Friday, July 10, 2015

"Back When Radio Was Good" - A Week with Beats 1

Initial reviews of Beats 1 have ranged from “brilliant” and “meh,” but many who’ve written about it – pro Beats 1 or not – have taken the opportunity to snipe at radio: “Beats 1 sounds like radio used to sound when it was good.” Or, "will Beats 1 make radio cool again?”

There are a lot of places to start a discussion about Beats 1. But setting music, (lack of) commercials, and expectations aside for the moment, Beats 1 does have an excitement about it that’s driven in large part by the talent.

You don’t have to listen long to realize the Beats 1 talent have significant mic presence. The “song-sweeper-song-talent” sequence has been replaced by stretches of “song-talent-song-talent.”  

And for the most part, the talent (especially the three "anchors") - pull it off.

It seems that the rule of thumb might be, “you can always talk about the music,” except that there were instances of excellent picture painting too. 

London-based Julie Adanuga delivered an interesting tease/pay-off on Beats 1’s first day with the tease (“Grab your ID - you’ll need it in a bit”) and then a song later began a club music set by delivering the radio version of a Vine clip as she told us of our arrival at “the club,” that we were all on the guest list, and told first-time club-goers, “this is what it feels like” to be in the club.

It could have been terribly hokey; instead it was visual and fun - and quick.

If you buy into the “throwback criticism,” Cousin Brucie describing the elevator ride to the top of the CBS building and the 113th floor as he opened the “Love Hour Half Hour” on CBS-FM might come to mind.

Similarly when Beats 1 NY talent Ebro Darden did his gritty “we’re on the streets” segment and “took us through the Boroughs,” New Yorkers might have channeled the 60s spirit of WWRL-AM.

Also apparent was the talent demonstrating their interest, knowledge and passion for the music.  

Talent as advocate-cheerleader-champion of their station's music and artists is a frequent coaching point today.

Check out Kid Leo “back when radio was good” as a critic might say, selling the music.

Audience acknowledgement was a significant part of the launch. I was repeatedly recognized as a member of the Day One Crew and told that we were on a Day One Journey together. Phrases like “thank you for being a part of history” and “if I had kids I’d tell them about this” might have come off like hype except the talent seemed genuine about it all. 

In aggregate I was made to feel like I was part of a movement. “Beats 1 Worldwide” and “Broadcasting around the world” along with the requisite personal and geographical acknowledgements added to the feeling that we were part of something akin to a new counter-culture where the whole was more than the sum of its parts.

A footprint so big that anyone in the world might be listening along with you undoubtedly contributes to this feeling. But local radio has a long history of creating in-market communities too. Howard Stern’s audience would probably agree.

That’s not to say that the Beats 1 talent doesn’t get off the track; there's inside talk that can be tedious and irrelevant, talking over music to the point of being annoying, repeatedly shouting a word or phrase that comes off like a failed effort at creating excitement, occasions of too much self-indulgence, and breaks that sound undisciplined and unprepared. These were disappointments.

Still, comments like “when radio used to be good” - at least in terms of the talent-generated excitement - remind us that an air staff of passionate, creative, music-loving, listener and format advocates, who are uniquely entertaining and integral to the overall programming, help define a station in a non-duplicable, extremely positive way.

The payoff from the time and effort spent on finding, valuing, coaching, and encouraging genuine talent, is a more entertaining radio station with a passionate audience that feels connected.

And that's hard to “beat.” 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Why 5 More Inductees Into the Country Radio Hall of Fame Matters

2015 Country Radio Hall of Fame Inductees
Photo courtesy of Kristen Englund
Honoring excellence is always a good idea.

That happened again last week in Nashville when the Country Radio Broadcasters inducted five new members into the Country Radio Hall of Fame (left to right: Randy Carroll, Mike Kennedy, Karen Dalessandro, Joel Raab Sammy George).

Each year, the Hall recognizes individuals who have a 20 year history (including at least 15 in the country format) of making “significant contributions to the radio industry.” 

Halls of Fame of course run the gamut from the famous (like the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to the infamous (the now defunct Cockroach Hall of Fame which was in Plano, TX). Your degree of interest in a Hall’s subject matter no doubt plays a huge role in what you get out of your visit. 

For things you’re passionate about, a Hall of Fame is more than an historical record or a repository of memorabilia; the strength of a Hall is the inspiring accomplishments of those who are enshrined.

At the very least, the Country Radio Hall of Fame is a reminder that excellence matters and is still acknowledged and celebrated.  At its best, the Hall and inductees inspire us all to make a daily, “significant contribution to the radio industry.” 

If we’re talent we strive for excellence every break, every show. If we’re managers and program directors we seek to coach each person to their full potential. By example, we encourage each other to believe in ourselves and aspire to be the best we can be.

If you’re passionate about what you do and want to inspire others, Bain & Company has these suggestions:

  • Discover and cultivate individual skills
  • Excel at a few of your distinguishing strengths rather than attempting to be excellent at everything
  • Recognize that inspirational leaders can be anywhere in an organizational hierarchy
  • Improve your effectiveness at inspiring others with repetition and experimentation

If you want to show your passion, be your best, and inspire others to do the same, the good news is you don’t wait to be inducted into a Hall of Fame to begin.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Taking a Bite out of a Market Leader: What a Sandwich Chain Can Teach Us

Taking a bite out of a market leader
Shifts in listener and consumer loyalty happen all the time but they always seem newsworthy when “suddenly” a top performer is dethroned.

In reality, many of these abrupt declines may have actually been months, years, or even decades in the making. 

Some of these are the end result of one or more competitors' long and persistent “creep” against a leader, or a leader being too static for too long in a changing marketplace ('slow to react' was one of the points in a recent Washington Post article on Subway that inspired this blog).

Format and market leading stations must continually negotiate the tripwires that can give toe holds or growth opportunities to competitors.

  • Commoditization stemming from a growing lack of differentiation in the listener’s POV; that is, listeners don't perceive a sufficient number of particularly unique and important-to-them benefits gained by listening to your station vs. a competitor
  • Listeners believe the "listening cost" of your station exceeds its value
  • Failure to accurately assess a challenger’s strength or appeal in a timely manner
  • A delayed response or inability to adequately respond to "Values Drift;" listener values/standards have evolved but the leader has remained static 
  • Time pressures have severely limited creative and/or forward thinking
  • The status quo remains status quo for too long;  new services, features, products, or offerings are minimal, or there’s a lack of excitement about initiatives that are launched
  • Lack of employee passion for the station, format, listeners or even self
  • Eroding relationships with listeners for any of the above reasons

These are rarely intentional over-sights. I haven't walked into a station recently and found GMs, OMs and PDs looking for ways to keep busy. Finding time to just think is a challenge.

Still, in the spirit of ipsa scientia potestas est ("knowledge itself is power"), consider regularly scheduling a meeting of station creatives to talk through these (and other) bullets, share listener Intel, and have a "what if..." discussion.

Do it over a sandwich if you like.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Keep Summer Listeners Coming Back: 5 Retail Tactics For Your Station

“Summer vacation" - who doesn't think that sounds like a good idea?

Just don’t start too soon if you’re in radio - and especially if you're in Country Radio. 

Last week, Inside Radio featured this graphic from Nielsen as part of an article on Memorial Day weekend format flips. It shows the noticeably heaver 6+ May and June radio listening trends for the past four years.

I asked Nielsen’s Tony Hereau how Country compared and he shared the following.

While radio’s average 6+ AQH Persons starts a decline after May, Country’s best 25-54 months begin after May peaking in June, July, August and September (again, note the chart above is based on 6+ while the chart below is based on 25-54).  

A retailer eyeing these charts would likely think about how to convert these seasonal increases into year-round customers.

Taking a page from their playbook, here are five retail tactics and their radio equivalents your station can launch regardless of format.

Lower purchase barriers making it easy to buy
Be present on as many platforms as possible.  Be minimalistic in terms of time, effort and information you require of listeners who want to engage in your contests or sign up for your database.  
Provide superior value
Insure your Entertainment Value always exceeds your Cost of Listening (EV>CL). The EV is nearly all-encompassing: from talent to music to promotions and more. Meanwhile the CL goes beyond commercial load.
Up-selling and cross-selling
Use compelling teases and promote-aheads to drive additional occasions of listening. Be visible and high-touch so you can ask for more listening in person.
Providing “Social Proof” that demonstrates shared values and behavioral reinforcement
Create believable “peer endorsement” in social media and imaging
Finding ways to say “thank you”
Appreciation is powerful in driving repeat usage and WOM.

This fall, don't just talk about what you did on your summer vacation, brag about what you did before it.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

An Important Award You May Have Missed this Week: “Serial” Earns a Peabody

The big awards talk-abouts early this week at country stations have been centered (and rightly so) on the ACMs: big stars, big production, and a Guinness World Record for a live awards show audience.

But another awards presentation this week should also catch our attention: the Peabody Awards which recognize “stories that matter.” This is attention-worthy because one of the awards was given to the “Serial” podcast from NPR.

As reported Tuesday in Tom Taylor’s NOW , the Peabody judges declared Serial “the first unquestionably mainstream podcast.”

“Serial” was referenced multiple times at last week’s pre-NAB RAIN Summit West and was credited with, among other things, raising awareness of podcasting and bringing new users to the genre.

I found the podcast last fall amidst its considerable media attention and WOM and was hooked before the halfway point of the first episode.

It’s easy to understand the popularity of “Serial:” a suspense story with Romeo and Juliette undertones. There's crisp writing, great story pacing, excellent narration, and characters brought to life: people you trust or don’t –or change your mind back and forth - as you learn about them, often via their own words. It’s put together as well as any mystery in any medium.

For this reason alone, “Serial” is important to radio. It's an excellent example of superior story-telling – an skill many of our talent are working on daily.

It also serves as an important reminder that the entertainment bar is continually being raised around us.

But “Serial” is also important from a numbers standpoint.

About 1 in 5 Americans listen to podcasts according to Pew.  Similarly, Edison Research’s Infinite Dial study found 17% of the 12+ US population listens to podcasts monthly including slightly more than 20% of 18-54s who are regular listeners.

A&O&B’s Online Perceptual “Roadmap 2015” found comparable data among US country P1s, roughly 1 in 6 18-34s and 1 in 7 35-44s listen to podcasts at least “a few times a month.”

Of course these numbers don’t mean that 20% of Americans have heard all or even any episodes of “Serial.” Edison puts that number at 3% with awareness at 10%.

Still, in February 2015, the NY Times estimated Serial's downloads at 68-million. 

The point is, going forward, there will be more shows like “Serial” (listen here) that capture the attention of the growing podcast audience.

The biggest and best ones could become as relevant to talk about on your radio show as what’s hot on TV or YouTube. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Your Morning Show On TV: How to Get the Most Out of a Cutaway

Whether your talent is already appearing on a local TV morning show or you're attempting to make this happen, your probable goal is to increase your morning footprint and have those TV viewers sample your morning show.

But these cutaways will have the greatest impact if they also add value to the TV station.

Here are four steps to maximizing your TV opportunity:

1 - Make the TV morning show look good. Just as in a multi-person radio show, each player - in addition to being interesting in their own right - needs to give others in the room opportunities to look smart, be funny, etc.  Same goes for you and your TV partners.  If the TV talent look forward to your segment because it gives them an opportunity to shine, the segment will be significantly better.

2 - Prepare something fascinating to share. This is not the time to wing it. You’ll either be perceived as interesting and entertaining or a waste of time – there’s not much in-between. 

3 - Engage the TV talent in your story.  Let them know in advance what your content is so they can prepare, participate and look smart to their viewers (making you look smart too of course).

4 - Always deliver a dual call to action:  “Watch the TV partner and listen to your morning show.”  Give a reason for each.

Have an experience or tip to share?  Leave it here.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Getting Out What You Put In: First Baseball-Themed Blog of the Season

Because I have the talent (?) to find a baseball-related analogy for almost anything in life, MLB’s opening week is always an exciting time for me.

Not only does it spell the end of "there’s nothing to watch on TV," the opening games hold the promise for a brand new season of baseball metaphors and also affords the opportunity to throw out the first baseball-themed blog of the year – two things for which apparently I am both physically and mentally unable to avoid doing.

For a couple of months now my new favorite baseball mantra has been “Respect 90.” It comes from Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon who also has made the phrase part of his Twitter profile (@CubsJoeMadd).

Specifically, “Respect 90” is about respecting the 90 feet between home plate and first base. Players demonstrate their respect by running hard from home to first, even when it’s likely their routine grounder or pop fly will be nothing more than an easy out.

Of course “Respect 90” is far more encompassing. The code can be applied to every aspect of playing the game thus demonstrating not only respect for baseball, but for the fans - and even a player’s own self-respect.

A ballplayer may have multiple opportunities a day to Respect 90 – 4 or 5 times while batting and maybe a few more during the game in the field.  Most talent have at least that many opportunities every hour via mic breaks alone.

What if starting tomorrow we as talent determined to “Respect 90” and never mail a break in again, instead going ‘all out’ every time we opened the mic?  Can you imagine how incredible such a station would sound?

Furthermore, can you imagine what listeners and clients and competitors would think if every mic break, every piece of production, every spot, every appearance, every sales call, promotion, etc., etc., embraced the concept of “Respect 90?”

Joe Maddon explained the rewards of respecting 90 this way: 

“Understand whatever you put out there will come back to you. If you give respect, you’re going to get respect in return...If you really believe that and live by that, a lot of things will come your way.”

Embracing “Respect 90” may indeed bring good things to you.  

But you won’t be the only one reaping rewards. 

Some previous catchphrase-related blogs: Polish the BrandLovin’ on the Music, The 'Does Anybody Care' Filter