Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Radio: Happy Thanksgiving?

I really don’t know what to say or how to say it.

It’s not the Happy Thanksgiving we’d prefer.

Some of you may not be working come Monday morning.

That old unwritten policy that no position would ever be terminated between Thanksgiving and the new year is a now a luxury most businesses can no longer afford.

And it’s not just radio. Had business pledged to one rule – resist some of the greed – we wouldn’t be in this very real – and dare I say it – very scary economic meltdown.

But you know what’s said about hindsight.

Forget “Drill, baby, drill.”

If you’re in the radio business – it’s “Fire, Baby, Fire!”

You may own morning drive in your market or be your group’s number one biller.

No one's immune.

We’re in an industry that went astray long before the economy caught up with it.

We’re all having the same conversations. We're not alone.

There are friends I know that up until a few months ago never even tenuously pondered the notion of not being able to afford retirement.

This is a time to reach out - even befriend our competitors - and be ready to lend a helping hand to those in need.
We're on the same side.
That’s the true meaning of Thanksgiving this year.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Radio: High Deception

I was reading Ad Week on line the other day and caught this headline: Promotional Swag More Effective Than Ads, Study Says.

It eluded that promotional items – swag – serve as the best means to reach consumers over radio and TV.

In an ambiguous statement, the researcher claimed the results of their surveys – plural – came from questions asked of 600 participants, mostly businesspeople over the age of 21. They were conducted both on-line and in-person in major cities “such as New York and Los Angeles” to "recall promotional items they received and recalled over the past twelve months.”

Swag, the study said, yield a higher ROI, for a “very low cost-per-impression, compared to other advertising media” and that “items received this year still generated a high recall rate among recipients, leading to greater purchase intent.”

P.T. Barnum lives. Would one expect anything less from a “study” conducted by the Advertising Specialty Institute, whose job it is to promote its members’ promotional items?

Doesn't it remind you of iBiquity, the HD Radio Digital Radio Alliance, and the steady stream of misleading propaganda they attempt to flood the radio industry with?
That brings us to iLounge, a gossipy news and rumor site that caters to iPod and iPhone users.

Back in January, I mentioned that iLounge had carried a news item on December 28, 2007, which claimed that Apple would be introducing an iTunes-tagging-capable HD Radio boom box at the 2008 Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco later that month.

On-line radio trades, like Radio Ink, picked it up as the first news story of 2008.

Just so you can follow the ruse. The 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show was opening in Las Vegas on January 10 followed by MacWorld in San Francisco on January 15.

The HD Digital Radio Alliance capo Peter “Sgt. Bilk-o” Ferrara proclaimed his planted tale to be a sign that Steve Jobs was essentially endorsing HD Radio. In reality, he wanted his latest fabrication to spread to the mainstream press.

It didn’t.

Considering the Alliance’s track record, you have to wonder if everyone associated with the HD Radio scam feels like the Snidely Whiplash cartoon character. Curses, foiled again!

(For the record – and to make it easier to spot the first HD Digital Radio Alliance ploy of this coming new year– the 2009 MacWorld Conference & Expo will run from January 5 to 9 and the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show from January 8 to 11. )

This past Friday the same iLounge site was pitching for comments in its latest reader’s poll, “Which of the following next-gen add-on features most interests you?

Harmless enough – until you read the following line: “Currently, HD Radio is leading the poll with 29% of the vote.”

So we are to accept as fact that more iPhone/iPod users want HD Radio than, let’s say, a larger screen? Or, more likely, are we to believe that HD Radio proponents are manipulating the iLounge poll?

How about that press release the HD Radio Alliance rushed out on June 3o, which read: Unprecedented Traffic to HDRadio.com. It read: "In addition to the raw increase in traffic to HDRadio.com, the percentage of new visitors to the site continues to exceed 80%. The site currently sees some 2700 unique visitors per day and those visitors currently spend an aggregate of 5600 hours per month on the site. Since January 1st, 2008, there have been over two million page views, with tens of thousands more coming from widgets embedded in radio-station Web sites, said Jamie Allen, Chief Operating Officer at Texas Creative, the company that built and maintains the site. All of the stats are for organic traffic, not aided by any search-engine optimization."

But Google Trends, which measures site traffic, showed the HD Radio Alliance’s claims to be false. Did the Alliance believe that no one would probe their implausible claims?

The best one comes at the expense of consultant and paid iBiquity HD Radio shill Fred Jacobs.

This isn’t a new story, as such, but it makes one wonder what the ulterior motive was.

Here’s a tale of two research studies, one of which was supposed to vanish into thin air – but didn't.
Damn, you know that’s the problem with the Internet.
To paraphrase that classic rock song by the Eagles, you can delete it, but it can never leave.

You see, it started when a new (click here) 41-question survey about HD Radio from Jacobs for iBiquity was mentioned in a Radio-info.com forum on October 31.

Almost immediately, the original survey vanished and was replaced by this sanitized 16-question version. (click here)

We have soooo many questions to ask of this ethical titan.

So who pulled your original HD Radio survey – and why?

Was the original survey a plot to kick Bilk-o replacement Lyin’ Diane Warren to the curb?

One would think that any research expert – even a self-proclaimed one – would never put a survey into into the field unless it was a finished product.

Or was it a finished product that iBiquity CEO Bob “Booble” Struble and the HD Digital Radio Alliance had to unfinish at your expense?

Here’s the facts, Fred. The economy’s so bad even Dollar Stores are being robbed.

Come 2009, fewer radio groups will be able to justify and afford to renew licensing deals with iBiquity and more than a few HD Radio stations could go dark.

The radio industry has to concentrate on the main product – the stations that can be listened to – not the ones that can’t.

Yes, Fred. It's dead.

And here’s some free advice for iBiquity. Do what you know best. The only way you’ll ever make real money is to invent a pay-per-lie service.

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?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Radio: The Barack Obama format

Tuesday’s election was far more than a tidal wave of change. It was a tsunami that took direct aim at the deception, greed and guilt of the eight-year Bush administration.

Our country has, afresh, verified its inimitable capacity for correction, reinvention, and to rebuff the lowdown for an optimistic and inspiring future.

Our country will not be privatized. We’ve voted back our rights as U.S. citizens.

Our middle class took John Lennon’s “Power to the People” and Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” to the voting booths.

I’m just not sure how well those who were in power during that time will adjust to living in a Democracy again. Nor do I care.

Think about it. Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Rice, Paulson, Ashcroft – and let’s not forget “Good Job” Brownie – this bunch was so crooked they needed a corkscrew to get into their pants. Could you imagine any of them mixing with the proletariat?
Farewell to Karl Rove’s prophecy of a "permanent Republican majority.” It was destroyed by a dismal economy, two unpopular wars we were deceived into, and record-low approval ratings.
America seems a lot less shadowy now, doesn’t it?

Farewell to the Bush administration’s blinded believers of Ayn Rand’s misguided Objectivism. It brought us to the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression.

President John F. Kennedy said in his 1960 inauguration speech that “the torch has been passed on to a new generation.”

His surviving brother, Sen. Ted Kennedy said at the Democratic Convention last August, “this November, the torch will be passed again.”

Now it has.

Some of you may be old enough to remember when John F. Kennedy ran for President.
Opponents claimed the Vatican would be running the country if an Irish Catholic Democrat was elected.

The suspicions the opposition spread about Barack Obama are still fresh in our minds.

But now, we can add Obama's election to the celebrated landmark achievements of America's cultural history.

The road to his presidency started with the enduring movement from emancipation to civil rights to the election of the first multicultural president.

The economy may have been the prime issue in this election – but there were many other issues that made Obama the best candidate for the presidency.

The world rapidly went out of their control and kept gathering more speed as new regimes arose and new technologies replaced and enhanced the old. It was far more complex than it used to be – a fact the Bush administration could never quite grasp. Bush became an empty vessel, even for his own kind.

John McCain’s version of maverick was much like the flim-flam characters Bret and Bart Maverick in the TV series of the same name.

He played good cop, bad cop with Bush. Some even bought his ruse.

His handlers blew it. Between his repetitious “my friends” and his “what am I an idiot?” shoulder shrug, he turned into a parody of himself.

McCain spoke in sound bites that went nowhere: “Fight, fight, fight!” or “Drill, baby, drill,” as if the same old solutions would solve the same old problems.

He tried to paint Obama as some inexperienced parvenu - not to be confused with an experienced gigolo, which is what he is.

His gift to old media was getting Bush to appoint Michael Powell as FCC Chairman – the worst, most bumbling idiot ever to inhabit that position.

A headline in yesterday’s TV Newsday read: Broadcasters Wary of an Obama FCC.

The headline should have read: Those pretending to be Broadcasters…..

Real broadcasters have nothing to worry about. The pretenders will miss the current FCC Chairman Boy Kevin Martin – but not as much as they’ll miss his rubber stamp.
(The Boy's already testing the waters for a run in North Carolina for Republican Sue Myrick’s House seat in 2010.)

They’ll also miss the eight-year -majority rule of the FCC along with Republican Deborah Tate whose term on the five-person commission is about to expire.

An even greater fear amongst the pretenders is that Obama will in the interim appoint one of the Democratic commissioners – either Michael Copps or Jonathan Adelstein – as acting chairman.

Potential FCC Chairman candidates include former FCC chairman advisor and Obama’s Harvard Law School bud Julius Genachowski, Obama policy director Karen Kornbluh, former FCC chief Larry Strickling.
Obama’s disapproved of Martin’s attempts to further deregulate media, including its decision to permit radio/television and newspaper cross-ownership in the top 20 markets.

He has also been critical of the decline of localism on radio and television, and said, “The more the rules let media outlets fall into the hands of big media conglomerates, the less likely our leaders are to be responsive to the public’s needs and in particular, the needs of minority communities.”
Could you imagine having to learn about your city of license, especially if you’re based a hundred miles away and responsible for a market you’ve never set foot in?
Though the Obama camp has shown no interest in reviving the Fairness Doctrine, it is an issue that’ll no doubt be open for debate – and perhaps minor revision in the new administration’s first year. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) are among a number of Congressional Democrats interested in its reinstation.

You have to laugh at the inadvertent transparency of the conservative radio and TV talk show hosts. Some have already launched campaigns against any form of a Fairness Doctrine. They’re flat-out lying that it’ll be government censorship of their freedom of speech. One went as far as to claim that Obama is trying to force his show off the air.

What’s a conservative talk show host to do if he can’t make up some false story about you except hope you file a complaint so you’ll find yourself opposite a bank of lawyers from the syndicator’s corporate office?

Hopefully, as more information is presented to him, Obama will see the flaws in the industry’s attempt to block Arbitron’s people meter surveys.

I don’t want to appear to be gloating over McCain’s defeat – and end to the policies of the current administration.

There is actually one thing I thank both George W. Bush and John McCain for. They helped us turn many of our red states blue.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Barack Obama for President

Vote for Barack Obama.

But first, let's turn back the clock four years.

On September 8th, 2004 I wrote my wrap-up piece on the just concluded GOP Convention.

I said:

You’ve gotta love those fun-lovin' Greedy Old Partiers at the Republican National Circus in occupied New York. It was the best alternate-universe show on the tube, and poisoned politics at its best.

You have to admit that their supercilious festival in New York was a clear clash of cultures. You have those who actually work for a living and make little money, and those who don't and make a ton of it. Since the race is too close to call, and half the people in this country wake up every morning with the intent of screwing the other half out of everything they own, it's pretty easy to figure out the side the GOP represents. What they don't realize is how hard it is for the working stiffs to get ahead when the big contributors to the GOP keep cutting in line in front of us. Decision-makers are constantly exposed to the possibility of graft and corruption, since their work puts them in contact with influence peddlers, most of whom have more money than they do. In the real world it's called a payoff. In the GOP, it's called a political contribution.

George W. Bush's September 2004 in New York looks an awful like George Bush I's August 1992 in Houston. The polls may favor W, but with an economy riddled with debt and job losses, it's only a matter of time before he won't be able to hide behind his snake-oil rhetoric. Of course, the Greedy Old Party claims the rising oil prices that will cripple poor families this winter have absolutely nothing to do with the war Bush declared on Iraq. Those refinery bombings throughout Iraq that reduced the overall output of oil don't count in Bush's worldview. Instead, they sheepishly blame China and its increased energy dependence. I can't disagree with the GOP on that one, considering all the U.S. jobs Bush sent over there. Their middle class is growing as fast as ours is shrinking. What destroyed his father could very well destroy little W, too. It's spelled e-c-o-n-o-m-y. These days, you can't swing a dead elephant anywhere in Cleveland without hitting someone who's unemployed.

I added…

For the last four years, we've been ridden hard and put away wet. If we're stuck with four more years, we'll have to become feral to survive. A polarized country is also a manic-depressive country. When Bush says he's created more jobs, he's a few words shy of completing the sentence. He forgot to add, “in China, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Mexico and other low-wage, no-human-rights sweatshop countries.”

Not so surprisingly, there was no mention at the RNC of Alan “Mumbles” Greenspan's pre-convention natter to Congress. He haughtily stated that current and future generations shouldn't expect the same support level from Medicare and Social Security that their parents received. We get screwed because Bush squandered a boom economy and turned a budget surplus into the largest deficit in history.

What does all of this have to do with media? Everything. It's where we got our news and information on the GOP hoedown. The trick is mastering the art of seeing and reading between the lines. Watching this convention on TV was like observing pedigreed cats marking territory. I can't argue with White House correspondent Helen Thomas, who has covered every U.S. president since John F. Kennedy, when she called Bush, “the worst president in all of American history.” He proved her right again last week.

On September 29, 2004 I wrote this follow-up.

In it, I made it clear that I wasn’t voting for Kerry as much as I was voting against four more years of George W. Bush.

I said:

Sure, (John) Kerry sees two or more sides of a one-sided issue, but unlike Bush's flip-floppers John McCain and Zell Miller, it goes beyond just wanting to be on the side that's winning. All McCain and Zellzy proved is that they can be bought by the highest bidder. I'll take Kerry changing his opinion on issues as more details are made available over Bush's obstinate refusal to believe that there's more than one side to an issue. Bush is a dangerous man who knows no discretion. Kerry won't undo the four-year damage done by Bush. We need him to keep our country from getting worse. De duobus malis, minus est semper eligendum: Of two evils, the lesser must always be chosen.

Four more years means four more years of conservatives, cons for short, like Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Rice and Rove. Four more years means further control of what you see, hear and read. Four more years and we'll be convinced that crime does pay. Just ask Kenny Lay. Just ask anyone at Halliburton. The Greedy Old Party has a rich history of cozying up to liars, deceivers and professional white-collar criminals.

An administration must be judged on how it cares for its young, old and poor. Bush fails in all three. In four years, Bush turned our surplus into a record deficit. Four more years and we'll suffer added job losses with health-care costs out of reach for most Americans. Medicare? Social Security? Ha! Maybe that's Bush's way of thinning the herd. Feed the young poor to the war and let 'em die if they're old and sick. Four more years means a Supreme Court that could become a religious-right version of the Taliban. Their first decree? Your body's on loan from God.

Four more years means a United States without diplomacy. Since Bush invaded Iraq, worldwide terrorism has quadrupled. He handed Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations all the material they need to further their cause. We didn't find those WMDs but managed to bring Iraq to the brink of civil war. History will record the Iraq incursion as Bush's Pyrrhic victory. Four more years and we'll see the return of the draft and be one step closer to a world war when we invade Iran. That's when, not if. Four more years and our country will be weakened to the point where China will become the leading world economic power, well within our lifetime. Our only handle on trade is the U.S. dollar, which is already critically overvalued against China's currency, thanks to the Bush-whacked economy.

Was I right?

Both The New Deal era and the Reagan Revolution followed failed the failed administrations of Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter.

Now, add George W. Bush to that list.

Yes, we need change. Not radical change – just thorough change.

And in this election we have a real choice.

Vote for Barack Obama.

And enjoy this little sing-a-long, too.