Expecting The Expected
September 16, 2016
One of the life skills most people develop early on in their existence is how to manage expectations. We learn, usually the hard way, that our hopes that our favorite teams will make it to the Super Bowl or World Series will be dashed early in the season, that the superhero movie that looks so cool in the trailers might be bereft of soul, plot, and plausibility, that dad isn't infallible and we aren't going to live forever and friends don't always have your best interests at heart. It's not so much disappointment as remembering to temper your enthusiasm with the knowledge that things don't always go as you'd hoped they would, while at the same time remaining as optimistic as you can, given that knowledge.
That's something I'm doing today, managing expectations, and I'm not talking about the iPhone 7 Plus that's on a UPS truck heading here right now. Unlike the fanboiz queuing up at Apple stores around the world sweating profusely over the newest iteration of the Magical Shiny Object (which looks and probably is largely like last year's version of the Magical Shiny Object), my expectations are much, much lower: I just want a phone without Touch Disease, an affliction which is causing my present phone to randomly stop responding to touch-screen impact. All I want is the same iPhone I have, plus the knowledge that when the phone rings or I want to check email or Twitter, the screen will respond when I touch it. That doesn't seem too much to ask. I'll let you know next week if the new one satisfies my need to be able to use it for its intended purposes.
And then there are my expectations for next week's convention. It's Radio Show time, the convention with the single most generic name of any convention. It's a show. It's about radio. Hence, Radio Show. Imagine the excitement building among those packing for their trips to Nashville: We're going to a show, and it's not just a show, it's a Radio Show! This sounds like we're all going to a studio with foam walls and a board and microphones to watch people talk, but it's more exciting than that: we're going to sit in hotel conference rooms and watch people in suits talk about sales techniques! I CAN HARDLY CONTROL MY EMOTIONS.
Okay, I CAN control them, because it's part of managing expectations. I used to get agitated about conventions like this, the sameness and the lack of vision and the "All Is Well!" attitudes that mask a real concern that the ship, if not sinking, is at least stranded without power miles from the dock like a Hanjin freighter, waiting for someone with a checkbook to get things going again. But this year, I'm not really thinking much about that, because I know what I'm in for. 30 years (30 years!) of going to these things will do that to you. I'm not going to the show to be energized, to have my faith renewed, because that's not really what's on tap, and that's okay. I understand, it's primarily a sales thing, and that's why I'll encounter mostly GMs and GSMs and LSMs and the occasional stray CEO looking at me like I'm leprosy personified and not a lot of programmers or creative people. The audience for this is someone else, just like I tell myself about slasher flicks and 1Direction and the presidential election. It's not for me, it's for a different bunch of people.
But having lowered expectations doesn't mean I don't have an opinion about what this convention SHOULD be. And there's an antecedent that should be obvious: the NAB's own Spring show in Las Vegas. A few years ago, the Spring convention, which used to be mostly a television affair, began to stress content, and by "content" they meant anything video, whether for broadcast or cable television or for the Internet. The change in the last few years has been remarkable; there's an energy level that hadn't been seen at that show in a long time, and it comes from the non-broadcasters who have been embraced and highlighted to the point that it's now on the circuit for people in Hollywood and Silicon Valley and around the world who wouldn't previously bothered to make the trip. Maybe it's not exactly representing the "B" in NAB, but it IS recognizing that the future of television isn't television at all, it's video produced for any device and distributed over the Internet.
Which is what the Radio Show can be, if we -- the radio industry -- want it to be that. You don't have to jettison the sales angle, and with the RAB involved, of course you wouldn't. And you don't need to convert it into another Worldwide Radio Summit, because the WWRS covers the programming and music worlds pretty well, if we do say so ourselves. (May 3-5, 2017, The W Hollywood, register here.) But it would be nice to see the Radio Show be more of a content show, with more producers and talent from the digital space -- yes, podcasters, not just podcast business executives -- and public radio -- turns out public radio is broadcasting, too -- on hand. The future of our industry isn't limited to radio in the traditional sense, and while a handful of panels and presentations is nice, I'd like to see way, way more of that. Yeah, there's Podcast Movement and there's WWRS and there are podcast festivals, and public radio has its own conventions (one of which is in Phoenix this week, an unfortunate conflict which seems to happen every year), but there's nothing for the Radio Show to lose by throwing its arms open to the next generation of audio creators. We have a lot to learn from them, and they might just learn some stuff from us.
That's for the future, of course. This year, I'm expecting the usual, and I'm okay with that. I don't expect gourmet food from McDonald's, I don't expect the Sixers to win the NBA title this year (although that would be nice), and I don't expect the Red Hot Chili Peppers to write a song without "California" in the lyrics. I do, however expect talk about sales, some talk about digital, some overly-sunny everything's-fine messages from the CEOs, and a whole bunch of guys in suits milling about, which is what this is about. There's a place for this, and it's Nashville this year. And if the convention surprises me and really does embrace the new and highlights content and innovation, well, exceeding expectations is a good thing. You just can't, um, expect it.
And then there are radio shows (no capitalization) of the traditional kind, the ones you do, the ones that need material for compelling (there's a convention buzzword for you) content (another convention buzzword). Where can you find ideas for stuff like that when you run out of Trump and Clinton stories? Why, All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, where you'll find all the news items and kickers and bad jokes you need, all in one place, available by clicking here and at the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. And there's the Podcasting section at AllAccess.com/podcasts. And you should check out "10 Questions With..." Seth Mela of WSAU/Wausau, who made the leap of faith to leave his Florida home to head north to Wisconsin a few years back and has been making a pretty strong impression there since then.
So, I'll be in Nashville all next week, and if you'll be there, too, or if you're a local there, let's meet up someplace, preferably where hot chicken or BBQ is served. And if our All Access Nashville staff reads this far down and there are any stray Nathaniel Rateliff or Carrie Underwood or Lumineers tickets around the office (I'll be gone before Kanye's there), I'll be happy to take them off your hands....