Powerful Insights For Profitable Radio

Friday, January 21, 2011



Minnesota-based Hubbard Broadcasting is purchasing half of Bonneville’s radio markets in a deal that could indicate how smaller groups expand intelligently now that the economy is nudging its way back. Bonneville revealed this week that it is selling its radio properties in Chicago, St. Louis, Washington, DC, and Cincinnati to Hubbard for $505 million. Hubbard, which has owned KSTP (AM) in the Twin Cities (Arbitron market # 16) since 1923, has only two other radio properties, both also in that market. It has a full complement of TV stations.

Bonneville will retain its radio stations in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle and Salt Lake City as well as KSL-TV there. Hubbard hasn’t owned radio stations outside the Twin Cities since it sold KOB (AM/FM), Albuquerque, to Citadel several years ago.

An Instant Radio Group
Hubbard’s acquisition of the Bonneville package makes it, in one stroke, a major, though not a mega-, radio group. The company is creating Hubbard Radio, which will be chaired by current Hubbard boss Ginny Hubbard Morris. From owning KSTP AM/FM and KTMY (FM) only, the new group will pick up four stations in St. Louis, six in Washington, three in Chicago and four in Cincinnati – 17 new properties. Here’s the list:

Chicago (ARB # 3)

Washington, DC (ARB # 9)

St. Louis (ARB # 21)

Cincinnati (ARB # 28)

Why The Deal Makes Sense
Many industry eyeballs will be watching for details on this transaction, which is the first major radio deal of 2011.

Radio station trading has been at a virtual standstill for at least three years, as any starving broker can tell you. One big question, of course, has been when the ice will break, especially in large and major markets. The other key question has been: What will the multiples be? Radio & Television Business Report says that in this transaction it may be eight times broadcast cash flow, which is what most buyers and sellers are talking about these days.

Hubbard runs a high-class, very professional operation which has always been smart with its money. The President of another major market group told me: “Hubbard, like Bonneville, is an excellent broadcaster with strong ties to their community. Their attention to ‘localism’ including live, local talent is very good for radio and bodes well for its future. I hope this becomes a trend as opposed to the cookie cutter, cost efficient models that have been adopted by many of our country’s largest radio media companies.”

Hubbard wasn’t a player in the last big wave of radio consolidation because it was starting up a satellite TV business, which later sold to Direct TV in a deal valued at $1.6 billion. So there was plenty of cash for this deal. Hubbard is also a mature operation, which is reflected in the stations it’s buying. Several are either at or near the top of their market rankings. They’re all competitive. This was no pig-in-a-poke numbers grab.

A major reason why this deal makes sense is that Hubbard is buying proven assets all the way through. Reportedly, there are no significant changes planned for any of the stations. Bonneville’s top radio hands are going along with the deal, too. CEO Bruce Reese and COO Drew Horowitz and their staff will soon be drawing their paychecks from Hubbard Radio.

Looking Through A Long Lens
Ginny Hubbard Morris shares the DNA of a great broadcasting pioneer, Stanley E. Hubbard, who started KSTP in the Twenties and added KSTP-TV in 1948. So unlike giant mega-merger players and investment bankers, she can take a solid long view of the industry. Hubbard told Radio-TV Business Report: “We believe in the future of radio...We now know that what we all experienced a couple of years ago was related to the recession, not some underlying cracks in the broadcasting industry.”

She added: “Everything that made (radio) a good business in the ‘30s makes it a good business in 2011”.

Expect the Hubbard-Bonneville deal to at least open a lot of group owners’ eyes if not to mark the beginning of a return to healthy station trading this year.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011



One piece of fallout from the tragic shootings in Tucson that seriously wounded a Congresswoman and killed six bystanders is talk about reviving The Fairness Doctrine. Opponents of conservative talk radio in particular are using the killings to tout a return to a federally-mandated policy that would certainly spell ruin for much of talk radio as we know it today. If you manage a talk station, relax. The Fairness Doctrine is dead and buried – and it’s going to stay that way.

Your view about a possible return to required equal time for opposing views may be shaped by which flavor of conspiracy you prefer. For some, there’s a vast conspiracy of the right to override reasonable discourse via talk radio. For most of talk radio, there’s a vast conspiracy of the left to muzzle their good works with shackles such as The Fairness Doctrine or something like it. Most of America is caught in the middle and, I suspect, is fed up with the whole debate.

The Dirty Little Secret About “Conservative” Talk Radio
Look, we’re grownup professional broadcasters here. You and I both know the lowdown on most so-called “conservative” talk radio hosts: It’s a gig. It’s their shtick. They no more go to bed at night praying to the God of Conservative Babble than classic country jocks hit the hay after making sacrifices to Ernest Tubb. You now it, I know it, they know it.

A lot of the listening public knows it, too. And as professionals, we aren’t about to put Rush or Hannity or any of them on the air if they aren’t:

  • Entertaining
  • Compelling
  • Sold

It’s no different from any other format choice except that talk radio inflames both mind and mouth at both ends of the political spectrum.

All of which means that talk radio requires nothing like government-mandated rules about what it can say (within the law, that is) and whose voices it may include or exclude.

Know who else knows this? The Obama Administration. The FCC. And every member of Congress.

Shackling the Media: Always A Favorite
It’s always good copy for a politician to strike out at “the media”. And let’s face it, we’ve made ourselves popular targets. We’re the ones with the microphones, the cameras, the Bully Pulpit. Rush may have revolutionized AM radio programming but he also pinned a target on it that any politico can site in easily and often. The outcry over the supposed palpability of talk radio in the Tucson tragedy has given the green light to some politicians to harp about the good old days when anything you said about someone required an offer of equal time. It was unwieldy then, listeners didn’t care and it somehow smacked of Big Brother giving the gate (to use a favorite hockey phrase) to  free expression.

And this has right wing talk hosts squealing with delight. It’s fodder for their never-ending shtick machine, which cannot survive and thrive without the threat of that vast conspiracy I mentioned earlier. Okay by me. It’s compelling radio. I don’t have to treat it as a religion.

You Can’t Put Back What People Don’t Want
The Fairness Doctrine was introduced in 1949, when the broadcasting landscape was vastly different from today's. No revival effort has so much as made it out of committee in the nearly quarter century since Ronald Reagan abolished it by Executive Order. It won’t this time, either. If President Obama doesn’t have it on his agenda and Democrats at the FCC aren’t supporting it, who’s left to champion such legislation? Almost no one. It’s only being spoken of now by opportunistic politicians and talk show hosts.

At the grass roots level, The Fairness Doctrine won’t resurface for the same reason that you’ll never again see Prohibition and the military draft: they’re politically iffy, difficult and expensive to implement and wildly unpopular.

At the professional level, it simply isn’t needed. Talk radio has saved the entire AM band. With few exceptions, it’s professionally presented and whether or not you agree with its politics, you and I know it’s nothing more or less than a strong format.

So sleep soundly, talk station manager. Your format is safe and sound. And the government knows it has many better things to do.

Friday, January 14, 2011


It’s a quandary for programmers and radio station managers in every size market: How do you respond to a calamity and maintain format integrity? Do you? On the day of one of the saddest events following the assassination attempt on Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), a Tucson music station made a difference with a well-thought-out commemoration. It’s a terrific example for stations anywhere.
Six people were killed in the shootings at Gifford’s meet-and-greet event Saturday in a suburban Tucson parking lot. Many more were wounded. One of the fatalities was nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, born on 9/11/2001, gunned down in a flurry of shots by a madman. Yesterday, hers was the first of the victims’ funerals. I happened to be in Tucson yesterday and was interested in how local radio would mark the event. Would they cover the funeral service? No. Would they break format for other coverage? Not most of them. When the one o’clock start time for the funeral arrived, I heard one tasteful on-air commemoration and it deserves to be noted.
KMXZ-FM IDs itself as “Soft Rock 94-9 Mix FM”. Shortly before one o’clock, its midday jock conversationally promoted “something to mark the occasion” for one o’clock. Needless to say, I stayed tuned.
At one, just as Christina’s funeral was beginning, Mix 94-9 went into a nicely-produced piece. Here’s how it was built:
·         An extended soundbite of President Obama’s remarks at the University of Arizona Wednesday evening, specifically remarking on Christina’s life

·         Under those remarks, the almost-obligatory “Amazing Grace” played by a bagpipe band

·         As the remarks ended with Obama saying the throat-clutching line “If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is splashing in one now”, the music dissolved into the late Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – his professional name was Iz – singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. If you’ve ever heard Iz, you can imagine how this sounded: perfect. If you haven’t, you owe yourself the pleasure

The effect of this production, which couldn’t have lasted longer than six or seven minutes, was remarkable radio. It probably didn’t take long to put together. The elements were easily-acquired. But how many stations bothered to do it?
Hardly any.
So, kudos to the KMXZ gang in Tucson for caring and making the effort. This mini-production, coming at the exact start time as the funeral for the youngest victim of a senseless slaughter, was meaningful and professional. When it ended, they played some spots and went back to format.
It’s worth a few moments to think about how your stations would respond to a disaster like the shootings in Tucson. Not only how you would cover the news itself but how – or if – you would handle the follow-up events. You don’t want to deal with this kind of event on the fly.
At least one station in Tucson yesterday made it work and did it right.

Thursday, January 13, 2011



Firing air personalities is part of any radio station manager’s job. Most don’t like it. Some, however, take the view that out-of-sight is out-of-mind when hustling fired talent out the door. This can backfire in a big way as recent events prove.

Reasons for firing air talent usually boil down to four favorites:

  • Quality and performance issues
  • Poor ratings
  • Budget problems
  • Personal issues

Deciding to fire an announcer is your business. When you do it the way many recent managers have snipped their talent off the payroll, however, it becomes a more universal concern because it can make our industry look foolish. And it can be disastrous to a station’s image.

Consider: An announcere who had been on the same station for fifty years is fired. He is walked out of the station by the program director and station owner after his show. And he disappears from their air. But a lot more happened that made the station look like a chump. The upshot in a moment.

Commonly, management fires an announcer with no warning, usually right after he or she gets off the air. Then it’s out the door and gone, a tactic more fit for police states than radio stations. It’s done this way, of course, out of fear that announcers might say something, might be nasty about the management, station, advertisers, whatever. The best way to avoid that, weak managers believe, is to simply make them disappear.

When this happens, I wonder whether the radio station manager ever bothered to form a relationship with the talent involved.

Obviously, if there’s a history of testy relationships, contract squabbles or the talent is just plain crazy there’s a reason for caution. In this case, a quick excision is probably the best way to go.

Usually, though, making a fired air personality disappear is simply the easy way to go. The manager can congratulate himself on what a tough businessperson he is or tell herself “Well, it had to be and I took care of it and that’s that.” Really? Are you aware that you have at least a few listeners who may not share your opinion? What about them? And what about the image of your station in the community?

Radio station managers who have formed decent relationships with talent who've been on their air for more than a few months have made an investment in that personality, one of time, resources and community image. If you can’t afford that talent anymore or he won’t fit in with a format change or you just want to “go in a new direction” (a phrase that should be eliminated from the English language), you need to show enough class and professionalism to do it right.

Assuming no hard feelings between you and the soon-to-be-departed personality it isn’t hard to do a departure right. You just have to want to. Here's what you need:

First: a frank talk with the talent about when and why the move is taking place. No debating. Just facts. And in a businesslike atmosphere.

Second: a witness and a written agreement so there are absolutely no misunderstandings.

Third: a formal departure plan. This is where you say, “You can do a last show, say goodbye, reminisce a little if you like. But no disparaging remarks about the station, sponsors, fellow employees or me. If you play nice, here’s a severance package. If you don’t, you lose it. Okay? Cool. Sign here.” One page, one paragraph, nice and clean.

Then everyone knows what’s going to happen, rewards and consequences are dealt with and the personality’s final day can go quite smoothly.

I don’t know the people or backstory involved at the station that bounced the fifty-years-on-the-air announcer out the door – but I do know what happened next:

  • A competitor gave him a morning in which to do a final show on their station
  • Another competitor held a day-long celebration event for him
  • He’s so popular in the community that there’s talk of running him for office
  • All of these were well covered by local newspaper and TV
How you fire on-air talent really comes down to how you view them in the first place. If you’re the type who doesn’t want your air personalities to get “too big” or looks at them as budget-challenging ego problems, you’re always going to have trouble. If you look at them as talented, valuable employees who represent your station to the public then you’ll be creative – and humane – if you have to replace them.

But don’t break your arm parting yourself on the back if you simply hustle fired talent out the door. As noted above, that can bite you back hard and fast.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011



A telltale sign that Corporate America sees an improving economy is a very strong trend toward expanding its sales forces. Salespeople should have been the last employees to be let go, since they’re the only ones who bring in the money. But many radio stations didn’t see things that way when the economy soured. Now that buyers are loosening the purse strings again, they have to ramp up their sales staffs to handle the increased business. And there’s no better time than right now.

The Alexander Group has just released a comprehensive new study it calls the 2011 Sales Compensation Trends Survey. In a nutshell, Alexander’s David Cichelli, Senior Vice-President and Survey Editor, says the results show a “sharp uptick” in sales hiring plans and loosening of previously tight-fisted controls on expenses. “Most sales departments are ready to spend money to help grow top line revenues” he said.

Hopefully, that includes radio sales departments, too.

The reason for this sudden brightening of viewpoint on sales hiring is the obvious one: companies expect to make more money this year than during the last three recession-racked years. A whopping 80.3% predict sales growth in 2011.

Other highlights from Alexander Group’s survey that are of interest to radio station managers include:

  • Increasing investment in sales departments – Nearly 72% of the companies surveyed say they plan to spend more on sales in 2011

  • Putting more hot bodies on the street – Over 61% plan to hire additional salespeople this year

  • Paying salespeople more – 65% of the large group surveyed said they’ll increase base sales pay over the next 12 months

  • Jacking up sales incentives – Around 3% is the median rate reported by the survey subjects

The Alexander Group study covered a substantial base of companies nationwide. Results are drawn from responses by over 130 corporations employing a total of around 140,000 salespeople.

First: Get going. This is no time to sit tight and hope for better days.

All signs indicate the economy is coming back. Holiday spending was strong and retail, our life’s blood, is looking healthy again for the first time in recent memory. Radio needs well-trained people who come to the table already motivated on the streets, helping customers get back on the air.

Second: It’s also no time for skinflint half-measures. If you’re tempted to say, “I guess we could hire two or three people, pay ‘em straight commission, send ‘em out and see how they do”, you might as well save your time. That kind of thinking sank a lot of broadcasters even before the economy went south. It buried many more when things really got tight.

If you are seriously so beat-up by economic conditions that you can’t think of anything else to do now than the scenario I just mentioned, maybe it’s time to get out of the radio business altogether. There’s no dishonor in that. For some, it’s the only way out of situations they think they can't win.

But if you still have the spark, that Something Within that told you radio was where you needed to be in your life, the drive to get back out and start swinging again, this is the time to get going. Start looking again for quality salespeople, organized yet outside-the-box thinkers who can represent broadcast, online, and any other media you can corral.

Most of all, the Alexander Group survey tells us that the business of selling is coming back, and fast. Which means that a lot of quality salespeople who have been forced to the sidelines are going to get snapped up and put back on the street.

Which also means you’d better get to know who they are so you can grab the good ones before someone else – maybe your competition – gets there first.

I’m thrilled but not surprised by the Alexander survey’s findings. A jump start for sales forces has been long overdue. The smart managers – the ones most likely to make strong gains quickly in the improving economy – feel the sea change, too. And they’re ready to expand their sales forces to ride the crest of the new waves of prosperity that are thundering toward us right now.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011



President Obama’s signing last week of the Local Community Radio Act means you’re likely to have new radio competition regardless of your market size. Before you dismiss Low-Power FM (LPFM) stations as “Amateur Night at the Bijou”, consider this: All those volunteer program hosts will be talking about local issues, local music, local people. How often does any of that happen on your stations?

Prometheus Radio Project, the national community radio organization, wanted only one thing from the Act: elimination of third-adjacency protection of full-power FM stations. They got that. Now, LPFMs can be as close as two “clicks” from your frequency.

But they got more:

  • LPFMs and translators will now exist as equals as far as interference is concerned. Whichever one was there first has to solve any interference problems between the two

  • The FCC can now also issue waivers to LPFMs that don’t meet the minimum protection standards but can be shown through modern measurement methods to not create interference (for instance, if there’s a mountain between the LPFM and a full-power station)

  • The new Act could have speedy legs if FCC Chairman Julius Genechowski’s promise to “take swift action to open the dial to new low-power radio stations” has any meat to it.

All of which means you’re going to have company – and, believe it or not, competition – from micro-broadcasters sooner or later.

Why Bother About the Pipsqueaks?
Sure, a new LPFM might have a range of five miles with a strong wind. And underwriting rates are unlikely to put a serious squeeze on ad dollars in your market. So why bother to do anything more than send them a nice plant and a “Welcome To Town” card (if that) when they fire up their little transmitters?

Because if you’ve paid attention to what LPFM broadcasters have been up to over the last few years, you’ve noticed that they do a lot of interesting things. Things that local broadcasters used to do but often don’t anymore.

Such as:

Remotes – from anything and everything
Where local-market radio used to originate coverage of parades, meetings, Memorial Day ceremonies and the opening of the municipal swimming pool, satellite feeds have taken over. Listeners used to enjoy those broadcasts and advertisers used to sponsor them. They still do – but not on full-power commercial radio.

Discussions of community issues
LPFM stations are far more than just outlets where home-brew program hosts can play their rap or bluegrass or progressive rock records (yes, records sometimes). Many provide the only divergent voices in their communities by organizing and airing debates, round-table discussions and extended coverage of all sorts of events and issues.

Being a local resource – for everything
You can find many LPFM stations that broadcast want ads, even personals, along with swap-and-trade shows and public service announcements by the bucket. Listeners may not stay with an LPFM all day and night but since most thrive on variety, they’re going to attract audiences that crave something original, different, fresh on the radio. Scarce commodities on many full-power stations.

Giving a voice to minorities
Lots of LPFM stations reach out to minority audiences, many of which are underserved or have never been served at all locally. Each of these constitutes a community-within-a-community and the ties that bind are incredibly strong.

Making celebrities out of everyday folks
How many program hosts does it take to run an LPFM? A dozen? Twenty? For many, it’s even more than that. And what they lack in polish and professionalism (traits they often achieve with surprising speed, by the way) they make up for with freshness and localism.

The FCC’s Genechowski also remarked that, “Low-power FM stations are small but they make a giant contribution to local community programming”.
Now, I don’t envision squadrons of tiny LPFM transmitters rising up to overwhelm your stations and take over your market. I do think well-run low-power community stations – the kind we’re about to see a lot more of – can put a serious dent in your image as a local broadcaster if you don’t take them seriously.

Monday, January 10, 2011



Today, due to the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson over the weekend, I’m preempting the usual Monday Sales Blast to provide updated coverage on the state of radio news. We’ll sell stuff again next Monday.

I live and work in Arizona. Like most residents, I’m shocked and saddened by the assassination attempt Saturday against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the mass shooting that ensued, leaving six dead. I’m a broadcast journalist, too, which means I’m also appalled by the sloppiness that characterized some of the coverage of the shooting. And of the scarcity of coverage of ANY kind on radio.

She’s Dead. No, Wait – She’s Alive
Several major national media outlets reported within hours of the Tucson shooting that Giffords was dead. A couple of others didn’t even get her name right. On them, she was “Gifford” (like Cathy Lee), not Giffords, like the Congresswoman who’s fighting for her life.  A journalist friend reminded me of the time during the hours following the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan when ABC-TV anchor Frank Reynolds snapped at his producers to get the facts straight before they gave them to him to report on the air. He was right to do so but the need should never have arisen.

My grandfather was a newspaper editor. I have newsmen on both sides of my family. So I learned early on the axiom expressed by Rudyard Kipling, the one that every journalist of every stripe ought to know and practice automatically:

I have Six Honest Serving-Men
They taught me all I knew;
Their names are What and Where and When
And Why and How and Who

Some of those famous “Six W’s” got lost in the coverage surrounding the Giffords shooting. 

How Radio News Misplayed the Giffords Shooting
Here’s how I found out about the shootings in Tucson: By hearing a phone report on my local NPR station.

Here’s how my teenaged daughter heard about it: from postings on Facebook. She attends the University of Arizona in Tucson so there was naturally quite a bit of interest from fellow Wildcats. Especially since the attack took place within miles of her dorm and Congresswoman Giffords, along with some other victims, was taken to University Hospital, about a five-minute walk away.

It's disturbing enough that this is how many people get their news. What we have to do is provide accurate, reliable information for everyone else.

From the moment the shots were fired – about 10:10 on Saturday morning – radio stations in Phoenix and Tucson scrambled to figure out how to cover the story. Most, it seems, settled for not covering it at all. When I scanned the dial around 11:00. I heard music, commercials and network programming. It wasn’t until over an hour later that a couple of stations began to offer some news. This was especially trying since the aforementioned national media – The New York Times and NPR, among others – reported initially that Giffords had died. Where was the fact checking? The attribution?

My Journalism 54 professor must be squirming in his grave with rage.

One of the aspects of radio news coverage of the shootings that I found particularly irksome was the extent to which radio talk show hosts took over coverage of the story. Several did try to get the facts straight or at least to put people on the air who could tell the story.  But in almost every case, I heard talk hosts doing their usual shtick: arguing, interrupting callers and each other and going for the sensational angle. The actual facts seemed to take second place to the usual listen-to-me-I’m-outrageous acts that are the lifeblood of many talk stations.

That may be entertaining to some listeners but it isn’t news.

We have enough issues in Arizona. The political air is already rancid at times and an ABC TV anchor wasn’t far off in referring to the climate of public debate here as “poisonous”. But this isn’t about finger-pointing and name-calling. It’s about how local radio handles breaking news – or even if it does.

Think for a moment: there are plenty of whack-jobs out there with weapons. What if a Congressman or other politician – none of whom routinely have security assistance – were gunned down in your market. If you have a news person or news staff, are call trees and other emergency coverage systems in place to jump on the story? Do your talk hosts have the good sense to ride with the story instead of their egos for a day or so? How about your deejays: can they handle sensitive breaking news intelligently if it isn’t framed by liners and format clocks?

Even more challenging in this era of network programming and voice-tracked music radio: What if something like this happened on a weekend, as it did in Tucson? Who you gonna call?

If you can’t handle a tough breaking story like the Giffords assassination attempt, listeners will find their news somewhere. Which means television. The Internet. Their cell phones. Anywhere but on your stations.

The shootings in Tucson provide a living textbook for journalism students in 2011. They should also provide a wakeup call to radio station managers that hot news, big news, can and does break at any time, even on weekends. How your stations respond can make or break you as a trusted community resource.

Friday, January 7, 2011



If, like me, you’ve been thrilled by the good fortune that has suddenly cascaded upon Ted Williams, the homeless man with the throat painted in gold in Columbus, GOOD. Many skilled radio professionals are out of work and some have been for a long time. Perhaps now, at the start of the  year, is a perfect time to either recall or to understand for the first time that something fantastic could happen for you, too – any time.

I know what I’m talking about. I’ve been blessed to be given a second chance in my profession, too. That time, it resulted in the job of a lifetime – up to then.  Right now, I’m searching for and confidently expecting yet another “second chance”. You might be in the same situation. We need it. We deserve it. The trick is to be absolutely certain that it WILL happen for us. Because call it what you want, the power that surrounds us is all for the good and it is unlimited.

Not to go all New Age on you here but this belief in the abundance of the universe really does work. (New Age is a terrible term, too, since this belief goes back to the dawn of time. However...)

I’m writing about second chances today because so many radio professionals need one. I don’t believe the phrase is accurate, by the way. There are PLENTY of chances. Let’s call them ADDITIONAL chances instead of second chances, which implies that there might be only two. One thing I know from personal experience is that there is no limit – none whatever – on Additional Chances. Only on our belief that they could exist for us.

Amid all the reportage surrounding the Ted Williams story this week was a little piece on TV about his ex-wife. I mean, the guy has had a full life – way too full, by his own admission – as well as a wife and six kids. She remarked that only last Sunday in church, the sermon was about – go ahead, guess – second chances. The minister asked “Who would you pray for to get another chance?”

His ex-wife’s answer, and that of her current husband: “Ted”.

I’ll borrow that question for today’s column: Who would you pray for to get another chance?

We all know one or more radio pros who desperately need another shot at the business right now. I’ve just been in touch with one of the top air personalities I’ve ever heard, a thoroughly talented broadcaster and a good guy. He’s on the beach simply because an employer reached too high and wound up not being able to do what he planned. Thanks and so long.

Frankly, I’m in the same boat.

More than anyone else, those of us who have earned a crust for a few years in broadcasting know that great talent can wind up unemployed – even in desperate straits – through no fault of their own. This business has a long, bitter history of discarding its best and brightest. Those who make it back again and again have what a long-ago writer called That Something Within: a core belief that not only is great abundance available to you – but that you deserve it.

It’s hard to keep a grip on that, I know. But it works and it works because it’s true.

I’m excited about what’s ahead for you. For me, too. Because it’s going to be terrific and it’s happening right now, whether we realize it or not.

If you need an amazing voice, Ted Williams is your man.

If you could use a terrific morning drive personality, I can steer you straight to a couple of the best you’ll ever meet.

And if you need a strong radio station manager well, humbly, I happen to know one of those. (He doubles in play-by-play, too!)

Most of all, if you’re reluctantly basking with thousands “on the beach” right now, I strongly urge you to reach inside and find That Something Within that reassures you that you are very, very good at what you do. That not a second chance but Another Chance from an unlimited supply is out there for you right now.

Most of all that, like silken-throated Ted Williams in Ohio, no matter what lies behind you, you deserve to survive and thrive right now. And you will if you BELIEVE that you will.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011



Okay, radio rangers, here’s a new tech term to know and share: AMBISONICS. It's a system for broadcasting radio in 3-D and yes, they've made it work in Britain. Just when much of the broadcast world is either deploying or grappling with HD radio, along comes a real live way to broadcast not in two dimensions but in three. Does this mean you need a hole in the top of your head to hear it? No, but you might need one in the ceiling of your car.

Before I proceed, please note the date of this column – specifically that it is NOT April 1st. Although some of this might reek of an April Fool’s gag, it’s all real. And just wacky enough to have come from our broadcasting buddies in Britain.

I got this lead from a mention in Larry Shannon's excellent industry blog, Radio-TV Daily News. If you aren't already on Larry's daily mailing list, jump aboard NOW . There's no better source for a wide variety of radio news and insight.

A recent article in The Daily Telegraph, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, reports that an experimental unit of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has already demonstrated its Ambisonics system of 3-D radio. First reports are impressive. Whether the new technology has any application for real-world radio is another matter.

Toto, We’re Not In Stereo Anymore
Imagine yourself in a car with music or talk on the radio. You have your basic left-right stereo speaker configuration. In many vehicles, there’s also a front-rear mix control. However you blend them, you still get one thing: two-channel stereo.

Very Sixties.

Now imagine that a third dimension in sound appears – above your head. That’s where the BBC system places the third speaker. The results, the report claims, are something special: a whole new way to experience broadcast audio.

For the demo, a memorable sound effects-heavy scene from The Wizard of Oz was produced for radio using the new 3-D system. According to The Telegraph, the 3-D transmission “makes music sound impressive (but) it’s most revelatory for drama...the tornado scene, with the wind swirling towards Dorothy’s house, took on a new atmosphere”.

The concept of radio in 3-D would seem best suited to automobiles, where it’s a lot easier to mount a speaker overhead than in, say, your family room.

How It Works
I’ll just quote The Daily Telegraph article:

The system uses more channels and so is able to pipe sound to more speakers independently. Although it requires new ways of initially recording sound, it can also be mixed from existing recordings. The result is an advance that does not require rewiring of the radio process and so could, if the BBC chose, be implemented over the Internet.


What I think that means is that you might see such a technology deployed
in non-broadcast media first (or exclusively). And with the approach of Internet in car radios, that makes something like 3-D radio a very real possibility.

Bigger Picture: Radio Is Pushing Technological Boundaries Again
The BBC points out that the wider significance of its dance with 3-D radio is that radio is back in the pushing-the-tech-envelope business. That’s a good thing. With DAB iffy in some countries and outright stalled in others, television and new media take the prizes for most recent innovations.

As the BBC’s audio guru, Tim Davie, remarks: “It’s vital we plug radio (back) into the landscape of innovation."

It may be years before we see any meaningful rollout of 3-D radio. It could have a haphazard life like HD or an extended twilight a la AM stereo. It could also fall into the category of gimcrack tech, the likes of Quad FM. What I like about the BBC’s experiments with 3-D radio – and hardly any organization holds the record for more innovative work than the “Beeb” – is that fresh thinking should always be welcome in radio.

Sometimes, it takes new thinking like the BBC's Ambionics 3-D radio system to remind us of that.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011



The public blow-up of ESPN play-by-play announcer Ron Franklin’s image – again – should have radio station managers very much on the alert for similar inappropriate behavior in their operations. Franklin is in the spotlight for a verbal exchange with a female reporter during an ESPN game-day production meeting last weekend. If reports of his remarks are accurate – and so far, they haven’t been denied – they point up the sexism that still exists in many businesses. As operators of federally-licensed facilities, we can ill-afford to let it linger in ours.

Over many years as a TV and radio play-by-play announcer (including events for ESPN) I have partnered with a number of female reporters, sideline contributors, production personnel and on-air partners. I value the woman who was my season-long on-air partner on Fox and enjoyed working with a number of other female co-conspirators on other broadcasts. All were professional, most were nice and even if they hadn’t been, I’m not wired to take sexist potshots at them. I firmly believe most other play-by-play guys are the same.

Naturally, there are a few who didn’t get the memo. Franklin now swims in the same stew as Navy Captain Owen Honors, the former Top Gun pilot who is now also the former captain of the nuclear carrier Enterprise following disclosure of several videos made abord ship that, at minimum, call his judgement concerning gender issues into question.

From a radio station manager’s perspective, the Franklin/ESPN mess serves as a big fat flashing WARNING light: This is 2011. The girls are just as smart – if not smarter – than the boys. And they won’t play nice if you’re going to be a sexist clod. OR allow those who work for you to slip that kind of misbehavior under your radar screen.

Which means that this applies to female managers, too. I’ve seen as much sexist behavior at radio stations run by women as by men. It isn’t rampant by any means but it exists, probably for the same reasons it happens at male-run operations: the boss is simply too busy and trusts his or her employees to act like grownups around each other.

It would be nice if that would reliably happen.

The Challenge: Your Employees Are Who They Are – Period
But here’s the thing: you can’t control how people were raised. Most child psychologists will tell you that an individual is pretty much imprinted for the long run by the time he or she is seven. Even younger. Which means that by the time you get ‘em, your employees are fully-formed class acts or confirmed morons.

What makes it more of a challenge for a radio station manager is that we often hire people for certain on-air roles. Could be the “giggle girl” on the morning show, the sex kitten who heats it up at night, even the overtly gay character who’s part of a morning or afternoon drive zoo. Those are essentially actors playing roles. In real life, they must be treated as professionals and not subjected to bias in any way.

I don’t believe you as a manager will reform confirmed gender-idiots any more than you can re-mold a racist. Or that you should waste your time trying. However revolting those attitudes may be, people are people. It’s rare to find one who will readily shed the scales of prejudice.

What Managers Can and MUST Say To Those Who Don’t Get It
But you can and must lead. You are the boss. When employees are drawing pay from your company, you have not only the right but the obligation to impose and ruthlessly enforce these three policies:

  • Employees will engage in ZERO behavior that in any way insults or denigrates anyone on the basis of gender, appearance, race or anything else

  • As the manager of this radio station I will not permit you to endanger my business or my federal license by such behavior

  • Leading by example, I will immediately bounce out the door anyone who won’t play like a mature grownup

Prohibiting snarky comments about other people isn’t simply good business policy. It is morally high ground you must take. Because not only is it the right way to manage a radio station – it’s also the law.

It will be interesting to see how the ESPN/Ron Franklin situation plays itself out. Hopefully the network will realize that this isn’t a case of being Politically Correct but of being a responsible broadcaster. That would be a strong example to set.

Monday, January 3, 2011



This is going to be a terrific year for radio, much better than its naysayers care to believe. That will be especially true for radio station managers and owners who embrace the new realities of radio life. It isn’t about tightening up the morning show, tweaking the music or cleaning up your interns so remotes don’t resemble college radio outings. Happily, it’s all about things you can directly implement and manage.

Hey, I love history. We can learn a lot from it. But when it comes to financial performance, I can’t think of a year when year-over-year numbers are more meaningless than they are right now. After three years of battling a recession-addled economy, past sales figures tell us only one thing: this has to get better.

While it’s always tempting for a manager to base budgets and goals on previous-year numbers, we need to do better than that in 2011. This is a time for a zero-base look at budgets and expectations – paring everything down to the bones then adding, first, what we need and second, what will give us extra muscle in moving our stations forward. That’s never a bad idea; this year, it’s just about required.

Another way that looking back on the least three years won’t help us is in the confidence department. Your properties may have behaved superbly. Probably, they didn’t. Most likely, you were at least in a holding pattern if not worse. So let’s not give in to doom-and-gloom by excessive archaeology into recent financials.

Instead, let’s concentrate on where we go now.

Regardless of your market size, you want solid traction to get going in the new year. More than ever, these four things will get you there:

Get A Grip On New Media – So you have a website. So what? It needs to be valuable to your listeners and advertisers or it’s nothing more than something you checked off a to-do list. Listeners don’t care about your air personalities’ favorite movies or what the national group owner supplies that might be interesting to website visitors. You need to provide a reason for listeners to visit your website every day – or they won’t.

I’ll talk more about winning radio station websites soon. For now, look at your website home page like a listener would. Anything interesting? Valuable? Funny? Or do you have to register, click several times and generally wade through meaningless junk to find what you want?

Apply PPM Tactics Even If Your Market Isn’t Rated
One of the big lessons we’re learning from Arbitron’s PPM ratings system is that air personalities need to look at every segment of each hour as equally important. That means spreading good content throughout the hour. It also means get to the point without lengthy lead-ins.

Gone are the days when we load up the first quarter-hour with the big stuff and plan every major bit or guest for the 7:20 AM segment. Listeners, we are discovering, don’t listen that way. So we had better not be programming that way.

Provide Compelling Local Content
Make sure everything on your air has at least some local flavor. Yes, if you’re a talk station or employ another format that relies heavily on satellite programming, much of the day is beyond your control. But it’s still your station and your listeners live in your market, not New York or Washington or L.A.

This means providing something other than canned weather updates without current temps. Disembodied voices intoning “community calendars” and other content. Celebrity gossip instead of local news. This is the year you have to do it differently.

Build and Keep A Stable Sales Force
In my best-selling book, The Zero Turnover Sales Force – conveniently on sale now at your local Barnes & Noble or Borders or, if they’re sold out, at online at Amazon.com – I offer many ways of building and keeping a sales team that succeeds in part because managers aren’t constantly recruiting, training and ramping up new people. Buy a copy, for cryin’ out loud. What are you, cheap? Okay, trade it out. I’m game.

One important point is that local business people won’t tell their story to the salesperson of the week. When your staff is stable it builds relationships with clients and prospects and avoids meaningless cold calling. If a key requirement of a sales job applicant at your station is that he or she has been born. you need to look deeper and hire better. There is an enormous payoff to having a stable sales force.

You know what I wish for you: An incredible, profitable, highly satisfying New Year. Join me here regularly and I’ll share insights that will help you get there.

Friday, December 31, 2010



This is a personal story. I include it here because it shows how a top salesperson should relate not only to a strong client but to an air personality as well. It’s about a cold New Year’s Eve in a Midwest capital city. Yours truly was on the air, doing the ubiquitous end-of-year countdown show. Nothing unusual about that except for the locale: I was broadcasting from a converted camping trailer in an office building’s parking lot.

Here’s why: The station where I was night jock and weekend play-by-play announcer had been sold. It planned to move into new digs in a nice downtown office building and the remodeling had been underway for some weeks when it became clear that we would have to vacate the old building – owned by our former partner, a TV station – before the studio suite in the new place would be finished. What to do? Borrow a remote trailer from a sister station in another market, tow it up to our city, plop it into a corner of the parking lot and wire that baby up.

Welcome To Radio Siberia
The little vehicle was nothing more than a camping trailer that had been gutted and re-purposed for remote broadcasts. I think our new sister station had used it for week-long broadcasts from its state fair. The door opened into a room that housed the remote equipment rack and a counter where the newscaster did his reports.

Across the glass from him was the microscopic control room. To enter, you had to open a door, ease in, then shut it carefully. No visitors, either: there was room for exactly one person. This little studio, which was modestly soundproofed, sported a five-pot Gates Ambassador control board, two Gates turntables and an ITC three-deck cart machine.

Everything else happened across the windy parking lot, inside the building. The newsroom was up and running. A make-shift production room was in there, too, along with executive and sales offices. And the restrooms.

We rarely received visitors in our little corner of Siberia. A news dude would trudge out once an hour and the chief engineer, a young wire-twister who didn’t trust any announcer for any  reason, peered in from time to time to see if we were still on the air. Otherwise, it was actually rather peaceful.  Except when the winter wind gusted across the open parking lot, which made the trailer rock a little. That was solved early on by anchoring it to the pavement with guys.

Now you have the picture.

The AE, The Veep and the GOOD Stuff
And so we come to this particular New Year’s Eve. I had the 8-1 shift, the top-hits-of-the-year countdown show.  The whole thing had been sold to a single sponsor, a major national convenience store chain. That in itself was a terrific idea. First, the time was hardly premium for most advertisers. Second, only the chain’s numerous metro locations would be open for New Year’s revelers to grab last-minute supplies of beer and snacks.

That’s still a great idea for a New Year’s countdown show sponsorship package.

Here’s where the really important part of this little tale occurs. I was well into the show when the trailer’s door swung open. Since it was always locked for security reasons, this had to be a station employee with a key. Sure enough, in climbed one of our top account executives – and he had a big grin on his face. I squeezed out of the little control room to say hello and he said, “Doug, I have someone I want you to meet.” And he introduced me to another smiling soul, who proved to be the Regional Vice President of the convenience store chain!

I thought it was pretty cool that the two of them, who surely had other things to do on New Year’s Eve, had taken the time to stop by and swap howdies. But then it got even better: the VP and the AE began to bring in bag after bag after bag of stuff from the sponsor's stores: chips, dip, candy, frozen pizza, toilet paper, even loaves of bread and – BEER!

It was all for the staff working on New Year’s Eve during the countdown show. Which meant one news guy and me. He and I later divvied up the goods (I managed to abscond with all the beer) and I happily went home to my apartment in the wee hours for my own little New Year’s party.

The point of this little remembrance is to illustrate how a top salesperson should work with customers. In this case, the AE could have just had some goodies delivered. (Many wouldn't have bothered even with that.) Instead, he had formed such a good relationship with the regional VP that they decided to bring the viands in person. This strengthened their already strong relationship and, of course, it meant the world to a poorly-paid 22-year-old marooned in a trailer in a windy parking lot on New Year’s Eve.

Next time there’s even a question about whether a salesperson should show up at a remote, client event or special program, pull this out as an example of how radio relationships ought to be. And have a wonderful, meaningful, joyous and profitable New Year!

MONDAY: The first Monday Sales Blast of the New Year!