January 17, 2012
Randy Lane is a born-and-bred radio guy. He started as a college DJ betting getting a paid on-air gig, then moving into programming at stations such as KYSR/Los Angeles and WKQX/Chicago. After a successful stint as a G, Lane launched his own consultancy in 1996, with an emphasis on morning shows that generated higher ratings and revenue. Filling out his company with proven programming, production and management vets, Lane's company continues to succeed in a difficult radio environment. Here how he does it - and how he sees it.
What do you feel will be the most pressing issues facing radio in 2012?
Obviously, one of the pressing issues - and it has been for a while -- is the fact that radio stations are expected to do more with less, with fewer people doing multiple jobs. Many of the major publicly owned companies have huge debt that results in having to make tough choices, at times sacrificing content. Radio has to get focused on creating quality content that connects emotionally with people. Being able to come up with innovative content is going to be key in this industry, as we face increasing competition from new media.
So who's creating this innovative content when everyone is already doing multiple jobs?
Our main focus is developing talent. The majority of people still value creative talent and morning shows in particular that can successfully and consistently engage listeners. Despite all the emphasis on technology and multiple platforms, it's the entertaining morning shows that know how to connect with people that add greatly to a radio station's success.
The winning stations are generally those that have a well-rounded brand with a solid music position, as well as a morning show outperforming the overall ratings. Compelling talent coupled with some pizzazz and creativity keeps radio viable and helps it stand up to competition from other media.
Is great content in a large market like New York basically the same as great content in, say, Omaha?
Yes and no. Yes, there are fundamental principles that apply to all shows in all formats. And no, one size doesn't fit all. You also have to be sensitive to the individual market. Some markets are more traditional and more conservative; others are more progressive and liberal, so the content would lean one way or other, depending on the makeup of market. Some markets have high ethnicity; others do not. Sticky content that is entertaining, relevant and informative trumps everything. What constitutes as entertaining, relevant and informative is slightly different by market, but not much. We've seen that proven through syndication.
How did the change from the diary to the PPM change the way you work with morning shows? Did you have to make structural changes, changes in content, or both?
Most of the adjustments have been structural with shows that were already successful. The diary is much more forgiving, since it's based on what people remember they listened to. It's not a moment-to-moment measurement like the PPM.
"Ins" and "outs" have become more important. All shows benefit from cutting out meaningless chit-chat and getting to the point (within first 10-12 seconds) since we live in an on-demand, short-attention-span world. And when you're going out of a content segment into commercials or a song, you always want to give the listener a reason to continue listening or to come back later at an appointed time.
However, changing the structure doesn't mean you automatically have to change the content if you are already doing great content. Dave Ryan's morning show at KDWB did well in the diary for years; he would outperform the radio station by about 10%-15% in key demos. Now Dave is outperforming the station by 20%-30% in the key demos and KDWB is the dominant female-targeted station in PPM. The numbers are ever been better because he has great content -- and he knows how to structure it.
One of the myths about the PPM is the conventional wisdom that you need less talk and a lot of music in the morning to win. While that is true for some shows, it's not for high-performance shows such as The Bert Show, Paul & Young Ron and Kidd Kraddick. None of them play much music, yet they all do great under the PPM - and that's because they have engaging characters and great content. Conversely, shows that are just doing average content, or have gotten complacent, need to play more music.
We look at four criteria to decide how much music morning shows should play. First, of course, is the quality of the content. Second is how much a show is out-performing the station average. Third is the competitive landscape, and fourth is the marketing life stage of the show. Brand new morning shows usually need to play more music until the personalities can establish themselves with the audience. Certainly a lot of morning shows benefit by playing four to five songs an hour, while some need to play 10. Again, it all depends on the four criteria I just mentioned.
One sentiment expressed in recent Power Player interviews is that "live and local equals success" is no longer true in a consolidated, syndicated/voicetracked, multi-platform PPM radio world. Do you agree?
The most important thing is to be entertaining and engaging. That has more impact than being live and local. Being live and local can be an advantage if you have a really good product or show. That's a great thing for a radio station, but you don't need to be live and local to win.
In the intense, day-to-day monitoring of the PPM era, do new morning shows get enough time to really prove themselves?
Unfortunately many do not get enough time. This is another pressing issue for radio in 2012. PPM does churn out what the ratings are on a morning show more quickly than a diary, but it still takes a reasonable amount of time -- six months to a year -- to find out if a morning show is going to click. When everyone involved with the morning show -- talent, management, corporate, the consultant or talent coach -- feels the show is on track, based on listener feedback and their own evaluation, stay with the show. Chances are good that PPM numbers will follow. But we're seeing decisions on morning shows based on just three or four months of numbers - and that's just too soon.
One of the reasons it can be a dangerous thing to make a decision that quickly is because the PPM sample size is much smaller than the diary. Just one or two meters - even in L.A. or New York - have a dramatic impact on the ratings. So often we've seen a station's ratings go down when it had nothing to do with content; it just happened to be an instance where a competitor had one or two meters worn by big fans - and when those people dropped out of the panel, the ratings went right back up. The challenge, as a manager or programmer, is to not react too hastily and sweat it out until the panel changes and see if that makes a difference.
What factors go into deciding whether to junk a morning show completely, or simply replace some of the morning hosts to improve the show's chemistry?
It could be a number of things. It could be the entire show or it could be that you don't have the right combination of players playing roles that play to their strengths. Having the right players - characters on the show who are generally likable and connect with the audience - is vital. You have to evaluate each individual player's talent level as well as the team chemistry. If the lead host is strong, it can work to replace some or all of the other players. It isn't as easy when you keep one or more cohosts and plug in a new lead. That dynamic is much trickier.
How will the trend of News/Talk stations migrating to FM impact the music stations on FM? Will specific music formats be squeezed out? And what formats are going to take N/T stations' place on the AM?
You will see more Talk stations on FM because that's where the people are right now. It's doubtful that Talk stations will squeeze out music stations that are performing. Niche formats like Smooth Jazz are more easily squeezed out; successful high-cuming formats that have strong at-work listening are generally safe.
As far as AM goes, stations are going to continue to specialize even more. You're going to have AM stations, particularly in big markets like L.A., flip to Korean or Persian formats, as well as all-Business stations. Sports stations have been around for a long time and they're not going anywhere - and Talk still does well. KFI-A/Los Angeles is a top-rated station even in 6+, not to mention its target demos. So AM stations can still thrive for a good while.
How will Net radio factor into the competitive environment?
Net radio stations will grow as the technology continues to expand and wireless develops; there will be more choices than ever. If there was a Net radio station that provides great content and has the financial backing for marketing, it could blow up. You may see some of these digital companies like Apple or Google rediscover the value of radio and how you can reach large audience. Maybe you'll see even some of these companies buy radio stations in the future.
How much emphasis does your company put on the stations' websites and digital presence?
Stephanie Winans, our webmaster, works with radio stations and morning shows, reviewing websites, podcasts, and their social media presence -- everything that is used to deepen your brand. Making a more intimate connection with your listeners on different platforms is definitely a big part of what we do today.
Are you at all concerned that radio may be putting too much emphasis on the digital side and not enough on the on-air product?
Yes; we still have to focus on the radio medium. Obviously everyone texts today and half the world is on Facebook; it's essential to have those components to your station. However, the mistake a lot of stations and morning shows are making now is that they're mostly airing texts and Facebook posts and not taking many phone calls. Radio is an audio medium first, and interacting with listeners on the phone is the primary and most effective way to create dynamics with the audience.
We also hear the complaints from PDs who spend hours in meetings about digital and can't get the time in to meet with their staff or listen to their product. It's a fine balance that we haven't quite figured out yet.
Longtime consultants such as Guy Zapoleon and Mike McVay have both taken gigs with radio groups. Can one infer that it's tougher to be an independent consultant during these tight consolidated times?
It's tougher to be anything nowadays. But yes, it is tougher because of the economic situation in the country and in the radio business. Obviously revenue is down from what it was when peaked about five years ago. Talent coaches, research companies and consultants are all impacted by tighter budgets.
How has the Randy Lane Company changed over the years?
We've been in business since 1996 ... knock on wood. Things are going well overall, yet there has been a change in our business model. We've had to adjust to the economic climate and become more flexible. We do more one-off projects and more short-term partnerships than in the past, when it was mainly retainer work.
Another thing that has change is that the air personalities themselves are hiring us to coach them, particularly in some of the bigger markets. Managers are stretched so thin and budgets are so tight, shows are willing to pay out of their own pockets to get the feedback they need to continue to grow.
So where will the company be five or 10 years down the line?
As fast as things are changing today, it's one thing to look one or two years down the line, but looking ahead five or ten years is pretty far out. The business model with this company is based on the talents of a lot of people. Angela Perelli was a successful programmer and consultant. Dave Ryan is a Marconi-winning morning host who's involved as a talent coach. Cliff Dumas was a successful morning host in San Diego for several years; he's also one of our talent coaches. Stephanie Winans oversees online matters, and Stan Main has done it all. Brian Holt has produced many successful morning shows and works with our News/Talk clients, while Brian Egan works in Nashville to serve the Country music world.
Where I see this company going depends on the efforts of a great team of people. It's not just "Randy Lane" anymore. This company is expanding beyond radio into other areas in the form of "personality branding." Content will continue to be king whatever the media platform. We are committed to developing talent and helping to create content that sticks and stands out.