NPR Is Radio Too

This morning my friend Steve Borsch from Connecting the Dots sent me a link to a post by Jeff Jarvis over at Buzz Machine. It is regarding CEO Ken Stern being forced out at NPR (not my words, theirs). It appears to many, though not the “official” reason, that his push to move NPR further into the world of program distribution via new and emerging media had ruffled too many affiliate feathers.

My reaction… you seem surprised? I don’t know Ken Stern from Adam and have no idea if his internet strategy had anything to do with his termination. However, I do know that many in radio believe online is the enemy. You’ve heard me rant that this has been going on in commercial radio for years.

We can talk forever about how NPR is “different”, how they are most concerned with the quality of what the listener hears. Clearly, to a great extent that’s true. But after all the puffery, high-mindedness, and the hob-nobbing with the hoi polloi (perceived or real), for the local affiliate NPR’s focus is to help them get people to listen to their stations.

You bet NPR has made great strides in distribution, but if all of the public radio listeners, especially the younger ones…with money, head to the internet for their news, information, book chat, and Bach (a bit snarky, I know) then Hooterville Public Radio has a stick (antenna) that they have invested in that suddenly becomes worth a whole lot less. Number of listeners and revenue derived from them is what stick value is all about.

In most of my conversations with those in public radio, the honest ones anyway, they have been quite frank that even there, the bottom line is…well…the bottom line, the same for all radio. Look you can’t pay the bills without revenue, I don’t care who you are.

The opportunity for radio is still a big one. People, currently the vast majority, still turn on the radio. But every day  as technology evolves they are given more and more ways to get the same or better content. Yes, there is opportunity for the medium to try and build a strategy and revenue around the new distribution channels but the real opportunity is to provide great content for those channels to keep people tuning in. Gone are the days of counting on revenue because it’s the only place to get content. Now it’s about where to get the best content.

Broadcast is freaked out because the big money is on the distribution channel not on the content in it. Content is where they save money through quantities of scale. That’s why NPR exists, that’s why affiliates like Hooterville Public Radio need them and that’s why many fear change.

It is clear that NPR, at least under Mr. Stern, is aware of the need and is trying to change the paradigm. The affiliates may or may not have the same vision, but they most certainly don’t have the same money to dedicate to exclusive content.

If Ken Stern was shown the door for his internet/new media strategy that’s a shame…but it wouldn’t be a surprise…at least to me.

Cramer on Radio

Many of my broadcast brethren, including one I highly respect, Harve Alan, have posted the video of Jim Cramer commenting on the business of radio this week on Wall Street Confidential on Many radio types bristle at the comments but don’t really say much more than that. And really, there may not be much more to say…but that’s not gonna stop me.

From the opening introduction by host Farnoosh Torabi, including the words “Radio…maybe a dying medium” to Cramer’s defining, comment of “Radio is over as we know it.” Clearly, this is not a PR video from the NAB. However, it is completely true.

What Cramer says in this video is exactly what is going on.  Look, I’m not a financial whiz. I could tell you I know everything there is to know about “the street” but I would be lying through my teeth. I know I have a 401k and I know every time I’ve tried my hand at trading stocks I have wisely invested in companies that are no longer with us. I hope it wasn’t my fault. (I don’t need that kind of guilt.) But, I do know the truth when I hear it.

  1. When you decide that all that matters is great cash flow, and cash flow starts to go down, then you don’t have anything.
  2. Once XM and Sirius team up then there will be a uniform satellite service and will be in every car.
  3. Cars are what radio is about. (At least for the last 30 years)
  4. People who own radio talk a big game (Nothing wrong with that, gang. It’s show biz.)

And the big enchilada…

5.  Radio is finished, as we know it!

Yep it is…JUST LIKE IT ALWAYS IS! Radio…as we know,is always finished; just like any medium that reflects its audience. That’s just fine. Radio must continue to reinvent itself. That’s what makes radio great!

The trouble is, going back to the cash flow truth; there is no money to re-invent. If you only have people and marketing to cut back, then you have no one to re-invent and no way to tell anyone about it.  (So I guess from a logical standpoint, if you don’t have anything new to say then save the money on saying it.)

So the truth is, let radio…as we know it, be finished but look ahead to what it is now and where it will be next. It might be more difficult than it has ever been, but radio must look at ways to exist and differentiate itself in a world crowded with even more listener choice.

Many of those choices wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for radio. Perhaps radio can learn from the choices it helped to create.

To Blog or Not to Blog?

If you follow this blog regularly, and as you’ll find out
later in this post, regularly is a term I use loosely, you’ll note that it’s
been awhile since I’ve commented on anything.

Don’t get me wrong, as many of my closest friends know, I’m
never at a loss for “topics” that must be commented on (He says with just the
right amount of sarcasm.). It’s just that lately; I’ve been wrestling with what
topics are “worth” commenting or reporting on.

For example, I noticed that shortly after the conclusion of
the Podcasting and New Media Expo, known by it’s acronym as PNME, the
organizers decided to drop the “P” or podcasting from the name. Ok, now the
acronym for the New Media Expo is NME. NME…en-em-ee…enemy! Oops! I’m not sure
this is what needs to be communicated by “new media.” So I’m thinking a post
titled something like “When Acronyms Attack” could be good, but is it?

Another example…Recently the National Association of
(Yep, radio again) announced that it was launching the Radio 2020 initiative.
The idea is to focus on keeping radio relevant for years to come. I don’t think
the window is that wide, let’s go with Radio 2010. Clearing that hurtle is
tough enough. Nah…that topic just seems so…well…done. Besides, it’s too easy to
be cynical and that’s been way, way over done.

So, I’ve shied away from posting because I want to provide
content that is much more actionable as well as entertaining and not just
musings. I’ve found, with all of the information that pours down on us every
day it’s difficult enough to keep up without me adding to it. And yes, in
addition, I now know the meaning of “writer’s block”.

The problem is that if I want to fulfill the goal of
RemainComm, which is to keep communicating, I need to…well keep communicating. In
order to build relationships we all need to keep talking to each other. In my
case, one way I do that is through this blog. If I’m ever going to build a
relationship with you, I’m going to need to share more of me in the hopes of
you sharing more with me.

So, here’s the deal. I’ll keep striving to post real
actionable content but at the same time I’ll keep posting “regularly”. That may
mean shorter posts, posts that are a bit out of left field, or posts that are
insightful, thought provoking, and life changing (yeah…well…maybe). In the end
though, let’s keep talking…

Now about this whole Ellen crying on TV deal…

HD Radio…Yeah, but what do I get?

In the past year you’ve probably heard talk of HD Radio on one of your favorite radio stations. But, then again, judging by the amount of HD Radio receivers that have been sold…maybe not. More likely, you’ve heard about it and…well, it means nothing to you. Locally, I hear allot about HD on many of the Clear Channel radio stations. The commercials are very creative and I believe are very successful in conveying the message that HD stations exist, as they say, “between the stations” you are already use to. Originally, these commercials didn’t do a great job of explaining that, though your favorite station may broadcast in HD, you can’t hear HD without a special receiver. As of late, HD Radio has done a better job of addressing this.

The issue now, and I believe the reason HD Radio sales still haven’t taken off, is that none of these commercials, or the stations that carry them, have told you what the heck is on those “stations between the stations”. Imagine promoting the Harry Potter book with a campaign of “now with pages between the pages.” I’m not interested in a blank page…I’m interested in what’s on the page (Does Harry die? Does Hermione marry Ron? Does Voldemort?) just as most are interested in what’s on the HD station. It’s time to step up and talk content.

Hey radio, first, be sure to put something great on these stations. When I say “something great” I don’t mean the same stuff I can get on the current FM band. Making HD great is not taking the same library or two and putting the songs in a different order.

Second, and more importantly, and this is where radio continues to miss the mark, tell me what the h  heck it is. Tell me about the all jazz, the all blues, the all comedy, the all punk polks power ballad stations I can get. In fact, play a bit of it for me on your current station (OK, maybe no the punk polka.) Better yet, showcase it on your website. One of my favorite marketing axioms has always been, you can throw the best party known to the human race but if you don’t send out invitations…no one will come.

Look, I’m not a big HD fan. I still question the need to create an entire new delivery platform requiring the average listener to spend 150 bucks when the content is available elsewhere…for free (Web). I also still question the commitment to actually market HD by an industry that, for the most part, has abandoned marketing it’s own core product. But, if we all had a clearer understanding of what we’ll get for our investment in HD, there is a much better chance of success….don’t ya think?


Ravin’ to be Conclavin’

I should make it clear here that, I’m a "recovering" broadcaster! That means I love radio and enjoy working in the business. So, though I’m spending more and more time in marketing and new media, you’ll probably see lots of posts about radio. In the words of Popeye, "I yam what I yam!"  I enjoy the heck out of "doing" radio.

With that said this weekend I’ll be spending all my time at the annual Conclave Learning Conference being held on Minneapolis this weekend. This is a conference put on for broadcasters from around the country and it is one of the few gatherings where it’s not all schmoozing. There’s actual learning going on. Yes, it’s true, radio people getting together to learn how to communicate better, not only on the radio but through new media as well.

Anyway, for the past 3 months I’ve had the distinct pleasure of doing some project work with Tom Kay and the others at the Conclave office and on the Board of Directors as another great event has been put together. I should point out that I’ve been going to, working with, and presenting at the Conclave for years but, this is the first time I’ve  been part of th nuts and bolts

Over the course of the weekend I’ll do my best to post some pictures and comments here so check back if you want to see what’s happening with radio in the Land of 10,000 Lakes (Actually there’s many more but they can’t keep updating the license plates.)

A word of explanation…

How we communicate with each other personally and how business
communicates with it’s customers changes rapidly. New channels that provide
information sprout up daily, if not hourly. Sometimes we react with enthusiasm,
or disbelief, or fear. And sometimes we react with full on panic at the

In the words of Chip Diller, portrayed by a very young Kevin Bacon, in Animal House,
“Remain Calm! All is well.”

That is the premise of what this blog is all about. I get to be a calmer,
more rational, and, sorry to say, older Chip Diller. (And, definitely less of a
full on horse’s ass.) With years of experience in communication, marketing, and
talent development as a radio broadcaster I’m always fascinated by new ways of
communicating with our “audiences.” Whether that audience is your son or
daughter or your customer, I’ll do my best to address the good and bad of
everything from TV, to radio, cell phones, the internet, new media, and
In short, I’m a bit of a geek so it’ll be a lot of fun getting into some
of the new technology, dissecting new systems of marketing, and meeting some of
the real bright minds behind some of it. The bottom line for me though, is no
matter what we think of the way we do it we must, above all, “remain”

I hope you’ll join in….(Say, is that a pledge pin?)