Monday, March 26, 2007



The audience for NPR shows hit a new high in the Fall book. That was a recent headline. The cume of 26.5 million is up 2% from the previous Fall (2005) and up 4% from last Spring. National Public Radio says listeners ship to its member stations - which buy programming from NPR and other sources, and also produce their own - rose to 30.9 million. NPR can't help noting that "commercial news/talk radio has dropped 7% over the past three years." And Morning Edition was just ranked as the nations #1 morning show. To me this is a continuing symbol of the upper demographics trend away from traditional radio and its “junk culture” approach. I think NPR could be infinitely better without sacrificing its integrity and purpose, BUT they are at least an oasis from most of what is offered currently in "commercial" radio. Then there’s the young end. FM’s creative problem is happening from both ends of the age spectrum. I’m not suggesting XM is perfect, but I hope we are and continue to attack terrestrial problems by offering something more interesting. Radio will never go away so long as it stays more interesting than annoying. We radio people often work hard at keeping it annoying. Annoying like a ubiquitous utility service that is "there" but really doesn't ADD anything to life's pleasure, so what you are left with is something flavorless that it becomes annoying in its blandness.

Then there’s this:

SIMON COWELL SAYS HE IS BIGGER THAN 'THE BOSS'"I sell more records than Bruce Springsteen," Cowell says of the rock star who signed a contract with Sony BMG reported to be in the neighborhood of $100 million. "In the last five years, I've probably sold over 100 million records. If [Springsteen] got 100 [million dollars], I should have got 500”.How does he sell 100 million records? "By doing 'Idol'... I signed the biggest artist on the planet and it's called 'Idol' because every single 'Idol' winner is now signed through Sony BMG,"

American Idol is an extraordinarily successful show. Something kind of disturbing about his comments though as if you could actually compare Springsteen to this guy. One is an artist and one is a TV guy lucky enough and with a nice shtick to be on a mega hit show.
It’s the audacity of a comparison that’s nuts…and once again symbolizes the decent into junk culture. Not dissing him— what he says …it’s a fact. But, it’s still weird.
Some find Mc Cartney's deal with Starbucks disturbing. I don't. It's symbolic of the new world. He's probably a lot better off with a fresh approach and a built in retail partner than flogging along with an old school label. I imagine that having Paul will force some interesting thinking on ways to maximize their investment beyond the old way that didn't seem to be working too well. Plus I think Concord is a very adventurous group that adds depth to the situation. We have an arrangement with Concord (and Starbucks). Those Concord guys are feisty.
Speaking of the younger end, I’ve been talking to as many young people as possible because not being remotely part of that generation I need to get into it to at least have SOME clue. The problem in talking to radio people about it is they are usually equally clueless and the big reports from the research companies that attempt are completely useless. Here are some bullets from meeting with the young as it relates to satellite radio primarily. And it still feels strange to say “young” but I can’t figure out a word that isn’t in Arbitron lingo or is condescending:

. The people I talked to (people—that’s a good word) had some amazing points as well as volumes of mis perceptions about XM and Satellite Radio. I strongly believe that these people would generally love satellite radio, IF they were exposed to it. THAT'S the problem.
I believe there is a remarkable, but challenging opportunity to penetrate this segment. Keep in mind that this is more of a psychographic thing than a demographic one in that while there are 18-24's, the people I talked to are clearly more music/media sophisticated than a 20 year old waitress at Denny's that loves the latest Janet Jackson or Toby Keith single. No problem...just reality. On the other hand we need to be realistic that while we may remember when radio was the revered soundtrack to our generation, today’s younger person has NEVER heard a great radio station and the idea of broadcast radio being cool is unthinkable because of their condition and exposure to FM at its worst in the last 15 years. You know it’s not inconceivable on the idea that we might best serve ourselves by focusing and REALLY serving 40+ since they are more of the “natural” radio audience and the younger you get the more the concept of broadcast radio is an archaic one, but with that said here are some findings—highly condensed and not necessarily the end all—but certainly thought starters:

*Fear of Installing: "Our generation doesn't install things...we're used to convenience". Big push back when they perceive something needs to be installed. Too complicated. They want easy. Click, punch and satisfied. There is a complicated installation perception....that it's a hassle to set up sat radio. Words like “kit” and ‘install’ are scary. In reality, XM is easy…but there IS this fear…

*Wi-Fi: Why get XM when I can get anything on the Internet for free...and it's all coming to cars soon perception. (Well maybe---Personally I see a MAJOR trend toward NOTHING being free in this space), AND while this will be another piece of the media pie, at the end of the day best content wins.

* The "cool" cycle seems pretty short with this group. Once something reaches mass's not cool. Even My Space is headed that direction. Sometimes we align with tech partners AFTER they have culturally peaked…hard to keep track because new media cycles through cool faster than you can keep track.

*Starbucks is what Mc Donald's was to my generation. It's everywhere and used heavily, but there was low awareness of any XM tie in.

*"My parents love XM"---They prefer something that is "theirs". Their parents have NO idea what You Tube or Pandora is so they are attracted to that.

*They think celebrities are amusing but stupid. Again their parents are possibly impressed, but they are not. In showing our channel line-up they were very:

1. I can already get these people on TV
2. The artists are cool, but they thought the hip hop names were old school. "Once a Hip hopper makes movies" they lose us. Losing the street in transition to the screen.

…there’s no doubting the value of an Oprah or Baseball—but didn’t see a lot of traction with the celeb thing on this “lower demographic”.

*They want experimental and underground, using KCRW and Indie 103.5 as examples to those I talked to in LA. Funny—that they may not actually listen to those stations, but the “idea” of those stations is attractive. The biggest attraction to XM, was the fact we offered Blues, Jazz, Indie, etc....THAT was attractive, but not really understood. There's still this "Satellite is celebrities and lots of regular radio channels" image.

*They reject mainstream. "We are the ones that will change the mainstream" they thing. This of course is what EVERY generation of college students thinks. Personally we need to tap into this timeless "anti mainstream/establishment" vibe that EVERY college generation has. It's tricky since we ARE mainstream...but need to highlight our "NON mainstream side" to reach these people….and actually deliver.

*Cost perceptions. Too expensive. (it’s not)

*Availability of portable units. No idea "how it works". Confused. Generally perceived as complicated to set up and bulky. (Ah---it's just a "radio")....I call it "Device paranoia". Radios are easy, devices--not always easy.

*INTERNET. Unawareness that XM is available online. As we assume, Internet is cool..."radio" is not. Reason primarily is again, that a college student has "never" experienced a great radio station as someone over 30 has. They were introduced to radio during the creative doldrums of the 90's and tend to perceive it satellite, as corporate radio...just more channels. They don't seem to "get" that radio CAN be cool and it's all not like FM.

*Lack of eclectic choices. Not programming for "them"--more of the same, nothing experimental.

*Pop/Hit radio as it is today does NOT have traction. Hits are great but the mindless presentation based on 1980’s thinking helps us nail the coffin in this demographic. WE NEED TO DELIVER what we promise…they can see right through channels we have that are “marketed” as cutting edge but are ….not. Or a presentation of "the hits" that is aimed at a 9 year old with fake groovy cool as they expect to hear.

*Something that is more for their parents. They are all about You Tube and exotic internet destinations, but their parents are more into the "radio" thing.

Most importantly for us is to get back to street level thinking. Attacking this audience or NOT attacking this audience cannot be dealt with denial, an overly corporate perspective or looking at the very sick mainstream media as a guidepost.

Interesting stuff. A lot of mis-perceptions and challenges that require street thinking. “Getting it”. Throwing out the denial.

Then again---GETTING the younger demos to accept that radio CAN be good--is the real challenge...

Pete Seeger Artist confidential was incredible. Historic. He’s 88 years old. Engaged the packed house with incredible stories and even wrote a song on the spot and had the audience engaged in a sing-a-long.

Finally, I love guitars…XM’s FINE TUNING is doing an amazing celebration of guitars---that is worth a plug.

Fine Tuning in April
The 5th Annual

International Guitar Month

With Weekly Live XM performances

Week one:
Al DiMeola
8pmE Wed. April 4 (Encore Fri. 5pm Sun. Noon E)

Week two
Eric Johnson
8pmE Wed. April 11 (Encore Fri. 5pm Sun. Noon E)

Week 3
California Guitar Trio
8pm E Wed. April 18 (Encore Fri. 5pm Sun. Noon E)

Week 4
The Incomparable Stanley Jordan with music and conversation
8pmE Wed. April 25 (Encore Fri. 5pm Sun. Noon E)

Ear colleges on guitar work and composing from the greats: Tommy Emmanuel, Paul Richards, Will Ackerman, Kaki King, Steve Hackett, Steve Howe, Stanley Jordan and more all month long. Ear College is a cool concept—it’s where an artist of expert sorta does a “…For Dummies”: kinda thing. It started years ago when Martin Goldsmith our Classical guru did a sorta Classical 101. There are a lot of people like me that like Classical but are pretty clueless about it. You know the type: Love the melodies and drama but call pieces by the movie like the 2001 Theme. A quick and cool way to educate listeners without getting ponderous…and we need all the educating we can deliver.


At 10:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee, the reason people cite KCRW and the like: they have reputations as being great, intelligently programmed, passionate stations. THIS IS NOT AN ACCIDENT. XM does not, in this arena. There is NO ECLECTIC INDIE/ROCK/POP/SOUL STATION ON XM. And XMU, the "indie" station, is not passionately or intelligently programmed, despite the best efforts of the staff. You want XM to have cache, HIRE SOMEONE WHO LIVES AND KNOWS THE INDIE/UNDERGROUND/ECLECTIC CONTENT!!!

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Dave Lange said...

Interesting comments as always. The younger demo part is a puzzle for all of us in broadcasting. Perhaps our real issue here is that we are broadcasters and this generation is really growing up with interactive media. Notice the media that attracts them - all of it allows them to contribute to the content and in many ways control it. Broadcasting by design is your XM team building the content and them passively listening for the most part. If we could only find a way to interact more with them it could be hip again. The question is how - the request line isn't going to pass for interaction with them.

At 5:02 PM, Anonymous A disheartened XM fan said...


Very perceptive, as usual, but also very sad. And simply inexcusable, from a management standpoint.

This prime potential audience still doesn't understand what satellite radio offers. It still doesn't know about the Starbucks relationship. It still doesn't understand that XM can be heard over the Internet. It still doesn't know how wonderful radio can be when it is done properly.

And on and on and on. And this misperception extends well beyond young people. Many, possibly most, older people are equally unaware of these things.

All of this more than five years after XM and your programming went live.

Yet the marketing, advertising, branding people responsible for this are still there (though, frighteningly, several have been moved to other, equally crucial positions).

For years, many people on the outside (and, I suspect, on the inside) made these problems known to management, and they were ignored.

And now look where XM is - about to be subsumed by its smaller, weaker, inferior competitor. But only if the feds allow it. And if they don't allow it...god knows what will happen.

It could have been so different. It is just so, so sad.

At 6:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's so sad? Because XM hasn't taken over the world? Forget the kids! Let them have their instant gratification....who needs em! I love XM just the way it is....I think its a mistake to run around selling y6ouself to todays youth..

At 9:03 PM, Anonymous Truly Stunned said...

I guess I have to agree with "A Disheartened XM Fan" above. Lee, your post this week is simply an illustration of the incompetence of the XM marketing and publicity staffs. As a long-time XM subscriber who works in the entertainment industry, I have been stunned at the performance of XM's marketing team. From its love of "too cool" TV advertising that does nothing to sell the product, to its inability to take advantage of all the great offerings on XM and create some editorial heat, it's been shocking to watch. And worst of all, XM's upper management doesn't seem to have a clue and doesn't hold anyone accountable.

Let's pick just one area where XM has totally dropped the ball -- its online effort. Kids -- actually everyone -- pretty much live online, especially for music. The XM site, even with its new look, is still an abomination, with tons of errors, omissions, no programming grid, and so on. There's one weekly e-newsletter when there should be at least one per category and even maybe one per channel. There's no official XM forum where the programming staff could interact with the fans. There's no affiliate program where sites could earn 10% commision on getting you new subscribers. There's no way to have the site notify you if a favorite band or personality will be featured on a special recorded program or live event. All of these things would bring you new customers, and more importantly (as your user base grows), reduce churn.

So the company with demonstrably better music, far superior hardware, a running head start, and better financials (at least in the first few years) finds itself at the mercy of the smaller company with all those DISadvantages. And who's fooling whom? The new company will be run by Sirius, and one can only hope they do some real research and keep the XM music crew. All of this has come to pass because of the terrible performance of the marketing and publicity teams at XM.

Aren't you even a little bit angry?

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Bob said...

XM's main problem is that Wall Street hasn't got a clue about the entertainment industry. This is really nothing new.

XM was so far ahead of Sirius that Wall Street insisted XM slack off on making a large enough investment in star radio personalities. They were canning folks when XM should have been engaged in massive additional investment in talent.

Meanwhile Sirius was in such bad shape that they had to go for broke and make Howard Stern a deal he couldn't refuse in order to generate enough publicity and listeners to stop Wall Street from yanking the plug out.

The entertainment business is all about star power. Wall Street has never been able to handle the fact that a tiny number of people represent the difference between profit and loss.

It isn't ever about promotion and publicity. It's all about pure star power combined with great programming. Lee very obviously understands this but his words seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

At 3:03 PM, Blogger CP said...

I am 50 and I like KCRW and Indie 103.1 (at least Jonesy), and I live in DC not LA. After reading Lee here for a few months I have begun to appreciate Fine Tuning and Deep Tracks, in addition to Vox, Ethel and XMU that I listened to previously.

It is kind of strange KCRW has not figured out a satellite or HD deal. I can listen to the inferior but still solid AAA WTMD (Baltimore) on my HD radio in DC.

Another good source of stations and really the only hope I have for terrestial radio is the Format Lab at the Clear Channel Radion website. There are the makings of some excellent stations there. Much better than the CC stations in DC or Baltimore (including HD only), and the CC stations on XM.

At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I deal with 'tweens'. I do focus groups with them. No offense, but, when I see an article that says something like... "I did a survey with young people, and here is what I found"... I know that I am in for paragraphs of useless information. I deal with kids 8-13, and I can tell you that there are significant demographic differences between even the 7-10 age group, and the 11-13 age group. I meet with these kids at least once a month at a popular pizza/game parlor, to discuss music, lifestyle, Disney Channel & Nickelodeon. They never cease to surprise and amaze me on all fronts. All of them have MP3 players (you are only cool if it's an iPod), and most have these 'prepaid' credit cards that allow them to download some 'parent defined quota' from iTunes each month. What I find in my research, and what I read on Nielsen, Arbitron, MediaBase, et. al. DO NOT sync. These 'pundits' are genuinely 'out of touch' with this demographic. This demographic has a large economic impact, which is growing every year as a percentage of the whole. There are some MASSIVE, untapped opportunities in this demographic, but it seems as long as the 'pundits' are baby boomers, they won't be tapped. Every so-called pundit that I read who has an opinion on this demographic is viewing with both blinders and rose colored sunglasses on. Until you remove these, you will never be able to properly tap this market. Even Radio Disney is having trouble getting a handle on this demographic, and they are supposed to be the 'experts'.

Thanks for reading.


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