What’s Next?

Radio is experiencing serious trauma and needs a complete transfusion if it is survive in the new world. We are suffering declining audiences brought on by the influx of new technology, changing lifestyles and boredom. Those in charge of the medium are responding with kneejerk reactions designed to keep losses (both in audience and dollars) to a minimum. Forget gains…it’s all about losing less than predicted. In today’s landscape, that’s a win.

 

How sad.

 

It wasn’t so long ago that owning radio stations was considered one of the most profitable investments around. I invested in three properties in the 90s and my return was four times the original. Today the larger companies are trying to “get small” and Wall Street doesn’t consider purchasing radio stations as a wise investment.

 

What to do?

 

I’m not sure the problem can be fixed. I’m not sure that radio as we know it is a thing of the distant past. The voice of doom? Hardly. More like the voice of reality. I’m not an old guy, yet I grew up in a time when AM radio dominated. FM wasn’t a factor. Music was the mantra and you heard it from your hometown AM station or from distant signals far away. When is the last time you listened to music on AM?

 

Is FM destined for the same fate?

 

Those special people who could save the world aren’t being called upon to do so. Large companies are being run by sales people. It never worked in the past and it isn’t working in the future. Sales people kill programming. It’s not intentional, it’s their nature. For the most part, they aren’t talented in anything except sales. The more they can sell, the bigger their paycheck. How can they make it bigger? Sell more spots. Kill off programming.

 

Idiots.

 

If you clutter up your station, the audience leaves and you have nothing to sell. In the past, when your audience left, they went to another station…or stations. To regain the loss, a smart programmer was hired, commercials were decreased, marketing and promotions were increased and the audience returned. Now, the audience has gone elsewhere…and they won’t return.

 

Is Jack Radio the programming solution to this problem.

 

Far from it.

 

The smart programmers, the ones who got into radio because of the excitement that surrounded it, were never excited. Those people are working for Microsoft. Or Apple. Or a thousand other computer companies that have developed a new generation of delivering music to the masses.

 

Most radio stations succeeded by delivering music to the consumer. That was the primary function…at least to the audience. More music, the best music, new music, old music…it was the music that mattered.

 

Music still matters to the audience, but the delivery system has a problem.

 

Figuring it out will take sharp programming minds. Look around. You can’t find them. The few that remain in radio are hamstrung by outdated parameters designed by sales oriented CEOs.

 

It’s sad.

 

It’s a reality.

 

The only hope is that when the bigger companies sell off their stations, they will be purchased by radio people…those who want their radio station to succeed because it’s their livelihood, not because it’s a good investment. The future of radio could lie in mom and pop operators…not the other way around. Maybe the savior of radio is to return to the days when everything mattered…not just the bottom line in the next quarter. Maybe the future of radio lies less with what Wall Street thinks and more with what the audience believes.

 

Maybe the secret is to go back…to the future.

Four More Years

Regardless of who you voted for, you have to admit that Bush’s election for another term has been good for the economy (so far) and good for America…so far. The stock market is going through the roof, the economy is taking off and all is well with the world. We’re killing more Moslems (and Americans) than ever before, we now own a whole town in Iraq after blowing it up, Arafat is dead (now we’ll find out if Israel is really serious about peace in the Middle East) and the nay sayers at the United Nations are cowed and quiet because they have to put up with “W” for four more years. What is Ben Laden is still making and sending out home videos? The fact is, the United States has been safe from terrorism since the 9/11 attacks and we’re starting to get cocky about it.

 

But enough about the global environment lets discuss the things that really matter. What will George’s “mandate” (he did get a majority, didn’t he…that’s a mandate, ain’t it…by the way, whut’s a mandate?) mean to the radio industry? The truth is, it’s nothing but good  news. Doub’ya is all about letting his rich buddies in broadcasting make more money with as little government interference as possible. I’m not so sure that Congress will allow the President to roll back the rules on consolidation, but it seems sure that corporate owners will be able to find ways to get what they want. Colin Powell’s kid will continue to head up the FCC…now without Democrats able to keep him jumping about his decisions. The Democrats on the Commission have already left the building. Will their replacements be as willing to jump into a fire that is fed by the liberal bodies that went before them? Doubtful.

 

And what about decency? (We’re not talking about the election. That went out when the campaigning began.) The indecency issue is dead in the water. As MusicBiz predicted when the tempest began to blow in the teapot, the furor created about standards of indecency was an election year issue. That fact was pretty much drummed home when Congress refused to ratify any standards until next year. Now, they’ll never get to it. With the FCC firmly in Mr. Powell’s nonaggressive hands, indecency will be pushed back to local standards. The radical groups who have pushed for standards of decency will be forced to take their arguments to courts…where it’s more expensive and where they have no chance.

 

Radio will slowly get back to the business of doing business…making money the old fashioned way…talking dirty. Clear Channel, Infinity and the others won’t allow $100 million to go out the window with seven dirty words. Don’t forget that the most indecent thing to these broadcasters is losing money.

 

Four more years of Doub’ya is just what Dr. Laura ordered. Envelopes will be pushed and cash registers will ring.

 

All is right on the radio dial…way right.

Part Of The Solution

In the past several commentaries, I’ve been particularly critical of radio personalities. Someone was kind enough to throw my words in my face and say, “You can be part of the problem or part of the solution. So far, you’ve defined the problem. Can you offer any help on a solution?” I hate it when my own words are used against me!

 

With that in mind, I found a memo written by a program director to his staff. This memo certainly offers solutions to those in radio who want to be better than a tune-out factor. And more than just the personalities, programmers should take notice. How many PDs have written a similar memo in the past nine months?

 

The memo is as follows:

 

There are a few things on my mind that we should all concentrate on:

 

(1)  Do not mention your name on music sweeps. The only time you mention your name is at the top or bottom of the hour and on backsells! (The only time this doesn’t hold true is between midnight and 5 AM when there are no stop sets to backsell your name.)

(2)  From now on, we’ll be on a first name basis only. The only time you’ll use your full name will be at the top and bottom of the hour. In backsells, use only your first name.

(3)  The top and bottom of the hour ID’s are to be sold as they are…if you embellish them, it better be fantastic. Always give the hour and half-hour exactly. It’s 8:30…never 8:29 or 8:31.

(4)  You are not to mention song titles, your name or the time in one-liner positions. Sell the liner and go directly into the spots.

(5)  The liners are important. Unless you come up with a super way to sell the liner, use the same words that are written on the liner cards.

(6)  The liners are on your clocks for a reason. Don’t move them around. If they are listed at :18, they go at :18.

(7)  Keep everyone out of the control room while you’re on the air. This means engineers, newsmen, request people and other jocks. If you’re not on the air, keep out of the control room!

(8)  Be inside the radio station a minimum of one hour before you go on the air. Use the time to prepare your show.

(9)  Never make any comments like, “…that’s what it says to do” or “I just read these, folks,” when selling liners about the station. Be positive. Or be negative working somewhere else.

(10)                   Don’t billboard an upcoming song before a set before the weather or PSA. Just roll into the song. If you really feel strongly about the song and you feel you should say something about it, do your rap going into the spots…and never mention the title or the artist.

(11)                   One thought per set is a must!

(12)                   Except for the morning show, you should never be talking without music under. Say what you’ve got to say as the song fades. When it’s out, you should be out also.

(13)                   Some of you are pulling the music out too low when you begin the backsell. Keep the music up and under.

 

Now, the most important aspect of KHJ is your thought process behind what you’re saying. Most listeners can’t tell you what the jock said, but they can tell you how they feel about what they’re hearing. When you open that mic, have a positive thought pattern going! Don’t say the words, believe them! Concentrate so hard on positive motivation behind your words that your listeners will have to feel it. You can communicate without words. You can communicate feelings and that’s what we’re after. Your positive motivation should be on how you feel and you should communicate this to your audience: yourself, the music, and most important…K-H-J!

 

I can’t take credit for these words. This memo was written by Gerry Peterson, PD of KHJ

Clueless

There was a time when being a dee jay was one of the coolest things you could be. My early years were defined by a meeting with WNOE New Orleans dee jay Jim Stewart. When he walked into a dance party appearance wearing a washed out blonde with big boobs, he typified cool. All I wanted to be was a radio star.

 

Today, the term “washed out” is more apt to be used as a description of jocks themselves.

 

Next to commercials and music repetition, dee jays are the number one tune out for radio listeners. And is it any wonder? With a few notable morning exceptions, when is the last time you learned anything of value from a dee jay?

 

Radio listeners once listened to their favorite dee jays to get the latest music and artist information, as well as local notes of interest. Now, the brightest thing heard from the mic is, “Now that you’ve won those tickets, darlin’, tell us what your favorite radio station is…”

 

Pathetic.

 

When I was programming, I required every dee jay to read certain material before their air shift. The daily newspaper was a must, plus music and teen magazines that were marked for importance by others. The public affairs department also compiled a daily information sheet of required reading. Every jock was required to work this information into that day’s shift. I mention this not to pat myself on the back for requiring an air staff to be up to date, but as a comparison. Today, there is much more important daily information available, yet I don’t hear jocks using any of it. Where we had to search for pertinent information, it’s now a click away on the Internet, yet it could be as far away as Mars to most.

 

If the music is the same, what makes you different? It is what you can add between the music that will make you stand out from the crowd. But instead of seeking the spotlight, most dee jays seem to shrink from it.

 

Of course, it isn’t all the dee jays fault. Most programmers put a premium on silence. But I don’t know one programmer would wouldn’t allow more room for a dee jay to speak if the information was something that could be deemed a positive.

 

What do programmers require of air personalities today? What are they challenged to do on a daily basis? How are they stimulated to stimulate the audience?

 

Radio is losing audience almost daily because there are no surprises…no reasons to listen. Unfortunately, part of the problem is unexciting, unprepared air personalities. There was a time when the audience listened to what the dee jay had to say. Because it was important. Because it was informative. Because it was cool.

 

Today, it’s mostly clutter.

 

Too bad.

Time For A Change

One of the greatest artists of all time, Sam Cook, sang, “It’s been a long time comin’, but a change is gonna come.” For radio programmers, that song should be in power rotation.

 

Unfortunately for the future of our business, most programmers are so out of touch with their audience, that this commentary…and the reality that is behind it…is incomprehensible to them. Programmers spend little time with their audience…most none at all. Few spend time listening to music. The two elements that are most important to the wellbeing of any radio station…the audience and the music…are the two elements most often missing in the life and times of the modern day programmer.

 

Sad.

 

And stupid.

 

Today’s programmers are too busy meeting with the sales people, clients or involved in corporate planning sessions. They’re losing touch…and losing audience…at rates equal to each other.

 

Here’s a question aimed at today’s programmer. Do you have an iPod? If you don’t, get one today. Find out how to use it. More importantly, find out how your audience uses it. When you do that, find a dark closet to hide in while you shake and cry.

 

I’m certainly not anywhere close to the target demo for most programmers. (Of course, take a lot at most programmers and they aren’t either.) But because of the business I’m in and the lifestyle I lead, I’m probably closer in tune with the prime demographic than most of my age and experience.

 

Young people today are hooked on instant communication (cell phones, computers and two-ways) and downloading music. The iPod…and other products like it…are the future of music…and the future is now. As the cost comes down, more and more people are going to be using mobile devices to scratch their musical itch. And radio will suffer for it.

 

Radio programmers are still suffering under delusions. Most believe that if they keep doing what they’ve been doing, everything will be okay. Define okay. If eroding audiences and lack of relevancy are the definition of okay, you’re on the right track.

 

Give me a break.

 

Today’s music junkies get their fix from satellite delivery and downloadable music. I have over 5,400 songs on my computer, all downloaded legally from purchased CDs or from the Apple Music Store. My iPod handshakes with my home computer system and my car audio system. I can create my own play list with no commercials. Why would I, or anyone else, want to listen to radio?

 

Radio stations play “safe” music. Most programmers still cling to the notion that overplaying songs is the key to success. What’s the joke? Today’s radio stations play little part in the lives of today’s audience because it is irrelevant to their musical tastes. Stations that play the same songs over and over again are irrelevant. If I want to hear that, I can program it myself…with just my favorites over and over again…without interruptions.

 

What’s the answer? One is a change in the way stations are programmed. PDs have to change their thought process and aim their stations toward the needs of their audience. Today’s radio stations must be on the cutting edge of exposing new product. Today’s radio stations must lead the way in helping the audience find new music and the new stars of today…and tomorrow. Personalities must become relevant. Forget about being cool. First of all…they aren’t. Personalities should be held responsible for their content. Each should be charged with finding facts about new and developing artists so they can share that information with the audience. If radio can help the audience find the new music they’re waiting to download, then radio become relevant again.

 

The same lame jocks trying to be hip and another 10-in-a-row promo won’t get it done.

 

The audience has changed…and is changing even as you read this. It’s time for radio to make those changes or become increasingly more irrelevant.

 

“It’s been a long time comin’, but a change is gonna come.” In radio’s case, a change “had” to come.

Fuck It

The Federal Communications Commission has made what could become a historic ruling. By not fining the stations or networks that aired Bono’s use of the word, “fuck,” on national TV, the FCC has allowed tacit use of the word on future broadcasts by radio and television. The FCC ruling, which you can see at www.musicbiz.com , allows the use of the word, “fuck,” under most circumstances, except as a description of sexual intercourse.

 

Fucking Hysterical.

 

The FCC, in their infinite wisdom, has allowed the use of a word for anything except what is its definition.

 

So, I guess one can say, “Fuck you, man,” “Fuck, it’s hot,” “I’m gonna fuck you up,” with impunity. But if you say, “Would you like to fuck?” You’re fuckedwhich, by the way, you can say.

 

I wonder if this includes the rest of the “seven words you can’t say on television” as made famous years ago by comedian George Carlin. Those would be, “shit,” “piss,” “cunt,” “cocksucker,” “motherfucker,” “tits” and, of course, “fuck.”

 

You could get away with, “Shit, man, that’s a bitch.” Or, “I don’t give a shit.” However, if you were to say, “That smells like shit,” you would be in deep shit with the FCC. The same would hold true for “piss.”

 

According to the FCC ruling, you may use the word, but not for what it means.

 

That pretty much lets out the rest of those words. I don’t know of other uses for those words other than as specific descriptions. They mean what they say. “Cunt,” “tits,” “motherfucker” and “cocksucker” are pretty specific to their definitions.

 

It will take more time to figure out the context to use any of the words than to just use them. I liked it better when they were banned. There was no ambiguity.

 

Now? I’d rather just say, “Fuck it.”

Another Opening, Another Show

May 6, 2003

 

 

The first few days of MusicBiz are now under out belt and we’re excited. How different from most in the music industry.

 

Those of us working with the P/C Alliance have such a wonderful canvas on which to write the next phase of our professional lives. Our offices are located in the post production facility owned by our partners Mike Post, Steven Bochco, Steven Cannell and Dick Wolfe. We get to watch episodes of “NYPD Blue”, “Dragnet”, “The Practice” and more as they’re put together. Watch closely and you’ll see us in the background on the different episodes. We’ve had lots of practice going to showcases, so we naturally look good in a crowd! We even got to see all the parts of “Charlie’s Angels II” that didn’t make it on the final reel.

 

Most of all, we are involved in a part of the entertainment industry where a premium is on talent. Movies and television are hard work. The hours are long. But the faces on every member of the production and executive unit are full of confidence and excitement.

 

This business is still fun!

 

Economic concerns plague all of us. However, instead of long faces and tales of doom and gloom, I hear producers and production managers arguing for more money…demanding extra time to get it right…insisting on a larger budget to make it worthwhile in the end.

 

An unfortunate trend has encompassed the radio and music industries. The talented people in our business are drinking the Kool Aid and seem to be enjoying the taste. Program directors and promotion executives used to fight tooth-and-nail for every dollar, then spend more anyhow. We used to find innovative, creative ways to accomplish our goals in spite of the dire consequences threatened by the “suits.”

 

We’ve become the people we once despised. I understand the complications of today’s business…we’re starting a new company in bleak economic times. I understand that we all most be conscience of the realities of the economy within our own companies and divisions. But I don’t understand how we’ve become part of that debilitating, depressing group. Instead of fighting for our right to party, why are we putting on the long “accountant” faces and speaking of P&L like it was the Holy Grail.

 

Spare me.

 

I didn’t study accounting…didn’t want to be one. It’s important, but it’s boring. I believe in music. It’s necessary and extraordinarily joyful.

 

I believe involvement in music should be invigorating…exciting… exuberant…and most of all, I believe it should be fun. I want to find ways to succeed, I don’t want to look for ways not to fail.

 

So spare me the long faces. Save your new cost cutting measures for the head of finance. Tell me about your favorite new song.

 

Let me tell you about mine. I just heard a recording of a James Taylor cut he’s done for a charity album. It’s a remake of “I Can’t Help It (I’m Still In Love With You).” Find it. Listen to it.

 

It’ll put a huge smile on your face.

 

Then call me and I’ll tell you about this fantastic new idea I have…

The Network™

I was driving home late last night, talking on the cell phone to a redneck friend of mine when I looked up and saw a blinding light in the sky. I was completely freaked out. It isn’t often we Los Angelenos can even see the sky, much less see something in it. After I tipped the Jeep up on two wheels, took out a stand of mailboxes and stalled out in the ditch, I realized I was looking at the moon.

Imagine that. Me. A hopeless romantic fooled by the moonlight.

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The Next Step

To quote my good friend Jerry Garcia, who lives on despite not being with us (was he ever really?), "What a long strange trip it’s been." A decade ago, I first walked through the doors of the Network Magazine Group. My career before then had been made up of a series of programming and managing jobs at radio stations as apart geographically and formatically as KFRC San Francisco and WAPP New York. Who knew the job of running Network 40 would turn out to be one of the most stable in the radio and record industries?

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Bye Bye

A long, long time ago…
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.

But february made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn’t take one more step.

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.

It was a subtle change, begun years ago, probably innocently. Some Sr. VP Promotion hired a local promotion manager who gave a great interview, had the drive and the proper work ethic and looked the part. Only one thing was missing. This LPM wasn’t passionate about music. No big deal though, right? One LPM who wasn’t passionate about music made no difference in the big picture. However, this LPM probably worked his way up to a position of prominence and began hiring other LPMs. The last thing this person looked for in a prospective employee was passion for music. He had none and it hadn’t held him back. Why was it needed in others?

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