occasionally” hypothesis.

One of his clients, ____, is programmed by ____ ______, who is one of – if not the – best active rock program directors in the country. He lives the station. What one hears is his creation. He has one of the few stations where listeners can recite the names of every personality in every daypart on his station – not just morning drive, which, by the way, he also dominates.

Every so often ______ will pick up on a successful programming or promotion initiative ______ did on ____ and suggest it to other stations he consults. Here’s the problem. He doesn’t know why he’s suggesting it or the reasons for its success. I know he hates those consultant jokes but you have to admit that – stop me if you heard this one before - he’s like the expert who can tell you how to make love in 99 ways but doesn’t know any women.

He does have the two items requisite to be persuasive. Grey hair and hemorrhoids. The grey hair makes him look distinguished and the hemorrhoids make him look concerned. Full disclosure: That one was courtesy of one of his past clients.

I’d ask that we do an intervention before ______ inserts foot in mouth again – but after thinking about it, don’tcha just like him the way he is?