Sunday, May 27, 2007

FOX, THE FUTURE OF NEWS...AND HOW GEORGE DID IT

FOX, THE FUTURE OF NEWS....AND HOW GEORGE DID IT

I’m obsessed with News. I think it’s in a similar state as music—from a media perspective and at least in the way it’s presented. I think Fox does a good job—at least I get why they are #1.

It’s interesting that I’m sensing a “flexing” with the culture, as discussed in other blogs. They had an ACLU guy on the air—and they were actually NICE to him. The thing I like about Fox is that they have re-invented TV News to a large degree…they are interesting to listen to/watch, they do A LOT right and they have a POINT OF VIEW---and seem to flex with the times…sorta. I’m not talking about the politics of Fox—I’m talking about the execution and design. Most other news organizations are chaotic--Fox is consistent. Like the POV or not.

I'm not getting into politics here. But you run into Fox bashers. I think those bashers should channel their energy into worrying about other news organizations that could challenge Fox. Why blame Fox because many other organizations suck. Just don't watch it. Take most of the Liberal News/Talk outlets--Some are THE WORST News/Talk/Information source I've ever heard. I see Air America is launching a new version. I hope its better. I also hope they avoid the shilling by Hollywood guys like Paul Newman, Dixie Chicks and Barbra Streisand.…That stuff will kill the cred. It ties them at the hip with entities that while popular figures, have NOTHING to do with the big issues. I think celebrities do more harm than good when they step out of their turf and attempt to be self serving world savers. Stick to movies and records PLEASE. Contribute your money and organizations to people with intellect and savvy who can force change instead of your ego being so out of whack that you think you can actually do it by offering your celebrity. The power of celebrity undermines credibility. Can you really take what Sean Penn says seriously? Pop Culture or it's sick cousin Junk Culture de-sensitizes ideas that the left might have that focus on biting issues. Lightens it up to where the mainstream doesn't take it seriously. Where's Cronkite when we really need him? Sometimes I think Liberal News/Talk/Information services are backed by Conservatives because it's almost like they are TRYING to be horrible and irritating and seem to be unable to present their POV in a way that generates respect and enthusiasm as Fox does on the conservative side. In my PERSONAL opinion, the lack of a cohesive and credible approach has set liberal biased radio back a century. It's not the message--it's their execution.

Now—If others weather audio, visual or print took a lesson from Fox…along with Huffington Post, Drudge Report and others that are on the new edge of modern media, we WILL have a News/Information revolution in this Country which we DESPERATELY NEED..Is wanted… and WILL succeed. NEWS/Information is just sitting there with 200+ millions—READY to embrace re-invention. Now is a REAL bad time for denial. News/Information Media in the US generally (with exceptions) is god awful. Rudderless---grabbing at straws. It didn’t take much to predict a few months ago that Katie Couric would get destroyed at CBS. Guess what—she’s getting destroyed. These people are SO incredibly non visionary and behind the curve—it’s scary. Great PowerPoint I’m sure, but pretty vacant and isolated from the streets and alleys of America. But I REALLY believe that the opportunity to AFDI change in News/Talk/Information is not only attractive…but do-able…and would receive universal acceptance. Intelligent CAN be mass appeal….as long as it’s in sync with NOW. Some public broadcasting is intelligent---but in sync with 1969…or just too damn elitist and self serving.

NOW---imagine a News/Information service that was TRULY Intelligent, non elitist, colorful, interesting, credible. Honest, modern, imaginative, zero whine and had the balls to throw out the “News Playbook” and re-invent it for 2007. A tall order. Do-able. It will be done. The opportunity is too powerful. There's too much of a financial upside as well as NEED for a revolution in News/Information not to happen. A GOOD change instead of a descending spiral into the abyss of Junk Culture OR (equally bad) dated thinking.

Being in sync with 2007 ISN'T hard...but no one is really doing it with true integrity. No-one is doing it with REAL balance. It seems to be all about taking sides. “Sides” is part of the game, but what would happen if the sides were personalities, but the overall vision and delivery of was truly neutral. Powerful. So until someone does, Fox will own the masses.


The stodgy old line journalists club ain’t gonna be the ones that do it. It’s an incredibly powerful and exciting area. I guess the News/Information business is faced with scenarios like this:

I received a note from an FM Program Director who has a lot of knowledge of and respect for the XM way. He was OK if I posted his note---though we agreed to leave his name, station and the others involved out of the picture and replaced with lines like “MAJOR RESEARCH COMPANY”. I’m pasting this because it is SO symbolic of the ills of FM Radio. Here goes:

I really have to tell you about a "Lee Abrams moment" I had within the past month. I always think of you when the MAJOR RESEARCH COMPANY guy comes to town, but I know you would have howled at this scene. Picture the MAJOR RESEARCH guy, GM, CORPORATE VP’S, NATIONAL PD, our marketing director , me (as an observer only - it wasn't my station on the hot seat), and a couple of others who won't be in this business in two years...we're sitting in the conference room going over the perceptual study of one of our cluster stations. The station's PD WAS NOT PRESENT!
(That's absurd in and of itself, but not really material to this story.)
After going over the PowerPoint™ charts and graphs which basically told the station to stop flirting with the fringe of their audience and play the hits, we came to the climactic conclusive slide. The high-priced recommended plan was this: 1)Focus on the musical era when the target audience was in their formative youth (duh), 2)play fewer songs and thus more hits (duh), 3) keep the morning show, even if they do suck, because starting over right now would be worse and it would take 18 months for a new show to take hold (questionable, but certainly cheaper and less labor-intensive), and 4) cement it all and call attention with a revolutionary new positioning statement (yes, there was a build up to this as his voice became louder and his gestures more animated):
"NOW WITH MORE VARIETY THAN EVER BEFORE."
This is where I could almost see and hear you busting out laughing. But this room full of people who should know better nodded their heads and congratulated each other. And by the way, there was little to no marketing money available to inform potential listeners of this fabulous new position. Later I expressed my disbelief to my GM, who half-defended the MAJOR RESEARCH COMPANY yet admitted that the presented ideas were hardly ground-breaking.
At the end of the day, MAJOR RESEARCH COMPANY got another fat check, the station sounds the same since the PD was out sick that day and didn't witness any of this, and THE COMPETITION continues to kick ass.


…this guy is of course strapped by this scenario. It’s SO incredibly fucked up…and happens at 99% of the terrestrial stations out there. Pure evil.
Been doing a ton of Interviews about the 40th Anniversary of Sgt. Peppers. What’s so incredible is how truly monumental that album was. It:


*Re-invented the way Album Art looked. Re-invented Rock Art
*Was Cinematic in it’s production…audio movies
*Introduced eclectic instrumentation into the fabric of pop music
*Changed the lyric standard from boyfriends girlfriends and cars to a whole new level.
*Spirited the FM age. You couldn’t listen to it on AM…you’d experience it on your home stereo and then realize that AM was NOT the place to experience the new generation of music.
*Influenced scores of artists to raise THEIR creative standard.
*Helped popularize experimentation in the artist ranks
*Brilliantly unusual arrangements.
*Fostered the FM revolution as albums like this needed to sonically breathe as they couldn’t on AM.
*Was a Statement that resonated as much as an album.
*Popularized the idea of albums as complete works vs. a $4.98 platform for the single
*It was an experience…not just an album
…and the timing was from the Gods, as The Beatles had the accessibility and image to come out with this and have a built in audience airplay to facilitate listening.

…you’d hear it on radio…then REALLY “listen” to it on your home stereo..


It’s what I try to inspire at XM. In fact, I call on our people to access their “George Martin Gene” and re-invent sound. Here’s a note I sent to the staff in 2000:

Access your "George Martin Gene"......his production saved us in 1964 from a life of Bobby Vinton production...then again in 1967 from a life of Tommy James production. Just listen to the timeless strings on Eleanor Rigby....backwards lines on Rain...the sound paintings on I Am the Walrus...the end of Day in The Life...the trippy Blue Jay Way...etc.....George with some help from from a few other creative guys CHANGED SOUND. No barriers...no clichés...always fresh...used the whole universe of sound not just drums, guitar bass and keys....Sound familiar? That's what XM MUST DO TO WIN. Our production sound MUST be genius, clear, fresh, new, never-before-heard. I can't bloody stress this enough. You must open your mind in order to open the ears of America. You must release yourself from everything you've ever heard on radio. I am totally not kidding. I am totally trying to impress the importance of this. We will blow it if we fail to make the sonic magic our minds are capable of. When we DO make this magic...look out.

The magic to making XM truly revolutionary is to balance:

STATIONALITY: Character, spirit, attitude, vibe that is totally in sync with your format goals & target

MUSICALITY: Perfect music, the perfect mix for your format goals & target.

...now the magic third piece of the puzzle is SONICS!

Sonics...Production...imaging whatever you call it, it is the magic between the songs...it can create excitement or enhance a mood....
It is what can give XM a radically new sound.

The trick? RE-INVENTION (AFDI!)

We don't want you to evolve the production sound, we want you to COMPLETELY RE-INVENT IT.
Production must be a trademark for XM....a sound you can hear a mile away and know it's XM.
Sound that transports the listeners, whether its to Main Street in Bluesville or to Alpha Centauri on Audiovisions.
This ain't going to happen unless we RE-INVENT radio sound.
Don't underestimate the critical importance of this.

Production is part of the listening experience...not an "ad" for the station.

What is the XM Sound?

...It's Audio Disneyland. You turn on XM and you're in this Audio Wonderland....Dreamscapes, Heady, Futuristic....Ten years ahead. Clear, totally powerful in both subtle and intense ways.
And each format has it's own distinct Sonic attitude,.......Fine Tuning is very BBC........XM Cafe is educated and cool......90's is a big cartoon...Bluesville is....the Blues
America is the wide open Montana prairie .Each format must be SONICALLY DENSE. Lots of sound...let the listener get absorbed in swirls of sound.

XM Production is "Theater"......CREATE PICTURES. Traditional production hits you like a hammer....XM Production will melt in your mind.

The XM Tools include:

Accents!!!! Magic. Pure magic. British, Asian, Russian...exotic accents! USE THEM. Chicken shits stick with traditional radio voices...we are not Chicken Shits.

The Walrus Factor. Go ahead...Listen to it.

Sampled Instruments. Bagpipes...Harps...YES! Even on Rock stations. Exotic sound works.

Modified. Backwards, Sped Up, etc....

Song Bits (Out of Format especially)

Orchestral, New Age and Electronic Recordings. A gold mine of sound!

Scanners, Short Wave Radios...

Telephone. Call Toshiba and ask them about their XM line.

Radio Drama! Westerns, Detective, Sci-Fi. Loaded with camp and brilliant SFX

Nature. The power and sweeping vista of a Thunderstorm recording is magic. On Rock, Country...anywhere

Endings. Day in the Life was cool....you're next

Morse Code. Why not?

...most importantly, activate your George Martin gene.

DO NOT GET LOCKED INTO WHAT YOU THINK YOUR FORMATS SOUND PARAMETERS ARE!!! Open up...use the World of sound.
Yes, you need to have a sonic point of view for your format, but there is NO reason Cartoon soundtracks can't be used on Smooth Jazz....or Harps on Metal formats. Go tell Metallica or the Beatles you cant use strings.....

TV, Film and Commercials have KILLED Radio in the Sound creativity area as we demonstrated on the CDs.
Radio has de-evolved to being:
Dumbed Down
Cliché
Infected by cheezy Production "libraries"
Dated
Sheep like inventiveness

well.....it is our responsibility to BRING SONIC BRILLIANCE BACK TO RADIO.....The XM way!

It starts with thinking BEYOND RADIO. DO NOT USE CURRENT RADIO PRODUCTION AS A MODEL. Forget it totally. Lose it.
Blow it up. WE MUST START FROM SCRATCH.
DO NOT EVOLVE SOUND...DO NOT CREATE PROMOS THAT ARE KINDA LIKE WDVE, LOOP, YSP or KSCS or WNUA or whatever.
Sure, these stations do good production...But the goal is to COMPLETELY CHANGE THE SOUND....Not evolve or update.

The point: We can't evolve these stations...we must forget they exist. Forget radio exists...and start creating sound from scratch.
Pretend it's 1921 and radio production has NEVER been done before. OK? Great. Now...GO!
Ambient, Big, Quirky, Funny, Campy, Intense, Sick, Dreamy...anything but "radio"...

You are a media artist...not a radio producer.
Set your sound creative meter in the George Martin, Eno mode.
Think like a music producer, not an radio producer


RADIO PRODUCTION CLICHÉS:
Sex. Pleeeeeeze. Overdone. Yes, Sex sells in certain formats, but it's also the #1 cliche next to lasers.
Humor. Be careful. Every production guy tries to be funny. Rarely works....
Bombastic.
Star Wars
Pissed Off
Big Claims (no cred)

VOICES:
Again...accents
Female
Hick
Whispers
Aged (like JL Hooker)
Real (street people)
Stars
ANYTHING BUT "Radio"

XM Doesn't have Prod Rooms...We have Sound Labs


The more background a format is, the more you must rely on a heavily repeated audio signature.

Sound Occurs everywhere on XM!
Break rules. Go between spots, songs, under voices...everywhere SONIC DENSITY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

YOUR AUDIO SIGNATURE IS YOUR FORMATS BLOOD.


You get the idea. .
This whole business of completely re-inventing the sound of radio is the real deal. Don't worry about going "too far"...we'll pullya back to Earth if necessary.
The important thing is GO THERE> That’s how revolutionary radio is made.

-Lee

9 Comments:

At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Jeffers67 said...

Good column, and an interesting memo, except for one thing: what, exactly, is wrong with Tommy James production? Are you basing this solely on the crude, early track "Hanky Panky"? I would think your staff would be doing great if they accessed their "She", "Ball of Fire", "Crimson & Clover", "Mirage", or "It's Only Love" gene.

 
At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always a great read Lee. One question...when did FOX News slip you the Kool Aid? Inane hosts, horrible-flashy graphics, sensationalitsic angles, skewed reporting...I mean come on!

 
At 6:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha I thought the same thing Tommy James and the Shandells are bad ass.

 
At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee - great column as usual. Here's my question: Why does the Boneyard sound like you actually listen to that MAJOR RESEARCH COMPANY guy?

Charlie Logan left XM, and you hire Kevin Kash - who I'm sure is a nice enough guy. But what does Kevin do? The Boneyard playlist is slashed - with the pure hits much, more prominent, specialty shows are eliminated, and the playlist re-written around a core group of about 6 bands that play every 2 hours.

Why do I hear more repeats on the Boneyard than I do on hits-only channels like Top Tracks and Big Tracks???

Please get the MAJOR RESEARCH COMPANY thinking OUT of the Boneyard!

 
At 8:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee - You made some great points, however the one thing you didn't mention is sounding great. The sound quality for my XM off Directv it tremendous. The sound quality off my 3 XM radios not nearly what it could and should be. The content is great - the sound quality should at least be as good as the competition.

 
At 11:18 AM, Blogger Jason said...

Lee,

This is off topic, but I figured that you would prefer it here rather than through email. If I'm wrong, well, don't let it through.

Here is an excerpt from my blog, I'm sharing it here only so you know how I feel about what you've done:


XM Radio Programming:
I first got XM on December 26th, 2004. I have listened to XM radio hours upon hours every day since then. Music comprises eighty to ninety percent of my listening.

I have listened to it in near exclusion to every other form of media entertainment, music or otherwise.




Well, that has changed lately.


I am watching more movies and listening to more CDs.


So, our honeymoon lasted 2.5 years......That's pretty incredible!

Wow. What a service.


If they keep doing what they have been, I'm with them forever!



JasonE

 
At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to this website, Fox News is higher in viewership amongst people who watch it for several hours on end. CNN (and, I imagine, others) is higher in the total number of people who watch it, coming largely from people who watch it for a brief rundown of the day's news.

 
At 8:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of news... independent, free speech news... can you tell me when XM will offer Pacifica's award winning investigative news program "Democracy Now!"???

 
At 3:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: DylanXM- Whi is not the play list up-dated to cover all programs? Great show-Morey

 

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