What Upsets You About Radio These Days?
November 12, 2013
One of my favorite things to do is to observe others who are good at what they do. When growing up, I would purposely put myself in situations to interact with someone whose skill I was interested in. I confess to inviting guys over to play ball so as to study them and learn a certain basketball move or how to throw a better curve. At the library I would accidentally/on purpose run into a girl from school in my history class who seemed to know everything.
Throughout my life it's a habit that has always worked for me; it's why social media has become my playground for ideas and opinions from others. On social media I asked the question, "What Upsets You About Radio These Days?" and it produced some predictable answers, but also some unexpected insight.
There were so many good comments and I picked a few to share with you. Unfortunately, I could not include all of them. My question seems s to have allowed people to express their deep-seated feelings towards the radio business. There are still a lot of positives about our business and in the near future I will ask, "What's Good About Radio?" and share those results with you, too. But, read on to find out what in radio is upsetting people.
Joel Witkowski offered the following:
I'm sick of being handed a pile of lemons and being told to make lemonade. Don't get me wrong, I can make some tasty lemonade ... It just seems like a lot of owners CANNOT BE CONVINCED to spend some money up front to do something properly. Everyone wants everything done on the cheap. So you spend a lot of time working on 20-year-old transmitters and 10-year-old automation computers.
Owner: Good News! We're getting a new transmitter!
Engineer: Awesome! A brand new solid state BE beauty no doubt?
Owner: No, it's a 1970s model McMartin; it needs some work. It's from the station across town, can you get your brother-in-law's flatbed trailer and forklift?
Engineer: Okay, maybe it can be a backup to our current transmitter. It would be nice to have a backup transmitter. Can I get some money for an RF switch?
Owner: No money for that, just get on the ladder and break apart the coax as needed.
Engineer: You said there was good news?
Owner: Oh, there is! Some new computers for the automation, no more Windows 2000 for US!
Engineer: So what kind of computers are these?
Owner: You can take the ones from the sales and office staff; we're leasing some new ones.
Engineer: The form factor is all wrong; our sound cards won't even fit in those computers!
Owner: Figure it out.
Engineer: Please explain to me again why I should not quit and sell drugs.
Owner: It's illegal
Ran James had this to say:
LOL! You forgot something, though: You mean there are actual full-time engineers on-site? Anymore, it's contract engineers, who worked on tubes and have a wrench, a can of WD 40 and some duct tape. No offense, but to even have a full-time engineer is considered a "luxury".
Hey, maybe we are just getting too old and don't "understand" how management works and profit motive drives. But I managed a five-station radio group with an seven-to-eight-person marketing team in the early '90s and we were very local, very tight and very profitable, then the station group became attractive to a national bunch who came in and wanted it run with the normal "push 'em, high turnover" method, I left; salespeople who knew all the local contacts and took care of business properly left, then clients left and in six months at less than half the revenues we had, the national CO lost their ...... and moved on to do it to another small town group. Sad when it could have continued to be good for all. But the experience taught me that "treat salespersons right and clients right, make clients happy with RESULTS from your marketing team who actually knows marketing and operates with integrity" is definitely the right way to manage. Maybe it will catch on before radio goes totally Sirius, but maybe not and at any rate, I have moved on to what is fun -- and the management is just me. :). Hang in there and start your own consulting business.
What we are all saying is one thing -- the clash Between Sales and Programming. The bean counters are saying cut staff and costs and farm it out to voicetrackers who are cheaper than having actual people in the radio station. Listener calls in to talk to the announcer -- phone goes to voicemail?!?!? Kati is right; set your rates and your inventory. Inventory is eight commercials an hour ... hmmm four two-minute stop sets an hour ... at a rate of ... which means three LIVE on-air shifts .. .= Ratings = $$$ ... My actual biggest complaint with radio today ... lack of training and intelligence. How can a salesperson really sell a product that is delivered badly?
Music aside and yes, some formats are harder to sell than others, but if the deliverance by the announcer is not good it is not sellable. The announcer must be relatable to the listener. Talk to the listener not at them. But because we have cut all costs to the quick with voicetracking and no announcers overnight, and announcers in the evening we can pick up a national show far cheaper ... there is no training ground to groom good announcers anymore ... I use to remember when it was, "Okay, I want to work in a major market, I really should have eight to 12 years' experience and have done my first morning show with five years' experience." Now I see ads for jobs in major markets asking for three years on-air experience REALLY!!! Three years...
When a radio station is reduced to a box in the equipment rack ... you got problems. Sure, there are a few entertaining syndicated programs out there. That's good. Not live and local ... but good. Also, I believe live and local is overrated when it doesn't sound interesting or entertaining. Very few attempt live and local because of the expense of actual human beings who require remuneration and benefits. Those who do attempt it lose my interest very quickly because they simply aren't very good at it ... no rhythm, no timing, poor content choices.
From the sales side of radio, we must be effective in managing our people. We cannot reward them by simply providing a chair at a cubicle and a bi-monthly paycheck. A laser focus on individual wins is far more important than the 10,000-foot view of activity.
We, as talent, want to give you an extraordinary product for the sales team to sell. I have been told I should just go out and sell my own show. If every talent did that, you wouldn't need an 'extra' sales staff. However, more and more talent are doing just that. Maybe I am wrong. Sales people don't need talent on the radio; they only need the same repetitive 30 songs to get McDonalds to buy. The psychology is that radio IS still here for the community when obviously we don't do traffic unless the station is being paid; most stations don't do weather unless it sponsored. The station corporate consistently gets paid for how efficiently a talent can deliver. I was recently told they want to lower the talent fee although the client was being charged the same. It wasn't because they wanted to give a better deal to the client. Do you think so? (In 10 years, there has never been a commercial from a sales member that I haven't had to rewrite.) Do you know how much large corporations pay for copywriters -- and DJs do it every day for no more compensation. Okay, guys, this was fun! I'm done with this conversation. I just would like to do what I do best and get paid a fair compensation with all the benefits and perks as any sales team member. :) RADIO is FUN but it takes great players to make it feel that way to a fan, viewer or listener.
There is a phrase in the acting business that saves television casts from being separated due to selfishness and ego. It's called Favored Nations, where when the cast sticks together, the show lasts longer, everyone makes more money over the long run. If one person gets the ego and starts making deals behind the cast's back. 'the show' usually crumbles
This is what I disparagingly refer to as for "Four 'Cs Syndrome" - Corporatization ... Consultants ..."Cookie Cutter."
In almost every article I've ever come across in mainstream publications (newspapers and magazines), the universal complaint/criticism is "radio has lost its soul." I commented on a past post that once upon a time in America, even the smallest stations in the smallest, unranked markets, had an "identity" (sound and style) that was unique both unto itself and the market it served. Even in medium/large/major markets, where more than one station had the same format, they all went out of their way to differentiate themselves. Not to mention, stations all over the country, even if programmed by, say, Bill Drake, for example, STILL had uniqueness relative to their home city/town; radio in San Diego had a different "identity," than in Milwaukee ... which had a different "identity" than in Miami ... which was different than Baltimore ... and so on.
One thing corporate radio never had a stomach for was "risk." One way to alleviate that was to hire consultants who were former programmers with (supposedly) "highly successful track records" in their respective formats, to work with stations they were hired by, in order to "improve" their sound. In the end, the "local identity" of that particular station was replaced by a generally slicker sound, which (especially in the case of small-market "hometown" stations) didn't necessarily garner successful results, as "substance" was compromised in favor of "style." I can speak from experience, as my own hometown station went through this kind of transformation while I was still getting off the ground in the business. I was complimented by the consultant and my PD for being able to "adjust" to the changes (I have to admit, that one thing I reveled in, at the time, was that the playlist expanded to include songs I always wanted to play on the radio.) But the downside was that local news/information -- the stock and trade of these kinds of stations -- was suffering big time in favor of more network-based news and featurettes.
Soon radio and TV and telephones and Internet will all be on your left arm, bundled inside a gadget the size of man's wrist watch. Fragmentation never had it so good. No ONE will have a big enough audience to command the advertising dollars we once knew, even at the "back in the day" rate cards. I'm glad the BEST that radio ever was, was a part of who I am.
When I first saw automation systems they were essentially "music boxes" that provided a program stream to stations -- but nothing really local. Earlier satellite systems had the same problem. When we started our automation business, we invented a device to link cellphones with the air chain so that stations had a way to instantly get information on the air, even in a highly automated environment. We have heard of incredible things ... a station owner who walked into a bank robbery in progress, grabbed his cellphone and was on the air in seconds telling his listeners about it. There are many stories of stations staying on the air through that device while they were sheltered from an oncoming tornado or other weather emergencies. I guess the bottom line is that I believe local radio means getting your programming out of the studio and into the community. I don't believe I have ever seen that fail.
I find everyone's playing it way too safe, both in terms of music selection and on-air presence and content. Everyone's doing the same thing and expecting different results.