Trust and The Truth

Have you noticed the trust people put in Wikipedia?

Country music artists have told me fans believe everything in their Wikipedia profiles.  When the Wiki data contradicts the official online posting:  fans believe Wikipedia.

This happened to me a few years ago when a fan started telling me about the origin of my radio station’s call-letters.  Without being a DB, I let them know the real history of the calls.  They didn’t believe me.  That’s not what is says on Wikipedia …

I love Wikipedia and use it to learn about places I visit and to research people from history.  But I always keep in mind that crowd sourced means just that – written by someone who’s objectivity is already tainted by their desire to write on this subject.

This isn’t new.  Years ago I was in a job interview and the GM asked me about my time at a certain radio station.  When I told him I had never worked there, he looked stumped and called-up a Wikipedia page with a list of the station’s alumni.  There was a Bob Walker there, but I’m positive it was not me.  But in parentheses after my name, it said current program director for (station).

Yup.  That was me.  Except it wasn’t.  

Someone editing the page had confused me with the other BW. At that point, the GM seemed almost irritated that I was questioning what was online and I’m sure it ended the interview (for the best … thank you.).

When I was in Milwaukee, a local blogger (who posted on the site of a legitimate media outlet) cited a reason our long-time morning talent at  WKTI was retiring.  Being there at the time, I knew it was not true.  Yet the local paper picked-up on it and probed me about it during their piece (I was the PD).  The more I denied it, the more the reporter thought I was hiding something and became aggressive.  A year after the event, I saw it in Wikipedia as if it happened.

Fake News!

Fortunately, Wikipedia can be updated and the entry has been changed.  This is not true for a YouTube video or other media stories that may live forever in cyberspace to collect hits and views.

The fake news we hear about today is politicians and media duking it out.  They both have it in for each other and the public is left to sort it all out.  Politicians tell bold lies.  The media tells the story from a point of view that attracts the biggest audience.  The the Russians step-in with RT and fuel the fire to the point of explosion.

Yet fake news is also allowing one small, tinyJason Aldean - THE TRUTH
misrepresentation to be accepted as truth … eventually growing and changing the dialogue of the conversation.  With crowd-sourced media exploding in popularity, I’m not sure we can fix it – especially with nobody going on the record anymore.

My radio talent knows to ask an artist – before the interview – about something they saw in Wikipedia.  So many times that artist is grateful because Wikipedia may be 98% accurate:  but it’s that 2% inaccuracy that can fester and cause P.R. problems.

Where does this leave the truth?  As one super-start artist told about his Wikipedia inaccuracy:  he’s been hearing it for so long:  he sometimes is convinced it is the truth.

Is this a trust issue?  People do not trust “official” anything.  When there is tension in your sports team’s clubhouse – who do you trust to explain it?  Team officials or bloggers and talk-show hosts?

Official entities have been spinning facts for so long, that the public assumes it’s all spin.  Guilt by association.

Talk-shows and blogs are also spin (to attract an audience).  But when a master story-teller lays it all out:  it feels real.  And when you are hearing it from a point of view that matches your own:  it becomes real.

A long-time colleague told me last year that you never know how inaccurate the news can be, until you read/watch/hear a story of which you have first-hand knowledge.

I can think of at least three times in my life when that is true.  I have watched news in total disbelief.  Yet I am not going to source any of this because I am not purporting to tell the truth.  This is my opinion.  Take it … or leave it.

If you trust me, it is the truth.

That is media 2018.

It’s About Content … Still!

Huddled in my living room on a bitter cold New Year’s weekend, I watched a discussion of the movie theater business on CNBC.  Insiders were pointing to “usage” as the reason for a dismal season at the box office.  The premise being it’s easier and more convenient to grab a Redbox or watch Netflix from the comfort of one’s living room.

True.

Yet – everyone on my street has seen Star Wars at the theater, abandoning the warm comfort of their living room for the theater … on the coldest, most miserable stretch of winter we’ve seen in years.

Being the consulate focus group moderator, I started probing.  A couple of consistencies:

  • Star Wars was something I wanted to see
  • Everyone is talking about it
  • It was the only time I went to the theater in the past 6 months

Plus –  all of the families had someone in the home watching Stanger Things on Netflix.  Wait:  Everyone on my street has Netflix?  Wow.  That’s the real stunner.

A little more probing convinced me it wasn’t all about the convenience (although that was a major factor).  It was the compelling content.  Most agreed that if Stranger Things concluded with a major movie released to theaters … they would go see it.  No issues with ticket prices, finding parking, leaving their homes, etc.

We asked the same question to fans of our large market radio station.  Same answer:  Yes, they would go see a Stranger Things finale if it was at the theater.  But other than Star Wars, there was nothing else really worth seeing on today’s lineup.

The Parallel In Our World

As smart speakers and personal assistants flood the consumer market, those of us in the mass media Alexa DOT (transparent)are rushing to get our content available to Alexa or Google Home.  That’s not enough.  There are thousands of “12 in-a-row” less talk, ,#1 hit music stations.  Yet there is only one Matt Siegel, Eric Ferguson, or Jagger & Kristi.  They are Netflix caliber content.

“12 In A Row” on the radio is the equivalent of The X Factor on TV … easy to miss.

This year, several hyper-local radio station were purchased by EMF to find a home for their K-Love brand.  The stations had full signals and were stand-alone properties … ripe for picking.  The K-Love brand is very well programmed and compelling, but 180 degrees from what several were programming including The Sound in Los Angeles and WBRU in Providence.  Fans of these stations literally held a wake to mourn the loss of the brands.  Can you imagine that happening for the “12-In-A-Row” #1 Hit Music Station?  No.  For the same reason we can’t imagine a “Save The Voice” campaign if Adam, Blake and the rest called it quits.

Usage is important and it’s imperative our product is easy to use.  But it’s still content that drives loyalty and builds a fanbase.  Fanbases usually mean strong ROI.

Content is expensive.  I get it.  But Netflix isn’t crowding their platform with The Jersey Shore.  Hulu is the online place for reality re-runs – which is why Netflix is building Apple level fandom while Hulu is an afterthought.

My goal is to one day have people on my street speak as passionately about one of my radio stations as they do about Netflix.  A boy can dream … right?

Do PD’s Ever Become GM’s?

How Do You Know When You Have A Great Program Director?

Great question from an intern who wondered why more PD’s don’t become GM’s.  Aside from sales experience it got me to thinking:  what does make a great PD?  As an OM, consultant and group PD I’ve worked with a lot of programmers.  But I never really pinpointed what separates the superstars from the rest.  So I relayed this story:

Last fall, I asked a country PD when (artist/song) was going for #1?  (in country, they call this “number one push week”).  He knew instantly.  Then I asked him who was (station’s) #1 client?  He did not know.  I asked him what they were running for processing.  He knew down to the model number on the compeller.  I asked him what their streaming numbers were, he didn’t know (but knew what they were running to process the stream … pretty cool).

This week I asked another PD when (artist/song) was going for #1?  He wasn’t sure but had a guess.  Then I asked him who was (station’s) #1 client.  He knew it was (client) and that (client) was a close second.  I asked him about processing.  He knew it was Orban and they had a custom setting, but didn’t know more.  Streaming?  He not only knew the monthly number, but heavy days, hours and how many clients could not run on the stream.

Which PD is going to attract the attention of upper management?

There is nothing wrong with knowing every detail of your corner of the industry.  But if you want to get promoted, you have to let everyone know you are more than the music director who is minding the store or the morning guy who got promoted to PD.  You need to have a grasp of the big picture and prove to everyone that you understand the business.

 

 

You Are Such A Tease

Great radio is about the tease.

Keep ’em listening one extra quarter hour a day, and you’re an all-star.   This is why we teach the art of the tease to all young radio talent right out of the box.

When I was a young DJ at WABK in Augusta Maine, I would tease like “a full weekend forecast is up in less than 10 minutes.”  When I got better, I might say “a full weekend forecast that is going to make your travel plans tough is on it’s way in 10 minutes.”  By the time I had been doing it for 20 years, I might say, “Stop all weekend preparation right now!  I’ve got a new forecast that is going to shake everything up, and that is just 10 short minutes away.”

Back in the 80’s and 90’s – that was teasing.  What would happen today even after I read my best tease?  Everyone would jump on their phones and click the weather app.

In the era of instant information, we cannot tease something the listener already has at their fingertips.  This is not an easy concept for radio people who’ve been doing it a while to grasp.  We were brought-up on weather, weather, weather … then more weather.

You can still talk about the weather effecting people’s lives – but teasing a forecast is irrelevant.  Most of the time I hear talent just needing throwaway content and they use the weather as that.  Some will even source a research project that says weather is the most important thing on the radio station.

Yes it is … when it is happening and you are stuck in the middle of it.

  • Would we tease the score of a HUGE game?
  • Would we tease all the Oscar Winners next?
  • Would we tease that a hostage situation is underway in an airport and we’ll have details in 10 minutes?

Not at all, unless you want to send people to their phones.

What can we tease?  OUR EXCLUSIVE CONTENT.

  • I sat down with Kelsea Ballerini before the show and she told me about the one thing she takes on tour with her to make it feel like home.  I’ll have that in 10 minutes on ______.
  • We polled 1000 (station) listeners to find out who you think will win the Grammy for best album of the year.  The results of our local poll in 10 minutes on ______________.
  • I just got off the phone with (name) from (place) who is about to announce a major expansion.  I’ll tell you in 10 minutes how it will effect your ride home.

If it’s not easily found on the internet – it can be yours.  Make it tease worthy!  Think Casey Kasem or Bob Kingsley on their countdown shows.  Watch TMZ or Extra.  They are masters at teasing their OWN content.

Teasing will be easy, if you are a well prepped air-talent.

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The Voice Knows

If you’ve been doing what you do long enough and are a student of your profession, you probably have a little voice inside that seems to pipe-up at the most in opportune times.

Like when a group decision is rolling down the tracks.  You know:  Everyone’s on-board … this is a huge move … it makes so much sense.  Yet there is that little voice in your head that urges caution or even screams NO.

I think I finally figured out why.

Because real students of their profession or field notice slight nuances or subtle hints that more casual observers do not.  I have a mechanic like that – and he is GREAT!  Always picks-up something when he hears an engine purr.

The hardest time to hear that little voice is when the decision makes so much sense that is seems obvious.  Radio format adjustments can be like this.  All the evidence in the world points in one direction.  Everyone else – even you, sees it.  Yet that little voice won’t go away.  Had that happen years ago when my group was racing to fill a format hole after fielding a market study – we might not have killed a station.  I can read research with the best of them and was a good solider.  But that damn voice kept saying “no.”

How do you bring it up in the face of expensive research and an afternoon’s worth of analysis?   After keeping my mouth shut and watching projects bomb, I finally got to a point in my career where I decided to speak-up.  How was it received?

“A hunch?  Strategy is not built on a hunches!  What can you back it up with?”

There is where the voice abandons you … because it’s just that:  a hunch.  If I had the facts we wouldn’t have to pay for all of this expensive research.

I backed down … but the hunch was real and the format tweak bombed.  I wish I had put my hunch on record!

My guess is that we see and hear things that a research project which is always being pulled in a certain direction cannot.

Twice in my career, I let those who write my paycheck, hire a talent who used to be a big deal to revitalize a morning show.  Both times the management knew of the talent – and in one case how he used to kick our butts.  And … he was affordable!

Or course he was … because he was no longer relevant.  But the research said the audience loved him.  Every verbatim in the study had good things to say about him.  He was the most missed talent in the market.  This was a home run!

What the research could not predict was how him returning to this smaller market was a career defeat.  He was never his old-self – and why would be he be?  That was 12 years ago!

But I knew it.

How?  Who wouldn’t feel that way after playing in the bigs, with boats, money and a sports car.  The dude was driving a used Honda Civic when he came for an interview.  I saw someone defeated and knew he could not make listeners feel good about themselves in this case.  It was never intentional on-air, and most people could not put their finger on it.  Yet that voice told me … and it was true.  Next study fielded 18 painful months later painted him as washed-up.

Today I have the ability to talk with my peers and colleagues and have no problem just saying “trust me on this.”

Too bad it takes so long for people to give you that consideration.

 

Time is Money

Why do bad sales people act as if I owe them time to hear their product pitches?

I’ve had a rep dying to make a group-wide pitch to our company, through which I would be the point person.  However, with spring promotions, market visits and 2 concerts being produced:  I do not have any time available for a visit.

After 10 days of constant pestering, I finally told this rep that when everything for spring was in place:  I would have time.  She was insistent that this was urgent and she need to get to me now.

I finally told her all I had left was my personal time, which I would be willing to re-allocate if that was this important.  She insisted it was and threw out a web-presentation time/date outside of my normal working hours.  I agreed, but told her I value my personal time at $50 an hour.  I then asked her if this would take more than an hour so I knew how to prepare he bill.

She was dumfounded.  She said they don’t pay us to attend webinars.  I was fine with that, I told her to get back to me after the spring when I could squeeze out some company time to get this company-wide pitch.

No more pestering.  I think I made it clear anyone who is managing several projects at once must master time-management in order to succeed.  It wasn’t until I put a monetary value on the pitch, that she saw where I was going.

By the way:  Had she offered me the $50 to take the meeting, I would have taken it and been intrigued.  I would have to assume this WAS a must-see pitch if she was willing to put her money where her mouth is.

Jump ahead a year, it was nothing of interest to our company.

The Sum Of All Your Parts

It took a long time for me to understand what this marketing axiom really means – but once I got it, my ability to analyze and grow a brand jumped:

A Brand Is The Sum Of All It’s Parts

Duh …

But … “All of it’s parts” means the good and the bad … and some of those bad parts may be necessary to achieve the good stuff.

  • Fast-food’s Good Parts:  It’s cheap and fast
  • Fast Food’s Bad Parts:  It sucks

If it was good – it would have to be more expensive and/or take longer to prepare.

A friend of mine who worked at a large discount store for years told me that sometimes minutes before the doors opened a manager would be frantically running around the store messing up displays – sometimes even throwing snow boots & hats on the floor.

Why?

His brand was CHEAP.  The messier the display, the better deal the public assumed they were getting.  They had some items that were exclusive to them.  How did they price them (as a super-discoutner)?  It didn’t matter.  Just throw those coats or swim suits or sneakers on a giant table and their customers would attack them – never even looking at the price.

In radio, we are terrible offenders.  We spend a lot of $$ on research.  Most research only identifies bad parts of the brand (repetition, morning show is chatty, weekend specialty show is weird).  I took over an alternative station once that had a weird “locals only” Sunday night show.  It tanked in the ratings (I mean really tanked … sometime zeroed out).  So we yanked it.  What we didn’t realize, was that just having that unorthodox “weird” show in a non critical depart fed the radio stations brand as a true alternative.  Even people who didn’t listen were upset when we yanked it.

Every Top 40 station has been through this.  A researcher will convince the General Manager that the problem is repetition – and that researcher will have some ugly Power-Point slide to prove it.  But what happens at Top 40 when you start playing the hits less frequent … you sink.

  • Crappy food makes it cheap and fast.
  • Piles of snow-boots makes it almost flea market style cheap.
  • Repetition means we only play the hits.

Having realized this, I sometimes use the negative image in a playful way when marketing the brand.

Caller:  Hey! I heard you pay (hit song) 3 times today.

DJ:  3 times … you mean you missed the 4 other times?

The rush to eliminate negative is one of the key mistakes marketers make.  In every inherent brand strength, there is a weakness.  Deal with it.

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Storm Troopers and Death Stars

Enjoyed the new Star Wars – Couple of thoughts:
 
(1) 7 episodes in … and those storm trooper outfits don’t deflect gunfire, don’t protect from poison gas, and have got to slow one down in the hot desert or knee-deep snow … and planets of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away seem to be abundant in both. Time for a new-look dark-side?
 
(2) Note to manufacturer of death star like things: On future models, please omit the small opening – that only an amateur shooter can hit – that will take down the whole dang gadget. After rigorous testing in the field for decades, a fatal flaw has been documented in several of your evil things and noted on social media – garnering your product with a measly two-star rating. A recall – at least – is in order. Those death star looking things are like Windows on your PC – every update looks bigger, but crashes harder from some minor intrusion by an amateur.
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OH WOW vs OH S***

After Christmas and well into first quarter, expect to hear songs you don’t normally hear on the radio.  We usually program them as “oh-wow” songs.  With inventory low, many stations will need anywhere from 1-3 more songs an hour until late February or March.

Cool!

Then, all of a sudden:   “Oh-Wow” turns to “Oh-S***!

Wanna quickly know the “filler” songs on the station in your market with the lazy PD?  Just listen to the end of the hour.  PD’s with no first quarter strategy throw them at the end of the hour with a GTL (Go To Point In Log to Synch Time).  There are two stations in Chicago who do this every year.  I get a kick out of flipping over at the end of the hour and naming the filler songs (which disappear in Feb).

Hearing two or three of them in a row kills the “oh-wow” factor and poorly positions the radio station’s music image.

Instead of just dumping the filler songs, take a look inside your Selector or Music Master and see where the hour is getting off track.  If your first break usually ends at :25, but with low spots you are done by :21, consider putting a filler at the bottom of the hour with an extra GTL.  Have the GTL set to :29 or :30 and put the filler in front of it.  This will allow your system to use it if needed to stay on track – or skip it if spots or content is sufficient.

Then put the 2nd filler song at the end of the hour using the same set-up GTL at :58 or :59 just after that song.

If you are using more than 2 fillers and hour, then a clock adjustments are necessary.  Two fillers is already stretching your image thin, going further could damage it.

Also – treat the FILLER category like a REAL CATEGORY.  Use separation, style and rotation rules.  You would not want a ballad filler to follow a ballad regular song.  Just be sure to put the filler category last in your schedule order so it doesn’t get precedence over a real category.

Hopefully you can find enough songs so they don’t repeat too often (especially January).  You might also consider recycling the FILLER category.  I don’t usually go there as over-night plays keep the category moving … but every format is different.

Also … be careful about letting the talent (usually weekend P/T’mers) from pointing out how we never play these songs.  Position fillers as a positive

Here’s one of the all time greats from Bob Segar …

vs

Here’s a song we haven’t played in a long time from Bob Segar …

You never win by letting the audience peek behind the “programming curtain.”

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Relevant Beats Hip

A friend is GM of a group and was telling me that his flagship station just wasn’t sounding hip enough – and he was stressed that this veteran staff wouldn’t be able to “hip-it up.”

Being as blunt as only a good friend can be … I told him he’d be better off being relevant than hip.

“You mean … we sound irrelevant?”

I didn’t meant that … exactly.  But I listened for 3 hours and heard nothing their new competitor couldn’t do.  In 3 hours:

  • Neither station had any local content (outside of weather)
  • Neither station had a position statement anyone cares about
  • Neither station had talent saying anything I hadn’t already seen on Twitter

I read back his position statement (#1 For Today’s New Hit Country) and asked him what exactly that meant.  He laughed because he saw my point.  Then we read the other guy’s position (New Country).  Again … so what?

This is the friend that years ago told me that I’d never get ahead unless I wandered outside of my comfort zone – and he was correct:  so we can be that kind of honest with each other.

The worst offenders of the irrelevant radio plague are the large market, public stations that use canned content and imaging.  The voice-trackers don’t even say the name of the station anymore.

One of my early mentors, Charles Giddens, said it best:

You can only say you’re good for so long … eventually you have to actually be good

I would sub “good” for “relevant” today –

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