Clutter? Ya Think?

      Comments Off on Clutter? Ya Think?

There was recently much buzz in the trade press about clutter on Radio. This revelation was about as shocking as announcing there are peanuts in peanut butter or corruption in government. Of course Radio is cluttered, and it’s primarily due to the never-ending desire of owners for increased revenue.

Back in the early days of Radio — when the F.C.C. was only concerned with eliminating interference between licensed stations (its original purpose) — there were essentially no limits on the number and length of commercials that could be broadcast. It was only common sense among programmers that allowed them to understand that listeners wanted entertainment first and would tolerate only so many ads before turning the dial.

When the government via the F.C.C. mandated limits on commercials, those limits were generous: no more than 18 minutes of ads per hour. Most Radio broadcasters eventually became much more conservative, with some stations airing only nine ads an hour. Alas, this is now history.

Today, commercials are back with a vengeance. While some music stations still air a modest number of commercials, they air them in one or two breaks that last for up to six minutes — an eternity for listeners.

But talk Radio has become the worst offender. In an effort to obtain maximum revenue, the number of 15, 10, and 5 second ads has become overwhelming. And any programmer who thinks this overload of ads doesn’t affect listening should sit in the back seat of any commuter vehicle and watch how fast the channel is changed when the break begins.

Unfortunately, clutter knows no bounds. It extends to the mindless chatter of the majority of local Radio “talent” in almost every market. A mentor during my early days in the industry revealed a pearl of wisdom: “Most DJ’s confuse talking with personality. They aren’t the same thing.” This mentor stressed the rule of focusing on one thought per break — the next live broadcast or the current contest or a teaser for the next song coming up…but never all of them, or even two of them. Just one.

When a broadcast professional leaves the industry, he will soon start listening to Radio as an ordinary consumer. Now, he hears things differently. The many program elements he tolerated as an insider have suddenly morphed into… well, clutter. There’s no other word for it. And it’s why alternatives like Pandora have found a prominent place in many listeners’ media mix.

So, yes — there is far too much clutter on Radio. Now the real question: what’s Radio going to do about it?

One Small Step for Issues and Programs

      Comments Off on One Small Step for Issues and Programs

One of the most painful radio station experiences is being forced to give away profits. Specifically, giving away cash in the form of an F.C.C. fine. Yet several times a year I am amazed to see stations forced to surrender thousands of dollars — often ten thousand or more — in fines because of missing or inadequate public files.

When assuming the management of a newly acquired station, my first action was always to examine the public file — especially the Issues and Programs section. It appears that shortcomings in the Issues and Programs List are most often the cause of commission fines. This was certainly the case with each new station I managed; the Issues and Programs List was often either sparse or absent.

The F.C.C. is reasonably clear about the requirements for Issues and Programs Lists. However, a shocking number of licensees are either ignorant or indifferent to these regulations.


At, we debated for several months over the creation of a new application designed to help stations do a better job with their Issues and Programs Lists. Our natural inclination is to stay as far away from F.C.C. issues as possible. However, the number of fines relating to Issues and Programs Lists (and the amount of those fines) finally prompted us to develop and release that new application.

The program is called QuIPList (for “Quarterly Issues and Programs List”) and is a management system designed to help you organize your community issues and responsive programs. You can read more about the program at the link, but the bottom line is that QuIPList delivers your printed Issues and Programs List in a format recommended by attorneys knowledgeable of F.C.C. requirements, ready for placing in your public file. You can optionally generate the Issues and Programs List as a PDF file, easily placed on your station’s web site (recommended by the F.C.C.). Follow the link to download QuIPList and try it free for 30 days.

Of course, you will still have to determine relevant community issues and devise responsive programming for your stations. QuIPList is not a miracle worker, but it is a management system that will help you produce the necessary documentation to avoid expensive penalties provided you supply appropriate content.

Undoubtedly, there will continue to be stations that try to skimp on their Issues and Programs Lists (such as running only Public Service Announcements in place of true issue-oriented programming). And the F.C.C. will continue to issue thousands of dollars in fines. If our QuIPList application helps you avoid even one fine, it will be a step in the right direction. And maybe that’s all we can hope for.

Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell. Don’t Buy.

      Comments Off on Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell. Don’t Buy.

Recently, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission “clarified” that body’s latest dictate requiring a “non-discrimination disclaimer” be included on all broadcast advertising contracts. Chairman Julius Genechowski, displaying a level of naivete possible only by a government bureaucrat, expressed his belief that a station would routinely decline a schedule that even hinted at any discrimination bias.

Mr. Genechowski unfortunately conflates the rights of buyer and seller. Sellers, by law, are prohibited from discriminating. Buyers are not.

A Radio station cannot refuse an advertising schedule for reasons of race, ethnicity, sex, age, and all the rest covered under federal law. But under the FCC’s reasoning, an advertiser would be required to buy ad time on ALL stations in a market if the advertiser’s desire is to exclude certain ethnic groups. So let’s think about this for a moment. If you are a seller of western-style clothing and your research indicates listeners to country music stations are most likely to purchase your pointy-toed boots, you can no longer buy time on just the two country stations in town. No, now you must also buy the Hispanic and urban stations, even though no one in their audiences has ever stepped into your store, or is likely to regardless of how much you spend on the minority stations. And if you’re the country stations, you’ll be required to refuse the schedule if you learn the western store is not buying the other stations.

The bottom line is that the FCC is dictating a requirement that is unenforceable. Radio stations cannot dictate to advertisers where to spend their money (they’ve been trying to do that for 70 years without result). Under our society, a buyer has the freedom to invest his money wherever he wants. Placing the burden on stations to police an advertiser’s buying decisions is not only a P.C. bridge too far, it is jeopardizing the license of the station via the actions of a third party that is beyond the licensee’s control.

Instead of the stated goal of eliminating discrimination, the FCC has established a new frontier for “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.” Stations will include the mandated disclaimer, and won’t probe an advertiser’s intent. Client’s won’t tell the station about their other media buys.

And, if the commission persists in its folly, advertisers will exercise their ultimate option when it comes to purchasing Radio time: “Don’t Buy.” At a time when Radio is struggling to recover from government’s profligate spending and a depressed economy, the FCC’s timing is impeccable. And senseless.

No Tacos Tonight

      Comments Off on No Tacos Tonight

It’s Friday night and you’ve got dinner plans. You’ve been looking forward to enjoying the delicious tacos at your favorite Mexican restaurant. The food is so good that you went there Monday night and now it’s time for another visit.

Oh, sorry! You can’t go to your favorite Mexican eatery. The federal government has a regulation that requires you to evenly distribute your restaurant choices among all available ethnicities. Since you’ve already been to a Mexican restaurant, you must select from Greek, Italian, Chinese, or one of the other styles available.

If you’re licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, this scenario is not quite the joke it appears to be. New guidelines from the FCC require stations to include a disclaimer on proposals to advertisers reminding them that discrimination in the purchase of airtime is illegal. This tactic is designed to prevent agencies from enforcing advertiser dictates for certain formats. No more should advertisers be able to say “No Hispanic” or “No Urban”. If you want to advertise, you have to advertise to everybody.

Of course, this flies in the face of the concept of targeted marketing and practices that have worked well for hundreds of thousands of advertisers for over 50 years. Managing several country music stations over my career, I was frequently faced with “No Country” dictates. While I thought the advertisers were short-sighted in taking that choice, we didn’t try to force the advertiser to buy our station. Of course, we weren’t the federal government. But even if we were, that approach would have been wrong. And it is wrong today.

In a free society, an advertiser — or a dining patron — should be free to choose where he spends his money. Forcing an advertiser to buy all the stations in a market without regard to format or target audience is typical bureaucratic thinking. It is not part of the fabric of American life, and hopefully common sense will prevail.

So enjoy your choice of restaurant — for the moment. We haven’t as yet progressed to the point where government is telling you where you can eat. But looking at this FCC mandate, one wonders if your favorite tacos might soon be on someones regulatory list.

Radio — Fear No Evil

      Comments Off on Radio — Fear No Evil

In Greek mythology, the first female — Pandora — was given a box (actually a jar) she was told not to open. Of course, she failed to heed the warning and opened the box…allowing all the evils inside to escape and plague the inhabitants of the earth.

As of late, the internet web site Pandora is being touted as Radio’s evil — the threat being that the streaming music service provided by Pandora will result in the demise of traditional Radio.

It could happen, if Pandora could somehow manage to

  • Provide local news content
  • Update listeners on local weather
  • Furnish local emergency information during floods, tornadoes, blizzards, earthquakes, and other natural disasters
  • Participate in local events such as fund drives and other public service events
  • Have local personalities appear at community events to interact with listeners
  • Have local personalities, period

The key word in each of the above: local.

I first found Pandora a couple of years ago, apparently shortly after the service was inaugurated. While I enjoyed the uninterrupted music, the lack of personality — of fun — made the service little more than a jukebox. After a few months, I stopped listening, choosing instead to avail myself of my own extensive music library on my computer’s hard drive. My custom-programmed jukebox was a better choice for me than Pandora’s semi-custom jukebox.

Is there a place for Pandora? Certainly. With the projected increase in in-car audio streaming, Pandora will certainly be a major competitor for Radio.

But will Pandora cause Radio’s demise? No. Hopefully, it will cause Radio to start doing a better job in the areas I outlined above.

When it comes to local content, Radio is king. Pandora will find a long, difficult road ahead in trying to approach the throne.

Selling Without Numbers

      Comments Off on Selling Without Numbers

When station revenues begin to decline, management quite sensibly looks to reduce expenses. One obvious example of red ink on the P&L is the monthly payment to Arbitron (or whatever ratings service your station employs). While it’s tempting to not renew the ratings contract and pocket the savings, most sales people shudder at the thought of selling without “numbers”.

In major markets having access to ratings information is vital. But in smaller markets, where local direct is king, the numbers are less important. Experience shows that less scrupulous stations frequently compensate for bad ratings by distorting the numbers. This adds to the clients’ general confusion and distrust of ratings in general. Who do you trust when every station is claiming “we’re number one!”?

At least one market manager decided to try a different approach. Taking the bold step of not renewing his ratings contract, he took the rather substantial sum he saved and applied it to persuading clients to make year-long commitments to his stations. When key major advertisers were offered an all-expense-paid two week vacation for two in Hawaii in return for a year’s contract with the station, the result was a 37% increase in station revenue.

Advertisers are people, too. They respond to personal inducement just as would anyone else. The money freed up by dropping your ratings service can be multiplied via innovative approaches into more profit for your stations. Once sales people see the potential, the question of selling without numbers becomes less important. That’s because sales reps are people, too. And they always love making more sales.

Goodbye 2010

      Comments Off on Goodbye 2010

It has been another long year of discontent on the economic front and Radio, to my disappointment, has yet to recover along with the rest of the country.

With two years to encourage renewed economic growth, the current administration has been able to barely make the needle quiver. While Radio station operation is a far cry from managing the fate of any nation — let alone the United States — any manager with a modicum of effort can effect a turnaround of an ailing station within two years. Yet here we are, two years after the arrival of “change”, mired in near-10% unemployment, with no sign of any improvement on the horizon.

Instead of taking steps to boost employment and encourage the growth of business, the government has taken almost every step possible to slow the economy. Uncertainty on taxes (then extending the current rates for only two years), new regulations that serve to restrict bank loans, extending unfunded jobless benefits (for which businesses bear the burden), and talk of increasing the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour — a definite job-killer.

It will require a truly pro-business administration and congress to get the country back on track to prosperity. And I don’t see that happening until possibly 2013, or beyond.

So, goodbye 2010. You’ve been a lackluster year, and I hope you won’t be joined by 2011 and 2012. But I wouldn’t bet my Radio station on it.

Penny Wise, Customer Foolish

      Comments Off on Penny Wise, Customer Foolish

Owners and managers of most commercial operations do everything they can to attract and hold loyal customers. These businesses understand that once a customer has been won over, that individual’s repeat business can add to the bottom line for years, even decades to come.

The same is true about Radio. As a multi-station manager, I often spent time with my staff brainstorming new ideas to increase our loyal customer base — both among advertisers and listeners.

Last month, I came across a new concept: a store policy designed to drive customers away.

Fortunately, this policy did not originate from any Radio station. Instead, it came from a well-known, national office supply chain. This was a franchise that was at the top of my “preferred business” list; low prices, convenient location, excellent selection of merchandise. For these reasons, it was my first stop when shopping for a replacement set of headphones for my PC. These days, headphones are encased in molded plastic suitable for guarding gold at Ft. Knox (assuming we have any gold remaining there). It required a sharp utility knife and several minutes work to free the headphones and position them over my ears…only to find them to be the most uncomfortable model I’ve ever worn.

After less than two hours of adjusting, repositioning, and pain, I returned to the store for a refund. It was then I learned there was a 15% “restocking” fee because I had opened the plastic package. I explained that I had to open the package in order to learn that the headphones were unsuitable; wearing the headset while it was still encased in plastic didn’t seem to work. Ah, but a policy is a policy, so I was charged $4 and change for returning an unsatisfactory product.

I found the entire experience unsatisfactory. So, in gaining their $4+ restocking fee, they lost a customer. I now travel slightly farther to a competing store and they get all my office supply business. There I found a better set of headphones (very comfortable!) for less money. And a formerly loyal customer has become a non-customer for my old office supply place.

Are your stations policies driving your customers away? While Radio doesn’t have “restocking” fees (thank God), think about policies that give new advertisers a discount while taking existing customers for granted. There may be other, more subtle ways that Radio discourages repeat business.

My recommendation: review your policies and make improvements where necessary. Your customers (and bottom line) will be better for it.

Sales Blinders

      Comments Off on Sales Blinders

How much sales training is enough? Personally, I believe a Radio sales rep cannot get enough training. With over 30 years in the business, I was always learning something new…for a while.

Then, after a period of time, I found I was hearing the same training but from different sources. Certainly there were variations on the theme, but overall few new concepts were introduced by the established “experts” in Radio sales training.

It was only when I moved to the world outside Radio that I started being exposed to new and different sales ideas. Suddenly, I was hearing some startling sales techniques, and immediately thought of how they could be applied to Radio sales.

One excellent resource for sales ideas is the field of Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) — otherwise known as network marketing. If there is a more difficult sales field than Radio, it’s MLM. If you haven’t yet, you might want to look into the techniques espoused by MLM experts Tom “Big Al” Schreiter, Todd Falcone, Art Jonak, Kim Klaver, and the terrifically-named Tim Sales. It’s not a perfect fit, but Radio — and your personal sales — can definitely benefit from MLM’s innovative approaches.

For too long, Radio sales training has been limited to the same pool of experts. It’s time to cast off the blinders and look to other fields for ideas on how to sell more Radio in 2011 and beyond.

Tools of the Trade

      Comments Off on Tools of the Trade

Like many–if not most–Radio professionals, I’ve had the good fortune to work for a variety of station owners. Some owners are excellent, and these are the ones that truly understand the business. Often, a future owner starts out as a news reporter or air talent and either work their way up to ownership or inherit family-owned stations. Other owners are not so good, and some — more than I prefer — do serious damage to the Radio profession.

Of the many stations where I have worked, only a very few were truly well-equipped to enable the employees to do their jobs in an expeditious, professional manner. While no owner desires to throw money away, those in the “excellent” category are willing to invest the capital to build an organization of which every employee could be proud.

This is the difference that manifests itself at a live broadcast when one station arrives in a clean, professionally lettered/decorated station van, with wireless microphones, dedicated links to the studio, one or more air talent, a producer, and even the salesperson who sold the broadcast present to coordinate with the client. By contrast, another station arrives with the air talent driving his own personal vehicle, broadcasting the event via his hand-held cell phone or some combination of equipment cobbled together from a foray to the local Radio Shack.

There is much more to this than spending or saving money. Clients can see at a glance which stations care enough to invest in the future — and the future of the advertiser who purchases time on the stations. Employees who care about the owners for whom they work take pride in having the tools of the trade they need to do the job. Salespeople are confident the stations will produce results for clients. Better talent is attracted to successful stations, allowing the owners to build superior staffs.

This all translates into an improved bottom line.  Not in the short term, necessarily, but over time, it is one of the ingredients that builds a good station into a great station.

I only wish more owners could come to realize it.