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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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The Need To Make Edges Sharper

Jim Poh is Vice President of Analytics and Media Planning at Crispin Porter & Bogusky.  They handle radio ads for Burger King and Dominos.

Poh states in today’s New York Times that consolidation of radio companies has resulted in sound-alike stations.

He claims this is a big part of the reason advertising is way down on radio.

And the claim makes sense.

There is very little to draw listeners back to many stations.

Once morning shows, great jocks and exciting contests all done with the right music and some creative marketing set stations apart.

Today there are few points of difference between stations.

A cluster that includes two rock stations makes sure they stay out of each others way.   Twenty years ago those same two stations would be fighting to the death to win the ratings.

The great country battles are gone.

KILT vs KIKK in Houston were literally locked into brutal hand to hand combat and each .5 gain in the ratings was something to be celebrated.

Houston also had a great CHR battle at that time with KKBQ and KRBE.  Both great stations with excellent talent.

Market after market had radio ‘war’s’ taking place.

The listener  and advertisers were the benefactors.

The listener got exciting well focused radio entertainment.

The advertiser got stations that promoted their own product heavily thus adding ears to hear the advertiser message.

Poh is right.  Radio does sound alike.

Replacing local talent with Ryan Seacrest and John Tesh on every station in America is not the answer.

Consolidation and cost cutting are turning the radio dial into a vast waste land.

Listeners are caring less and less about radio, so why would advertisers buy the medium?

Once we take away all the reasons to listen we’ll be left with a bunch of useless transmitters and worthless licenses.

Radio operators seem to miss the point that there is way more competition today than ever.  The internet and IPODs were not in existence a few years ago.

The internet alone opens up enormous opportunity for audio entertainment and information.  Most of which have yet to be created.

Radio owners will tell you HD is the answer.  But the only answer in a world with more competition is to have better content.

Music can’t be considered content.  Radio operators don’t own the songs.

The staff cutbacks might be necessary for companies to meet their covenants.  Miss the payment to the bank and well you aren’t only without a staff but you’re without a business for that staff.

But in the end, radio must get very serious about creating content and competing in the new world.

The rules have changed.  Radio groups are living in a pre IPOD, internet age.

Content is the only hope.

Let’s hope it’s not too late.

Judging by those stock prices, it might be.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2008 in Radio programming

 

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Houston Take Cover

Hurricane Gustav is fresh in our minds so Ike should get everyone’s serious attention.

The forecast storm track has shifted again this time toward the east bringing it closer to Houston and Galveston.   This is very serious news for people living in that area.

WWL New Orleans set the standard for hurricane coverage.  That bar is very high.

Houston has one major news station KTRH which did a terrible job during the last hurricane.  They stayed with network programming and baseball instead of going into full coverage.

KTRH is handling their coverage pretty well this morning.

Through the miracle of WIFI I’m able to monitor KILT FM.  As expected  the Hudson and Harrigan morning show is all over it.

H&H as they are known have been the morning team on KILT since the top 40 days.  The players changed over the years, the current team has been together for over thirty years.

They know the town very well.

KILT coverage is focused on closings, evacuations and routes.   It will not surprise me to hear KILT rolling through the next few days in full coverage.

They have live coverage of Mayor White’s press conference.  Remember this is a music station.

KTRH is still promoting an Astros game broadcast tonight.

The Houston area could get caught flat footed simply because all models had this storm tracking toward Corpus Christi.   Many people are waking up to a unexpected situation this morning.

There are thousands and thousands of people who have never been through a hurricane.  Houston has been very lucky for a long time.

Radio must do its part to help people get out of harms way.

The storm track is found at the hurricane network. http://hwn.org.  The network is expected to be in action on 14.325 USB shortwave tomorrow morning.  They stream the audio for those without a radio.

KTRH is heard at 740 AM. Check their stream on their website.

KVLI Beaumont which is east of Houston is 560 AM.

KILT FM is streaming on the net and on WIFI.

WWL broadcast every news conference live, and made sure the public was completely informated.

Let’s hope Houstonians get the same support from their local radio.

Oh and not so fast there Corpus, you’re not out of the woods yet.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 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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