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Radio Ain’t What She Used to Be

I don’t recall the last time I read or heard about someone, or something I thought was cool.

Andy Bloom

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A photo of a radio host in a dark studio

Radio was my first love. My love affair with radio began over five decades ago when I was in second grade. I used to stay up into the late evening hours with the covers pulled over my head, listening to AM radio signals I could receive from across the country.

It was interesting to hear the different accents of callers, DJs, weather reports, and local advertisements.

The years haven’t been good to radio. Radio’s not as attractive, desirable, or in demand as she used to be. I’ll always love radio, even though it isn’t as interesting anymore.

My perspective is realistic. I’m not seeing “the good old days” through rose-colored glasses. As Howard Stern used to say, “Radio is the lowest rung on the show biz ladder. Well, there are circus clowns, but next to them, radio is the lowest rung on the show biz ladder.” People used to perk up when we told them we worked at a radio station.

Somebody recently reminded me of Elie Wiesel’s quote: “The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.” People don’t hate radio. Worse, they are indifferent.

As I write this column weekly, I look at the big stories in the industry to find something to write about. There are stories about which major companies are close to bankruptcy: pass. Whether auto manufacturers will keep AM radios as standard equipment in vehicles. I’ve written about that, but the number of people using the AM band continues to fall, and the number of viable AM stations is dwindling.

When was the last time anybody introduced a brilliant new format? Who are the up-and-coming personalities that will change broadcasting forever?

I recently chatted with my good friend, Larry Rosin, President of Edison Research, who remarked, “When I was getting into the business – the discussion was all about programming. What clever things were stations doing? What new ideas for contests or promotions or morning show bits? What formats could you try? The stars were programmers and talent. For decades, frankly, it has been about CEOs and bankers and finance.” 

Those may interest readers of The Wall Street Journal, but not so much readers here.

Many of the most creative in the business have been victims of budget cuts. Those that remain now have multiple stations – if not markets. They spend hours in meetings justifying their existence to corporate, or taking orders, and spend more time helping sales than creating anything they are proud of.

I don’t recall the last time I read or heard about someone, or something I thought was cool.

Radio, for the most part, has given up research, promotion, marketing, and investing in talent development. As personalities who have ruled the airwaves in their local markets for decades retire, there’s nobody to replace them.

Business realities forced radio to enter the events business and embrace digital – primarily by having air personalities write social media and blog posts. While radio has started to get into podcasting in a big way, other than NPR, radio companies produce only two of the top 50 podcasts, according to Edison Research’s Podcast Metrics for Q4 22-Q1 23, which still astounds me.

A photo of the Top 50 podcasts in the 1st quarter of 2023
<em>Photo Edison Research<em>

Even winning is no longer rewarded. A friend related this story to me. Their station had a strong year in ratings in revenue. The station over-performed its cashflow goal by close to seven figures. To celebrate, they called a staff meeting where all the corporate mucky-mucks came in and told them how proud they were of all their efforts and were specific about some of the financial achievements of the station. A murmur started to roll across the conference room as staffers became convinced bonus checks would conclude the meeting.

Instead, pizzas were brought in, cheese pizzas – one slice for everyone.

It shouldn’t be this way. There are lots of exciting media stories everywhere else.

Television hasn’t fallen into the same trap as radio. When consolidation began, there wasn’t the same kind of land grabs at ridiculous multiples. Television may have learned from radio’s mistakes and has become more local than ever.

Of course, television faces some significant issues, which I will write about in a future column.

The writer’s and actor’s strike could deal a severe blow to the major networks this fall and next year. It’s a fascinating situation as creative people see what’s coming with streaming and AI.

The cable news networks are going through an upheaval with Chris Licht’s departure at CNN and Tucker Carlson’s at Fox News, along with its line-up revamp.

The social media battle between Elon Musk’s Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg’s Threads is shaping up to be one of the year’s most intriguing stories.

Newspapers were the first legacy media to feel the impact of the internet and new technologies. While many newspapers didn’t survive and others are mere shells of themselves, others, including The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, among others, have figured out how to become digital media companies and have seen their revenues improve over the past several years.

Recently The New York Times announced it would disband its sports department and outsource its sports coverage to The Athletic, a website it bought for $550 million in 2022. The move will impact at least 35 people in the Times sports department.

Meanwhile, at The Washington Post, owner Jeff Bezos is getting more hands-on, according to a report in The New York Times.

Is it too late to save radio or have circus clowns passed it on the show biz ladder?

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Research Shows Spoken Word Doesn’t Follow Radio’s Perceived Downfall

Over half of the study’s participants said they often or sometimes consume news from radio.

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Radio Sales

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and are getting ready for Christmas, New Year’s Day, and the entire holiday season. In the midst of this joyful time of the year, I’m still writing about research.

A recent article in RAIN News caught my eye recently.  It was headlined “American News Consumption Favors Digital, ignores Print, indifferent to TV and Radio (Pew)”.  Knowing that the Pew Research Center is one of the best survey outfits around, a closer look was in order.  RAIN was good enough to include a link to the Pew website which was readily accessible.  Pew’s survey was fielded in late September of this year and builds on similar studies over the past four years.

Rather than another nail in traditional media’s coffin regarding news, the study was fairly positive as far as radio was concerned, at least in my opinion.  One headline is that Americans prefer consuming news via digital devices.  That number has grown from 52 percent in 2020 to 58 percent this year.  However, that headline doesn’t tell you what entity is providing the news. What has been changing is that Americans are less likely to prefer getting news from a television set, now down to 27 percent, a six point drop from just last year.

Where is radio in the results?  Six percent said they prefer to get their news from a radio, which is down from seven percent in each of the last three years.  Aside from news/talk, all news stations, and public radio, how much news do you find on radio?  And that’s better than print which has been stuck at five percent for the last four years, according to Pew.

The more positive news for radio is that over half of the study’s participants said they often or sometimes consume news from radio (51 percent).  That’s up four points from 2022 and even a point ahead of 2020!  Compare that to television, which has dropped from 68 percent in 2020 to 62 percent in 2023.  Print is now at 37 percent.  Put another way, broadcast radio remains a source of news for many Americans.

Looking at overall numbers like the Pew data, you’d ask about breakdowns and Pew supplies them for us.  What’s remarkable is that with just a few exceptions, radio’s numbers on the question of getting news at least sometimes are steady.  The only group with a low percentage (37 percent) was the 18-29 demo.  Both men and women were over 50 percent.  And radio is apparently one of the few things Republicans and Democrats can agree upon with Republicans using radio for news at least sometimes at 54 percent and Democrats at 50 percent. 

Within the digital device preference group, where do they prefer to get news?  The biggest chunk is from news websites or apps, search is now second, followed by social media and podcasts.  What’s interesting is that the same percentage of Americans prefer to get their news from podcasts (six percent) as from broadcast radio. 

Pew’s website includes a link to the topline results and you can view the results for all of the questions asked.  These results show that Facebook, while still the top destination for “regularly” getting news from social media or an app, is just a few points ahead of YouTube (30 to 26 percent).  Instagram was third at 16 percent, TikTok at 14, and X (Twitter) at 12.

This being a research column, you can bet that I checked the methodology writeup and Pew is always exhaustive when it comes to telling you how the center conducted their survey.  Pew has built the American Trends Panel over the last number of years and this wave included 8,842 respondents which included an oversample of some minority groups in order to get better data.  The weighting used by Pew is clearly stated (well, clearly enough if you’re a survey methodologist).  Pew’s work is solid.

Why should this matter to you?  For spoken word stations, where are you putting your online efforts?  Where are you promoting your content?  While not market-specific, this is high-quality research that is free and might give you some thought about how to use limited resources.

If you’d like to review the study yourself, you can click here.

Let’s meet again next week.

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Where’s The Credibility?: Cable News Networks Struggle With the Truth

“It can take years to build credibility, but only seconds to destroy.”

Andy Bloom

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Credibility is one of the most valuable assets an individual can possess. It is essential to create trust and respect, the foundation and building blocks of all relationships, professional or personal. Nowhere is credibility more essential than in media.

It can take years to build credibility, but only seconds to destroy.

That’s what Fox News Channel (FNC) anchors risked when they made on-air statements about the 2020 presidential election that they did not believe off the air.

Over the decades, I’ve worked with hundreds of media personalities and public figures. If there is one rule I preach above all others, it’s: Be authentic! To be sure, sometimes we’ve made mountains out of molehills. Sure, we’ve exaggerated occasionally but never told an out-and-out bald-faced lie.

Depending on an individual’s media patterns, the Dominion case is one of the year’s biggest stories, or it may not have happened. 

For those who haven’t heard about it: FNC opinion commentators (i.e., Carlson, Hannity, and Ingram) backed Donald Trump’s claim that Biden won the election because of massive fraud across many states. Note that FNC news anchors (i.e., Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum) never claimed that Trump won or that he lost because of fraud. 

One of the methods of fraud alleged was that voting machines changed vote totals.

In the 2020 election, 70 million people in 28 states voted on Dominion Systems voting machines. In the aftermath of the election, claims began surfacing on Trump-friendly media that Dominion’s devices either deleted millions of Trump votes or switched them to Biden. 

If the theories started by raising eyebrows, proponents such as Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell quickly turned their media appearances into clown shows. Their claims became increasingly wild and outlandish, such as a company founded in Venezuela to rig elections for Hugo Chavez, owned Dominion. 

Eventually, Dominion brought defamation suits of $1.3 to $1.6 billion each against FNC, Rupert Murdoch, several Fox hosts, Giuliani, and others.

Text messages and emails between Fox hosts and depositions from no less than Ruppert Murdoch during the discovery process make it clear. Even as FNC hosts supported the election fraud narrative on the air and had guests who expounded on the theories they didn’t believe Trump had won.

I have never suggested that Donald Trump won the election or that Joe Biden won by cheating or illegitimate means. Therefore, I do not defend the FNC hosts who did. They should have known better and apparently did.

The discovery process reveals fear across FNC that two smaller but up-and-coming conservative networks, NewsMax and OAN (One America News), would steal viewers.

Former Fox News SVP and Managing Editor of the Washington, D.C. Bureau Bill Sammon said, “It’s remarkable how weak ratings make good journalists do bad things.” Sammon was a casualty of FNC’s election night coverage. FNC was the first to call Arizona for Biden, bringing anger from the White House and viewers.

Defamation suits are notoriously hard to win. In addition to demonstrating that the defendant disseminated false information purposely, the plaintiff must show they did so with malicious intent. Dominion has stated its case in a 192-page brief.

Many take immense joy in witnessing Fox squirm.

The left shouldn’t gloat. The more it does, the more likely FNC viewers will forgive cable news’ perennial leader. 

Could CNN or MSNBC withstand the probing Fox is going through? Doubtful. Anybody who believes that hosts on the other cable news channels lie any less (or more) than on FNC is delusional.

For two years, CNN and MSNBC led with one fantastic “breaking news” report after another about Trump-Russia collusion. 

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) breathlessly declared in interviews that he had “direct evidence of collusion,” “ample evidence of collusion,” or “plenty of evidence of collusion.”

The Mueller Report landed on desks across the mainstream media landscape, making a sound similar to a ball hitting the upright in a football game. DOINK!

Trump haters will maintain that the Mueller report demonstrated Trump-Russia collusion as surely as hard-core Trump voters will continue to believe that Trump won the election, despite the Dominion lawsuit. 

If the Mueller Report contained anything showing collusion, the House Democratic majority would have impeached Trump over the issue. The predetermined result, impeachment, had to wait for another excuse. Democrats found it a few months later in a phone call with the new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The Washington Post and the New York Times won Pulitzer Prizes for covering Trump’s Russian collusion. Neither has given the awards back.

Another story came much closer to putting CNN, NBC, and the Washington Post in the peril that Fox currently finds itself. 

In 2019, Nicholas Sandman visited Washington, D.C., with fellow Covington, Kentucky, high school students. The media incorrectly portrayed him as a racist aggressor because a viral video showed him wearing a MAGA hat and smiling at Nathan Phillips, a Native American elder banging a drum and chanting. Sandman’s family filed a $250 million defamation suit, which CNN, NBC, and the Washington Post settled for undisclosed amounts before the case went to court.

If they didn’t settle, what would have CNN’s and NBC’s texts, emails, and depositions revealed about the integrity of its hosts and management?

It may have been smarter for Fox to settle at any cost than to subject itself to discovery.

The question is whether the revelation that its hosts weren’t truthful will hurt FNC more than if they had told viewers the unpleasant but unvarnished truth in the first place. 

Does credibility still matter? It’s too soon for objective data to lead to informed opinions. However, today, people consume news more to confirm their beliefs than to learn facts. 

I value credibility now more than ever. Although I tell a fisherman’s tales from time to time, there was always a fish on the hook, even if it didn’t set a record.

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A BSM Top 10 To Make You More Money

“Small business owners love to talk about why they’re better than their competitors, and that’s exactly what this question will turn in to.”

Barrett News Media

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It’s been a week of lists here at SportsRadioPD.com, with the 4th annual BSM Top 20 series being unveiled for 2018.  It’s great to see the recognition the format gets during this week and I’m sure the lists spark many conversations across the country.  I have absolutely nothing to do with the results, but I did thoroughly enjoy seeing so many names I’ve worked with through the years show up on the various lists.  Congratulations to all the people who were named on any of the lists and a big tip of the cap to Jason and the BSM staff for really putting a spotlight on all the great talent in our format.

In keeping with the theme this week, I present to you my Top 10 list of things you need to know about each of your clients or prospects:

10. Do they hold any major or annual sales or events?

In the “old days,” pre-internet, I remember reps getting sent to the library to look at old newspapers.  They’d look through all the ads from the previous year and mark down the dates of big sales or anniversaries.  Knowing your client’s annual calendar can help you get ahead in preparation and allows you to keep them in mind if opportunities pop up in their important windows.

9. What community efforts, charities or causes does their company support?

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve used this information in a presentation over the years.  Being involved in community efforts, charitable events and causes is not only a great way for local businesses to support their communities and brand, but if the client is using it in their advertising, it’s good for the station as well.  

8. What misconceptions do they hear about their business or industry?

In a true marketing partnership, we bring the expertise in marketing and advertising and the client is bringing the knowledge on their business.  If they can help you identify misconceptions, you can use that information for copy ideas or even to help identify who to target with a certain message.

7. Who is their biggest competitor and why would people shop there?

Eight or nine times out of ten, the answer to this question will write your copy for you!  Small business owners love to talk about why they’re better than their competitors, and that’s exactly what this question will turn in to.  

6. Which of their products or services are considered their specialty or are things they like to feature because a higher profit margin? 

Now you’re trying to make sure you understand what they want to sell and what it costs.  This will not only help with copy or focus of a campaign, but it can also start to help you formulate a budget based on the main products they want to move.

5. Do they have any access to co-op from manufacturers?

Back in 2015, Borrell Associates did a study and found that almost 40% of co-op goes unused.  Sit down before you read this, but that’s around $14 BILLION dollars.  The Radio Advertising Bureau website has a ton of co-op information to help get you started, but this question should always be asked.

4. How will they measure the success of an advertising campaign?

This is all about making sure you’re on the same page with the client.  How success will be measured should be very clear from the beginning, so everyone knows the target that is being chased.  Both sides need to make sure the goals are reasonable, and you need to make sure the proper budget is being spent to match the expectations.

3. Who is their target market?

When it comes to who your clients are targeting, never assume you know.  Whether it’s age, gender, income, education or simply location, drill down as far as you can to the specifics of who they wish to reach.  Our first job in being the client’s marketing consultant is matching our products up with the audience they are trying to be in front of with their message.

2. What is their digital marketing strategy?

I know each-and-every one of you reading this is hearing this message from all directions.  This is where the money is, and they’re going to spend it with someone.  Might as well be with you, right?

1. What is their monthly budget?

You have to ask.  And when the first response comes that doesn’t in any way, shape or form answer your question, you need to keep asking until you get an answer.  I’m a big believer in the strategy of throwing numbers out in wide ranges to elicit some sort of response.  Whatever your strategy is, do whatever you can to get guidance that will allow you to know, up front, how serious they are about investing in their business.

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