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Monthly Archives: October 2009

Separating The Great From The Ordinary

Two questions that are often asked of me by people in radio.

What is missing form today’s radio?

And why is Rush Limbaugh so popular?

I heard the second of these asked of a station General Manager recently.  He said because Limbaugh knows how to entertain.

He’s right.

Rush knows how to use radio.  It is the medium he understands best and has the talent to use well.  Remember he tried TV and it didn’t work.

But on radio Limbaugh controls the game.  He’s a great story teller and most of all he knows how to connect with his audience on an emotional level.

That brings us back to the first question.  It’s the lack of connection with the audience on an emotional level that is missing from radio.

Think of the really great talents.   They are all able to connect. They engage the audience and that separates them from the typical ‘drive by’ DJ.

Larry Lujack, Bruce Morrow, and Howard Stern have that ability to connect.  They do it differently than Rush but  they make you have an emotional reaction.

Jean Shepherd was a master at this.  He could hold you in the palm of his hand, taking the listener up and down the twisted streets in his mind only to finish with a bang at the end of his story, which concluded the show.

Shepherd talked up to the very last note of his theme music.  He used the brilliant imagery of a novelist to paint the picture in your mind and take hold of your emotions.  He was masterful.

Rush takes the listener up to a break and holds them with a powerful tease.  He ebbs and flows in pace and emotion and brings you in whether you like what he says or not.

This doesn’t happen on Television because little is left to the imagination.

Great radio performers team with your mind and emotions to make you do part of the work.

Marshall McLuhan wrote about in his ‘Hot and Cold’ theory of communication.  Radio when used well is hot.  TV is cold because it doesn’t require your mind or emotions to engage.

Great radio performers paint pictures.  They tell stories.  They grab you and don’t let go.

Limbaugh learned much of his technique by talking up intros to teeny bopper songs in McKeesport, Pa.  He’s taken that lesson and used it differently to get even stronger impact.

Whether you love him or hate him you have a reaction to him.

That  is what separates great talent from the ordinary.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2009 in Radio programming, Uncategorized

 

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The Narrowcast Future

There was a point this summer when my keyboard got quiet.  I had simply tired of writing about the way things were in radio.

Memories of the great jocks,  fun stations and the way we used to do it.

Tired of the conversation from radio people that want it to go back like it was.

During that time I became heavily focused on digital media and specifically how we can use the tools to communicate.

Now my thinking is focused  on where things are going in all media.

It is going to be very different from the ‘good old days’.  These are likely to be better days. Way better.

The occasional story about a great station or jock will pop up here.  But the conversation within our industry must change.

Like it or not radio and all media are changing.  There is no choice.  Technology is the reason.

Technology is changing the way we live, how we use our time, and what is available to us.

We once thought of ourselves as ‘radio people’ or ‘TV people‘, now we are now simply in media.  The web changed how we do our jobs and more importantly what those jobs are today.

A person who concentrated on audio  must know about written content and video. Radio news reporters now produce video pieces for their websites.   The lines have blurred.

Here’s the big one.  Narrowcasting will replace broadcasting.

The day of programming to the masses is going fast.  Programming to highly focused niches  is already here.

Narrowcasting won’t kill off broadcasting this year, but the future will be more about highly targeted content than what appeals to the masses.

Some would argue that cable networks have started this trend.  Fox News serves a niche.  It is not intended to be the news channel for everybody. Those that like it, love it.

The History Channel, Cooking Channel and even ESPN are narrow in approach.  But they are almost ‘mass appeal’ narrow.

This is about being much more narrow.  Very narrow.  Instead of the History Channel, it might be Civil War Battles,  or Civil War Songs, but not covering everything about the war.

A transmitter is no longer needed to reach an audience.  And anyone can start a media outlet from their laptop using audio, video and written word.  This content can be distributed numerous ways on the web.

A pod cast created in your basement can have a larger audience than your local radio station with  interesting new sales opportunities.

Narrow your focus and program to people who are highly passionate about a subject.  This is about gathering  your own ‘community’ interested in what you have to say.

Topics that aren’t  found in mainstream media defined as radio, TV, newspapers and major websites.

A audience of dog lovers devoted to Pugs is probably small within your town.  But imagine the number of Pug fans nationally and worldwide.

Your listeners/viewers/readers are as likely to be in  Australia as in the town next to yours.

Browse I-Tunes and you’ll find hundreds of programs in a wide range of topics being produced.  This shouldn’t stop you from doing something too.

Find a subject that people are passionate about, and go for it.

The web is big. But keep your focus narrow.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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The Trouble With Content

Radio was easy a few years ago.

The competition  was limited to what people could pull out of the air locally.

Now it comes from all sides, radio, the web, WIFI, IPODS, IPhones, and I’m probably forgetting some.

It is tough out there.

So what is a radio station to do?

Simple.  Focus on creating content.

A few years ago, the President of a large radio group boasted  that his company had lots of content.  They could take it an re-use it or re-purpose it on the web and it would generate additional income.

Not so fast there big guy.  Most radio stations don’t create much of their own content.

The music they play isn’t theirs.  Imaging between the songs isn’t content.  .

Most jocks have little to say other than to plug the website or what was already said in the imaging.

That big radio company hasn’t been all that successful on the web.

Talk radio is different but most talk stations are programmed from networks.  Most local stations create very little content of their own, and probably won’t have rights to re-use the network stuff on the web.

Local news is content.  Only a handful of stations  have anything resembling a local news room.

Most stations have very small  overworked staffs focused on  keeping the station on the air.  No one in the building has time to create more content.

Yet content is being cranked out at enormous rates on the internet by regular people.  Blogs like this one and hundreds of podcasts are examples.

The web is loaded with experts and  hobbyists  each with a passion for specific subject.  They are creating content that touches the real life interests of your listeners.

Radio is competing with the guy down the street for a share of the audience’s attention.  Soon WiFi will bring thousands of  radio stations from around the world to the car.

Content tells your story , builds the brand and most importantly adds value to the lives of your listeners/readers/viewers.

People already spend more time on line each week than they do listening to your radio station.

Facebook’s size is equal in population to the fourth largest country in the world.

The station website will be the primary channel from which your audience will access your stuff.

The thinking at radio must change.  Instead of being a radio station with website attached, it will be a website with radio station attached.

Your station either becomes an important part of their on-line experience or you go away.

This is not about putting the same old  stuff in a new package. This is about creating content that that is not heard on your  transmitter.

New day.  New time.  New rules.

Radio can‘t worry about the train leaving the station when the rocket ship is heading to Mars.

Let‘s hope it hasn‘t already left.

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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Hearing Gordon McLendon Loud And Clear

Gordon McLendon is  a legendary name who dominated radio programming during the Golden Age of Top 40.

The McLendon Stations included power houses like KLIF Dallas and KILT Houston.  McLendon was also one of the first to try all news and bring Top 40 to FM.

He loved programming innovation.

I was reminded of a memo given to me by my late friend and mentor Larry Kent a former  PD for McLendon  at  KTSA San Antonio.

It’s called “Creating A Sparkling Station”.  In it, the “Old Scotsman” hammers on lazy Program Directors and lack of creativity at company stations.

The memo appears to have been written around 1970.

No one is mentioned by name, but we can assume they knew who was being singled out.  Those that didn’t “get it’ were probably gone pretty fast.

McLendon describes a ‘sparkling station’ as one that is: alive, exciting, animated, buoyant, vivid, spirited, fresh, topical, exuding on air and feeling of what’s going to happen next, and something continually going on.

He says “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,”

He explains why Program Directors fail,  “the tendency not to want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”  In other words allowing bad copy, commercials and jocks on the air without speaking up.

McLendon is none too kind to the talk show hosts on his stations.

“The average stations talk man sounds like he is trying to conduct a church social and make as many friends as possible. They don’t clutter up their minds with a lot of confusing preparation, They plunge right in without a lot of information of the subject which might obscure their views.”

He finishes by saying “mostly our call in talk emcees are characterized by their extreme friendliness and courtesy, and also by the almost audible sound of radios being turned off by the thousands.”

Well you get the idea.  The memo takes just about everyone in programming to task.

McLendon was like many others of his era.  He demanded creativity and attention to detail .  Most of all he drove the point that topicality was key to a station’s ability to sparkle.

Times have changed.  Many of the elements he wrote about don’t fit today’s radio.

Many stations obsess over song rotations and spend too little time on creativity.

The McLendon  message still rings.  Stations must sparkle.  They need to be imaginative and kept fresh.  It’s not enough to just update the imaging once or twice a year.

It would be unthinkable that a McLendon station or others from that time would not be exciting.

Few stations today sound really excited about what they are doing.

Jocks are all too often left on their own getting no direction about their role on the air.

Everything  in McLendon’s memo referred to building great content.

Content is key to everything in today’s multi-media world. That means on-air, on the web, everywhere.

Radio doesn’t sell content.  Its sells advertising.

But without content, no one will have a reason to buy advertising.

Without advertising, it’s hard to say where radio goes from here.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2009 in Radio programming

 

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Six Pixels Of Separation

A business book that is well targeted to the needs of radio and other media only comes around once in a great while.

Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels Of Separation is such a book.

Perhaps you read about Mitch last week in Mark Ramsey’s Blog, Hear 2.0.  Mark included an audio version of the interview which you can download from I-Tunes.

Mark’s site is at  http://www.hear2.com/

It was because of Mark’s writing that I bought Six Pixels.  Well actually two copies.  The hardcover and audio book.  Hey Mitch’s kids deserve a college fund.

Inside you’ll find  tons of highly actionable information for anyone in radio.  Whether your morning show blogs or you Twitter,  Six Pixels is a real ‘how to guide’ that will energize your on-line efforts.

Mitch does a couple of excellent Podcasts about on-line marketing and using social media.  He is forward thinking but most importantly has connected to many others of like mind to create an interesting program.

Mitch is found at http://www.twistimage.com/blog/

Six Pixels gave me some interesting ideas for a meeting I had this week with a Minor League Baseball Team to discuss their radio and media presence.  A few of those ideas are likely to go into action this fall.

Bloggers will learn new ways to increase traffic and build their influence.  The web is way more than a source for  gathering ears and eyes for the sales department.  This is one of the most powerful communication tools ever.

Radio, Television, Newspaper and Magazines need to re-think all of it.

Let’s stop looking at the corporate internet initiative as a cram down or just additional work for the staff.

This is the future.

And the future is already here.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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Hank Spann On The Big 16

I keep asking my friends who book talk shows to connect me with Reverend Al Sharpton.

I don’t want to ask  about what he’s currently working on or stuff about Tawana Brawley.

Reverend Sharpton used to hang out and even preach on WWRL.  That’s what interests me.

He was there back in the day when WWRL was New York’s Soul Powerhouse.

I want to hear what it was like to be part of such a legend.

It had incredible jocks.  Better than many of those great Top 40 stations we remember.

I was a not so funky, rather clunky kid living in the New Jersey suburbs.  The kind whose best friend was a worn out Motorola transistor radio.

WWRL was located in Woodside Queens and during the day it put a good signal into my neighborhood.  It was gone with the pattern change at sundown.

So unless you grew up around New York City, WWRL probably never made it into your radio listening.

Great Top 40 jocks came out of RL.  Frankie Crocker, Al Gee and Chuck Leonard come to mind.

But the rest of the staff was special too.  Each a personality within a tight format.  This was Bill Drake meeting  Soul Radio, at least to an extent.

The line-up included Gregory, known as The Dixie Drifter, Jeff Troy, Jerry B, Gary Byrd with The GBE, and Hank Spann.

Spann was my all time favorite.

The ‘Soul Server’ as he was known could work the intro of a record like nobody’s business.  He was amazing.

Hank passed this week after battling a variety of health issues during the past year.

Sadly others like Gregory and Frankie Crocker are gone too.  Al Gee is said to have his own health troubles.

WWRL will always stand out to me as the best of the best.

Hank Spann was right on top.

I can still hear him ending a show….“Two steps to the rear and I’m outta here….”

The streets will be a little quieter now.

And somewhere a big station just added a great jock to the line-up.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2009 in Radio programming

 

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McLuhan Revisited In The Narrowcast World

Change is the most exciting part of media today.

A couple of years ago media was separated by delivery method.  You had radio, television, newspaper and magazines.  Today on the internet they all converge into well…media.

Newspapers are still hung up on delivery of a printed product and trying to increase dieing circulation.

Television is caught in a world where an outdated network concept is beginning to collapse.  The end of networks could bring the end of local over-air TV.

And in radio the ratings service is causing stations to broaden their approach at the very time the audience is demanding something more personal.

Big media companies must change how they view these franchises.

Radio stations, television stations, newspapers and the internet are simply pipeline.  A delivery method.

This pipe is no different from what transports crude oil, natural gas or water.

All that matters is the content running through the pipeline.  Not the pipe itself.

This should be an ‘ah’ moment for big media.  Instead they focus on the pipeline and fixing unfixable problems like newspaper circulation.

Newspapers must now think like radio or television stations by using video and audio programming to supplement their written content.

Television needs audio and radio needs video.

It is likely there will be no actual TV station or radio stations in the future. These will be replaced by a content portal  on the Web  using the best of all media to communicate.

Most exciting is the ability to narrow the focus and provide very specific content to highly passionate audiences.  The day of one size fits all is over.

Audiences can be small locally yet huge on a world wide scale.

The New York Times should be a world wide brand for news content long after the last paper is printed.  But they have to stop thinking like a newspaper.

These information portals will offer multiple streams of rich content.  They’ll do it on the consumer’s schedule not that of some network.

It is a narrowcaster’s world.  We’re seeing the dawn of ultimate customer focus.

Big media take notice while those established brands still matter.

Marshall McLuhan’s theory no longer applies.

The medium is no longer the message.  It is simply a method of transportation.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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The Future Of Local TV

Where does local television go from here?

NBC changed direction by cutting programming costs and adding Jay Leno’s less expensive show to their schedule at 10 PM. This is the hour traditionally used for big drama series and as lead in to late local news.

The critics seem to hate it. The audience is someone mixed. Leno has good nights and bad nights in Nielsen.

But how bad can it really be? NBC knows that network TV viewers tend to be older. So producing a show that attracts them might actually work, even if the audience numbers are a little lower.

Certainly they can’t beat the cost for producing Leno versus a major drama production. Leno wins that one hands down. The accounting department loves it and the margins are pretty good.

Local television operators must wonder what the future holds for them. They produce very little of their own content outside of local news.

Once all markets had locally produced kid’s shows and other programming, but that era is long gone. Shows like Sally Starr in Philly , Chuck McCann and Johnny Seven in New York. Locally produced Romper Rooms and Bozos were in almost every market.

The networks really don’t need local television stations anymore. Over air TV was the only way to reach an audience before cable and Direct TV. Today, fewer and fewer viewers actually pick up the station signal out of the air.

The internet further shifts the paradigm.

Now programs once only seen on over air TV are available on Hulu or other sites whenever the viewer wants them. My shows, on my time, my way.

So why do the networks continue to operate under the old model? Probably because Madison Avenue is still locked into buying advertising the old way.How do they quantify the on-line audience to an advertiser’s satisfaction?

One day some network executive is going to suggest doing an NBC Entertainment Channel, or CBS Programming Network and the old network with local affiliates will be toast.

Local TV will be too.

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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