Are Your Listeners For Sale?

Earlier this week, RAINNews reported that an FM station in Boston – WKLB – is running spots for iTunes Radio. The spots are live reads, done by radio station personalities, and they sound like this.

When asked, the station, owned by Greater Media, issued some statement that kind of sounded like: “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” This doesn’t seem like an especially well thought out strategy for a company that owns a bunch of nicely branded radio stations with loyal listeners. Apparently, the requirements for the ad campaign from iTunes Radio included guaranteeing first in a commercial stop-set placement, and live reads (also known as endorsements) by radio station personalities.

The first time I listened to the live ad, I could barely believe my ears. I played it for  my husband (who is not in the industry), and he couldn’t believe it either. A radio station personality literally encouraging its listeners to listen to something else, going on and on about how great it is!

Years ago, I worked at WTIC AM in Hartford, one of the best AM radio stations in the country. At one point, that radio station’s morning show with Bob Steele had a 60 share of the market. When I worked there, Steele was retired, and we ONLY had about a 20 share in morning drive. We charged a lot of money for those spots, and live reads went for a huge premium, because we understood the value of them. Live endorsements by radio station personalities are very effective. So I’m guessing that iTunes is paying a lot for these spots.

Yesterday Edison Research and Triton Digital did an initial webinar release of their Infinite Dial update. iTunes Radio makes its debut in the study, having launched just last fall. And they’re off to an impressive start, with 8% of persons 12+ in the US saying they listened in the past month.

And that’s before broadcast personalities started telling their audiences how swell it is…


One response

  1. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, KOMO Radio and TV had the policy that unless it was in the context of a legitimate news story we were not to mention the existence of cable television. Cable program providers, like WTBS/Atlanta, were actively pursuing what we now call “Distributive Marketing.” That means they gave away the programming for free to subscribers of their delivery system until they established an audience, then started selling advertising. Google does the same thing today.

    As soon as they could prove substantial viewership the commercials started on cable TV. By the mid 1980’s this marketing scheme began to erode advertising dollars on local TV stations. So, it probably took fifteen years for KOMO to make the determination that it was time to get into cable broadcasting instead of disavowing its existence.

    KOMO started NWCN (NorthWestCableNews) across the street from their studios at 4th and Denny in downtown Seattle. Then we could talk about NWCN, our partner on cable. When the operation became profitable it was sold and we returned to our policy of “don’t announce, don’t tell” with regard to cable. Anything was possible on their new cable station but they went with something old and well tested. The anchors were 3rd string, the set was 2 dimensional and the writing was small market in its scope. IF they’d made a better program, experimented with sets, writing and delivery, they may have made discoveries and innovations that could change and improve the industry. They didn’t. They went back to programming from fear.

    Radio stations in particular have always held the vanguard post when it comes to giving away the product until you establish a listenership. I have distinct memories of stations signing on as ‘commercial free’ for a few months until the word was out. Radio will also sell time to ANYONE. I recall only one account that was refused advertising sales, a convicted racketeer who owned several strip bars could not get a radio station to run his ads, at any price. I digress.

    My point is simply, live radio has always been the first source for popular culture and the first to respond to trends and movement. Today, the internet is ahead of radio on that front. The internet doesn’t have to have approval from an operations manager to address a trend or make a joke. On KZOK in Seattle, a rock station, I would record the sountrack from “Jazzercise,” a provocative program on cable, and play it in the background as I talked about the music I was playing on my program. The sultry female voice urging you to “Breathe” and steady rhythm made a perfect backdrop to some talk sets. So, even though I wouldn’t talk about cable TV on my radio show, it was still there for the culturally savvy listener to enjoy.

    When TV started it was feared that it would crush the Film industry. It did not. When FM radio began to take numbers from venerable AM signals it was feared that AM would fold up. That never happened. When cable TV began garnering serious viewership, knee-jerk TV programmers scrambled to improve their offerings in order to compete and win. That’s right, TV had to get better, that’s what cable brought. Perhaps we’ll see the same thing with movies and Radio made for the internet.

    The single absolute is this, the superior program always wins. If iTunes Radio is a better program people are going to find a way to get it. When FM started to compete seriously in 1971 THERE WERE NO FM RADIOS IN CARS! We provided a program so superior people were compelled to buy the delivery system. If you had an FM receiver in your home or car it was because you bought it on purpose to listen to the programs.

    Today, the new business model for radio has destroyed live, personal programming in order to ‘compete’ with the internet (that means beat ’em and make money doing it). The problem is that internet has never needed beating, it has never garnered a large enough portion of the audience to threaten radio’s existence. Today, Radio as an industry has been destroyed by programming from a position of fear. Radio can now survive in any economy, granted, but the best radio people didn’t make the cut (they were paid over-scale) and the audience suffers with stilted, awkward programming provided by a company of ghosts. TV never crushed movies, FM never crushed AM, Cable never crushed TV and the only way for internet to crush terrestrial radio is for terrestrial radio to do exactly what it is doing, programming for survival rather than growth. Radio has done everything it can to drive listeners to any other source for music, entertainment and information.

    And let me just say this, F*ck narrowcasting. That’s just some lame rationalization made by programmers who can’t deliver an audience. “We’re NarrowCasting!” is not a high point on which to hang your hat.

    What we do is adjust, adapt and improvise . Broadcasters and exhibitors have always found a way to remain competitive and viable in the advertising community. What we have instead is radio stations with websites that have their own income models or are given away as a premium to advertisers. New advertising has been made less expensive and more accessible to many businesses that could never afford to compete on the air but now can via the internet.

    The pie got bigger instead of the slices getting smaller. Even in a sour economy account executives continue to meet and beat their goals. Better programs came along and drew an audience, period. House Of Cards on NetFlix is a great example. Netflix spent the money to made something good and great numbers of people are binging on it! It’s better than cable at delivering quality programs and exponentially better than network television or the motion picture studios.

    Just like FM did against AM Radio, cable provided programs that were superior to
    terrestrial television. Now, the internet is offering programs that are vastly superior and more imaginative than cable will provide. Are you starting to see a pattern here, Sparky?

    When internet radio, which is compressed so horrifically as to just plain sound bad, begins to show up on PPM or Arbitron results, Radio will adjust, adapt and improvise to remain competitive. IF at some point someone creates a superior program, people will listen to that program. Don’t look for it any time soon.

    Never forget, no matter how thin the slice gets, advertising keeps media free; free from government control, free to listen and watch, free to diversify programs (you probably don’t remember when the FCC had to approve programming format changes), and free to engage and involve other media in their pursuits.

    TV advertises its nightly news with topicalcommercials on local and regional radio stations. Radio stations advertise on TV. Both Radio and TV have corresponding websites that either duplicate programming or have completely new programming diverse from the broadcast mainstream.

    In short, the internet doesn’t threaten terrestrial broadcasting. The internet is just the newest sandbox wherein we play with our imaginations and come up with innovative ways to garner an audience and make a buck. The perceived THREAT of the internet has ruined Broadcast Radio. The reality is that if a person has a website they can have their own radio or TV station. That doesn’t make their program any good.

    So, let them advertise Radio on Radio (just don’t tell the Tea Party — they’ll want it banned), let them put Radio on our phones, internet and terrestrial programs alike, let them create new revenue streams out of imagination and smarts, and finally, LET talented and creative people do what they have always done, make something so good that people will pay to listen to or watch it.

    One last thing, with specific regard to the 8%/12+ research quote. You have to ask better questions to get real data. Case in point. George Lois and his wife stood outside a supermarket and asked 100 shoppers to choose the brand of their favorite pancake syrup from a list. 40% chose Aunt Jemima as their favorite. Aunt Jemima did not at that time make pancake syrup. But you can bet that when they heard about their popularity they started! So, when I hear that 8% number thrown around I have to applaud the branding, not the product. I honestly doubt that 8% of total persons 12+ could find iTunes Radio on their own computers, I mean that, get 10 groups of 90 people to sit down with their phones, PC’s and tablets and ask them to open iTunes Radio.

    It just makes you sound so hip when you say, “I only listen to FM” — I’m sorry, “I only listen to iTunes Radio.” You feel really hip when you choose iTunes Radio from a list, it makes you feel a little better about yourself. Most lies do.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: