Tuesday, December 09, 2008

NBC and Leno: Like Radio Giving Up Local Control: Short term financial gain is what NBC is getting by putting Jay Leno on each night at 10PM. Lower ratings, lower revenues but more short term profits. Executives show a better balance sheet. For now. Get to keep their jobs. For a while. Even though no new hits are being developed on the network. Fewer eyeballs on NBC. That can't be a good thing long term.

What's the radio analogy? In an effort to cut costs, it seems like time slots are up for outside hire. While there are clearly some "must listen" strong national shows, let's resist the urge to overdo it for short term financial gain. I strongly concur with those who say that radio's best hope is in being local. Great stations are still best served when anchored by local hosts who know their towns and their listeners.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Say Goodbye To The "B" Students: For years, the radio industry had the rap of being a safe haven for "C" students. With the last wave of consolidations and job cuts a few years ago, most of them were eliminated. Now, with another round of eliminations happening as you read this, the "B" students are also in danger. At minimum, "B+" students and up will survive (and even all of those are not safe).

The real question is: What can you do now to survive, let alone thrive? It's a cliche to say you should wear more than one hat. The days of "four and out the door" (doing your airshift and going home) ended many years ago. Today, you will be most valuable if you can demonstrate the following:

a. Web skills. Master HTML. Help your station build on its interactive community. The web-savvy person in the building becomes increasingly valuable as others are stretched to the max.

b. Find ways to save money. Come to your manager with cost saving ideas that will not damage the product. Better yet, find ways to save money and actually improve the station.

c. Become proficient in more than one format. Format experts who only do one format in the same building are becoming a dying breed.

d. Gain a wide range of experiences. Show your eagerness to learn. If your station has a new Talk sister station, volunteer to report on election night (even if you're the PD of a music station!). If a morning producer is out sick, offer to go in and help.

e. Become the "go to" person. Meaning that if a task needs doing, everyone knows that you will do it well and in a timely fashion...and that you will first ask questions if there is something you don't know...Which leads us to:

f. Ask Questions. Many don't do this, for fear that they will be perceived as somehow lacking. Take it from a former manager, questions are ALWAYS appreciated, as they show a thirst for self- improvement and the desire to help the common cause.

g. Don't fly under the radar. Eventually, someone reviewing the station budget will ask, "What does HE do?" and, "Why should we keep him?". Give that person lots of proof that you are an indispensable member of the team.

h. Read vociferously. It may seem obvious, but take the time to stay informed. Know what's going on not only in your industry, but in the world around you. How are other industries coping with the economic downturn? There's plenty you can learn and benefit from.

Knowledge, combined with practical experience, is your best tool to make it through the rough seas ahead.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Where Are The New Country Superstars?: Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith. We love ya! You guys are mostly exclusive to our format and came of age in the late 90's, nearly ten years ago. Entertainment however is cyclical. We need a "next big thing" exclusive to our format to sustain growth. The current new crop of Superstars (Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift) are crossover artists. We share them, and their sound with other formats.

Ten years ago, we wondered, who are the next Garth, Alan and Clint? Today, we wonder, is there a new Kenny, Tim or Toby waiting in the wings? Could it be Brad, Dierks and/or someone we don't yet know about? Why is there no woman on any of those lists? That's a great question for another blog on another day.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Wrong Hook Can Kill Hit Song: Garbage in, garbage out. When testing music, if the hook is wrong then the results may very well be wrong. One glaring example was Kellie Pickler's first single, "Red High Heels". The standard hook most used did not capture the unique part of the song, but instead focused on the title (as do most hooks). A hit song lost. Another example, "Red Dirt Road" a moderate hit for Brooks and Dunn. If you tested the correct hook (which most did not) you'd have found this song to be a strong power gold.

I also believe that the essence of some songs cannot be captured in a five to ten second hook. That doesn't mean they don't resonate with the audience. It just means they don't test well. Some of Keith Urban's best songs haven't tested as well as I believe they were actually accepted by the audience. The depth of some music goes beyond a hook.

Testing is a tool; one of several used to determine airplay. But it is not nor should it be the be all and end all in making music decisions. Knowing your audience, your market, sales, competitive strategy along with testing are all factors in making goods music decisions.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nashville Star Week Two: Give Me A Break. I am reconsidering my thought that radio should get behind Nashville Star. Nothing against my friends at XM, but do we really want to be indirectly promoting XM on our stations? XM got more promotion than the ACM's gave our radio stations. And what's with all the pop songs and older Country songs? Except for John Rich's "Save A Horse Ride A Cowboy" there was nothing representing today's Country music. I had to laugh when they said that next week Nashville Star is going Pop. You mean, "Natural Woman" wasn't pop enough this week? To quote John Stossel, "Give Me a Break." I still have hope for the show, as there is some real talent there, but I'm not happy at the way the music is misrepresenting our format.

Lessons Learned from Tim Russert: How ironic that in the past year, I found myself saying to myself, "Be like Tim Russert"; meaning, be objective, see all sides, make issues clearer, have a meaningful discussion and don't make it personal. Recently, I had the privilege to moderate the keynote address at the CRS which explored the red hot controversy of whether or not radio should pay performance rights. Before taking the stage, I'd hoped to channel Tim Russert. I received generally favorable feedback on the session in that my goal of airing out the issue and avoiding personal attacks appeared to have been met.

This past weekend, in watching all the tributes, I was inspired by how Tim Russert lived his life. This guy not only believed in teamwork, but practiced it. By being generous and giving to his workmates, he elevated the team, and himself. He mentored, yet still was able to accomplish his personal goals too.

As radio struggles to find it's way with changing technology and economic challenges, we can all take heart that we'll be OK if we approach our jobs the way Tim Russert approached his. Relentlessly seek the truth. Care about your co-workers. Give others credit and elevate your co-workers. Be prepared. Don't cut corners. And most of all, put family first. A good team will understand.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Nashville Star Debuts: There were some real potential stars last night. Ashley Hewitt looks and sounds like a Nashville Star. Pearl Heart (sister trio); Laura & Sophie; Gabe Garcia; and even Alyson Gilbert who almost got kicked off, scored in my book. Song selection was a bit odd with the emphasis on old Country and Pop songs like Bubbly. I'd like the music to be more mainstream and better representing our format.

Some of judges' dialogue seemed scripted, but I understand that. They're trying to develop a shtick together (not unlike a morning show would do). If that makes it more entertaining, more will watch. I think it's a great opportunity for the format, and I hope radio will embrace it better than we have in past years.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Where Radio Veered Off Course: A friend of mine, still active in radio, but no longer programming music stations has this thought about the current state of affairs. (He prefers to remain anonymous for obvious reasons):

"...the invention of VOICE TRACKING and NEWS OUTSOURCING caused radio to become a commodity not a local source of entertainment, news, talk. (When I programmed music stations) we did news. With a person and a half. It's just not news but "content" personality. Play lots of music but have a "human" element and a passion for the music. Country at least still does that. Gee, why do OLDIES stations still get ratings, especially in PPM after we told everyone the format was dead? Honestly only music I listen to on the radio anymore is NJ 101.5 on weekends. It's still fun. K-EARTH LA is good. Locally (in my market) there's nothing. Country at least still has a pulse."

I couldn't agree more that the passion and "pulse" of Country will keep us viable for a long time, as long as we don't starve our stations and our audiences. Keep feeding them, and they will pay us back in spades!!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

These Artists Want You To Pay For Play: The "Founding (Country) Artists" of 'The Music First Coalition."


Dixie Chicks
George Jones
Don Henley
Deana Carter
Brooks & Dunn
Big & Rich
George Jones
Gretchen Wilson
Hank, Jr.
Jimmy Buffett
Kenny Rogers
Lyle Lovett
Lynn Anderson
Martina McBride
Mary Chapin Carpenter
Miley Cyrus
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Terri Clark
Toby Keith
Tim McGraw
The Wreckers
Vince Gill

We've helped them make millions exposing their music on our airwaves. Now they want you to pay to play their music. What's wrong with this picture?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Would Eddy Arnold Have Wanted It This Way? I am pleased that Eddy Arnold got his posthumous release charted and made history by charting in seven consecutive decades. However, knowing the man, I'm not convinced HE would have wanted it this way (asking stations to play a song in order to make history). Eddy Arnold respected the notion that music and trends changed and prided himself on staying contemporary years after he DEFINED what contemporary meant in Country Music. What a testimony that he legitimately charted into the 90's! Either way, long live the legacy of The Tennessee Plowboy, Eddy Arnold!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

ACM Awards 2008: Where's The Magic?: Last year's show was one of the best ever. This year, not so much. Was it the sound that so many have maligned? Or the awkward duet performance of George Strait and Kenny Chesney who rock when they sing solo? The program is produced by the very competent R.A. Clark. Yes, he's Dick's son (On a personal note, I went to college with him. We took TV classes together at Northwestern and he was always sharp). Radio was barely acknowledged. How hard will folks work in the future to win that award when the winners are basically ignored? No matter how Kenny Chesney spins it, he attacked his fans who made him Entertainer of the Year.

Putting my young daughter to bed, I missed the best moment: Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley paying tribute to Eddy Arnold. The Tennessee Plowboy would have been proud.

My suggestion: Start fresh and reexamine all aspects of this show and let's make sure that 2009 does us proud.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

One Positive Aspect of HD Radio: Whether your for it or against it, there's one aspect of HD Radio that will ultimately benefit our industry. Experimentation. It's been lacking for a long time. Now, with HD, we can try new things. Witness the 24 Hour Psychic channel programmed by WYCD PD Tim Roberts. I think they may have something.

What's on YOUR drawing board? What fantasy format have you always wanted to try? Personally, I'd like to see more HD stations attempting to reach teens who are increasingly becoming disenfranchised with radio. The only hitch is that we'll need to make the radios affordable and cool. No small challenge.

Open Letter To Nashville Songwriters and Producers: Music sales are down. Less money is being made. I will let others hypothesize about how the buying habits of the music consumer are changing. It's convenient to blame technology. It's convenient to blame tightly controlled radio playlists.

Here’s the bottom line: The lack of sales is occurring now for a reason that has at least as much to do with the direction of the product as the changing technology.

It's really very simple. We have very little hit music to call our own. Most of the biggest hits lately are shared with other formats. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Rascal Flatts. Taylor Swift is a talent to be reckoned with for the next thirty years. Keith Urban; you’re sensational. You are HUGE part of our format.

Why then, is James Otto "Just Got Started Loving You" arguably the most requested song at Country Radio these days? The song touched a nerve with the Country core. It's simple; it's Country and you won't be hearing it on A/C radio. It's a stone cold smash that we (the fans, Country radio) can call our own.

My call to the best tunesmiths and producers in the world is this. Stop chasing the crossovers. Stop watering down the sound. Focus on the fans. Our biggest fans still buy CD's (of which your profit margin is higher) and you'll sell more of them more consistently if you take a cue from James Otto. Make great Country music. Is it a coincidence that Sara Evans biggest hit was "Suds In The Bucket?" Be Country. Have fun. We'll all make more money.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Programmers: Been To A Good Sales Seminar Lately? If you've been to a number of Country Radio Seminars, then you know that feeling "I've heard this before". While there were a lot of great sessions for programmers this year, I found myself drifting into the sales sessions. Not because I have any interest in ever selling a spot, but because I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the sales departments our clients are going through, especially in light of today's economic challenges. Boy, did my eyes open widely. Check out the sessions for "Wish I Had Said That" ... "10 Great Sales Ideas" and "Overcoming The Challenges". To get the CD's, go the www.crb.org. The form is right on the homepage.

Friday, January 04, 2008

2008 Predictions:

Radio Begins To Figure It Out: Leadership is re-emerging in the industry. People like CBS's Dan Mason and Entercom's David Field will help expand our strong brands across multiple media platforms. And we'll better learn how to sell the new found cume the People Meter is bringing to the table. Wisely, we'll stop attacking the credibility of the ratings so that national advertisers will see that we are an accountable medium worth buying. The industry, while kicking and screaming, will embrace and work to improve People Meter.

The Clear Channel Deal Will Not Close: At least not in present form. Stock will plummet and the cuts we're seeing this holiday season will only pale to what's coming when then the privatization deal fails to happen. If the deal does close, look for a drastically reduced price. The same might be said for the Cumulus deal. Frankly, this is not good for anyone. I've long believed that radio would be a healthier industry if it was operated out of the glare quarterly Wall Street reporting allowing operators to make the investments needed to improve the business.

More Label Consolidation: If that's possible. Look for Warner Brothers and EMI to finally consolidate. Unfortunately, that will mean more lost jobs in Nashville. Elvis is still turning over in his grave over the BMG/Sony Merger.

RIAA Will Continue to Assault It's Costumers: In their infinite wisdom, they will find new ways to make it even more difficult for people who will actually spend money on music to do it safely and conveniently.

CD Sections at Wal-Mart Will Continue To Shrink: Have you noticed there are fewer CD's and more DVD's at Wal-Mart, Barnes and Noble and other stores that still sell music? We're moving toward a time when all music will be accompanied by a visual.

Attempts At Further Media Deregulation Will Fail: If there's one things that conservatives and liberals can agree upon it is that they don't want media controlled by fewer and fewer people. The public is in no mood to see more consolidation, and frankly, they do seem to care.

Radio Clutter Will Be Cut: By mandate in some cases and by demand (or lack thereof) in others. Either way, these forward thinking stations will sound better.

More Pop Artists Will Tell Us They Were Always Country: As Pop sales shrink, in an effort to save their careers, watch for more Pop artists going Country especially as they approach 40. I have no problem with that, but will have to draw the line if Celine Dion sets up shop in the Music City.

Nashville Will Also Begin To Figure It Out: Major and minor labels will figure out what upstart labels like Big Machine have figured out. There needs to be a new business model. All worthwhile media and platforms will be need to be used to sell and promote Country music. Radio will remain an integral part as the special relationship radio and "records" enjoys (while strained) will continue in different and exciting ways.

Are there problems? Of course. Solutions? Not always so clear. I remain optimistic that the excitement level for those who embrace the future and creatively "figure it out" will surpass anything we've seen in the past. Get on board and enjoy the ride!