Sunday, June 28, 2009

Radio: Performance royalty lax

Mr. Smyth, Mr. Jacobs.

We are the anti-Performance Royalty Fee police.

Please stand up. Hands where we can see them. We are not going to ask you again.

Now, back away from those computers.

Do what we say and maybe radio won’t get stuck paying that performance royalty fee.

We don’t need another web site.

We don’t need another slogan.

We don’t need another contest.

And we certainly don’t need another hero – and if we did it wouldn’t be you.

If the Coot read his own research he’d know that consumers have grown weary of run-of-the-mill heroes.

The way your attempt to battle-position radio and the labels is like India vs. Pakistan. And you’re Pakistan. That’s why, as the song goes, your way will not survive.

Radio permitted this to happen. Where were the NAB and Peter Smyth and the Coot when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was sailed through Congress without opposition?

Can you blame the RIAA and the labels? If it was that easy to bluff radio the first time, of course you’re going do it again and again and again.

Look over the archives of the daily on-line radio trades. Just six months ago, the Performance Royalty Fee wasn’t even considered to be a major threat by the radio industry.

Fred, we know you have personal reasons why you don’t want it. Your own monthly fee and whatever services you may offer your clients will become expendable if radio’s forced to pay that premium. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. You must really pine for those days when the label guys lined up in your lobby to kiss the ring, among other things. No wonder why you’re trying to get in the apps business.

It’s bad enough, Fred, you did that imprudent “Go for the Gold” promotion that had radio stations send photos of their lobbies filled with gold and platinum album awards to “prove” that radio sells music.

Yes, if only the labels didn’t have requests – some in writing, no less – from certain high profile station managers and programmers asking for more of them.

Here’s the other part of those awards you don’t understand – but should. Regardless of format, would you not want acts on your playlist to mature into superstars or do you prefer playing artists that can barely fill a club? Your call. You remember your original conception of the Edge? We do.

Just keep biting the hands that have been feeding you content for over sixty years. Smart.

You are in denial. You don’t want to accept that radio listeners are smart and savvy and know when they’re getting played. Like I say, if you want me to agree with you that the masses are asses then you have to agree with me that even asses know when they’re getting kicked, Capish?

Now we have Greater Media’s Help Save Radio web site.

Let me ask - do you really believe this is motivation material?

Mr. Smyth, instead of hiding behind reams of false prophet research go directly to your front lines. Go to your air talent, your street teams. Go to those that you never talk to. Those who interface with the public.

If you promise not to kill the messengers, they’ll tell you how much ground your losing – and how quickly you’re losing it. You have met the enemy. You.

The Smyth site asks listeners and clients to join their fight. Stop here for a moment. Step outside, breathe the same air as the common folk and let's assess the damage.

This is not the Summer of Love for radio and the labels or radio and its listeners for that matter.

And your clients have their own tribulations. They don’t need to hear about yours. Like the print media, these “save our industry” campaigns are only convincing clients to pursue other avenues of exposure.

Clients want to advertise on platforms that aren’t problematic. You're saying, "Our ship is sinking. Join us."

One PD told me over the weekend that the one positive that came out of Michael Jackson’s death was that many sought the instant gratification of hearing Jackson’s music. A large percentage did not have his music on their iPods – so radio became their prime destination for their Jackson fix.

What should that tell you? Radio’s not dead. Just dormant. If it programmed what potential listeners wanted to hear they wouldn’t be “potential.”

Of course, we had to deal with the bareboned Clear Channel, Cumulus, and other chain stations - in addition to Sirius XM - that were on autopilot and unprepared and unmanned to deal with Jackson’s sudden death. That’s what happens when you voice track a prime daypart a day or two in advance and lack a plan B.

You and I know that your “save our radio station” web sites, contests, and “go for gold” campaigns are not going to win this war. You have no one’s sympathy.

Anyone reading this should ask every service industry person you come in contact with between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five if they still listen to the radio. Just ask that one question. Do it for one day, one week. I don’t care. Then ask the second question. One word. Why?

Now, if you really want to fight the performance royalty fee for radio, please take the advise of rational minds.

Leave this campaign to the artists who see through the ruse of this performance royalty fee. It’s regrettable that your stations weren’t talking directly to artists and managers about this a few years back. This performance fee campaign didn’t just materialize yesterday. The threat had been on the table long enough for the radio industry – with or without the NAB – to do something about it.

Have you read Moby's (he's a recording artist, Fred) opinon on the performance fee on his web site? Did you hear what Dave Stewart (Eurythmics and solo artist, Fred) said about labels and royalties?

The labels are looking for a bailout and radio’s lack of organization makes it an easy tap.

I’ll make it real easy for you.

Most recording artists would rather not chance the six-figures that it cost to audit their label. Those that can afford to do so are most likely to be multi-platinum acts or their estates. The Beatles, the Stones, and Led Zeppelin are among those that audited their labels and found royalty payment improprieties.

So here’s the deal. I’m asking for any artist whose management audited their label and found absolutely no financial discrepancies of any kind to come forward to say the labels are on the level and can be trusted to equitably and adequately distribute royalties due.

I suggest that the radio industry make the same offer to all recording artists.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Radio: Mercury Awards in retrograde

Let’s cut right to the chase. Did you hear the latest one from the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB)?

They finally did something that made sense. No, really.

I know I’ve been rather critical of the RAB and its leadership. They’ve backed all the wrong horses from David Rehr’s laissez-faire version of the National Association of Broadcasters to their ineffective Radio Heard Here campaign and supporting Lyin’ Diane Warren and the HD Digital Radio Alliance.

Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe we’re in the majority when we scream bloody murder that the RAB has done absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing to help radio advertising since deregulationuntil now.

This past week the RAB circuitously announced that it would not present a Mercury Award in the radio station category this year.

A sales manager called me this morning to grouse that this decision was undeniably the worst message the RAB could send to the ad community.

I said it’s the other way around. The decision came from the ad community. The RAB’s fifty – yes, fifty – judges came from agencies, production companies, and – how about that – radio stations. They did the first round of adjudicating. From there, fourteen judges reviewed the second – and final round of spots, which were tallied on a numerical scale.

The judges had discretion to reduce the number of categories and prizes if the quality on entries didn’t meet specified standards. Believe me, if you’ve heard some of the spots that made the cut in prior years – and you can find them on line - you’d realize we’re not talking brilliance here. It’s not a tough room. This year the radio spots were that bad.

Please take note of that. Now, move along. There’s nothing worth hearing here.

In addition to radio produced spots, political, public service announcements, and student-produced spots failed to make the cut.

If anything, I respect the decision makers at the RAB for being candid and blunt in backing their judges’ decision.

And, believe me, your clients and the ad agencies already know most stations can’t produce a saleable radio spot. That’s why so many of them aren’t buying radio time.

Don’t hit me up with economy as an excuse. You and I know that many radio clients left the medium long before Wall Street caught up with reality.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Have you heard how dreadful and futile most radio spots sound these days? The industry that was once called “the last great illusion” no longer has a clue on how to play on one’s imagination with creative, illustrative writing and production.

There is no gold standard for radio spots. Just tin. No, cardboard.

Consider the RAB’s decision as radio’s intervention.

Your own ad bureau’s judges said you’re producing crap. Is that frank enough for you?

Understand that this is only a minor symptom of a profound disease that is crippling the radio industry. Its ethos of conceit and entitlement influences all aspects of several struggling, almost bankrupt radio chains.

Those in the business can easily to rattle off the names of at least three or four former production directors in your market who were let go because they couldn’t produce the tonnage. It’s not about creativity. How do you measure creativity on a P&L? It’s all about output. Content doesn’t count.

I’m surprised they didn’t set up a makeshift morgue at some stations to accommodate all the production and creative talent that was gutted.

And guess what? Most are making more money now as independent contractors by being creative. They’re voicing and producing spots and promos for TV, cable, and on-line now – and lovin’ every minute of it.

Back at radio, who cares if the same voice is heard on three spots in a row? Who cares if the spot-writing is right out of some Radio Spot Writing for Dummies book. You should be thankful to have three spots in a row. Hopefully, they were cash up front.

Let me tell you something. You could have a ten-share, when that actually meant you had a lot of listeners, and if your local production was crap – you didn’t sell your clients’ products.

The production director and the copywriter are as every bit as important as your air talent. Oh, that’s right, Mr. Hogan, Mr. Dickey, and Mr. Suleman. You don’t have air talent anymore.

I’m not ready to say Jeff Haley finally earned some respect with this decision. I’m sure RAB members will put the screws to him. If he hangs tight and doesn’t vacillate from his decision, I’ll be on his side – and supporting his brutal honest assessment of radio advertising content in 2009.

Haley’s not out of the woodshed yet.

The RAB also sent the next-worse message to the ad community last week. Except this one’s a blunder. Those attending last week’s National American Advertising Federation convention in Washington received an expensive and utterly wasteful 48-page mini-book promoting radio with pictures of mostly old fashioned transistor radios on the left page and one liners on the right, proclaiming the attributes of “that wondrous little box.” To make matters worse, almost all the radios shown were sporting non-commercial frequencies.

You’d think by now the RAB would know what side of the dial one sells. Or at least tries to.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Media: Drag me to Zell

It’s my retort to those who would rather be lucky than good.

The problem with luck is that it eventually runs out.

Just ask Sam Zell.

This is your life, Sam.

You will be forever known as the culprit that bankrupted the Tribune Corp.

You incurred $13 billion in debt – most of it from taking the company private.

That’s almost as remarkable as the Bain Capital/Thomas H. Lee deal for Clear Channel.

They’re in hock for what? $19 billion?

We’re talking billions and billions. Where’s Carl Sagan when you really need him?

Sam, you’ve splintered the former Tribune empire – the L.A. Times, Newsday, the Cubs and the Wrigley Field they play in – and the real estate – the Trib tower, the L.A. Times building. Now they’re all for the taking.

Too bad commercial real estate’s in the commode, Sam.

If your lenders and investors end up owning the Trib, do you think they’ll want to keep the guy who expedited their financial problems to run the joint?

Sam, you’re being figured out. When you sneeze, everyone else dies from your flu.

How about your one and only radio property? Is it true that at least one of your hires has yet to unpack his belongings and make Chicago home?

Sure, the wind may change direction and you could find a way to cling to your folly for a while longer – but will anyone take you seriously?

That’s the difference between brilliance and luck. A brilliant sales person knows his or her close. You, O lucky man, do not.

Not having a greater fool in the wings to pawn the Trib Corp. to? Imagine that.

How about Randy Michaels and his Gang of Bore? All that kink’s horses and all the kink’s men couldn’t put you back together again. At least he’s consistent. He did the same thing for a newspaper chain as he did for radio.

Sam, had you forgotten that his resurrection of Jacor was of smoke and mirror? Mediocrity usurping talent.

Consider it a blessing that Zell and Michaels didn’t get into the art museum business. They’d take a highly crafted Impressionist painting and slap a coat of Sherwin-Williams on it.

Sam, I see that you’ve already dropped Lee Abrams’ Total Recall 2070 “eyes logo” from WGN America. That’s the one that reminded him of Duran Duran. How and why? It was his mind excursion, not mine. What does Duran Duran have to with television? Now, that’s asking too many questions.

And what regional fifties fast food restaurant you rip the new WGN logo from?

You know that Zell must hate not having a greater fool to pawn the Trib to. That’s what happens when luck runs out. Of course, your bad luck is shared by your employee stock ownership plan. They're the ones that got the full measure of your royal scam. And how about that? Your e.s.o.p. is now being audited by the IRS. If you have any more bad luck you'll be humming Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes.

We shall not shed not a tear for you, Samuel Zell. You and the Gang of Bore have golden parachutes in place. You always do.

The real losers are your own Tribune employees – those on the front lines that write, produce, print, and distribute the papers. They did not deserve to be forced to live in the bubble of your ego.

We know you’ll have another extravaganza next year for you and 800 of your closest friends. Your last one was integrated a private performance by the Eagles. According to the rate card I have their performance alone cost you between $6 million and $8 million. Maybe your next one’ll have Fleetwood Mac. Austerity, you know. Christine McVie quit the band awhile back. Maybe you can get a discount.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Radio: Performance royalty fee - the video!

Are you as embarrassed of this video as I am?

Try not to let it diminish your faith in the veracity of the radio industry.

This is what was put forth on YouTube as radio's entreaty against the proposed performance royalty fee.

It’s from House Judiciary Committee Chairman and Häagen-Dazs aficionado John Conyer’s “Awareness for Fairness” town hall meeting on June 2nd at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit.

Martha Reeves, Mary Wilson of the Supremes, George Clinton, Sam Moore of Sam and Dave, and Dionne Warwick represented the recording artists.

Rev. Al Sharpton represented radio. Why?

He’s a has-been. He’s jumped the shark. He’s over. He’s last century. He’s not even worthy of a cameo role on a we-play-everything Jack format.

Is he still on Radio One’s payroll?

Radio One CEO Cathy Hughes was invited to be on Conyer’s panel but declined.

Kathy Stinehour, VP/GM of Radio One Detroit; John Gallagher, market manager of Greater Media, Detroit; Debbie Kenyon, market manager of CBS Radio Detroit were the only radio managers in attendance.

First, the Reverend Al cited an alleged Congressional conspiracy to silence “black radio, talk radio and free radio,” followed by a fictitious anecdote about Prince, claiming that his former label “owned” his name.

The only black radio I know of that’s been silenced is in Pittsburgh – and it was done by a black-owned company, Sheridan Broadcasting.

And Prince? Dropping his name for that symbol was his decision – and he did it while he was still on his label, Warner Brothers. He returned to using the Prince name in May 2000 after his publishing contract with Warner/Chappel expired.

The cause against a performance royalty fee for radio may be right but Sharpton chose all the wrong reasons for defending it.

In fact, Sharpton fell short of fully endorsing radio’s side.

While Sharpton pontificated, a drove of sloppy-dressed, out of shape white kid interns and assistants in the upper balcony cheered him on.

Is this the video the radio industry wants everyone to see?

Come on, you had to realize that when nearly every music station that mattered lined up behind pay-for-play/legal payola demands that the labels would eventually seek revenge.

Sure, the labels offered the payola…but radio took it and then asked for more and more and more….

I keep telling you that the Record Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) is getting even while you’re getting odd.

By now, you’ve heard the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) claiming a major victory over the performance royalty tax.

Last week, the NAB, evidently still haunted by the ghost of David Rehr, congratulated itself for collecting 220 signatures from House members.

What the NAB didn’t tell anyone was that those signatures are non-binding and those that signed are not obligated to support radio’s cause. What the NAB did do was provide the RIAA with a list of those who need to be swayed to their side.

In the past decade, the RIAA has been very persuasive on Capitol Hill. Radio has not.

Shall we count the number of times the NAB was caught sleeping on its steps?

There’s the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. How about the Family Entertainment Copyright Act? Need I continue?

If this performance tax is that imperative for radio’s future, where were its leaders?

I didn’t see Mark Mays at this meeting? Where was Peter Smyth? Dan Mason? Lew Dickey? Okay, he’s excused for professional voyeurism – more on that in a moment.

Why weren’t they representing radio at this “town hall” meeting?

Were they too busy working on own exit strategies to be concerned with another financial burden that’s about to be levied on radio? Why be bothered if it’ll be someone else’s problem?

We know Lew Dickey’s been preoccupied with the new surveillance systems he’s installing at all the Cumulus properties, so he can spy on his station managers and account executives.

The economics of our industry may be merciless these days, but still it’s disturbing to witness Dickey’s cannibalistic routine.

To paraphrase Gnarls Barkley, does that make him crazy? Unquestionably.

I’m still trying to hit upon an upside to this video. Maybe Greater Media Detroit market manager John Gallagher can parlay it into a TV reporter slot at one of Detroit’s TV stations. Or perhaps not.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Radio & Records 1973-2009 R.I.P.

They should have renamed it Downloads and Streaming.

Maybe it would’ve had a fighting chance. On line.

Let’s remember Radio & Records for its many achievements.

It was the publication for both the radio and record industries.

Nothing was more imperative to the record labels than an add and chart position on top 40 radio.

The format played its currents in high rotation and sold product.

In the days prior to electronic monitoring of stations the trades were dependent on “honor system” reports from top 40’s.

One problem. There wasn’t a set airplay chart for the labels and radio to agree on. You had a dozen influential trades – all kept in business by full-page label ads.

Both the radio and record industries wanted one reference chart.

Radio & Records gave it to them along with a new moniker for the top 40 format – Contemporary Hit Radio. CHR.

It weighted stations by market size and ratings – the Parallels: P1’s, P2’s, and P3’s.

It took a format that was nearly impossible to chart and categorize, gave it a new name, and tamed the beast formerly known as progressive rock radio into Album Oriented Rock. AOR.

For decades R&R sold full-page ads to the labels as an extension of the vinyl slingers’ and indies’ pitches.

R&R had the best writers, reporters and industry coverage. They could afford to.

There were years where it was R&R and everyone else. R&R was the trade; the others were tip sheets.

Two words: Street Talk.

Its annual conventions – particularly during the '70s and '80s – will never be duplicated. Not all the stories you heard about them were true. Just most of them. Well, maybe close to all of them.

What killed Radio & Records? In this brave new hyper-competitive market, competency is expected and only flawless execution is tolerable. But here’s the problem. That’s not enough. Today, the decisive competitive advantage is passion. When is the last time you heard that word to describe the radio and record industries?

It wasn't R&R that changed. It was the industry it served.

I feel bad for everyone connected with Radio & Records, especially for those format editors who have spent the past few years talking to and trying to help those who had lost their jobs. Now, they’ve lost theirs.

For those in the crippled consolidation radio and record industries, be afraid. Be very afraid. There are few things worse than being forgotten but not gone.

Let’s visit two other mediums – books and film.

The novel The Last Days of Pompeii by the Edward Bulwer-Lytton featured characters that presented a contrast from the decadent culture of first-century Rome with both older cultures and coming trends. It could easily be rewritten for the contemporary radio and record industries.

We’ve gone from the days of lines and noses to The Days of Wine and Roses. There’s that scene where Jack Lemmon says to Lee Remick: "I walked by Union Square Bar. I was going to go in. Then I saw myself, my reflection in the window, and I thought, 'I wonder who that bum is'? And then I saw it was me. Now look at me. I'm a bum. Look at me! Look at you. You're a bum. Look at you. And look at us. Look at us. C'mon look at us! See? A couple of bums."