Radio (like the United States) is the most rel­e­vant and vibrant when it is of the peo­ple, by the peo­ple and for the peo­ple.   The out-of-town own­ers have no per­sonal stake to make it live again. Lin­coln might say…

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Radio, the experts say “call it media”.  Those experts are wrong and this is why it matters.

Many well-meaning radio con­sul­tants are afraid that emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy will destroy radio.  These con­sul­tants even swayed the for­mer head of NPR “National Pub­lic Media?”.  Ask any­one on the street what it is; they call it Radio.  Even at pledge-time the mul­ti­tude of vol­un­teers call it radio.  These con­sul­tants believe that to save radio, it must become more like the inter­net.  We already have an inter­net.  If it were the 1950’s would we be telling radio to call itself TV?   Radio sur­vives because it is…radio first.

Chang­ing from “Radio” to “Media” is wrong for 4 reasons.

CumulusMedia

1. It turns it’s back on 40 years of brand­ing (for NPR).   Who would tell Coke change its name from Coke?  There are plenty of new pop­u­lar energy drinks and eso­teric teas are gain­ing market-share.  It could make sense if you went only by the num­bers.  And that is exactly why the con­sul­tants get it wrong about radio repeat­edly.   Coke is Coke and Radio is Radio.   Con­tinue reading…

Michael Copps, Kevin McKinney, Jill McKeever NPCThe cen­tury old National Press Club is a cou­ple blocks from the White House.  It refers to itself as “The Place Where News Hap­pens”.  After a crazy sub­way ride in rush hour DC, Jill and I emerged in the “Edward R Mur­row” room of the epi­cen­ter of establishment-journalism.   We were in DC to show the film at the DC Inde­pen­dent Film Fes­ti­val.  The press club was ask­ing about pos­si­ble new rules for yet more con­sol­i­da­tion.  I had some­thing to say to them.  Con­tinue reading…

Walt Bodine

Walt Bod­ine knew his audience.

A good talk-show host will…

  • Show that they are per­son­ally inter­ested in what the lis­tener has to say (or many will not call in).
  • Make the guest feel comfortable.
  • Love their lis­ten­ers and community.
  • Be com­fort­able with the con­ver­sa­tion going in direc­tions that they did not pre-plan.

Walt Bod­ine was one such indi­vid­ual.  He passed away today.  I had the plea­sure of shoot­ing his last live show for B-roll for the film.  This 18 sec­ond clip shows his per­son­al­ity.  He was a giant among talk-show hosts who learned his craft on the night shift many years ago.  See video below. Con­tinue reading…

What is Pri­vate Equity?  How do they make their money?  The answer to this mir­rors the answer to “Why does com­mer­cial radio suck?”picture: Private Equity Guy

The way a firm makes profit can say much about how it behaves. For instance, Pri­vate Equity makes money off of fees taken from investors and from main­te­nance fees from the com­pa­nies that they own. They can make sub­stan­tial com­mis­sions if they can sell the com­pa­nies they own for a profit.  This means that short-term prof­its that make the com­pany appear attrac­tive to a buyer are more impor­tant than costly long-term busi­ness infra­struc­ture improve­ments that might not pay off for 10 years.  This lack of long-term moti­va­tion has hurt Clearchan­nel as they have stopped invest­ing in their employ­ees (and you the lis­tener) in favor of short-term prof­its by cut­ting as much staff as pos­si­ble.  Pri­vate Equity also makes money by shift­ing debt onto oth­ers.  The debt is shifted onto the sta­tion.  This maneu­ver is called an LBO or “Lever­aged Buy­out”.  See video below.  Con­tinue reading…

Star newspaper guilty of abusing monopoly power

In 1955, the gov­ern­ment con­victed the Kansas City Star (news­pa­per com­pany) with monop­oly charges. The Star had abused their power with the own­er­ship of two news­pa­pers, a TV sta­tion (WDAF TV) and a radio sta­tion (WDAF radio).  They forced adver­tis­ers to buy ads for all 4 prop­er­ties, and also pun­ished adver­tis­ers for uti­liz­ing other media by plac­ing their ads in unfa­vor­able places and times. The Star was guilty of restraint of trade.  Because the abuse of monop­oly power was so tempt­ing, the FCC ruled “cross-ownership” of sev­eral media forms within the same city illegal.  

Since that time, high finance has entered the ring.  The “Merg­ers and Acqui­si­tions” lob­by­ists are con­stantly urg­ing the FCC to allow for more merg­ers and more short-term prof­its via staff lay­offs. Con­tinue reading…

The pod­cast “Sound Track of the Week” (SOTW) has announced that they are start­ing “Radio Diver­sity Day” to take place on Decem­ber 5th 2012.  They say they were inspired by the movie Cor­po­rate FM.  The idea was born dur­ing an hour long inter­view that they did with Jill and me late one evening.

Sound Track of The Week Crew plus Corporate FM Crew

The Sound-Track of the Week crew and us.

On Radio Diver­sity Day, lis­ten­ers are encour­aged to call up their local radio sta­tions and elected offi­cials and demand more diver­sity in pro­gram­ming.  Urge them to play more local music and hire more live local tal­ent to inter­act with and deliver to the com­mu­nity authen­tic radio pro­gram­ming.  SOTW has cre­ated a web page for the event here.

We are pro­vid­ing these addi­tional ref­er­ences to help lis­ten­ers. Con­tinue reading…

 

“They lump debt on the sta­tion but do not share in the risk”.

 

In the pic­ture above I’m explain­ing that to an elderly lady who found the idea incred­u­lous.  She’s right.  Many ask me “How is this even legal?”  The truth of the mat­ter is hid­den from the finan­cial reporters (who often report the merg­ers as a good thing) because the fir­ings hap­pen over time as the debt matures and refi­nanc­ing and/or reselling become imma­nent. The more debt there is from the cor­po­rate buy­out, the more employ­ees that will have to be fired so their for­mer salaries can go toward pay­ing off that debt.   Con­tinue reading…

Prometheus Radio project

Prometheus radio project has made this possible.

A pos­si­ble new radio sta­tion called “Fayet­teville Com­mu­nity Radio” held a screen­ing of Cor­po­rate FM to moti­vate sup­port­ers behind the ven­ture.  The sta­tion is pos­si­ble because new low power FM fre­quen­cies (LPFM) were legal­ized by bill in con­gress in 2010.  “It fired them up” said orga­nizer Joe New­man about the film. “It was a very good pre­sen­ta­tion for what we are fight­ing for. It inspired peo­ple to take that extra step”.  That evening sev­eral audi­ence mem­bers, who had left com­mer­cial radio, vol­un­teered to help com­mu­nity radio become a real­ity in Fayet­teville Arkansas. Con­tinue reading…

Con­sol­i­da­tion has dis­placed so many DJs from serv­ing their com­mu­ni­ties.  When SHORTY AND THE BOYZ worked at the Cumu­lus owned VIBE they were pro­hib­ited from play­ing local music or using speech that sounded too “urban” (a code word for black).  Now gone from Cumu­lus, they have begun their own ven­ture.  Their inter­net show does not get broad­cast over the entire city, but we can stream it to see that the light of tal­ent burns bright out­side the halls of cor­po­rate radio.  See the video they produced.…Shortyandboys

Con­tinue reading…

Radio Suicide

Radio Sui­cide or Radio Murder?

Radio used to make money through adver­tis­ing. Radio sta­tions had a motive to engage the pub­lic in order to sell their rat­ings to the adver­tis­ers.  “We sold the adver­tiser [an] audi­ence,” says vet­eran broad­caster Dick Father­ley.  Here cap­i­tal­ism works because the sta­tion makes money by being rel­e­vant to the audi­ence.

Nowa­days radio, like many other indus­tries, makes its money through high finance games­man­ship.  Money is made by buy­ing and sell­ing the com­pany rather than what the com­pany pro­duces.  In this model it makes sense to cheapen the prod­uct for short term finan­cial gains.  In other words a sta­tion can fire an entire staff and then post the reduced over­head as if it were a profit.  This works for a short while till the lis­tener gets sick of auto­mated radio.  It works per­pet­u­ally when they can do it to the entire spec­trum because the con­sol­ida­tor does not have to face their biggest fear: com­pe­ti­tion.  The loser is the lis­tener, the com­mu­nity and the radio sta­tion employees.

Pri­vate Equity firms are not afraid to Con­tinue reading…

No.  This is why it is impor­tant not to just hate com­mer­cial radio and hope for the best.  I got an email from a lis­tener who was happy that Cor­po­rate radio was dying.  He thought that we should “starve the beast”, imply­ing that if it went bank­rupt, the rats would jump off a sink­ing ship and some­one who cared about their com­mu­nity would buy the sta­tion back.  I wish that were the case.  The way high finance man­ages radio sta­tions, allows them to keep them in a zom­bie state rather than killing them. Even if the sta­tion does go bank­rupt, the same firm that sucked all the life out of the com­pany can man­age to keep the com­pany after bank­ruptcy.  This is called a “pre-packaged bank­ruptcy”. In such an arrange­ment, they con­vince a judge that they are the best ones to man­age it, because they obvi­ously know whats wrong now and they promise to pay a per­cent­age back to debtors.  The cred­i­tors may get 90% of the new com­pany.  Who’s com­plain­ing?  The lis­tener would if they knew about it.

art by paulorocker

Imag­ine you were a DJ at Citadel (a radio con­sol­ida­tor) where you watched all your friends get fired and the qual­ity of the pro­gram­ming drop thus dri­ving lis­ten­ers away.   The com­pany is huge,  thanks to debt financ­ing and merg­ers spurred by a pri­vate equity firm (Forstman Lit­tle and Com­pany).  In 2009 when the com­pany is head­ing for chap­ter 11 you may think, at long last the CEO Farid Sule­man is going to get his come­up­pance.  Banks keep radio for them­selves to trade

Unlike Face­book or web-based music shar­ing appli­ca­tions, locally owned radio reaches thou­sands of peo­ple across many incomes and ages in a sin­gle area at the same time with a mes­sage unique to that area. That abil­ity is what once moved entire cities to unite around local bands, local char­i­ties, local busi­nesses, and new ideas.  The inter­net may have some advan­tages, such as con­nect­ing indi­vid­u­als over long dis­tances, but it can­not cre­ate a vast local­ized unity the way radio can. The local lim­i­ta­tions of a radio tower are actu­ally its great­est asset because the sta­tion trans­mits pri­mar­ily within a com­mu­nity and is free to every­one inside that com­mu­nity (young or old, rich or poor, edu­cated or not).

The inter­net is a com­pan­ion tech­nol­ogy not a com­pet­ing tech­nol­ogy. Con­tinue reading…

Less stations worth listening to means less reasons to visitSome NPR and com­mu­nity radio lis­ten­ers  are happy that com­mer­cial radio sucks. They rea­son that the bland cor­po­rate pro­gram­ming dri­ves lis­ten­ers to them. They couldn’t be more wrong. Crappy com­mer­cial radio hurts pub­lic radio sta­tions and the whole medium of radio itself. When a shop­ping mall loses all its best stores except one; there is less rea­son to visit. That dead shop­ping mall is now the FM dial.

Imag­ine a road trip where when as you trav­eled from town to town you could learn some­thing about each town just by tun­ing in as you drove through. Now imag­ine how many peo­ple used to find new sta­tions because of…curiosity.

It is nor­mal for the most loyal lis­ten­ers to switch away from their favorite sta­tion when they hear a song that they don’t like and then switch back 3 min­utes later. But when those lis­ten­ers only find crap to choose from on the other sta­tions then it becomes nor­mal just to turn the damn thing off. Where’s that ipod?

Young col­lege stu­dents today have no rec­ol­lec­tion of locally owned com­mer­cial radio. It ended before they were teens. Every year more young adults go explor­ing their world for some­thing new. They try tuning-in to radio until they learn that there is noth­ing new there for them. These lis­ten­ers are not aban­don­ing NPR, they are aban­don­ing the entire medium altogether.

FM has become the city of aban­doned com­pe­ti­tion. NPR and com­mu­nity radio may be a bright light in that waste­land of air­waves, but if there is no other engag­ing option besides those; then I’m going to search a dif­fer­ent medium that gives me more choices. A tele­vi­sion with 1–2 chan­nels would be equally worth­less. In order for radio to still be con­sid­ered an impor­tant medium, there must be valid com­pe­ti­tion that draws in a diverse audi­ence. Oth­er­wise the entire spec­trum may become obso­lete, and redis­trib­uted to other wire­less devices. That would be a grave loss because no other medium is as effec­tive at unit­ing con­cen­trated pop­u­la­tions as radio.  It is the only infra­struc­ture that reaches everybody.