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Television is caught in a world where an outdated network concept is beginning to collapse.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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Experiencing 9-11 From Down Under

The air was cool and pleasant on the morning of 9-11-2001.  It was a nice change from the controlled air of the airline cabin I had just spent the last fourteen hours flying.

That morning I arrived in Sydney Australia returning to work as Group PD of The Australian Radio Network after attending company meetings in Atlanta.

Little did we know how the world would change in just a few hours.

Sydney is a day ahead of the US.  So my arrival was hours ahead of the events that would unfold in lower Manhattan that day.

I went to bed early that night in attempt to get my body back on ‘Sydney’ time.

The phone rang around 11pm.  It rang, and rang then stopped.  It started again.  In my stupor I finally went into the living room to answer it.

My wife Ann was calling from our home in Texas.  Her  first words were “turn on the television”.

I really didn’t comprehend what was happening at first.  But as we talked the second plane crashed into the Trade Center tower.  It was all so surreal.

As kids in New Jersey we watched as those towers climbed into the sky.  There was a spot on Route 10 near Morris Plains where you could see them just above the tree tops, maybe twenty miles away or so.

We felt the magnitude of the event even being on the other side of the world.  But for me it was probably different than those that were in the US.

I am still struck by the number of people that knew someone working at the Trade Center.  My assistant was from the UK.  Her aunt worked at the Trade Center.  We waited all day and into the next before getting word of her safety.

Amazingly she had left her office to smoke a cigarette outside one of the buildings just before the first plane hit.  She ran down the street to get away and eventually took a very long route home before her family knew she was ok.

We had dozens of stories like that from local Sydney residents looking for friends.  This was after all the WORLD Trade Center.  People were connected to it from all over the world.

People were nicer than usual, and they’re pretty nice in Australia.  That incident showed us all that we are one.

The strangest feeling though came in the next few days, when travel into the United States was prohibited.   There was as a strong realization just how important home really is to you.

New York is my home.  I grew up in the metro area.  But somehow I still feel a little disconnected from the event.  I was not in the country, and didn’t experience it like those that were here.

I don’t know if I’m happy about that or not.

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Posted by on September 11, 2009 in Uncategorized


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Bringing Local Back To Radio

WLNG Sag Harbor is a real throwback.

Today’s radio programmers can learn a bunch by studying the past.

However, WLNG is not one of those once great Top 40 stations from the past many of us reminisce over.   Live and local 24 hours a day WLNG is the real deal.

There is nothing like it on the air anywhere that I can find.   They use hundreds of jingles, and a very, very deep music library.

Lately my WIFI radio has been busy.  But most of the big city stations it plays are deadly dull.

The ‘Nine Format’ lives.

You may remember the classic spoof about consultants done in the 1970s to chronical the format history of fictional WVWA Pound Ridge, New York.  If not, it’s on the Reel Radio site.

How would we know the WVWA spoof would become reality?  Today’s radio is devoid of connection. Just like WVWA when it became  ‘Nine’!

Things were so streamlined on “Nine” the jocks, listeners and jingles only said  “nine’! on air.   After all it was created through ‘research’.

That’s not too far from what is happening in the streamlined PPM world.

PDs seem more concerned about what will turn listeners off, than what will keep them connected to the station and coming back.    Mark Ramsey makes this point in his blog this week.  He’s dead right.

WLNG is about community.  Oh sure they play music, lots of it around the heavy load of spots and PSAs voiced by local merchants and firemen.   WLNG connects.

Sag Harbor sounds like the most active town in the country thanks to WLNG.

Programmers dealing with talk stations made up of mostly network shows can take a lesson from WLNG.  Fill those spot breaks with local voices.   Get the sales staff to have the local business owner voice his spot.

There is probably no better way to endorse the local sales effort than to have local businessmen do their own spots.  The others at Rotary will notice.

WLNG has captured what made local weekly newspapers work.  Put the Cub Scouts picture in the paper.  Mom, Dad, Grandma and the Aunts will buy the paper.

Same is true for putting local voices on the radio.

Consider using local voices to image the station music and promotions.

This is not to say that everything on WLNG  fits into many of today’s formats.  But PDs should give them a listen with an ear to finding ideas that help them localize their own stations.

As the PSA tag says, “thanks WLNG for years of service”.

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Posted by on August 3, 2009 in Radio programming


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Mi Profesor Jaime Jarrin

Job hunting is a slow process.    This year is slower than ever.

We dream of having lots of time on our hands during times we’re working only to suddenly find we have too much.

The job search might take me a while, but I can assure you my ability to speak Spanish is going to be greatly improved.

I’ve tried for years to become fluent.    Little kids do it all the time, so why not me?

Baseball is my summer (fall, spring and winter too) passion.  So I decided to combine the two, baseball and Spanish to   see if it helps.

My teacher is Jaime Jarrin.

He is a Hall Of Famer yet most baseball fans outside of Los Angeles have never heard of him.

Many Los Angeles Fans don’t know him either.  Jaime broadcasts the Dodgers in Spanish.  It’s something he’s done since 1959.

The Dodger broadcast booth must be a great place to work. Vin Scully started when they were still  the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Learning Spanish should be simple.   I’m using Rosetta Stone, Learn Spanish Like Crazy and Spanish broadcasts of LA Dodger games.

Each night I record the game then listen later in evening.  Jaime, Pepe Yniguez and Fernando Valenzuela make up the broadcast team.

It helps when the game is televised.   I can see the action and listen to the commentary.

Little by little I can tell the improvement.   Now it is easy to understand almost all of the play by play.   Occasionally the comments are difficult to get but I can always stop the ‘tape’ and listen again.

Jarrin is good.  Real good.  No wonder he’s is a Baseball Hall Of Famer.

The Dodgers should consider using him on the English broadcasts too, certainly on television.  He knows the game and tells interesting stories.

Adding him to television would help the Dodgers broaden the appeal for the telecasts and bring a new audience to their games.

Most of all, it would allow Dodger fans to hear a great broadcaster.

Pepe and Fernando deserve a shot at TV too.  The whole team is that good.

Gracias Jaime.

Oh, and my scouting report on the Dodgers?  Watch out.  This team can play.

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Posted by on July 8, 2009 in Radio programming


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Missing In Action

Memorial services generally make for boring radio.

Michael Jackson’s is more entertainment than memorial service.

The program handed to guests cleverly omitted the typical listing of speakers and guests.   The audience had to watch to see who would perform.

The drama made for great television.   But where was radio?

It was Jackson that almost single handedly revived Top 40 as it morphed to CHR.   Would stations like KIIS and WHTZ exist today had Michael  not come along at the right moment?

KRTH and KFI were among the stations with full coverage.  Los Angeles stations should be expected to broadcast what is so far the biggest event of the year in LA.  Sorry Lakers.

WCBS FM appeared to be in regular format.  So were WOGL,  and even WOMG Detroit home of Motown Records.

Television owned the event.

Brian Williams is anchoring for NBC in full wall to wall coverage that once would have been reserved for a space launch.

It’s hard to envision Walter Cronkite doing the same.  CBS Evening News didn’t even lead with Elvis the night he died.

Every cable channel broadcast their version of the service as did the lettered networks.

Radio, the medium that first pounded Jackson Five songs into our collective heads, and later provided a platform for Micheal’s reinvention was no where to be found.

Capitol Gold in London announced they’d play Jackson requests.  But there was no coverage of the Memorial Service.

4QK Brisbane rolled into their regular Breakfast Show.

KFI was the only News Talk station doing any sort of coverage.  But again anything at Staple Center is a local story.

Jackson whether you loved him for the music or despised him for the pedophile accusations was a giant.

Radio helped make that giant only to let Television, Twitter, You Tube and others own the story at the end.

It’s radio’s role to play the hits, whether music or cultural hits.

Michael Jackson was both.

Radio missed the party.

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Posted by on July 7, 2009 in Radio programming


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Another Day When The Music Died

We were having dinner with friends when word came of  Elvis Presley’s death.

‘Beyond stunned’ was our reaction.

This was after all ‘The King’.  People like that don’t just up and die.

As I recall we quickly finished dinner and did what all radio geeks do in times of trouble.   We headed to the radio station.

The air staff was already gathering and beginning to get a handle on the enormity of the story.  Elvis dead.

Listeners jammed the phone lines.  Many were crying.  Age didn’t matter.   It covered the entire spectrum from young to old.

This was at 14FEC Harrisburg.  We had a pretty good staff and  a good PD in Dene Hallam.

The team worked throughout the night finding special Elvis songs, audio cuts and anything that would help tell the story.

The same was happening at WHN where Ed Salamon flew into action.  They provided us with a ton of material that night.

Elvis was passed his prime.   But he still had huge appeal with the country audience.

For many of us it felt somewhat like the day JFK died.  The response was that big.

The phones rang though out the night.  I did overnights then and that night was busier any morning drive show I ever did.

We put callers on the air to talk about Elvis and generally grieve.   We grieved  right along with them.

That was one of the toughest nights I’ve ever encountered on radio.  But it showed just how much radio means to the audience.

Radio has a unique ability to comfort while informing and entertaining.

There were other days in recent years  where people needed radio’s shoulder.  The Space Shuttle explosion, the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, and of course 911.

This time when the ‘King Of Pop’ died the dial seemed rather quiet.  A few great stations went right into action like CBS FM and KRTH.   But so many others seemed caught at the end of the work day without anything of substance to offer.

People first got the news from Twitter or on line.  Much of their interaction was not with a local dj but instead others of like mind in the social networks.

The news happens so fast and word is around the world in an instant.  Radio can’t wait hours or days to decide its response.

It needs to be the medium of ‘right now’ otherwise it has no purpose anymore.


Posted by on June 29, 2009 in Radio programming


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My Summer Vacation; The Old And New

The temperatures are topping 100 degrees.

I’ve had to stay inside away from the other kids after having sinus surgery.

It was ok.  Not how you’d prefer to spend your time off but,  not the worst way either.  At least my breathing is already improved.

The doctor says my voice might even change finally.  I’ve been waiting for that since age 13.  It’s tough to get good radio work when you sound like me.

So I’ve been catching up on the news using WIFI and shortwave.

The North Koreans are threatening to destroy all of the US.   I wonder if they know how big a place this really is and have calculated enough bombs to do the job?   Their one warhead might not cut it.

Voice Of Korea is an interesting station that begins each day’s news with the latest doings of ‘Dear Leader’.   After all of the announcements of state dinners, and the latest revolutionary accomplishments they get down to the hard news.  The stuff where they talk about how they’ll blow us apart.   Nice guys.

They are a complete throwback to Soviet sounding radio of the 1960s.  There must be a special manual they used to get the language just right.

Meanwhile across the other side of the planet another tyrant is struggling to keep the lid on against modern technology.

They’re not having such an easy time.

The two styles are fascinating to watch as both North Korea and Iran try to stay out of the 21st Century.  How they will do is anyone’s guess.  Mine is they won’t stop progress.

‘Dear Leader’ has a better chance in Korea than the Clerics do in Iran.   Once the social networking revolution takes hold, the old revolution is in serious trouble.

If those ‘tech’ savvy South Koreans ever figure out how to wire North Korea, it will be game over for the old guard.

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Posted by on June 24, 2009 in Uncategorized


Texting Is Mightier Than The Sword

The remarkable events occurring in Iran continue to demonstrate the power of social networks.

Twitter has rescheduled a major maintenance session set for tonight in order to allow the flow of information to continue from Iran.  They made the decision because of requests from inside the country.

Iranian citizens would have been silenced only a few short months ago.  But now with Twitter they continue to communicate to the world.

Despite their best efforts the Iranian Government is unable to stop the flow of information.

Can any rogue government last long once the people have cell phones and internet access?   Dictators around the world certainly must be taking notice.

Accuracy is certainly one concern with so much material coming out.  Misinformation and rumor is another.   But news organizations seem able to sift through the material to give a balanced picture of things.

Perhaps instead of using bombs and bullets to bring democracy to these countries we should drop millions of cell phones.   There appears to be no stopping the momentum once the people can communicate with each other.

The pen, or text message is mightier than the sword.

Check the blogs on Huffington Post and The Atlantic for minute by minute updates.

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Posted by on June 16, 2009 in Radio History


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A Little Twit Calls Out A Tyrant

The way the world uses media can change on a dime.

The events around the election in Iran is a startling example of just how things have changed.

Most of the the world’s major networks have been tossed out of the country.

Reporters have been arrested, their cameras confiscated.   Yet word of riots and unrest continue to get out of the country.

Twitter is the reason.

Iran has closed down most all of the social networking sites.  Somehow, Twitter continues to operate.

Much of the news reports are not from the networks but from bloggers and apparently Iran has many of them.

Network reporters still in the country are shooting scenes with their cellphones.

Twitter is the ultimate weapon in creating democracy.  No wonder North Korea keeps cellphones and the internet out.

The Voice Of The Iranian Revolution can be heard in the US at 1:30-2:30 GMT on 7235 and 9495 shortwave.

The BBC World Service available on XM/Sirius and via the web will likely have the best coverage from overseas.

There is no telling how things will play out in Iran.  But every indication is the Revolution is back on and this time the people are in charge.

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Posted by on June 14, 2009 in Uncategorized


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