Monday, February 26, 2007



A marketing buzzword that borders on cliché is "brand". You hear a lot about stations as 'brands'. Actually, this is a critical factor in what makes great, lasting radio stations that actually mean something with that reward meaning with LONG term success in an era where everyone seems to be focused on the quick hit. Some, though not many, terrestrial stations that have done it well, including WDVE in Pittsburgh. I consulted them for many years, and they have nicely evolved their station to where they are #1 and pretty firmly entrenched in Pittsburgh as a long time and clearly defined fixture. WGN in Chicago is another example of a station that stays on plan and while the audience is old, they just keep staying true to their game plan and have become a 'brand' that the city identifies with. Speaking of Chicago, there are some stations that have textbook blown it. The Loop (WLUP) had it ALL...and completely blew it. WXRT has brand power but is running on creative fumes. WNEW-FM and KMET in NYC and LA respectively are other stations that blew it. I wonder about KROQ--once the pinnacle of cool stations has seemed to have lost the cool franchise in LA to Indie 103.1 and KCRW. Not many people actually listen to those stations but SO many people say they do--a component in the hip component in brand building.

Usually in blowing the brand it's all about a) forgetting where they came from and who their "natural" audience is. Weather its greed, grossly misreading their market or mis-evolution. b) Going for the quick hit at the expense of their heritage. "Oh, it’s all about _____now--we better get in sync with that" usually pisses in the face of their historic listenership and 'meaning'. c) Research. Research is knowledge but so much radio research is flawed. Often pointing stations in the wrong direction, or failing to capture the whole picture and the blind buy in rockets stations in the wrong direction. d) Not paying attention--ya get rich ya CAN get sloppy. e) Getting lazy and cashing in on the brand -- living in the cash driven moment instead of continuing to develop what got you to the cashy point in the first place. e) Hire people who have NO idea what the brand is about--and putting them in charge. A common consolidation thing. New owners/managers come in and understand the spreadsheet but not what got them there. A prescription for deconstructing the brand.

And still yet, in a music environment, a lot gets back It usually gets back to the 16-24 thing. The music you like during that age period tends to be the blueprint for the music you'll like for life. Capture listeners THEN and take them for a 50 year ride. If you take them for a 5 year ride then change gears, a potential lifelong brand is thrown out the window.
Today's stations often aren't thinking about creating long term brands. It borders on "junk culture" where you get a clever name like Bob, Jack, or Tom and try to capitalize on the "shuffle thing". That kind of short term, scratch the surface thinking guarantees that Bob, Jack or Tom will NOT be here in 2009.

Then there are stations that are more akin to the Gas Company than a media brand. Most Internet radio is like this. "Audio Services". A brand requires immersion. You need Passion, Character and Muscle. An electronic juke box does not have those timeless characteristics, therefore will never become more than an audio service rather than a cultural beacon.

Bob Lefsetz, the love him or hate but you read him blogger, recently made a comment about Artists as Brands. He objected to this idea. I completely agree. Artists BECOME brands, and at that stage of their career you can market it as such because, through natural progression, they’ve become that. The Eagles are a brand, but it took 35 years of music to evolve into that. BUT--If you try to build a new artist into a brand, instead of it happening naturally, you’ll end of with garbage. You'll ruin the artist’s career by putting brand building ahead of natural music development. Of course in today's world there are "artists" with a look but no actual musical skill or vision, and the only hope is to create a brand, but that's more about PR than music.

The point is that "Brands" are incredibly powerful, but it's a marketing cliché that leads people to think you can snap a brand together by throwing around the word. Marketing change rather than doing it. You gotta DELIVER THE GOODS FIRST, and then worry about brands. One reason most terrestrial stations will never be TRUE brands that cut through and last is that the first thing a brand needs is originality. How can any station stand out as a brand if they sound like EVERY other station?

I guess the bottom line is creating and delivering the goods, knowing the blueprint and instilling that in EVERYthing you do….THEN---build the brand component and LIVE by it. But I don’t think you can “create a brand” without living and breathing it first. Do first...then market…and stay true. And don’t read too many marketing books or you’ll become about the buzzwords more than the “do”

We are launching Artist Confidential: Latino! We’ve had trouble connecting with the wheelers and dealers in that community, but Jesus Salas joined us several months ago to spearhead our Latin efforts and has connected well with that musical community and we are on our way. Jesus is quite an operator. I sorta steered him in the right direction, gave him some templates and Artist Confidential 101 and he's off to the races. George Taylor Morris has been helpful in tutoring him on the concept as George is often the host, has incredible instincts and feel for the program and can help Jesus short cut the learning curve on the set up and hosting. Hosting these is tough. George does most of them though Lou Brutus has done a few as well as BK Kirkland, Programmer of the Groove and Ms. Kitti from RAW. Lou is a man of all seasons, he can tackle Harry Connick Jr. with the same grace as one of his Punk favorites.

The Latino version of this has it's challenges. First off, the whole thing is in Spanish or at least a large portion of it. I've been on a few calls with Jesus to managers of Latin artists. It's a whole new world. We'll talk in English for a minute, then Jesus will launch into a conversation in Spanish at breakneck speed as I sit back wondering what he's saying. I wonder if it's "Don't listen to Abrams--he's an asshole..."? Actually I doubt it, but I do wonder. Jesus is Cuban. There's definitely fire in his blood. It shows in his work and it's a reason I think the Latino edition of Artist Confidential will be successful. It may be like when Ms Kitti from Raw hosted Artist Confidential with Ludacris. Complete mayhem. Completely out-of-control...and it was amazing.

Speaking of out of control, I got Steve Cook our Automotive EVP tickets for his kids to see Slayer at DC's 9:30 Club. I then found out he is going WITH them. Steve has NO idea what he's getting into. Steve is a mild mannered, kinda preppy guy. I tried to explain what Slayer is all about but I don't think he got it. I went to a Slayer show back in Dallas. Cops were beating up the kids, and I was rooting for the cops. It was THAT nuts.
Anyways, for Steve's safety I pray he doesn't wear a tie. Steve warned me about wearing University of North Carolina garb at the Duke game we went to a few weeks ago. Said I'd get pummeled. That ain't nothin' compared to looking like a corporate narc at a Slayer gig.

XM did a Grammy Channel. Personally, so much of what America sees and hears about the Grammy's is "junk culture". Pure Made for TV garbage. BUT---There is actually a lot of the Grammy's that is pretty interesting which is why we carried the pre-TV awards. Those are the awards that are the most interesting to a music fan. Probably not a ratings getter, but that's where the SPIRIT of accomplishment is celebrated and you hear the awards that go beyond Beyonce and the Dixie Chicks whining. For that alone, I'm really glad we got involved. It's sad to me that only the red carpet star power is highlighted when the awards celebrate SO much more.

The Police are touring again! I love this. I love the Police. What a great band. Great songs. Great playing. Great arrangements. Great everything. I'll never forget coming back from the UK and telling everyone about them. Unfortunately most people thought I was nuts and that the Police were another New Wave band that would have 2 hit singles in Europe, the drummer would kill himself and that's the end of that. Few people could accept that these guys were really excellent musicians as most of those New Wavers prided themselves on sucking. I saw a bunch of those bands and they truly sucked. The Boomtown Rats weren't great players but were very clever...the Police were amazing. I'm sure there were more, but in the USA that New Wave title lumped bands together as anarchists who couldn't stay in tune and wrote angry songs that didn't relate to Americans. After all Van Halen and Led Zeppelin were the heroes. Anyways, the Police just got better and better and obviously made a lasting impact. I am SO happy to have contributed to their success as much as I could have. We need a band that reeks quality in this era of "Junk Culture". They can only inspire.


At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Lee !!! No comment on the XM/Sirius merger ?? And you quote Lefsetz on branding but not the merger ?? Me thinks you are displaying your hypocracy.

At 1:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

some bands coming back together again seem like a good idea but I don't think I would pay to see it, except to turn the clock back and have it be their heyday.. as far as the merger is concerned, all good things must come to an end and I've faced the reality that satellite radio just wasn't meant to be.. better luck next time... it was like buying beta when vhs was clearly the better choice, well in this case satellite radio is the beta and I-pod and terrestrial radio the vhs... I thought I had waited long enough to make my choice but...

At 1:20 PM, Blogger RON OLESKO said...

My guess is that Lee is unable to discuss the potential merger due to a number of issues, including some legal concerns. Understandable.

I find this blog fascinating. Thanks for giving us an opportunity to see into your world. It is an eye opener! Keep up the great work at XM!

Ron O.

At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude . . .

If you think there is no comment on the merger in this post, you didn't read it. Check out reason "e" for blowing the valuable radio "brand" (i.e., XM's excellent music programming). Iw ould classify that as a not very veiled message to Mel and the Sirius boys.

At 3:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for another great blog Lee. I always enjoy the "lee" perspective.

At 8:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lee...ummm...interesting comments on branding...always enjoy your take on such...but ummm...i heard somewhere somehow there's like a merger underway, like any opinion on it at all?

At 10:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The biggest problem terrestrial radio is facing are the constant CHANGES. Consumers don't have time to do everything they want, which is why TSL is going down. There are just too many options. The landscape has changed radically and will keep changing. Terrestrial, satellite, HD, internet radio. What's next? That's why group owners KNOW some formats will only last a few years. They'll just move on to the next big thing. No big deal. Commercial radio is simply about making money. There's nothing wrong with that. It's up to XM to make the difference and that's what you're doing. Perfect.

At 1:47 AM, Anonymous Bobarino said...

What in the world is hypocritical about not discussing the merger?

Has "hypocrisy" become an all-purpose word that we throw at someone when we can't think of a legitimate reason to criticize them?

At 8:35 AM, Blogger Dan Kelley said...

Loved your words on brands this morning..especially pointing out brands that lost their way.

Thanks for sharing.

I do a blog - and would love permission from you to reprint something you wrote back in 1997.

At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Lee - I used to be an intern at WMMR in Philadelphia and your name always carried the highest level of respect.

I predicted the XM/Sirius merger when both companies started their business ventures. I think I've told Earle Bailey this before, but IP technology will supercede the satellite radio business... So, after the merger, heads will roll! But, as I have told Earle Bailey, your talent becomes a brand name like XM. It requires the genius minds, like you, to create a new business model beyond XM/Sirius. A combination of good programming, such as Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour, as well as an understanding what's hot/not with music PROGRAMMING - much like listening to Earle Bailey's Rock N' Roll Roots, and what I remember as a kid - Friday Night Flashbacks with David Dye on WIOQ.

Well, sorry for the rambling post here. Tell Earle that Maureen from San Francisco said hello.

Peace.. This is only the beginning of something wonderful for creative people like you.


At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee, I always enjoy reading your posts. You are clearly the reason why XM has such fantastic music programming. I can listen to some channels all day, and I'm only wondering what great stuff I'm missing on other channels ... so much music, so little time.

WRT the merger, please know that there are tons of XM fans out there praying that you'll have control over whatever music content we have in the future.

At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope like hell that you are able to retain some control over music programming at the monopoly. Mel is such a hack, but hopefully he'll focus on the commercial channels and leave music alone.

At 11:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Maureen from SF - I agree that in the long run (post Wimax, even), IP technology will supercede satellite as a delivery system. I can only hope that XM (or whatever company we have then) will be around to provide content. With the right choices, they could be around as a content provider regardless of the delivery technology.

At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion of brands, which I personally found quite terrifying. I would hope that few of us are actually caught in our 16-24 music, and basically stagnate there for the remainders of our lives. But judging by Clear Channel, that may be too true.

However, for those of us who grow, expand and enjoy widely varied musical genres, the "brand" is not a concept I will embrace. Give me a location for the content, variety, breadth of offering and access to new music that I crave, and I would stay with the station, or stations (or even XM.) Yank access to the World, and keep 6 stations which recycle 80's progressive rock, and I'm gone.

There is still no musical solution for those of us wanting World Music. I doubt the merger will improve that situation.

At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Latino Confidential

The Latino market is a growth industry. In the past five years, the Latino population has grown 21.5% to 42 million people with over $1 trillion in consumer spending. Advertisers are spending over $5 billion dollars each year trying to reach this coveted and growing demographic.

the buzz is that there's a new English language talk show hosted by a latino that is launching in partnership with Entravision. They will open the doors of talk radio and revitalize the format.

You should get th show on XM. Mario Solis Marich

he's doing weekends on KTLK in LA right now

At 4:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I certainly hope the merger will help those of us who want to hear World Music. Over the years XM has dropped Ngoma and World Zone so they could add more classic rock stations to match the Sirius offerings. With one entity, in theory you would need only one of each decades channel, and plenty of other overlapping stations could be eliminated. There would be a lot of free bandwidth and one way to get the merger approved would be for the new company to promise to support underserved listeners with stations like WorldZone, Ngoma, and even some foreign language news stations (Korean, Arabic, Chinese, etc).

At 9:32 AM, Anonymous Barry Mayo said...

Lee, your comments on branding...made me realize how much I miss you and your energy. Good luck with all this merger BS. Hope someone driving this deal understands who/what they have in you, bro.


At 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


"SiriusX Diversity"

That is the "NEW" Video you should make,....

YOU CAN, take the old Chart,

and MERGE SiriusX BY,

"CROSSING the 4 Types",

There is the X, in SiriusX,

-1 SatRad Co
+ -1 SatRad Co
1 Positive Co

At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great perspective on this. Would love your take on the Imus firing.

Keep up the good work.


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