Monday, March 05, 2007

RADIO'S DILEMMA WITH THE YOUNG AND RESTLESS

RADIO'S DILEMMA WITH THE YOUNG AND RESTLESS

This is not a jab at Top 40 radio, the stations or the people running them. It’s a question mark. A possibility that I think needs addressing:

I wonder if the model for Top 40 radio is dead. Pop, CHR, mainstream Top 40 (or whatever you want to call it)songs are certainly pretty dominant but I gotta wonder if the way it’s presented on radio which is really a 52 year old architecture is fading from relevancy faster than you’d think. Maybe teens blatantly prefer picking THEIR top songs, loading them into their device and listening to them that way instead of listening to a radio station…waiting to hear their faves in between songs they don’t like, complicated by a blabbering DJ, ‘promos’ for tickets to a concert they’ll never win and an artificiality as plastic as a starlets chest.. Worked many years ago, but this ain’t many years ago. Back then there was no You Tube, Internet, and scores of other cool music listening applications. Radio was IT. Maybe today a Top 40 station should be more about DISCOVERY where they hear songs first that they may want to eventually load into their device. Maybe it's about COMPLETELY rethinking or even eliminating the DJ component whose style, might be painfully out of date in today's You Tube era. The biggest issue is denial. Afraid to accept that a sound and style that was such a part of the Nation's soundscape is over--- Radio people thinking this CAN’T be happening. Well—Personally I think it is. Top 40 radio strikes me as being used as a utility more than something that is creating and nurturing FANS.

To complicate things, Teens sure hate radio…and it’s not too surprising. Maybe hate is a strong word, but I’m thinking the majority think it’s pretty irrelevant, if not plain dumb. Not too hard to figure though. Unlike an old guy like me that remembers when AM and FM stations were iconic and part of life’s fabric, younger people may have first tuned into radio when they were 10. That’s 1997. The peak of over commercialized, absurd playlists, (not about length as much as the blind leading the blind instead of looking the street in the eye) artificially manufactured DJ’s and goofy production. I can never remember a time when “young” radio was SO out of sync with the streets. I think there are a few urban and country stations that at least TRY…but mainstream pop stations, alt stations and the like are jokingly out of sync. That’s why I believe traditional radio research blows. The idea of it is of course important…but the ways it’s done is blatantly flawed or else these research driven stations would be pointed in the right direction. I was listening to some tapes of stations way back—and they connected…they were almost experimental in nature. Today’s tight ass corporate sounding utilities (aka Pop stations) are what gives XM promise in that demographic…but it ain’t easy convincing listeners that we’re NOT like FM…AND—we have our own challenges to indeed NOT be like FM…ain’t easy. I call it the “Blender factor”. Blender being a cool magazine that seems to be in sync whereas the typical low age target stations are more like a cross between a bad tabloid and a weak attempt at the late Teen People. It’s important for our people to shed their baggage in the pop world, because it NEEDS shedding and the baggage is diseased. Our 20 on 20 and some of the other channels certainly aren't bad by any means, in fact they do a good job---My point is not about how the channels sound--it's WHAT is the plan that'll re-engage teens to radio in the 21st century as the tried and true way that worked last century is dated. I hope we find the answer. Recognizing that it's an issue instead of denial is the first step. Thinking about it--aggressively blowing up the playbook and decisively challenging the old way in order to create a NEW way that might just deliver the approach needed to connect in 2007 and beyond. Radio in its traditional form CAN become a medium of the aged as the new listeners opt for something that reflects THEIR era, and it's worth questioning if "youth radio" does that today.

Part of the problem I've noticed with programmers reaching out to teens is age distortion. You think you are targeting 12-24 year olds, but in reality the thing is geared for 8-14 year olds. I really wonder if anyone over 14 is impressed with Paris Hilton, whereas I can see a 9 year old being enthralled...but then you see stations targeting 16-24 year olds covering Paris and Brittney as if they are taken seriously--something I doubt. The "interest" is more of a joke. Of course all of this "12-24" stuff really has NOTHING to do with programming...zilch. They are advertising definitions. In fact it's all Bullshit unless you are selling ads. What I'm trying to say is I don't think many Top 40 stations truly reach & touch people over (for lack of a better reference) 14 year olds.

Then there’s the marketing challenge of convincing young non believers that radio is “OK”---but that’ll backfire unless it REALLY is ‘OK’—otherwise they’ll hear the message, tune in and be disappointed. If you convince people to check it out—you gotta blow ‘em away, and deliver on the promise. Nothing is worse for the cause than convincing someone that you got the goods and then delivering something that doesn’t come through. It’s deeper than a standard marketing challenge…it’s about AFDI’ing and delivering something that’s REALLY good…and attacks all the reasons they think radio is bad.

It’s a lot easier to do older targeted stations because the blueprint has been designed and while many formats that have been around for awhile disintegrated, they DID have a period when they were dead on it. It’s a matter of authentically and correctly re-creating the magic from their best eras, or inventing it as many older skewing channels are more eclectic or interesting in nature and have never been done. I see nothing wrong with “re-creating” formats that are long gone like the ones in our decades channels because those were great days that deserve to be re-lived. Re-creating or mimicking 80’s and 90’s radio is scary because I don’t think we should mimic what sucked. The challenge is to invent new takes on more contemporary formats. Fighting the urge to do it as it’s been done as many of these formats never REALLY had a golden era…at least not in the minds of civilians. Yes—you go to radio conventions and hear everyone jacking each other about how K-108 is “kicking ass” though real listeners may have a different impression. My point is either to invent, re-invent or re-create…and to know which channels need invention, re-invention or re-creation. Not easy. The radio mind tends to think that the stations you worked at that had high ratings were great. Period. I wish rating services had a “satisfaction” factor. It’s sort of like any utility. You use it but don’t necessarily LIKE it. At XM we are in the business of getting people to LIKE us…A LOT, so they’ll pay. I think we do that…but can always do it better. There are still 200+ million people without satellite radio. Never has it been more important to think like real people instead of industry types. It used to be when a listener had an idea, the response was “We’re in radio…you aren’t—go away” (or at least we’d THINK that). OR—you bury yourselves in data that is likely flawed in the first place but looks cool. Bottom line—it all distances yourself from the street…and with all the competition out there—the street CAN be your best friend….if you let it.

Many "oldies" stations are dropping DJ's. Not sure I get that. I guess that is a difference in XM. Our decades channels, particularly the 50s and 60's are created and programmed to mirror the way a Top 40 station sounded back then. Authenticity. It should screw with your head...take you back to 19-- to the point where you lose all sense of time. We bought the ORIGINAL PAMS Jingles, run old ads (so campy that no-one could possibly consider them "real" ads in the ad free environment), DJ’s who UNDERSTAND the spirit of radio on those eras. 60's even has Chickenman. FM Oldies radio is SO lame. A SHORT list of songs presented by DJ's who weren't born then, using 2007 techniques. We opt to recreate the sound...the attitude...the vibe. Why? Because it WAS brilliant! Why would we NOT want to recreate...authentically, the golden era of music radio? Those stations had 60 shares...musta been doing it right. People who were there wax on about the magic. There isn't a person on earth who was there back then who can't name most of the DJ's. They were the years that defined great radio. In fact, at XM Bootcamps, I’ve played old tapes so our people can hear it...and transfer that magic to their channel and this era. Unless you are old enough to have lived through that era, there’s a tendency to use more recent radio as your standard. That robs you of understanding radios potential. If you grew up with radio in the 80's and 90's, that's like being a modern rock artist without having experienced the Beatles, or a Metal artist that never listened to Black Sabbath or a Country artist that never bothered checking out Hank Williams Sr. You don't have to have lived in the era to apply the magic, but you DO have to experience it...otherwise you'll NEVER reach your potential. That's why I'm into history. I don't think you can design the future without understanding the past.

One of the things about XM is that we try to put DJ's where they mean something. Some channels they mean nothing--it's all abut music. But for us, the 50;s and 60's are all about personality. It's REAL hard to make it work, but we try, and I think it is working splendidly.

We DID drop a daily show called CQ, where listeners phoned in. In reality, live call ins were NOT part of 60's radio. Then again, it sounded pretty good and allowed us to engage the Nation. But it DID get out of control so we backed it to weekends. Might bring it back more frequently...we'll see.

The real gem of our Decades channels is the salutes Terry Young does of the great Top 40s of bygone days. He just did WQAM in Miami which as I always say--was the best. Did another favorite WLS a few weeks ago and had Ron Riley co-hosting. Ron was a WLS stalwart in the mid 60's. WLS is a good station to study. They were a station aimed at farmers for years, and then in '60 they went to Top 40, but were saddled with everything from Don McNeil's breakfast club to hour long news blocks. Eventually they really came into their own with guys like Dick Biondi at night...WCFL threatened them with a clean and highly cinematic presentation in '65. John Rook came in around 68 and cleaned WLS up a lot, and throughout it al, WLS remained dominant. Terry's salute brought it all back...and it was an education.

Saw this about The Associated Press NOT covering Paris Hilton. Not a bad idea for a “legitimate” new operation. There are plenty of tabloids that can cover her running out of gas or partying with Brittney.


Paris the Thought: A.P. Says Au Revoir to Hilton Hottie

On Feb. 13, the Associated Press declared its plans to boldly go where few wire services would dare to go in this day and age: the no–Paris Hilton zone.

“Next week,” entertainment editor Jesse Washington wrote in an e-mail memo obtained by The Transom, “the print team is planning an unconventional experiment: We are NOT going to cover Paris Hilton.

“Barring any major, major news, we are not going to put a single word about Paris on the wire,” the memo continued. “If something does come up, big or small, we encourage discussions on whether we should write about it.”

The results of the experiment, naturally, will be fodder for a future A.P. story. “Hopefully we will be able to discuss what ‘news’ we missed,” read the memo, which could have used some stern copy-editing, “the repercussions of our blackout for AP both editorially and business-wise, and most importantly the force that cause the world to be fixated on this person who, despite her shallow frivolity, represents an epochal development in our culture.”

Reached for comment, Mr. Washington said, “There was a surprising amount of hand-wringing. A lot of people in the newsroom were saying this was tampering with the news.” One editor’s response was apparently: “This is a great idea—can we add North Korea?”

Mr. Washington said he was inspired by the fact that, in the past year, Ms. Hilton has appeared on the A.P. wire about twice a week.

“We got lucky,” he said. “Totally by accident, her birthday party was the day before we started the experiment. There really weren’t any major news stories involving Paris, so we didn’t have that many really tough decisions to make.” Though “her name did pop up in a couple stories, despite my best efforts.”

…to be continued

16 Comments:

At 9:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Terry Young "The Motor Mouth". I remember him from 98 WCAU-FM in Philadelphia in the early '80s. I used to love listening to him.

 
At 10:41 AM, Blogger Bob said...

I have a few thoughts about this.

First off, we no longer have the minor leagues that produced the major league music stars and jocks of that era. A peek at the live music listings in a Sunday paper from 45 years ago shocks most young people. On top of this, radio used to spin mostly what the local record stores were selling because nobody could afford "research" beyond that. There's a difference between music that people say they like and what they are actually willing to fork over the money to own.

How about a top 40 on i-tunes channel with live commentary from personality jocks? How about imposing "standards" for them to push against? Dick Biondi was ALWAYS pushing the edge of what he could get away with. We listened on the edge of our seats to hear if he was going to blow it. The same was true of live music.

There's something about the mindset of being able to go back and edit that kills the excitement of both musicians and jocks. What used to have the excitement of a live sports event has turned into a musical cartoon. We got good enough to fool ourselves but not the kids.

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

Lee, your passionate, DJ-driven stations are all geared towards older, mellower listeners!! (Loft, Deep Tracks, Fine Tuning, even Hear Music). When will you provide for younger listeners eager for this, that an iPod cannot provide? What stations like KEXP and The Current are doing?

 
At 3:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work with several 20-something females and I can tell you they're following all the latest Paris/Britney/Lindsey news as avidly as any 8-to-14-year-old.

Face it, Lee, we baby boomers just don't "get" the generation of media users two generations removed from us. You want the teens and early 20s to listen? Give them everything the major labels are pumping out, in as tight rotation as possible, with no DJs and as few imaging elements as possible. Make it sound just like an iPod with all their favorite hits of the past two years (no more) on it. Dedicate four channels to it, with rock/rap/pop/dance emphasis, or program two of them in-house and let XM's investor-friends at Clear Channel program the others, and let the 8-to-24s enjoy their generation's ephemeral pop.

Then forget those channels even exist and return to concentrating on preserving OUR generation's ephemeral pop, as you have so well for so many years!

 
At 9:48 PM, Anonymous Chris Squires said...

Lee,

I love reading your stuff. I've become a radio fan again because of XM.

Please, however, back up what you say; especially on the younger channels. Work overtime finding those next Cool Guys, Terry Motormouths, Wolfmans, Caseys for the youth. Whenever XM jocks do the same bland act heard on local small market stations, whether it be 20 On 20, Boneyard, etc., it irks me to no end! I'm paying $$$ for this???

Radio Disney has done a great job discovering talent for its format. If it can do that, so can XM.

Chris

 
At 1:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem today is too much.

Too much music, too much media, too many choices, too much competition.

In the old days, you had one or two radio stations worth listening to. They played a stack of songs. You liked them, or you listened to nothing.

This is why the past seems so much better.

Radio definitely needs to find a way to become more interactive. Just focusing on music is something better done by a search engine, not a broadcast frequency.

 
At 6:53 AM, Blogger Jim Harrington said...

Lee...you're right on the money. When we did Top 40 Radio in the 60's and 70's it was in-sync with it's audience (for the most part). That's why I can't enjoy todays Oldies Stations. They're programmed by 'kids' who weren't there and who just don't get it. Even the old short list stations of 'the day' were more interesting than the bland Oldies stations of today. Satellite's sixties stations are fun and they remind their audience of the radio they loved. The new oldies stations remind their audience of all the songs they don't hear and their jocks are irrelevant. What a shame.

 
At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that XM does the decades superbly, for the most part. 80's playlist has been reexpanded and really presents the WHOLE decade in all it's glory. But then there's the 90's- it's been a shell of a station for almost 2 years. No DJs, a shallow playlist that repeats songs every 24 hours.. as you recognize, the 90's was the beginning of the end of radio. That is why there is so much potential for XM to not recapture, but INVENT how the 90's SHOULD have been presented, had XM been on the scene. XM needs to take advantage of the opportunity to bring life to a decade that has no meaningful template. For a time, Mike Abrams showed how voluminous and diverse the 90's musical library really is, but it was severely reduced when he moved to Hits. The music potential is there- revive it, and as importantly, bring in some talent that bring it to us!

 
At 1:33 PM, Anonymous Mr. Lee said...

Lee,

It's Mr.Lee, newest addtion to the 50s on 5. You always have been dead on it whether they want it or not. My fondest days on radio were KFRC 1980-84, an enigma,to be sure due to station image, topography, casting and promotional excelllence. It was one of the last great AM TOP 40s. My years there we were always in the 4s MSA. It was perhaps the only outlet that spanned 3 full decades and evolved with its own definition of presentation in tact.

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

I've been disappointed by the lack of dj presence on 80s. I listen mostly in the evening and I hear the "80s Wannabees" bumpers way too much. I want to be educated and engaged by people who know that musical era and have a passion for teaching me about it. From your column, it seems like that's more important to that station rather than a recreation of that time.

 
At 2:22 PM, Blogger djgoofywhitekid said...

Bob: Look at the top 40 on iTunes. Most, if not all, of those songs are getting huge Top 40 airplay already, ClearChannel or not. Not so sure that's the way to go. That's also kind of disheartening.

Actually, Mr. Abrams, I don't know that stripping the jocks is the way to go at all either. The anons kind of hit on it: there's a problem of too few talent to learn from (aka no "farm system") but also a lot of people that aren't using common sense to program their stations, whether they have research or not.

I'd also add that it's too easy for a mediocre mid-market jock to actually directly COPY what another, successful Top 40 jock is doing (started with Cali Aircheck, now nightjocks.net and the rest of these "prep sharing" sites), and do it poorly. That's, to me, a bigger problem.

If you have the right songs, okay, you have something. If you have the talent BETWEEN the songs, doing something ORIGINAL and compelling, you have something SPECIAL. That takes training on many levels on behalf of the jock, and that's not something today's terrestrial programmer has time to do, let alone look for in existing talent.

Really, the 'net and the iPod really changed the music delivery paradigm. You can't beat what you're trying to be. Gotta do it differently.

Ideas like this are why I'll never be anything beyond what I am now.

 
At 9:36 PM, Blogger cccrec said...

Lee:

Have to disagree with your comment about no live call in shows in the 60's. WFEC in Harrisburg had a show called Dedication Hotline from 8 to 9
Monday to Friday in the mid 60's.

The daily CQ was fun to listen to and was the highligh of the 60's channel.
The Sat. program is not nearly as good

Bob Z

 
At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up listening to WEBN back in the early 1970s. While Deep Tracks does a great job, it would be interesting to occasionally hear things such as WEBN's "Brute Force Cybernetics" commercials to give it that last touch of authenticity. Back then, besides WEBN I would listen to WVUD/Dayton, the pre-WOXY version called WOXR/Oxford and the weekend overnight show at WGUC/Cincinnati.

Don't peg me, though, as only a Deep Tracks listener. Over the years, I've expanded my horizons a lot, so I listen to Real Jazz, The Loft, XMU, XMPR XM Classics, High Standards, Bluegrass Junction as well as 60s, 70s and even some 80s. And I used to listen to World Zone and On the Rocks periodically. While I love the fact that XM has been able to find spots for all this great music, I'm a little disappointed that they've sub-divided it into so many channels that the sound quality has suffered.

Finally, I'm a big fan of the great shows XM airs, such as Bob Edwards, Bob Dylan, Ben Sidran, Graham Nash, Artist Confidential, Loft Sessions, etc.

Timothy Stockman

 
At 5:53 PM, Blogger Bob said...

In hindsight, I think talent between the songs expands the range of music that can be played without losing the audience.

I, for one, grossly underestimated the importance of jocks until most of the great ones were gone.

 
At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Ron Jacobs said...

TEN REASONS WHY DON IMUS SHOULD GO AWAY & SHUT UP

By Ron Jacobs



1. Don Imus has done nothing new since Y2K. Whatever impact Imus had in and/or on media stalled in the 1990s.

2. Imus is subconsciously pulling another “stunt” to boost his miniscule ratings—as if “ratings” are a true measure of reality. Fact is, for anyone who has heard of Don Imus, there are millions who never have and/or will never listen to him; let alone watch his posturing and condescending TV “show.”

3. Imus, like all “talk radio” hosts, has the last word by virtue of his control of the microphone. Opposing views and “debates” should take place on Imus’s show, not on Al Sharpton’s radio program, etc. (Sharpton “facing off” Imus is not Edward R. Murrow deflating and destroying Sen. Joe McCarthy. The colloquy on ESPN’s "Pardon the Interuption" is more informed, committed and compelling than Imus on his best day.

4. Imus seems confused about what color his hair, if any, should be. Further, speculation is that Imus misrepresents his date of birth. If Imus was born on July 23, 1940. (Wikipedia: 4.9.2007) he is past the age of retirement. Imus should be made to live for one year on Social Security benefits, as do normal Americans.

5. Imus knows less about NCAA Women’s Basketball than Robert Kekaula, a little-known TV sports director in a medium-size town. NOTE: In Imus’s local market, New York City, the station on which he appears--WFAN-AM, “sports talk”--is barely in the top-twenty audience rating leaders. (Source: Arbitron.)

6. Back when he was noteworthy, Don Imus:

(a) Was a manic, timely, record-spinning deejay, not a “Social Commentator” and Groupie to the Stars.

(b) Assumedly had contact with street people, not the New York and Washington, DC insular elitists with whom he curries

favor. Today, Imus rides in limousines and chartered planes, not the beat-up junkers he drove when he allegedly “worked on

the railroad,” unable to get a radio job.

(c) Did not tediously brag about his wife and first four children as he does now. It is interminably creepy.

(d) Occasionally had original ideas, albeit ordering scores of pizza for delivery, making fun of Baptist preachers, etc.,

(e) Did not worship political, musical and media ”stars.” Assumedly, Imus once had a degree of objectivity; he was not

awed/flattered by “Big Wheels” as he is now, tossing them "matzoh ball" questions and comments. (BTW, has anyone

so assiduously tried to appear “cool”—a senior citizen in sequined cowpoke shirts and pre-washed jeans?)

(f) Might have been committed to Old School Radio, pre-deregulation requirements to serve “In the public interest”—

rather than the self-aggrandizing support of a niche “charity” that enables him to live and work in more humane climes

than inclement New Jersey and Manhattan weather.

(g) As in Colton and Sacramento, CA, did a one man show, without help from an overpaid crew of sychophants and “funny”

characters to prop him up.

(h) Had better hair than Oprah Winfrey.

7. Imus ever, if at all, showcases radio newcomers, but rather uses and humiliates “interns.” Can anyone claim Imus as a mentor or influence—in the manner this, the once almost-humble Imus acknowledged and respected "Radio Giants" such as the late Robert W. Morgan?

8. Imus never got off his ass and broadcast live from Iraq, Afganistan, North Korea or any area about which he spouts opinions. Also, can anyone cite a hit record or major news story “broken” by Don Imus?

9.The mission of CNN and other cable “news” networks should be to cover News of the Day, not react to “shock jock” trivia, whether accurate or inane. Did Ted Turner have this jiveass gibberish in mind when he invented the form? Oh yeah, why is CNN giving large chunks of airtime to a competive MSNBC “personality?”

10. Don Imus, a self-invented persona whose life and preoccupations are of no particular interest to real people, lives on a planet redolent of war, poverty, decaying environmental conditions and socio-politcal conflict. I did not hire him at KHJ-Los Angeles in 1966. I would be even less inclined to so 2007.

MIA: Please post Donald Imus’s military record on his Web site.



Ron Jacobs

(FCC Broadcast License dated 12/24/1953)

Kaneohe, Hawaii

April 9, 2007



© Ron Jacobs 2007

 
At 5:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what do you mean teens dont like radio? My son who is 14 wants to work for satellite radio someday and has just about every satellite radio thats ever been made.

 

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