Riding the Gravy Train

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Among the many sales people who worked at stations I managed over the years was one individual I’ll call “Bert”. As with some who gravitate to sales, Bert was quick with excuses when he failed to reach his sales goals. He gave every appearance of working diligently, but the big sales that were always “just around the corner” never managed to materialize.

One day, Bert was overheard being warned by a fellow sales rep that management wouldn’t continue to accept poor sales performance.

“Oh, I know they won’t keep me on much longer”, Bert replied, “but I’ll ride this gravy train until the tracks run out.”

Bert’s comment returns to me now and again, especially as our nation continues to blissfully ride the “gravy train” of reckless spending. Various talking heads in the media caution of the dangers should the United States fail to increase the debt limit. President Obama expresses doubt that Social Security checks will continue to be issued, and we might not even be able to pay the military. So we just have to extend the debt ceiling, which will let us continue borrowing money that we know we can never hope to repay.

Perhaps it has not occurred to these people what will happen should the United States dollar collapse and our currency become worthless. This could be because no one can envision such a catastrophe happening to a nation as prestigious and powerful as the U.S. I recall the people of Rome once felt that way, too.

A collapsed economy means every special interest group (and every organization vital to our existence as a nation) will be unfunded. Will the fire department continue to fight fires if the firefighters are not paid? Will the police continue to patrol our streets if their paychecks are not worth the paper they’re printed on? A collapsed economy means no Social Security checks…ever. And that’s just the beginning.

Ah…but it can’t happen here! After all, this is the United States we’re talking about!

So the politicians continue to increase the speed of the “gravy train”, adding another trillion dollars in new debt each year. We now approach the point where our debt will be in excess of 90% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. History shows that no nation — regardless of how prestigious and powerful — has survived financially beyond that point.

Yes, just as it did for Bert, the tracks will eventually run out, perhaps sooner than anyone suspects. While Bert was able to weather that event with a minimum amount of discomfort, I wonder if our nation will be as fortunate?

The Afterlife

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Several years ago, I discontinued my television service. Evaluating how little I watched TV and comparing it to the dollars it cost to sustain a service I used so little, the decision was easy. Now, I access the programs I prefer the day after they air via the web, and watch them on my schedule. All while pocketing the $70 per month I would have paid if I hadn’t boxed up my flatscreen.

While perusing the available fare on the network web sites, I noticed Rhonda Rousey was hosting Saturday Night Live this past weekend. Although I hadn’t watched SNL in decades, the appeal of Ms. Rousey overcame any hesitation. I switched to full screen on my 24-inch monitor and sat back to enjoy the show.

The first thing I noticed — following the unfunny opening skit — was the amazing number of cast members filling slots once occupied by comedic luminaries such as Belushi, Radner, Chase, and Murray. The cast members appeared to outnumber the live studio audience. It can only surmise NBC has opted for quantity to fill the gap left by an absence of talent.

Following the litany of unknown names that populated the opening, Ms. Rousey appeared in all her glory, looking very fit despite her recent professional setback. What followed was painful to watch. The dialog — one cannot refer to it as “comedic” — ranked alongside a prolonged visitation with members of the Spanish Inquisition. And I’m not speaking of the Monty Python version. The attempts at humor were both not funny and an embarrassment. The fact that alleged “writers” are paid to produce such drivel demonstrates how far our society has fallen.

So, I’m thinking it’s me. I just don’t “get” today’s humor. But then, I realized what SNL proffers is not humor. It’s something else entirely. It is the anti-humor. And yet the audience laughs mindlessly, which is on a par with the caliber of “jokes” provided by the program.

Watching last Saturday’s program — the 10 minutes I could withstand — I felt sad for SNL, NBC, and, most of all, the alumnae who once made Saturday Night Live what it was.

SNL is dead. The Saturday Night Zombie. It just doesn’t know it yet.

A New Hope

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It’s been a while since we woke up WordPress on the PC (this became obvious from the number of updates waiting for us), but it’s a new year and time for a new start.

At Radio3K.com, we’ve just emerged from a protracted period of programming (say that three times as fast as you can), and are now looking to do more with this long-dormant blog. But it’s the results of that programming binge we want to address for this post.

First, there’s an update for our ever-popular Broadcast Calendar Generator to version 5.2. In addition to a new interface that gives you a thumbnail view of the calendar style you’re selecting, we’ve actually added a new calendar format: the Planning calendar. The Planning calendar can be a great tool for, well, planning a long-term schedule with a client. By all means, take the link and check it out. Of course, the Broadcast Calendar Generator is free to download and use all the way through 9999. That’s assuming the Windows operating system will still be around then. We won’t be here to find out, unfortunately. Come to think of it, neither will you, so I guess that’s a moot point.

The other star on the horizon is a major update to SCOOTER, our schedule-building software. Moving up to version 5, with release targeted for first quarter of this year, SCOOTER has over 30 new features and enhancements. While the link covers most of them, it’s important to know that we’re adding new features to both the free and Pro versions. One such enhancement is unlimited undo/redo when working with ad schedules. We could list everything here, but the post would scroll down the monitor for quite a distance. So it’s better to click the link. Trust us.

One of the most requested features for SCOOTER has been the ability to export schedules to the station’s traffic system. This feature is not in the initial release of SCOOTER Pro 5, but we have not abandoned this goal. We plan to develop “export to traffic” as an addition to version 5, with a planned additional update later in 2016. A future post will address the issues involved in adding this capability to the program.

Thanks for being patient, and we promise to not let any more dust gather on WordPress.

Radio — R.I.P.?

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Recently, I heard someone who controls a very sizable media budget declare: “Radio is a dead medium!” He has moved all his ad dollars to other avenues…Radio gets $0. Period.

Is Radio dead?

Since leaving my management position in Radio a number of years ago, I must confess my Radio listening has declined dramatically. From listening almost constantly, I now listen to Radio…not at all. This was initially shocking to me — someone who was steeped in the magic of Radio since I was a pre-teen now moving into the ranks of a non-listener.

Inquiring of friends who are not in the industry elicits much the same response: little to no listening to Radio. Has Radio lost much of its audience? Could be.

What I know for certain is Radio people don’t use the medium the way “average” listeners do. And that could be the reason a growing number of people have abandoned Radio.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love Radio. It’s just that Radio is no longer the center of my life. I’ve become “normal”, and that could be the key.

It would be ideal if everyone working in Radio was able to take a year off. Get away from the day-to-day grind and start listening like a “regular” listener. I suspect the revelation would be profound. And the result could be a re-invigoration of Radio that would boost the medium far into the new century.

I ask again: is Radio dead?

The problem with being dead is that you don’t know you are. I hope Radio is not in that situation. But ultimately it depends on the listeners. And if they’ve decided Radio is no longer vital to their everyday lives, the medium I’ve loved for over a half century is in real trouble.

The Final AM Sign Off?

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The most recent buzz about AM Radio isn’t encouraging. Many have written off the band as consumers increasingly turn to FM and digital for entertainment.

So where is the surprise? Technologies advance, consumer preferences change, and time marches on.

If, like me, you’re old enough to remember the “golden age” of rock and roll, AM Radio was the medium everyone wanted. AM Radio launched Elvis, Jerry Lee, The Beatles, and countless others. Legendary stations such as WABC, WLS, KHJ, and KCBQ — to name but a few — brought music to millions of teens now into their senior citizen years. The memories are irreplaceable, but unfortunately the medium that delivered all this magic is not.

Again, where is the surprise? The AM generation moved from vinyl to cassette tape to CD’s and now streaming digital. The delivery method has changed, but the concept remains the same.

The truly sad part is the magic that made it all so special is gone. The terrific radio stations with personalities who drew millions have diminished to the point that most listeners can’t identify anyone past morning drive. For those of us who spent time DXing AM stations from hundreds of miles away, those evening jocks made the AM band sparkle like nothing ever heard on FM, let alone digital. It’s a world forever lost to those who have never experienced it.

So let AM slide quietly into oblivion. It was wonderful while it lasted. And if you lived it, the magic you experienced is a part of you that will never fade away.

55 People

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Almost every advertiser I’ve known possessed little to no idea of how to measure the success of his ad investment. If you were to ask most advertisers how many responses are required to make their ad campaign profitable, the answer would most likely be: “A lot!”

Yet, there are a few analytically-minded retailers who think they have a good idea how many responses are needed to achieve their sales goals. Unfortunately, the number they come up with is usually off by at least an order of magnitude.

One car dealer we worked with described a successful ad campaign as pulling in “400 to 500 people” per week. When those numbers did not materialize, he determined the campaign a failure and chalked up the deficiency as being the fault of…you guessed it: Radio!

Yet a little work with the Return On Investment Calculator demonstrated that not only were his expectations too high, but the message he was conveying was not worthy of a response.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll say our car dealer was willing to spend $8,000 per week. He would like a 7% return on his investment — in other words, he would like enough sales to recover his $8,000 plus make an additional $560 to boot. His profit margin was 5% and his average sale for a new vehicle was $15,500. He also closed 1 out of every 5 prospects.

With all this information, and the cume of our small station (49,500 people per week), the calculator determined that only 55.2 people needed to respond to his message in order for him to close 11.05 of them. This would let him garner gross sales of $171,200 and recover all his investment plus make the extra $560. The 55.2 people worked out to be 0.111616 percent of the cume (slightly over a tenth of a percent).

So the station’s question to him was: “When our 49,500 listeners hear your message, will 56 of them find it compelling enough to respond?”

To his credit, the auto dealer recognized his message fell short of being compelling. We were able to work with him to devise a message the stood out, and actually exceeded the response he needed to hit his goal. After this, he became one of the best clients on our station.

The bottom line: it does not take thousands or even hundreds of listeners to respond to an advertiser’s message. It only requires a schedule sufficient to reach the cume and a message worthy of generating a response. The actual numbers needed might surprise even you.

Becoming Pandora

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My apologies for the lack of blog posts over the past couple of years. Both a change at the personal level and at the business level have claimed much of my time. Hopefully, the activity on this blog will increase substantially in the days to come.

The Pandora music service has developed into somewhat of a bugaboo for Radio since its inception. I confess I was an early adopter of Pandora, but I have not logged in to it for over two years. Over time, Pandora lost its appeal, and I’m somewhat puzzled why some Radio execs fret over the service’s inroads on traditional broadcast.

You see, Pandora is not Radio, and it never can be. Not because of what Pandora is — but because of what Pandora is not.

Pandora is not one of your air personalities riding an elephant in the circus parade. Pandora is not your morning news man giving blood at a Red Cross blood drive. Pandora is not your station broadcasting live from a business grand opening. Pandora is not providing updates on local weather conditions. Pandora is not giving the current time and temperature.

These things make Radio what Pandora can never be: live, local, and relevant.

Now, it’s true. Many stations have become little more than a jukebox with commercials. And if your stations fall into that category, Pandora is probably breathing down your neck. Why should someone tune in to your station when they can get what they need via the web? But if your station excels in local involvement, you’ve staked out territory that Pandora can never enter.

Radio’s problem with Pandora has been that for too long and in too many markets Radio has become Pandora. The solution is simple: it’s time to become Radio again.


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Delena Kelley, October 2, 1950 – November 22, 2011

“Years of hanging on
To dreams already gone,
Years of wishing you were here.
After all this time you`d think I wouldn’t cry
It`s just that I still love you after all these years.”

— Barbara Mandrell, “Years

One Year

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“And now, I’m glad I didn’t know
the way it all would end, the way it all would go.
Our lives are better left to chance;
I could have missed the pain,
but I’d have had to miss the dance.”

                      — Garth Brooks, “The Dance”

Goodbye, Delena

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My wife, partner, and friend of 40 years, Delena “Dee” Kelley, was laid to rest today.

We met 41 years ago — November 25, 1970 — and I have cherished every moment of our time together, even when we occasionally disagreed on topics large and small. When Delena was diagnosed with liver disease in early October, we had no idea of the severity of her affliction. By the end of October, both of us understood that her remaining time was short. She passed away Tuesday morning, November 22nd. And the world will never be quite the same without her.

For over 20 years, we worked side-by-side in a series of Radio stations, from small FM’s to multi-station markets. Thanks to Delena’s skill at organizing and training sales staffs, as well as creating exceptional promotions, our stations blossomed. Along the way, we worked with scores of very talented Radio people. Unfortunately, Delena did not get a chance to realize how profound was her influence on those she helped train. Many of those she mentored have gone on to successful careers both in and out of Radio. I consider their achievements to be the greatest tribute to Delena’s training and motivational skills.

One of those who benefited most from Delena’s guidance and instruction was our daughter, Carrie. She grew up in Radio, performing every job from board operator to top salesperson. Carrie went on to excel in sales for Clear Channel and CBS before leaving Radio for other pursuits. Both Carrie and I feel Delena’s loss deeply.

Delena’s name will not appear on the pages of Radio Ink, be noted by the media “movers and shakers”, or be listed in the Radio Hall of Fame. But her legacy will live on in those whom she trained, and with her husband who will carry her in his heart for the remainder of his days.

Goodbye, Delena. I love you so.