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.

The (Ringtone) Hits From Coast to Coast

You know I post about radio on Thursdays (trust me it’s
still Thursday as I write.) and I have to share a great concept and program
with you.

I had lunch with Dave Ryan, the morning guy from KDWB in Minneapolis. Over the
past few years Dave has been kind enough to drag himself away form his family
and adoring fans and sit down to lunch with me. It’s always a great time.


This week, over Mexican food, Dave, with salsa breath, told
me of his latest endeavor; The Ringtone Countdown. After a bit of bad humor
like, “What, that’s like a five minute show? How long is the average ringtone?”
and “I don’t think I could listen to an hour of Crazy Frog.” Dave gave me the

Each week he and his producers put together the top ten full
songs that are the basis for the most popular ring tones of the week. (Phew!)
Put away the Casio keyboard and check out a sample here.

The ten songs are compiled by Dave and staff by tracking ringtone
purchases from many different sources and providers and not just Billboard’s
chart. This eliminates the need to hear The Pink Panther theme every week. (For
the love of…who keeps downloading this thing? Henry Mancini’s granddaughter?) In
addition, Dave tells me they add plenty of entertainment news, “Top Picks”, interviews and extras to round out the show.

Yeah, Dave’s a friend and this may seem like a shameless plug but, This is a great idea! Hooray, content! Kudos to Dave and his distributor,
Nineball Radio, for serving up something that is tapping into a young audience’s
subculture. The show debuted on January 5th and is currently airing
in Minneapolis, on Dave’s home station KDWB, Orlando, Hartford, Davenport, and Palm Springs. They’re also about to debut in Tucson, Colorado Springs,
and Duluth.

This thing is so new there isn’t a full on website yet but
watch for it soon. I suggested they do a 5 minute podcast version. Hey Dave,
how about a Dave Ryan ring tone? Okay, that might be scarier than Crazy Frog.

Now here’s a peek at this week’s Top Ten…

10  Apologize-OneRepublic 
9  Paralyzer-Finger Eleven
8  Sensual
Seduction-Snoop Dogg
7  Sweetest
Girl-Wyclef Jean
6  Take
You There-Sean Kingston
5  No
One-Alica Keyes
4  Suffocate-J. Holiday
3  Clumsy-Fergie
2  With You-Chris
1  Low-Flo

…now Susie
wants to dedicate the Super Mario Brothers theme to her boy friend who won’t tear himself away from his XBox and get a job…well Susie, here’s your long
distance dedication…
Koji Kondo. (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.)


It’s Thursday, Must Be Radio: HD Opportunity Knocking…Who Will Answer?

“HD Radio’s Prospects May Improve”-Wall Street Journal
“Hands-On: Radio for the deaf”-PC Magazine

With CES in full swing, the radio trade press is buzzing that HD radio is one of the shows “stars.” Of course, we have to chalk a lot up to the HD Radio Alliance and its PR efforts. But the fact is there are some headlines…this time relatively positive ones.

“Checking Up on HD Radio”-Washington Post
“Ford to Make HD Digital Radio Available Across Nearly All Product Lines”-Motortrend
“HD Radio rolls out iTunes tagging”-Engadget

Readers of RemainComm know that I’m not a big believer in HD. Not that more reasons to turn on the radio is a bad thing. My problem has always been how radio chooses to prioritize its issues and then doing a poor job of committing to them.

The fact is that right now, right this very minute; there are actual headlines about HD. Who will jump on this opportunity to tell the consumer…finally…what they can get on HD? Not what it is, not who’s behind it, and not just on the radio in free spots. After two years of hearing the commercials for HD in my own city (Minneapolis/St. Paul) I have yet to hear what I can actually find if I were even tempted to purchase an HD radio. Oh, I can hear all sorts of pitches that I need HD radio and even some explanation, though not much, about what it is. But no one is telling me that there is a blues channel, a comedy channel, a jazz channel, etc. (I only know that because I was at CBS when we launched our HD channels.)

The only headline above that actually addresses content is the one about Radio for the deaf. Let’s be clear; this is a great use of the digital technology to make radio accessible to all. But, I’d hate to think that radio companies around the country are budgeting additional dollars to their engineering departments to install and maintain new transmitters only to put something on that can’t be heard.

Yep, getting the technology out there is important. Getting content that is compelling enough to get someone to invest in that technology is vital.

What do you know? Content is once again the most important thing about radio.

It’s Thursday, Must Be Radio: Avoiding the “Jockless” Itch

So as I trekked across the middle of the country on what I
call the “Midwest Swing” (MN, IA, MO, KS, NE) for the holidays, we passed
through Omaha. I
had been alerted by my friend and former mid-day announcer, Shari Stone, that the
Adult Contemporary station we had signed on some 5 years back, Literock 101.9,
KLTQ, had just changed format. Back then the station debuted big, dispatching
the long-time market leading AC to its own format change a few years later. Lite
(as it had become known) had suffered ratings declines in recent years due to
many reasons, not the least of which was a lack of commitment to marketing.


When I tuned in 101.9 on this trip to listen to the new
station, 101-9, the Big “O”, I can tell you I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad. I
had built Literock, my first AC, from the ground up and had a chance to work with
some great people doing it. What has replaced it is another “hybrid” Rock/AC (think
Ben, Jack, etc.) with a pop rock lean…ho-hum.

Whether this station will be successful is not the issue
here. What is the issue and what really grinds my gears, chaps
my hide, (insert cliché here), is that it is running “jockless”. This is the
tactic that  many “new” formats use to, as us programmers like to say, “establish
a music position.” Play nothing but music for months (in this case, I’ve been
told 3-6 of ‘em) then…maybe…add personalities. Of course, it’s also a hell of
lot cheaper to not pay personalities.


Okay, gang it’s time to stop this. The days of building a
lasting radio station on the foundation of being a jukebox are, or should, be
behind us. In the case of the Big “O”, or hybrids like it, which is playing
music that can be found in many places on the dial in Omaha, there is no music position. (Please,
for the love of God, don’t use the word “variety”.)


For years everyone from PD’s, and consultants to owners, VP’s
and researchers have been saying that compelling content and local appeal is
what will keep radio relevant. It’s time to listen. Further, if you want to
reach anyone under the age of 30 for longer than a month, non-stop music is not
nearly compelling enough, period.

If the plan is to introduce “jocks” after that 3-6 months,
good luck. You’ve just spent the last 90 to 180 days building the expectation in
the audience, one I contest is continually shrinking, that you are all music. Imagine
how thrilled they will be when all of sudden there are people talking…no matter
how much.

It’s time to start launching new formats (emphasis on new) with
a full staff intact. The benefits far outweigh the negatives. Just think; right
out of the gate, real people to be fans of the station, talk about the great music,
entertain, meet and talk to the audience. Yep, living breathing humans to build
relationships with the audience, and serve the clients (and earn their money). Most
importantly, real personalities will build the audience’s expectations that the
station is relevant and will be part of their lives for years to come…right from
the start! It will cost a few shekels more but will pay off in the
long run.

Oh yeah, radio should think in terms of the “long run” more.

It’s Thursday, Must Be Radio: My week with Nabbit

Today you’ll find both radio (see why I talk radio each Thursday here.) and a new mobile application to go with it. A new media blogger’s double-play, sweet!

Back in early November Jumptech launched its beta version of Nabbit. This mobile application allows you to “tag” songs and commercials while listening to your favorite radio stations. I’m all about finding ways to build on the relationship between radio stations and their listeners so I was anxious to get up and running with this, especially since Jumptech is a company located right here in the Twin Cities. Hey, let’s here it for the home team. (Wow, two baseball references in one post.)

So, I head to the Nabbit website and sign up. Please keep in mind, though I do have pretty good knowledge of computers and cell phones I would not consider myself much better at installing software than the average user. Anyway, now that I’m registered, I go to set up my cell phone. Nabbit works with many of the new web-enabled “smart” phones. They have a list of models that the application has been configured to work with that provides an easy install…at least that would be the impression you would get. Of course, just my luck, my Treo 650 is not “easily” supported. Here is where the first “needs an easy button.” warning goes off. That’s cool though, remember, this is a “beta” version so the Jumptech guys are still shaking it out. After some surfing, downloading, installing and a few more e-mails to Nabbit, I’m up and running. This has become a 2 day experience. “Easy button.”

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It’s Thursday, Must Be Radio: Lunch with Harve

This is Thursday, a day that holds a special place in
any radio guy’s heart. You see, this is the day that the Arbitron ratings diaries
kicked in. For those people that have committed to keeping a diary (and earning
a dollar doing it), this is the day the survey week begins. This day and its
importance to radio and the way it’s programmed have always been debated. But
most still consider this a very important day when it comes to ratings. For
that reason, I will spend my Thursdays posting about radio. (Sorry, no money

Today I had the chance to enjoy lunch with one of radio’s most
respected programmers. Harve Alan whose career has included many high profile programming
positions in multiple markets, as well as VP positions for many successful
companies, is highly regarded not only by me but the industry as a whole. ( I
have even more regard for him because he picked up the tab!)

Harve recently parted company with Next Media after a brief
stint as the VP of Programming. He is now officially hanging out the shingle as
a Broadcast Consultant. I’ve always enjoyed talking with Harve and he has never
been at a loss for opinions. You can check out his blog at Harve Alan Media
when you get a chance.

We talked about everything from HD to the overall health of
radio as we know it. We both agreed that 2008 promises to be an interesting

Harve’s challenge to radio? Develop great entertaining content!
I know, we’ve heard it before. However, as of late “great entertaining content”
has translated into, “Shut up and play the music.” That’s a recipe for
disaster. Harve’s thought, and I’m paraphrasing, “Three will always be a place
for the “lite” music stations of the world (those that play “lite rock and less
talk”) because that’s what the “older” audience is looking for. For the younger
audience, they want great personality.” That doesn’t mean more talk. That means
personality even on music stations. I would agree. Those in radio that think
that we will be able to compete for the ears of those under 50 with nothing but
music will witness steadily falling numbers and dollars.

Another part of our discussion centered on hyper-targeting ourselves
to death. Look, radio has formats targeted to specific demographics. That’s
what needs to be done because you can’t please everyone. At the same time, part
of your branding can’t result in excluding other secondary audiences. Harve and I talked about a station we both are familiar with that is so exclusive
to “conservative” listeners it drives away anyone that even looks moderate, let
alone liberal. His point…be a talk station that appeals to conservatives, not a
conservative talk station.

I was also anxious to find out what will make his new
consultancy different from the others out there. His
response, he’s not afraid of new thinking. I think the phrase was “fresh ideas mixed with calculated risk
taking, aggressive interpretation, and implementation of sound strategies”. In
a nutshell, take a few chances while executing the strategies that work. I hope
it happens. There are not a lot of chances being taken in radio these days. Unless,
of course, you count staying low enough to get through the next quarter without
losing your job.

Monetizing radio….with commercials.

I found myself in a discussion the other day about radio advertising. In fact, as much time as I’ve spent talking about
monetizing new media, there is still plenty of opportunity to reach consumers,
a lot of them, with great radio…including the commercials.

In my recent discussion I found myself revisiting a lot of the same topics I have addressed
to my staffs of every station or company at which I’ve worked as a broadcaster.
In fact, the following comes directly from memos to those staffs.

Please note: This doesn’t have to be just
for my radio buddies. It can be applied to any commercial production whether it
is new or traditional media.

Radio must make every minute of an hour great. That includes the minutes in commercials.
Don’t think of it as sales gets 12 minutes of commercials and programming gets
48 minutes of music. Consider it as the listener gets a full hour. It
might be worth considering that the reason listeners tune out during
commercials is that they have been trained to do so because, frankly, the spots
are just plain bad.

What will keep listeners listening? Great radio. That means entertaining and informative
content…during music and commercials. For those that sell commercial advertising, the great thing about producing great commercials is the less talked about benefit of getting results for the clients. That means they come back and spend more money. This is a good thing.

Here are some things to remember:

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My Own Little Communications Perfect Storm…

I experienced something I found surprising, and though the
impact was only one of inconvenience for me (many associated with the events
impacting this communications breakdown lost lives or were severely injured) it
pointed out that it’s incredibly easy to take our communication technology for
granted, especially in the face of unfolding tragedy.

During the course of the day, my home phone service went on
the fritz. No sweat, I picked up the cell phone and called to schedule a
service call. After scheduling a service call, I got a call on the cell from my
friend Steve telling me to turn on the TV because the I35W bridge spanning the Mississippi in downtown Minneapolis had collapsed. (I should point out
that I live in a suburb just south of the Twin Cities.) As I tuned into local
TV and checked the radio, my son came through the door to say he had been
calling my cell and was not getting an answer. Turns out the call from Steve
would be my last for awhile. Because of the increased cell traffic due to the
bridge collapse, the system was just plain overloaded. By the way, as a little
icing on the bridge crisis and its related rescue, a large storm complete with lightning
was closing in on Minneapolis.

Wow, totally cut off from talking….but, thanks to my handy
internet, not from seeing, hearing, and writing. A few short months ago I would
have been far too busy to watch what was going on because I would have been
making sure my radio stations were providing the needed information to our listeners.
Now, I’m just another person trying to find information about my town.

Some quick observations…many of the local news stations
offered streaming video online and most were struggling to keep up with the
demand and updating their sites and broadcasts at the same time. Overall the
coverage was very good on air and on line. I was able to watch, listen and blog
all at the same time. I’ve also noted that some really don’t make good “spokespeople”,
looking more freaked than calm and in control, some news anchors really work
hard at stretching for the sensational. (I don’t think we need to start worrying
about every bridge in Minnesota because this one fell.  Also, my Google
PDA page on my cell (seems the data is still flowing) showed the first post reported
from an Australian newspaper(?). Kinda weird to see a story dated the next day
that I’m watching unfold. How global can you get?


Here’s a question, I still look to the local broadcast media
first for info. Do those folks younger than me do the same? (Those crazy kids
and that internet deal.)

Radio and Today’s New Technology

I know, I know…he’s blogging about radio again. “Just when I think I’m out…” but today’s post in RAIN: Radio and Internet Newsletter from Kurt Hanson about “Hints in iPhone Firmware..” got me thinking back to a comment I made to a post by another blogger some time ago. It seemed relevant in light what iPhoneology  had to say so I thought I’d repost it here (with some updates).

Clearly, streaming represents a pivotal point for radio.
More and more of the business model relies on the internet and its related technology each day. The
improvement of radio streaming capabilities is imperative. It only makes sense…if
you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I caution, and think about this; your streaming station will
join the multitude of “online stations”, stores and sites offering
entertainment. Not to mention the hundreds of other
broadcast stations that stream. Sheesh! And you thought competing with the
other sticks in town was a bitch?

Here’s a thought; beat ‘em and join ‘em?

While broadcast radio continues to find and improve those relatively new
ways to deliver product (streaming, etc.) it should also remember to make
the current delivery outlet (a receiver) more appealing. It’s scary to think
that, based on recent research, consumers feel that radio isn’t portable. Yikes, that was once one of it’s
strongest selling points. Remember ads for “portable” radios.

We can talk about the content of
radio for Days? Weeks? Months? Please, I’m aging as we speak. For purposes
of this piece let’s approach this simply from the hardware side. Sadly, much of
the blame lies with us as an industry. As technology has moved forward allowing
for once unimaginable devices for providing entertainment to be introduced, the
way we have integrated radio with those devices has stalled. When the
“Walkman” appeared in the US in 1980 it was only a matter of
what seemed like seconds that those “cassette players” had AM/FM

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Pandora is HOT!

I had a chance to spend a rather warm evening with Pandora
founder Tim Westergren and it was well worth the pounds shed to the 90+ heat
and 70% humidity. Nuggets you’ll discover here include Pandora’s fun facts,
some of the new features in the works, Tim’s take on the progress of the
Internet Equality Act, and his desire to beat, or maybe even join, Clear
Channel for the lion’s share of the world’s ears.

First, the scene was one of
Pandora’s “meet-ups” at the Cedar Cultural Center
in the ‘seven corners” neighborhood of Minneapolis Tim continues to stage
these gatherings around the country despite Pandora’s incredible growth as a New Media “playa”. I and about 80 other Pandora fans showed
up to learn about, and offer suggestions to, the online “radio” site. In fact,
the invite went out to all the Pandora listeners in the zip codes around the
Twin Cities. Imagine the “ambience” in a non-air conditioned black box music
venue, during a text book global warming night in Minnesota, filled with sweaty “early
adopters”. The word “funky” comes to mind (and I don’t mean in a George
Clinton, P-Funk All-stars kinda way). But, I was giddy to meet the man who had
introduced the best site for people who, like me, want to take advantage
of all the great music on the web but don’t want to spend their days sitting
around a computer in their underwear searching for it. I guess he is one of my
heroes so yes, it was time very well spent.

If you want to know more about Pandora and the
Music Genome project check it out here. You will dig it and if you sign up,
according to Tim, you will join the already 8,000,000 who have done so since its launch
November of 2005. Other fun facts gleaned from the evening, according to Mr.
Westergren: Pandora is enlisting about 15,000 new users a day and about 50% of them become “habitual” users. The average time spent per session is
3+ hours. There are over half a million songs in Pandora’s library with 95% of them
actually playing on someone’s computer each day. Of those songs, 54% of them are
from unsigned bands. If you’re familiar with the feedback feature at Pandora,
they have over one billion pieces of “thumb” data on the music stored on their
servers. Finally, just to give you an idea of the immense amount of data coming
out of Pandora,

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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?