Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Tale Of Two Non-Hits

It boggles my mind to think how much this guy's backers have spent on airplane tickets, as he has conducted his "Hometown Radio Handshake Tour" in recent months.

What did he get for all that effort and money?

The song is not listed anywhere on either the Billboard Country Hot 60 or Country Aircheck chart this morning.  In fact, during the last seven days, one station played his song 11 times, two played it 8-9 times and six spun it 1 or 2 times.

What to make of that?

It takes more than money and lots of face-to-face contact with local programmers to get yourself a hit.

Frankly, that restores my faith a bit in what we do and how it all works.

Then, there's Callout America's #5 testing song today, Phil Vassar's "Don't Miss Your Life."

This one has to be very perplexing to Vassar and his promotion team, since it moves down from 34 to 35 on the Country Aircheck chart with no bullet and is nowhere to be seen now on Billboard's Hot 60, having moved backward sufficient weeks to be dropped.

Meanwhile, one-third of the monitored panels seems to be ignoring the chart malaise and playing it very heavily.  Four stations played it more than 35 times in the last week.  18 spun it 20 times or more in the last seven days and 19 more still have it in a ten+ spin category.

Obviously, in spite of the national inactivity, it has been working for at least a few stations.

Hats off to these smart programmers who went with their local listener reaction to what has proven to be a good national tester.

It's sad to see so many chart reporters going with the herd, feeding back to the charts what the charts are telling them are the hits.

Small wonder new things things move so slowly in the country format right now.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Magic Moments

Loyalty and engagement with all media are built on powerful positive "magic moments."

That time LinkedIn let you know that a longtime friend just received a big promotion.

When Facebook put you together with a high school buddy you haven't heard from in years.

The instant when Twitter let you know the results of your favorite Olympic sport many hours before the event was replayed on NBC-TV.

The more frequently these kind of moments happen, the closer you feel to the medium, the brand, the personality and the more you "use" them regularly.

Then, there are those other moments.  When you get a LinkinIn email saying a business associate wants to connect with you, but when you click on the link it says that the notice was sent to the wrong email address.  When Facebook keeps wanting to reinstall the Android app you just UNinstalled because it eats up too much memory and is too slow when compared to just using your browser to get onto Facebook.  When NBC-TV edited out the very part of the opening ceremonies you wanted to see the most.

Trust gets betrayed.  Usage decreases.  Brand gets tarnished.

What happens when you ask for "caller #9" and you recognize the voice of the regular winner who always seems to get through and win when you have the best prizes up for grabs?  When hundreds of other people get only a busy signal and mutter under their breath that radio contests are all fixed?

When your info update consists of "the news is coming up on the hour" and the listener looks at their smart phone and realizes that their personal information aggregation app has ALL the news for the refreshing at any instant they want it and that they never have to wait for "the news?"

When a radio station keeps pushing "the most music" and automated song-sweeper-song-jingle-song-sweeper hours when listeners voted in at least four different research projects released since the first of the year, including A&O's Roadmap 2012 perceptual study, for "fun personalities who feel like friends and make me feel better when I listen?"

It's easy to do things the way you've always done them and ignore listener needs. 

There's some "magic" in that too.

It will make your audience disappear.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Should You Use This Prep?


Carrie Underwood will perform on the Today Show Summer Concert Series this August as the morning show plans a full week of outdoor concerts following the 2012 Summer Olympics. Carrie's concert in Rockefeller Plaza is set for Wednesday, August 15.

Among her hits, Carrie's set will also include the title track and new single "Blown Away" from her fourth album. "Blown Away," the single, has sales approaching quarter of a million and was written by Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins who also co-penned her smash hit, "Before He Cheats."

They've got us, don't they?  Damned if we do, and damned if we don't.

There are at least four or five terrific morning shows competing with radio very aggressively and creatively in your local market, of course, (and they really cut into our "at home" usage because they do big things radio is very often not doing).

It's not smart to ignore it when our biggest stars show up on competing channels, and yet it's equally dumb to promote turning them on at the same time, thus reminding your listener that there's something better they can enjoy right now.

I don't blame the music community for making the most of every promotional opportunity open to them.

We need to go where the audience is and ignoring anything they care about would be fatal.

What are you doing tomorrow morning to TOP all of the competition for their time and attention?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tough Competition Takes The Gloves Off. So Should Radio.

The wireless industry's trade group just posted videos on You Tube of their "reporter" across the street from the NAB offices in Washington, D.C., to purport that only 20% of people they asked said they want FM in their cell phone.

Actually, given that almost no one has promoted the fact that FM is available on cell phones to consumers, I thought 20% was a pretty good starting point compared to all the other "apps" smartphone consumers have to learn about and a reminder to us in radio that we can't assume that others don't have long term profit motives at our expense driving their position to exclude "radio" from wireless devices of all kinds, depriving our listeners of service they count and depend on.

Now, there's talk of closed door meetings at the FCC on the issue.

I'll leave the "public safety" argument to NAB and hope that they're telling our story as effectively as possible, but the current issue of United Airlines' inflight magazine features an article introducing "Shannon’s Law" as an additional point to ponder.
Claude Shannon was an MIT researcher who, in 1948, came up with an equation that explained how two factors limit the amount of information that can be accurately transmitted over any communication channel: the bandwidth available and the noise present that could disturb the signal. Using those two numbers, you can figure out the maximum amount of information that a particular link can handle.

I won’t bore you with the math. But the upshot is that we’re coming very, very close to reaching the bandwidth limits determined by Shannon’s Law. Soon, the typical cell tower simply won’t be able to handle any more data. Which means we’re going to need to come up with a solution if we want everyone to be able to watch the latest episode of “Game of Thrones” on their iPhone.

Tech writer Mark McClusky:  "Bandwidth, as it turns out, is subject to not just the laws of physics, but also the laws of supply and demand. Both point to one unpleasant realization: The true cost of wireless data access has been hidden from us for quite a while, and it’s time to pay the piper."

Of course, the wireless industry can't wait until we all have no other option in our mobile devices so that they can increase the cost of that bandwidth.

But, meanwhile, it's my humble opinion that it's in the consumers' best interest to have "free radio" as an option for information and entertainment that they don't have to pay for to make use of and enjoy.

If you agree, start working to move that "20%" number UP by letting listeners know that something they now take for granted, perhaps use unconsciously, needs to be on their future wireless devices and dashboards .. for their own good.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I Thought We Seattleites Were Smarter

Lumosity data scientist Daniel Sternberg, PhD looked only at the very first Brain Performance Index Lumosity members receive after playing at least one game in each of the five brain areas—this eliminated any practice effects, controlled for age and gender, thus removing as many confounding variables as possible.

He then converted BPI into a normalized IQ-like scale, in which 100 points represents an average "BPI" score out of all the site's US users. Scoring users based on other users—in other words, by percentile—allowed him to directly compare and combine the five brain area scores into a composite measure of overall performance.

We then tagged these normalized BPI scores to US metro areas, culling out those areas with fewer than 500 BPI scores (to ensure meaningful results) he has located what he thinks may be the smartest cities in America—and we’ve done so by measuring the cognition of the people who live there.  (click to read all about it, including his rankings of 188 cities)

Ranking #1: Charlottesville VA.  If you live in Albany GA., you may not want to tell your friends about this blog post.

Lumosity’s "smartest cities" ranking was picked up by many publications and news channels, including the Atlantic (which you can read here), so keeping your town's rank hush-hust may not be that easy.

It must have been a slow news day.

I do take heart in his statement and I'm working to bring Seattle's scores up:  "...if there’s one thing we’ve learned about cognitive performance, it’s this: no matter where your city is on our list, you have personal control over your brain’s abilities."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What's Your "Sound?"

The Katz press release, released yesterday, is a timely reminder:

Who could mistake the distinctive sound of the "Dum-dum" from Law and Order? Or the famous "Aflac quack" from the duck in the TV ads? New research from Katz Marketing Solutions, the national marketing arm of the Katz Media Group has confirmed that "sonic branding" is definitely a powerful force advertisers should take advantage of. Today Katz released a new study of advertisers' sonic brands and their impact on communicating brand messaging and eliciting emotional responses.

"The results confirm the incredible power of sound," said Bob McCurdy, President of Katz Marketing Solutions. "With this research, we have a better understanding of how sound impacts what we see, how we feel and what we consume. Even a brief one or two seconds of sound can trigger powerful brand messaging and explicit visual images, which means radio can be an extremely influential tool for advertisers."

While previous studies have focused on brand identification, Katz Marketing Solutions commissioned this research to delve beyond awareness metrics. Instead, the study quantified the communication and emotional impact of sonic brands of the top U.S. advertisers including McDonald's, Mazda, Old Spice and Pillsbury, among 20 others. The intended goal was to measure both the ability of these sound bites to communicate a brand message and to generate emotions.

Click around the study's website for lots of sales ammo, but it's more than that as well.

What music are you using behind that commercial?

What message does the sound of your station voice send?

Do you have your own equivalent of NBC's chimes?

Have you tested it with your listeners to be certain it sends the image you intend?

I'll play you ours (click to listen), if you'll play me yours too.

Let's work together to attain mnemonic audio perfection for both ourselves and advertisers who use our air.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sometimes 1 + 1 = 3

Cumulus General Managers reportedly build a monthly report for corporate which shows each sales rep's percentage of the month's revenue and also their percentage of total available inventory used to get there.

I love this correlation, since it could help a strong sales manager stop a problem in advance.  Is your top biller taking up so much inventory to get to their goal that they are sucking the air out of the room for all the other sales people?

Other measures it would be nice to track as well:
  • For the program director.  Is there any correlation between the number of air check sessions you do with your air personalities and their ratings?  If, the more you meet with them, the lower they go, something's seriously wrong.
  • For the music director.  What percentage of "stiffs" vs "hits" did you add?  How many songs do you end up dropping each month vs the number which end up testing very well with your listeners?
  • For the air personality.  Is there a relationship between the length of time you open the microphone and audience loss/retention data?  (PPM has made tracking this quite possible)
What other things which you routinely do might you be able to correlate with the results they achieve? 

“You can’t control what you can’t measure” - Tom De Marco

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hey, News Writers: Make The Turn

Recently at a client station cluster where a TV station news staff is tasked with writing news for all radio, online and video news, I was asked to talk to a terrific co-host of the top 40 morning team.

Part of her gig is reading a quick update every half hour and everyone (including her!) is concerned about reading errors being made in these segments of the show where she's executing every other aspect of her role almost perfectly.

The PD confessed that he knows next to nothing about news writing or reporting and feels like he doesn't know what to tell her, given that all other aspects of work work are exemplary, including the ratings of the morning show.

I asked her to play me a sample air check of a typical 'cast where she wished she had done a better job of reading.

She knew exactly what to play for me:  "the 44-year old man was killed in the accident, police say, because he had difficulty negotiating the turn.."

What caused her reading of that story to be less than natural and conversational, she said, was because she got to thinking in mid-sentence that perhaps a better word than "negotiating" and wondered if "navigating" was the correct word.

Of course, I told her that if she wanted to think about things like that it needed to be done when she pre-read the stories in advance and encouraged her to prep better so that things didn't catch her by surprise.

Ultimately, just between us, I actually blame the person who wrote the story even more.
  • "44-year old" is newspaper style writing.  Archaic. Does giving the age increase or decrease the power of the lead?
  • "Police say" isn't really needed is it?  The guy is dead.  If there's any doubt, of course, attribute it, but if not, why use the old wire service style of writing when you know someone really was prounced dead and relatives have been notified.  
  • "Negotiating/navigating?"  Rather than trying to show off your fancy reading vocabulary, how about simply writing to be "heard" and "read."
Better, shorter, crisper (and easier to read):  "Man dies when he failed to make the turn."

A note to news writers and all of the people who have to read their output:  if the youngest person on your staff - who happens to be right in the center of the target of your radio station - can't easily read and understand every story, how do you expect listeners to?

Make the turn.

Simplify your news writing.  Lower the grade level of what you write.  Simple sentences.  Short phrases, like telegrams.  Powerful, active verbs.

It's not about dumbing down your news.  It's about making it appeal to a larger audience.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Headlines, Teases, Pictures

Slate's points out that BuzzFeed has made a very successful business out of taking Reddit items adding a compelling headline and teaser which draws an audience many times the size of the original source.
For example, I could insert a photo of Slate's technology columnist here OR, alternatively, go with the photo Farhad used along with the headline used for his article, which - like Buzzfeed - he borrowed from the original article (21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity”).
Which are you going to click on?

This is as much about today's culture and audience expectations as it is about the Internet or aggregation of content.

Don't start to tell a story or share a video on air, your blog, your podcast, your website until you have a great headline and lead sentence for it.

Be like Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and Drudge Report, not Les Nessman.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


The first time I saw a resume from a programming applicant which also contained a multi-page statement of the person's philosophy of programming, I was so impressed.

Now, 15-million of them later, I have learned a valuable lesson:  the strongest philosophy (or strategy) doesn't achieve anything unless it's audible on the radio every time listeners tune in.

These days, I am less impressed by lengthy statements of general and fundamental problems.  Now, I want to know what you do to bring it all to life in entertaining, engaging, compelling ways.

How's your execution of that philosophy in reality?

How about laying that out in detail, with proof?

Stand out from the pack.

Sunday, July 08, 2012


 Jeff Wise, writing in Psychology Today
The hiker who leaves a well-marked trail and wanders off, cross-country. The pilot who flies his perfectly maintained airplane into the ground. The kayaker who dives into a hydraulic whitewater "grinder" even though he's just seen it suck three buddies to their doom. "Gee," you think when you hear such tales, "I'd never do something like that." But would you? We like to think of ourselves as pretty rational, but that's hardly how we seem from the perspective of accident investigators and search-and-rescue crews.

Heuristic methods
are used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution. Examples of this method include using a rule of thumb, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, or common sense.

The trouble is, as Wise states in "Deadly Mind Traps," People who deal with the aftermath of human error can tell you all too well that otherwise normal, healthy individuals are exceptionally predisposed to making the kind of mistake best described as boneheaded because we were on autopilot, relying on habit and time-saving rules of thumb.

Best-selling author Dan Pink has one of the top 20 most-viewed TED.com talks on "the surprising science of motivation" which makes a convincing case that traditional methods of motivating employees not only do not work, but they actually can be counter-productive.

I've long felt that way about ratings bonuses for personalities and programmers, thinking that it would be better to pay the bonus when the individual does the things that will be most likely to make the ratings go up, quite specifically, rather than crossing your fingers and hoping the sample is good and ratings reflect the outcome of the work, creating the attitude "it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't" in your key people and making the motivation based more on good luck than good work.

It's been my pragmatic belief as a manager that it's actually impossible for anyone to motivate anyone else.  So, my approach has been to try to create the conditions to recognize and reward self-motivation.

Then, I stumbled on this research from Ohio State researcher Steven Reiss who postulates “There is no real evidence that intrinsic motivation even exists.”  The argument is that people should do something because they enjoy it, and that rewards only sabotage natural desire.  Reiss disagrees.
“There is no reason that money can't be an effective motivator, or that grades can't motivate students in school,” he said. “It's all a matter of individual differences. Different people are motivated in different ways."

No wonder, given when we know about heuristics.  Putting yourself on auto-pilot, while believing you're cruising toward the goal can easily end in disaster.

Like that great philosopher and psychologist Garth Brooks has said:  “The greatest conflicts are not between two people but between one person and himself.”

When you recognize yourself starting to glide into one of the "I've always done it that way" mind traps on the way to an important goal, stop, take a breath, and turn on your rational brain.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Rick Dees

The news last week that Dees is out, and Jimmy Reyes gets the wake-up call starting 6-9 a.m. Monday on Hot 92.3 FM (KHHT) has a few lessons imbedded in it.
Dees quickly e-mailed Orange Country Register media columnist Gary Lycan"We launched a one-year marketing campaign with my friends at Clear Channel to increase the awareness and revenue of Hot 92.3. The campaign has been a great success and we look forward to other new shows and marketing strategies with the talented team from Clear Channel in the near future. See you on the air again soon and at www.rick.com plus all over the world with the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 and Daily DeesRadio Show. Be caller #10."

A&O has been fortunate to work with Rick's production company and I can personally testify that his positive attitude isn't just "spin."

He's the real deal.  An entrepreneur who gives 100% to everything he undertakes.

Greg Ashlock, president and market manager of the Clear Channel stations in Los Angeles, wrote in a memo to his staff also quoted by Lycan last week, "Rick has been with us for a year and we've thoroughly enjoyed every moment. He's a consummate professional and we wish him the best as he pursues some national opportunities."

Before I say much more, let's put my personal biases on the table.

I know what Ashlock says about Rick is true,

Hindsight is 20/20, but I have always felt that if Emmis had put Rick in mornings on KZLA and kept it country back in 2006 when they hired him to relaunch the station at "Movin' 93.9" it would have been a match made in heaven and country radio in Los Angeles would be billing considerably more than what Go Country 105 has been doing very happily since they filled the void, due to Dees' power with listeners and savvy with advertisers.

I am a big Dees fan (click to listen to three consummate pros in action earlier this year on Ellen K's birthday on KISS-FM as an example of why I am).

I admire his ability to bring his entire self and skill set to every opportunity as well as his business acumen, professionalism and optimism in dealing with career adversity.

He's an inspiration to anyone who's serious about building a long-lasting career in this business.

Lesson #1:  when the station you're on is positioned as both "hot" and "old school," make sure your fan base really wants you to be "old school" too and if it's possible to be both things the position statement promises.

Lesson #2:  when, like happened with "Movin'", people describe the place where you work as "the Rick Dees Station," it could be a sign that the station's music format may not be the best one to attach yourself to unless you're prepared to work 24/7.

Lesson #3:  when the axe falls, be proactive and positive.  You want to work for these people again in the future.

Lesson #4:  keep a lot of other irons in the fire.

If you're ever in Burbank, stop by his studios just off the Ventura Freeway near Riverside and Olive and see everything he's up to.

And, if you're ever in need of a place to broadcast live from beautiful downtown Burbank for a special event, I know he'd be pleased to do business with you.

That's Rick.  Moving forward, never looking backward.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Ann Curry

Was it that Matt Lauer just didn't like her?

Could viewers tell that she didn't like doing the mandatory pop culture and food segments, preferring to do more hard news, which hurt ratings?

Fortunately, in spite of the public humiliation of the past weeks' events, she has a long term seven year contract, so NBC is going to have to find a more suitable position for her desires and talents.

Ann won't be joining the ranks of the unemployed, as probably would have happened if a similar thing happened at your radio station making the negative fallout from a poor choice in matching talent with an opportunity greater..

Anyone who has had to make tough personnel decisions or who has been the victim of them simply has to feel for both Ann and NBC News chief Steve Capus, who decided to pull the plug on her last week.

The trouble with change in radio and television is that the first folks who learn about it are the people who like and enjoy the personality, since people who had been turned off by poor personal chemistry, content that didn't relate to them or the fact that they just didn't connect .. and most likely they were no longer viewing or listening.

So, even if a terrific new person is brought in to "fix" the problem, the numbers will still most likely go down, taking a long time to rebuild.

Curry told USA Today's Susan Page that her new job as one that any journalist would crave, she makes no secret that the very public process that pushed her out of the co-host chair amid rumor-fed headlines has left wounds.

"I don't know who has been behind the leaks, but no question they've hurt deeply," she says. She admits she would have liked more time to work things out as co-host, and she bristles a bit at the suggestion that she lacked "chemistry" with co-host Matt Lauer.

"You know, Matt and I have had great on-air chemistry for 14 years, been part of the No. 1 winning team for a history-making number of years," she says. "That said, I just finished my freshman year as co-host. In every single co-host's first year, there have been kinks to be worked out, and perhaps I deserve as much blame for that as anyone."

Does she think she was given enough time to work out those kinks? "No, I do not," she says flatly.

Would she have liked more time? "Oh, sure I would have," she says.

NBC News chief Steve Capus candidly told The Hollywood Report that he thought Curry had not been right for the job in many respects. He said he agreed with interviewer Marisa Guthrie that Curry had faltered in the cooking segments, movie star interviews and fluffy features that make up a large portion of "Today."

"I think her real passion is built around reporting on international stories," he said. "It’s tough to convey a sincere interest in something if you don’t possess it ... and you could tell with her, you can tell with any anchor, whether they’re into it or not. And I think we’ve now come up with a role that will play to her strengths.”

Capus said that, although he felt it was right to give Curry a chance at the top "Today" job (she had put in fourteen years as newsreader and already been passed over once before), he had had no choice but to make the change.

“We gave her a year to prove herself, and ultimately we came to the conclusion that she had played at the highest level she could," he said. "When you’re in the major leagues of our profession, you’ve got to continue to be at peak performance in order to stay there."

A good reminder when you are interviewing talent for any opening.

Take time to really get to know the candidate.  Be sure that the people he/she will be working with have what it takes to build positive chemistry.  Check references.  Double check everything.  Don't make snap decisions.

And, still, realize that it might not "click" right at the start.

Knowing how long to give something that isn't working is as much an art as the original hiring process.