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Monthly Archives: June 2008

None Of My Business, But…

All I know about newspapers is what I read.

I started reading them as a kid and have kept it up all my life.

From what I read, I’m glad not to be in the newspaper business.

From what what I see, nobody should be in the newspaper business.

I imagine newspaper management still talk about increasing circulation.

The papers offer free trial subscriptions and free samples at local stores in hopes you’ll sign up.

I counted forty newspapers on driveways around my neighborhood during my morning walk. There are three hundred or so homes on my route. That isn’t a very good ratio.

Forty years ago ninety percent of the houses in our neighborhood took at least one of the papers. Four offered home delivery, two from Newark, one from Morristown and another from Dover.

The New York papers were available at the drug store in town.

Fifteen years ago my son delivered the Syracuse Post-Standard. Sixty percent of the available homes on his route took the paper.

Big companies are trying to modernize the product by changing the writing or adding sidebars and bullet points.

Ok guys. Here’s advice from a long time newspaper reader.

Get out of the newspaper business.

Think information delivery.

How you deliver information is wide open.

Better color didn’t work. Smaller papers, didn’t work, more column inches, fewer column inches, didn’t work.

Western Union is still around and I bet they’re not using the telegraph today. How did they survive?

Killing more trees isn’t the answer.

Imagine the promotional buzz from the first newspaper to ‘go green’ and announce they are out of the newspaper business.

It might be the first to go green at the bank too.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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Confessions Of A Real Pirate

Now a confession.

Hope the FCC isn’t listening.

I had a pirate radio station as a kid.

WXRZ put a city grade signal over Brent Place in Succasunna, New Jersey.

Well not all of Brent Place, just the part near my house and on real good days some of Golf Course Road, too.

The signal was always better with a fresh nine volt battery in the transmitter.

My friend Glen lived on the next street and had a pirate station, too.

Glen isn’t here right now, so I’ll confess for him.

Together we operated the only radio network in the neighborhood.

My station would pick up the ABC Contemporary News from WABC at exactly 54:30. Glen got the news from my station and rebroadcast it live on his.

An official network.

Our station consisted of two turntables, a few reel to reel tape recorders, a mic, a mic stand and mic mixer.

The studio was in the laundry room behind the sheets and drying clothes.

I was pretty tight working with that equipment and spent hours ‘smacking’ the vocals using a recorded ID and records. WFIL was tight, but they were no WXRZ.

We often broadcast by remote from my front yard. This involved bringing the studio equipment outside and running a wire back to the transmitter.

All went well until the day when Glen turned to me and asked, “do you smell something?”

It smelled a little like smoke.

That is forever known as the ‘Day The Station Burned Down’.

Thankfully we were outside and not broadcasting from the behind the sheets in the laundry room.

The small studio I’ve assembled at home reminds me of WXRZ. But it does way more.

The reel to reel was replaced by a multi-track software editor on my laptop.

The inexpensive Lafayette Radio mic mixer is now an M-Box that interfaces with the laptop.

A borrowed Neumann Microphone replaced the five dollar tape recorder mic we used.

Anyone can be a ‘pirate’ today.

Creating Podcasts and programs in your home is very much like pirate radio.

There is no better way to sharpen your skills than by playing with your own blog, podcast or perhaps internet station.

They can still hear me on Brent Place from a thousand or so miles away.

Think of what I save on nine volt batteries.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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The Narrowcast World

For a couple of years, one hundred commercial free music channels seemed like a big deal.

But XM and Sirius now sound strangely like commercial radio.

IPODs and MP3 players changed how we consume music.

HD is a nice idea, but so far little more.

Through all the changes local radio still wins in the car.

But not so fast.

Today Chrysler announced their 2009 model cars will have WIFI connections.

That is the sound of a paradigm shifting.

Local radio is in trouble.

Broadcasting in the purest sense is dead.

Welcome to the narrowcast world.

Internet ‘radio’ stations suddenly have new importance.

Broadcasting means programming directed to large, broad audiences having similar tastes. The things that made Top 40 and AC work in our culture.

But now, every car eventually will have access to hundreds if not thousands of internet radio stations.

It is no longer necessary to program to broad tastes in one geographic area.

Imagine a world of ‘narrowcasting’.

Internet stations with the potential to create thousands of highly targeted formats each reaching a world-wide audience.

Ownership of a terrestrial station required licensing, transmitters and money.

Internet stations are cheap to launch.

And “look Ma, no FCC!”

The barrier to entry was money and a license, now the barrier is content.

Wouldn’t you hate to be the guy who just overpaid for all those Clear Channel broadcast licenses?

It’s a new day, with new rules.

And it happened just when everyone said radio was dull and unimaginative.

This change will be no less significant than when television challenged radio head on.

Bring on the innovators!

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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Stupid DJ Tricks

I-Man, I-Man, I-Man.

When are you going to get it?

Jokes that might have been funny to some people thirty years ago simply don’t cut it today.

Thankfully much of our society has grown up.

Now I-Man, it’s your turn.

One would think that after the public humiliation from last year’s stupid comment, I-Man would be more….

Careful?

Thoughtful?

Sensitive?

No, none of the above.

Same old I-Man using racial ‘jokes’ and whining that he was misunderstood.

You weren’t misunderstood. We heard what you said, loud and clear.

Even Warner Wolf was speechless when he heard your stupid comment.

Don. You were cutting edge in 1973.

You’re passed your ‘use by date’ today.

It’s time to take it to the ranch.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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Ready For Primetime

The morning show drives the entire day.

It’s really pretty simple. Win in the morning and you’ll probably do fine all day.

But if your morning show under performs the rest of the station, you have big problems.

Morning shows need planning, preparation and review DAILY.

Ron Chapman a legend in Dallas radio spent most of his forty year career in morning drive. Chapman recently came out of retirement to fill in for Paul Harvey on ABC.

He was hired by KLIF in 1959 to team with another talent as Harrigan and Murphy.

KLIF Program Director Don Keyes recorded the show every morning. He then met with Harrigan and Murphy to review the tape, tighten and refine their performance.

Keyes described the sessions as ‘intense’. They went through each show break by break, sometimes with owner Gordon McLendon present.

The result was a dominating morning show.

Few Program Directors today are trained in the skill of coaching talent. Many, if not most are almost afraid to meet with their morning show.

This is where you either make it as a PD or not.

The Program Director is like a hitting coach in baseball. He must know when the show is on track and know what is required to get it back on track when its not.

Here are some suggestions for working with your morning show.

  • Listen daily to the entire show. This means you must be up early.
  • Take notes. Keep a notebook with details from each day’s show.
  • Have a daily standing meeting with the show.
  • Review what worked, what could be better.
  • Focus on how what is coming up.
  • Outline the show. Brainstorm topics, ideas and guests.
  • Brainstorm future shows. What holiday is coming up or big event?
  • Get the show players to listen to the show on their own.
  • Keep an idea book of things you notice on television, in the paper, magazines.

Great radio is preparation, preparation, preparation.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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The Roar Over Localism

What exactly makes a station ‘local’?

To me this is a puzzling discussion.

Is it how well a station does in Arbitron meaning that high ratings equal local acceptance?

Is it the number of local mentions per hour? That would mean a station mentioning four towns during the weather forecast is more local than one mentioning two.

I worked for Capstar Broadcasting several years ago when we began voice tracking our stations around the country from Austin.

In preparation for this, I listened to major market stations owned by other companies to see just how local they were.

In all cases the only ‘localism’ I heard in my monitors were mentions of towns during the weather forecast and commercials.

The stations could have been anywhere. In some cases even the legal ID was buried and difficult to hear.

The jocks said absolutely nothing that gave me a clue about the station location.

The more I listened, the less localism there appeared to be.

By the way, they were highly rated well known radio stations.

We worked hard at Capstar to keep our stations sounding local. But we didn’t try to fool the listener by having the jocks say they were in Lubbock when they were in Austin. Instead, their job was to relate things happening of local interest.

The result was stations that related to their community. If we programmed the station well enough, listeners responded and it received good ratings.

The localism discussion never comes up with television.

Probably 95 percent of programming on local TV stations is not local.

I doubt that anyone cares that the ‘Tonight Show’ comes from Los Angeles.

The local news hour is usually all the local programming done by TV stations. In the sea of cable channels only a few slots are dedicated to local stations anyway.

So why is radio being pushed for localism to the point of possible re-regulation at the FCC?

Probably because the FCC doesn’t understand the real world.

The FCC Commissioners like to host ‘town meetings’. But these are hardly good representations of the real market place.

The rooms are filled with people who dislike anything commercial and have a specific agenda to push, or are shills placed in the room by the big radio groups.

In 2003, I attended a ‘town hall’ meeting in San Antonio that could best be described as a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. In fact I doubt many of the people who spoke that night had listened to a radio station in years.

The other side, those people touting the great service by the local stations were asked to attend by radio owners.

It was pure circus.

Yet the interest groups are loud enough to get the FCC’s ear.

So again, what is localism?

Is a station that mentions four local towns per hour more local than one that plays sixteen locally tested songs per hour and never says a word?

Personally I don’t think the government has any business sticking their noses into programming. The FCC should regulate frequencies, ownership rules, etc. But when it comes to content they should butt out.

A radio station can only compete by connecting to and attracting an audience. A line-up of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage is likely to do that better than a local host talking about taxes and school issues.

Listeners want entertainment. They’ll get it wherever it suits them best.

The internet, IPODs and all of the other changes in technology have changed the playing field.

The business world has figured it out. The rules that applied before, don’t apply now.

It would be nice if the government had a clue too.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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Creating A Sparkling Station

Gordon McLendon was the owner of KLIF Dallas and KILT Houston among others during the 50s, 60s and 70s.

The McLendon stations were innovators and very colorful.

He was the first to try an all news format, but Top 40 was where McLendon made his mark.

The stations were really promotion vehicles, with music and DJs attached.

McLendon promotions were imaginative and exciting.

A McLendon promotion could generate thousands of participants. They often included treasure hunts or other ‘event’ type promotions designed to stop traffic and get notice for the station.

Sometimes the promotion was so big and successful the city had to pass new laws to prevent traffic jams and property damage.

Other owners and PDs would fly into Dallas to listen and take notes. They’d try to identify what worked and bring the magic back to their own station.

McLendon was hard to copy, in part because he was so original and so driven.

The “old Scotsman” had a simple rule posted in the studio.

“Be funny, be informative or be quiet”.

Talk to any former McLendon PD or jock and they’ll tell you he meant it too.

McLendon believed certain elements made a station stand out from the others. He called these “sparklers’.

To quote from a McLendon memo; “a ‘sparkling station’ means one that is: alive, exciting, animated, buoyant, vivid, spirited, fresh, topical, exuding on air a feeling of what’s-going-to happen-next and something-continually-going on.”

“Such a station doesn’t just happen. It takes WORK by the Program Director and all concerned– lots of work. And if that work is not a labor of love, rather than a labor of continuing effort, the chances are that the station will sparkle only briefly.”

McLendon was so serious about the subject he laid it out in a ten page memo to Program Directors.

Every element was important.

He wanted the Program Director to pay attention to everything on air. The memo even outlines the right and wrong approaches to ‘time and temp’.

Does your station ‘sparkle’? Does it sound ‘immediate’ or ‘topical’?

Pretend you are a Program Director coming from out of town. Take a room at a local hotel for two days and listen to your station. Fill a notebook with everything you hear.

Is there anything you would ‘steal’ and take back to put on the air?

Is your station alive, exciting, animated, buoyant, vivid, spirited, fresh, topical, exuding on air a feeling of what’s-going-to-happen-next and something-continually-going-on?

In other words does it ‘sparkle’?

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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When Bad Management Is A Good Example

Yesterday I channeled my ‘inner Dick Young’ and wrote a story about how the Mets botched Willie Randolph’s firing.

Dick Young was a cantankerous sports writer for the New York Daily News.

He would have been all over the Mets yesterday.

How the firing was done seemed to bother everybody, except Mets management.

There was almost no question it was coming. Randolph’s job security seemed to be day to day and almost inning to inning.

Things turned bad for him last fall when the Mets blew a seven game lead and the Phillies won the Eastern Division Championship.

Managers don’t keep their gigs in New York when that happens.

The daily rumors of Willie’s firing peaked over the weekend. The Mets won two out of three from Texas, flew to Los Angeles and won the first game of the series 9-6.

He seemed safe.

Wrong.

General Manager Omar Minaya gave the news to Willie and two coaches after the win.

Word of the firing was released to the media at 3am New York time.

The big question was why now?

The midnight firing made Mets management seem sinister, heartless or incompetent.

Suddenly the manager booed by fans was a hero.

In business timing is everything.

The Mets would have avoided a major public relations problem with better planning.

The New York media is brutal today.

Articles are bringing up other stupid moves made by the Mets over the past forty years. Most of them happened long before current ownership was involved.

I have not read one column in support of team management.

Some are even saying the Yankee’s Hank Steinbrenner is compassionate by comparison.

Now that’s pushing it.

We can all learn from the Mets.

We’ve all probably made some of the same mistakes.

Fans would have cheered the move had the Mets handled it right.

Next time you’re faced with a similar change, take time to write all the possible problems out on paper.

And don’t make any hasty moves.

 

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Cowards Strike At Midnight

The cowards finally did it. And they waited until the middle of the night too.

The Mets dismissed Willie Randolph and two of his coaches after midnight Los Angeles time.

Unexpected, no.

Bizarre timing? Absolutely.

The Mets had just won three out of four.

They had just beaten the first place Los Angeles Angeles 9-6.

So why now?

No idea.

Who would want to work for a company that treats their people this way?

The Wilpons let Willie twist in the wind for weeks. Then they let him board the plane to Los Angeles only to get whacked at midnight.

Shameful.

But then baseball owners are known more for their money and ego than brains.

Maybe the circus is over and the team can get down to playing baseball. But somehow that seems unlikely.

How will fans react? The Wilpons don’t care they’ll hide in their luxury box.

General Manager Omar Minaya survives but with a considerably shorter leash.

Willie Randolph, Rick Peterson and Tom Nieto all deserved better.

What did Nieto do that deserved firing? Perhaps he just took shrapnel.

He was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

All will land on their feet. None are going to be hurting for cash.

But that’s not the point.

This was unnecessary and perhaps the worst timing of any firing in baseball history.

Same old stupid moves. Made by same old dumb ownership.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2008 in Mets and Baseball

 

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What A Country!

It’s hard for me to decide which Tim Russert story says the most about the man.

He came from a working class family in South Buffalo.

Tim’s dad ‘Big Russ’ is a WWII vet and worked two jobs to raise his family. He started his city career on the back of a sanitation truck, then to driver and retired as foreman.

Russert of course wrote about his dad in the best selling “Big Russ and Me”.

Tim spent time on the back of those trash trucks too. Four summers in fact, earning the money to get through college.

On the final day as a city employee Tim pulled off the gloves, hat and shirt he wore while collecting garbage. He then threw them into the truck’s compactor, pulled the lever and said “I’m never coming back”.

Hard work did not drive him from the city job. Desire for a better life did.

To hear his colleagues describe him, Tim was the hardest working man in the news business.

The hard work he learned in Buffalo served him during his whole career.

Preparation was Tim Russert’s hallmark.

Tim put a ton of preparation into everything.

He even did preparation for the preparation as he did when named host of Meet The Press.

Tim met with Lawrence Spivak a former host.

“What is it about this show? Our show, that makes it work” Tim asked?

Spivak answered, “know your guests and their positions thoroughly, then take the opposite position”.

It seems so simple.

For each one hour show Russert did enough preparation for a three hour show.

Most of today’s TV moderators are really talk show hosts and should not be mistaken for journalists.

Russert was different because he wasn’t caught up in being a star.

And yet this working class kid from Buffalo became TV news biggest star because he let the content, questions and answers do the work.

In a funny way news reporting is a little like collecting trash.

We’ll miss Tim because he helped us sort through that trash.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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