Monthly Archives: October 2008

Tough Times Require A Different Mindset

If your General Manager seems grumpy it’s because this budget season is the toughest most of us can remember.

People are losing their jobs not just on air, but in many key positions like Sales Manager.

Not to alarm you but almost no one is secure.

It is very tempting to eliminate a high salary to help make EBITDA.  No I don’t really know what it is, but I know my department has to hit the number, so does yours.

One PD certainly can handle two, maybe three stations in tough times.  Or so the thinking goes.

Most owners are less worried about the integrity of the product than the integrity of their bank loan.   In other words, without the bank loan, there is no business to worry about.

It’s really that simple.

If you were one of the lucky ones chosen to stay during your station’s latest round of cuts.  Good going.  You’ll be working harder, with less help and probably no raise or bonus this year.

Don’t take for granted you’ll be there in six months.

This is the time to step up more than ever.  Show your manager that you are a valuable member of the team.

Nobody is going to keep weaker people in a tough economy.  We’ve even seen many good ones riffed.  But that doesn’t mean it has to happen to you.

A friend of mine said his station is doing zero based budgeting.  He’s not a fan.

I told him this is the next step in his development as a manager.  If you can shine in the tough times imagine how good you can be when things are great.

Do your best to protect the station bottom line. Avoid unnecessary expense and work with your staff to do the same.

We’ll get through this, we always have.

This time might be harder than in the past.

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Posted by on October 30, 2008 in Radio programming


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Please Show Your ID

There were many nights in 70s I’d turn on WCFL just to hear Ron O’Brien and the top of the hour ID.

“Nine O’Clock in the night time, Ron O’Brien on The Voice Of Labor”, followed by W-C-F-L Chicago…sung with pride and lots of energy.

WFIL used a produced image voice smacking the ID against the vocal of a song.

“Rocking In The Cradle Of Liberty…W-F-I-L Philadelphia…Non Stop Music!”

The flow was seamless.  The ID was huge and made the record to record production sound so tight.

Legal IDs could be sung as in “93 K-H-J Los Angeles” and could be  changed to the occasional “Boss Angeles” when KHJ was Boss Radio.

CKLW never actually said they were in Windsor Ontario.  Canada didn’t require a ‘legal ID’ and I guess that made it easier to compete in Detroit.

“Ladies and Gentlemen You’re listening to a Million Dollar Weekend with Walt Baby Love…..C-K-L-W…..The Motor City….”

The ‘Ape’ WAPE Jacksonville had the ‘Ape Call’ and Ernie Anderson did the now famous Z100 “From The Top of The Empire State Building” IDs

The ID should be an event and make your station bigger than life.

Somewhere along the way IDs became buried in the last stop set of the hour.  A quick ID, like W-V-W-A Pound Ridge, spoken so quickly you can barely hear it.

This was usually done when the station was licensed to an outlying community and attempting to be a player in the bigger metro market.

Mexican stations have great IDs that go on and on and on.  The city of license, station name, ownership, phone number…. well not quite.  But close.

The ID should be a moment of pride on every station.  The Mexicans take the ID seriously and most sound huge even on small stations.

And the ID is a way for your station to sound tuned into ‘today’.

News talk stations should use it to really sell the station.  Many like WLW and WFLA have a fresh legal ID recorded each day.

WSYR Syracuse is counting down the number of days til the election in their current ID.  As a News Talk station election information is key to the station’s success.

Tie the ID to what your station is focused on at the moment.  This week it’s the election, next week could be the economy, next spring the opening of baseball season.

It takes daily work to update the ID, but it gives the station a very current sound.

I should stop to point out I’m not promoting the PD of WSYR, although he claims that we have a family relationship which my wife (his mother) confirms.

He’s far better at the imaging stuff than me.  That’s were I get most of my ideas, the good ones at least.

The objections to creating a topical ID daily will be things like “my voice guy only gives me two pages a month”.

Please.  Get serious.  And creative.

Perhaps all your topical ID needs are updated news clips from the daily news makers. The standard language can remain the same.

The ID says a lot about your station, your community and the world around you.  Don’t miss the opportunity to do something that really stands out and if it’s memorable all the better.

The ID is ‘you’ afterall.

It’s your station.

It should say the right things all of the time.

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Posted by on October 28, 2008 in Radio programming


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Why Country Isn’t First Anymore

The ratings for country stations are down this summer.

I’m no expert but having spent so much time in and around the format I have some theories.

The last job I had in radio was as head of Country Programming for a large chain that owned 45 or 50 stations in the format.

Prior to that I was a Senior VP Programming with Clear Channel (and AM/FM, Capstar) and we had tons of winning country stations.

I won’t bother you with all the details.  But I’ve ‘seen the elephant’ or been in battle with many a country station.

The WIFI radio in my office takes me to dozens of markets and stations without leaving town.  I’ve been doing a little listening.

Here’s my take.

The music is awful.

That’s it.  Fix the music and you fix the format.

To be successful in country you must appeal to women in large numbers.

You can’t fix the format so fix your station.

The music I’m hearing barely relates to women.

Country stations must have a ‘singable’ quality.  Fewer and fewer songs meet this criteria.

The secret formula for a winning country station is in mixing tempo and texture.

It’s up, down, male, female, pop, country.

Change tempos slow, fast, Change voices use females for relief and variety.  Change texture pop to twangy.

The other secret is keep the mix familiar.  Play  hits.

Nashville will tell you the answer is to play new songs.  Of course they say that, it’s their job.

Don’t listen to them. Create a mix that works for your station.

The music charts are meaningless!!

The format is filled with C and D level artists and songs.

The superstars like Brooks and Dunn and George Strait have been around forever. But who is coming up to replace them?

I’m not hearing the big songs, by the big artists enough on most country stations.

Radio still needs these people to provide a familiar and comfortable base each hour for the listener.

Now listen to the talent.

Country listeners relate to a station through the talent.  Cutting the heart out of morning shows at budget crunch time isn’t the answer.

I know managers don’t want to hear that, but go find your savings elsewhere.

Poor coaching of voice tracked jocks is killing stations.

I heard a jock in market #15 in the Southwest talking about a concert in Illinois.

They wonder why this once dominate station is getting it’s ass kicked.  The answer is coming through your radio.

The ‘heritage’ station is the place to be in a country battle.

The problem is many of these ‘heritage’ stations are losing ground because they haven’t had marketing in years.

New people are moving into cities all the time.  A station that dominated in 1995 is talking to a changing market today.

Phoenix for example was market #45 thirty or so years ago.  Today it is 15.

People have moved into town and have no idea of anybody’s ‘heritage’.  Are you listening KNIX? You too KASE?

There are many others in a similar situation.

If your station is showing some slippage in Arbitron this is where you should focus your attention.

  • Music.  Make the station singable.  Pick the right songs to fit your brand.  Drop songs that aren’t singable.  Be very tough on every song that makes it to your air.
  • Artists.  Make sure you have solid, well known voices around the newbies.
  • Texture. Avoid being too hard.  Mix pop and country.
  • Message.  What is the song saying?  Get rid of ‘dumb guy’ songs and anything that is degrading to women.  To help you these are often listed in your library under ‘Keith, Toby.’
  • Filter.  Every song must pass the ‘female filter’.  If women don’t like it, the song is gone.
  • The Music Log.  Edit.  Pay attention!  I hear tons of stations that clearly hit ‘F-10’ on Selector and NEVER review the log.
  • Talent.  Make them relate to your local market.  Preparation is required for voice trackers too.
  • Coach the talent.  Voice trackers are jocks too.  Regular air check reviews are necessary.
  • Imagining.  Listen carefully to your imaging and hear the message  and how you’re saying it.
  • Pay attention to the whole station.  Is the music log done well in advance for your voice trackers to have sufficient time to create good shows?
  • Review the computer log.  Make sure  the right elements are playing at the right place.  It’s laziness to have a Brooks and Dunn sweeper play into Rascal Flatts.  Pay attention to details!
  • Match the tempo of jingles to the songs they’re playing against.

In other words,  get back to basics.

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Posted by on October 27, 2008 in Radio programming


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The Sound Of A Paradigm Shifting

There are so many gadgets released today it’s hard to get a ‘wow!” from us about any of them.

The PC was cool but it took time for software and programs to become meaningful.

The Apple products tend to be ‘wow’ items especially among the company’s fans.

Certainly IPOD and IPhone hit the ‘wow’ button.

The Kindle is totally cool.

I know the C word is overused and probably out of date.  But it applies to the Kindle.

Amazon has just released the Kindle, an amazing electronic book reader and then some.

Listen up if you are a fan of books, magazines, blogs and other written material.  This posting is for you.

The Kindle is lightweight and about the size of a paperback. It can hold hundreds of books all easily downloaded from Amazon.

A simple expansion card allows you to save thousands more.

Magazines, newspapers, blogs, music and audio books can be downloaded too.

Bestsellers are priced at around $10 far less than you’d pay for the hardcover version.

Books arrive within seconds of placing your order.

The reading screen is ‘paper quality’ and much easier on the eyes than a computer screen.  There is no back lighting for instance.

The Kindle is not cheap at $359 but for someone who reads lots of papers on line, books and travels too, this is the easy way to keep your stuff together.

Certainly the price will drop over time.

If it catches on, the Kindle will re-invent publishing and could be the savior of newspapers.

It is a great way for morning shows and talk talent to keep their favorite reading material handy.  It is a show prep dream.

Amazon has a demonstration on their website.

Oprah Winfrey featured the Kindle on her show Friday.  Check out her website for more information too.

It’s Oprah’s favorite thing.  And Oprah knows about good stuff.

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Posted by on October 26, 2008 in Radio programming


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Hello Everybody!

I’m not much for doing book reports.

It has something to do with a nasty third grade teacher.  But that’s a whole other story.

Anthony Rudel’s new book ‘Hello Everybody’ is a great read about the dawn of American radio.

Rudel is a radio guy who programmed WQXR and SW Networks.

He takes you back to radio’s earliest days and puts the history into perspective.

There is the story of Dr. Brinkley and his goat gland cure sort of an early Viagra.  More importantly it is the tale of quirky owners and how radio grew into a cultural force.

Rudel traces Herbert Hoover’s involvement in developing radio first as Secretary Of Commerce and then as President.

It shows how radio’s influence impacted the 1924 and 28 elections. In a short time radio grew from a novelty to a true information medium.

Many of the challenges faced today existed during the 1920s.

Radio certainly had its skeptics but also believers especially in the manufacturing ranks.  In 1925, a new radio was as hot a Christmas gift as the Wii or Plasma TV is today.

Rudel traces the history of sports broadcasting with the story of Graham McNamee’s ‘accidental’ audition that led to an announcing job at WEAF.

McNamee became the era’s best known announcer doing everything from Opera, to baseball to the Rose Bowl.

Rudel’s material is very good and well written.

It’s a fun read especially for a history buff or radio geek.

You’ll love it if you’re both.

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Posted by on October 22, 2008 in Uncategorized


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More To Come

Over the years many radio stations have used compilation albums as a promotion vehicle.

WFIL released quite a number of them in the 60s and 70 as did competitor WIBG.

Post Records was the label best known for creating them in that period.  Their slogan was ‘More To Come’.

The albums generally included songs from the recent past.  The audio quality was often poor sometimes sounding like the songs had been taken directly from the 45.

But back then the albums created excitment for the station and gave consumers a way to get a good group of oldies.  The audio part wasn’t all that big a deal since most of us listened to 45s on cheap record players.

Many of the stations that created these albums were AM Top 40s like WKBW, WFIL and KHJ.  Again audio quality wasn’t quite up to 2008 standards.

The station jocks were usually pictured either individually or as a group.

These were great if like me you had a basement radio station.  For a few dollars you suddenly had an oldies collection to play.

Lisa Wheeler of Austin has put together an interesting website that showcases dozens of album covers from this period.

It’s worth a look and will bring back tons of memories.

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Posted by on October 19, 2008 in Radio History, Radio programming


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The Tough Get Going

These are not easy times.

Bad things generally happen when car dealers can’t afford to buy radio advertising.

Entercom announced a round of layoffs on the same day XM/Sirius dropped 50 to 80 people mostly in Washington.

CBS made significant cuts in the staffs of their Los Angeles news stations.

We can be pretty certain more layoffs are coming.

People who are unemployed tell me there are few jobs and those available are paying very little.

It is quite a shock for a major market PD to  learn the only jobs available are in smaller markets and offering $100,000 less than they’re used to making in salary.

This sort of thing has happened in the past.  It is exaggerated this time by the changes in technology which were already eliminating many positions.

Now is the time to get creative.

There is opportunity but you have to look in new places to find it.

As stations tighten their belts think about ways you can serve their new needs.  Perhaps it is as a freelancer working from home.

A few ideas to get your thinking started.

  • A news person could create a business that offers morning drive news to several stations.   And remember good news people are hard to find today.
  • An efficient jock can voice track many stations.  This is another home based business.
  • Manage content for several station websites.  The web becomes a new stream of income but they might not have cash to keep a webmaster on staff.
  • Produce commercials at home for a variety of stations.  Charge by the spot or on a retainer basis.  Great production is a good way for sales to sell but great production is hard to find in a smaller market.
  • Develop promotions and sales promotions that will help generate income.

You get the idea.

Think about what you do well and what stations will need and pay for.

Then get creative with the pricing.

There are 10,000 stations out there and they all need something to build revenue or reduce costs.

People can prosper even in a bad economy.

More than one millionaire has been made in down times.

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Posted by on October 16, 2008 in Radio programming


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End Of The Music Machine

The days when you could program a radio station with tons of music and win are ending.

Content is king and it’s what will drive radio programming.

IPODs have doomed music  radio as we know it. Radio can’t compete with ‘my music, programmed my way’.

The trend has already begun.  Clear Channel adds Ryan Seacrest to their CHR stations including midday on Z100 New York.

Loosely networked programs done in a flexible format allow many music stations to program a Seacrest and others while keeping the local station’s identify.

It’s not just happening in smaller towns.

Major market PDs are now faced with piecing together programming from several sources onto one station brand.  Elvis Duran mornings, Seacreast midday and probably others to follow evenings and nights.

The job of the PD is less about programming and more about packaging the station.

Australian stations have already started this type of networking.  Austereo’s stations have carried The Top 30 Countdown each night for years.  Now other programs in more dayparts have followed.

It makes economic sense.

Radio comes full circle.

Networks ruled until television arrived in the 1950s.

Now networking becomes a necessity to compete and bring better talent to more stations.

The talent farm is barren.

But really good people will have a chance to be heard on many more stations.

The weaker people might have to find another career.

Worse than fewer good disc jockeys being available is the lack of really good programming talent.

It’s hard to create thousands of interesting stations when only a handful of good PDs are left.  There is little opportunity to grow new ones.

Networking allows owners to change the job of the PD from creative thinker to implementer.  Not necessarily a great career path and cheaper on the payroll.

Radio went through phase one of the ‘talent shakedown’ after consolidation.

Standby for phase two.

This will be the era of really big change.

The station that bucks the trend and stays local and true to its community can still win.

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Posted by on October 11, 2008 in Radio programming


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Great Website

These days my idea of getting lucky is finding a great website about radio.

David Gleason On The Web really caught my attention and occupied much of my Saturday morning.

Gleason is a life long radio guy having caught the bug as a kid in Cleveland.  He started DXing in the 50s and has had a fascinating career in the US and Latin America.

The site is filled with pictures that include his travels in 1963 to Mexico City and other locales in Latin America.   It includes color shots of studios, transmitters and station buildings from that era.

One highlight is the extensive collection of Broadcasting Yearbooks he has put on line.  It makes for an interesting walk through radio and television’s history to see ads and listings for stations starting in the 40s.

Take some time to travel back in time.  It is a site you’ll return to again and again.

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Posted by on October 11, 2008 in DX, Radio History, Radio programming


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The Right Attitude

There was a time when radio stations always put the listener first.

Take care of your audience and the rest will take care of itself.  It was a simple and reliable formula for success.

WLNG Sag Harbor actually says on the air, ” We never turn our backs on our listeners.”

This station means it.

Listeners are number one.  Period.

They still celebrate birthdays.

The voices of real people are all over the air in commercials, PSAs, and listener calls.

WLNG uses the secret of local newspapers.  Put everyone’s picture in the paper and you’ll have lots of readers.

They put voices all over the air and it sounds like everyone listens.

When did the concept of listener first leave radio?

It is rare to hear a station attempt to make a connection with their audience let alone embrace them.

Is the idea dated?  Perhaps.

But in a world that seems to be getting meaner and less personal, radio can build an audience by being the opposite.

Turn your backs on the audience and they leave.

Have the right attitude and live the mantra “We don’t turn our backs on our listeners” and everyone wins.

While WLNG is ‘live and local’ all day, a voice tracked station can deliver on the same attitude.  It takes work and planning.

I’d love to see a station with the attitude of WLNG in New York City or LA.  I bet they’d crush the competition.

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Posted by on October 9, 2008 in Radio programming


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