Talkin Bout a Revolution

January 29, 2009

Time for my annual blog post about radio. ūüôā

This time, I’m responding to a request put out on Mark Ramsey’s Hear 2.0 blog.

Mark – in conjunction with Radio & Records is soliciting ideas about Radio’s Future.

The question:

What’s the recipe that every radio broadcaster needs to follow to get ahead of the game in 2009? What are the best practices that must be followed to compete effectively? What are the best-in-class ideas that every broadcaster can profit from in a turbulent year?

I’m not sure if this is the kind of response they were looking for – but it’s what I deeply believe.

So I decided to share it here also.

Please feel free to drop a comment and pass it around.



Radio’s future will be as much about what happens off the air as on the air. ¬†Because of this – Radio needs nothing short of a top to bottom Cultural Revolution.¬†

We need to birth a new Culture of Innovation.  A culture that embraces new ideas & experimentation.  A culture that faces down old Fears in the pursuit of creating new products and services for our clients and audiences.  

It’s unreasonable to expect we can incubate a Culture of Innovation in radio before we get out from under the pervasive Culture of Arbitron. ¬†

The problem isn’t Arbitron specifically. Arbitron is just a tool. The problem is what we’ve allowed Arbitron to become and the effect it has on our thinking. ¬†

WE have put the tool at the center of our universe. If an idea doesn’t have the potential to move the Arbitron needle, we discard it before any resources are “wasted” on it. ¬†We behave as if there’s no other way we can create meaning and value for listeners, clients and ourselves than by playing and winning the Arbitron game. ¬†This, I believe, is a false and increasingly dangerous choice. ¬†

Of course, Arbitron ratings are important. For now.  But we systematically choose to focus on what Arbitron does measure Рat the EXCLUSION of everything else that Arbitron does not measure.  

We’ve been doing this for so long that our internal culture has become one of echo-chambers and feedback loops. ¬†A process that asks the same questions that recall the same answers. ¬†It’s led to a culture that is often quite hostile to any idea that isn’t about winning the Arbitron game. ¬†¬†

For example:

CBS launches KYOU here in San Francisco. Billed as “Open Source Radio” – they would solicit and broadcast pod-casts and audio created by the community and other sources. The station was closely integrated with it’s website. ¬†It was an idea truly of this place & time.

It was put on a tertiary AM signal so there wasn’t much at stake from a traditional point of view. ¬†Still . . . the inside reaction & chatter I witnessed from the radio peanut gallery – from the lowest to fairly high levels – was mostly snide mockery & derision. ¬†¬†

That kind of naked hostility towards new ideas doesn’t happen in Silicon Valley. I doubt you’ll find it inside Apple. Or Google. Or any organization/industry that thrives on it’s ability to generate IDEAS. ¬†

We can’t be surprised that nothing new happens in radio. There is a systemic bias against it if it doesn’t square with Arbitron. ¬†Think about the fear this creates and it’s effect on our culture. ¬†When the easiest way to fit in is to mock experiments and new ideas – pretty soon there won’t be many new ideas. ¬†

Even Detroit – despite all it’s troubles – still build concept cars that challenge their engineers and tease our imagination about the future. It’s a systematic, institutional process to create, expose and leverage new ideas. ¬†

So.  What are we building?  

Why didn’t Pandora come out of our own Test Kitchens? ¬† What were we so busy doing? ¬† Shouldn’t it have rightly been OUR innovation? ¬† Will we come up with the next idea that captures people’s affection? ¬†

If we wait for Arbitron to tell us what’s important; what’s worth our time & effort, we will always be followers. ¬†We will miss opportunities to create and define new markets. ¬†To set new product standards. ¬†We will abdicate leadership and control of our destiny. ¬†¬†

In an increasingly social, interconnected & symmetrical media space – we can’t afford a myopic world view of radio as a closed eco-system that can thrive without new ideas or innovations. ¬†Business as usual is going to be an increasingly bad business. ¬†

So how do we get there Рto birth a Culture of Innovation? 

We can begin laying the foundation right now by rewarding Extra-Arbitron thinking.  We can do it throughout our industry. At every level. In every department.

We don’t need to stop thinking about Arbitron to begin thinking about what is possible in ADDITION to Arbitron. ¬†

But thinking is only the first step.  Action needs to be empowered.  The veil of fear Рof failure and ridicule needs to be lifted.  Experimentation needs to be encouraged and embraced.  

Here’s just one thought. Have you ever wondered how many passionate niche communities might exist within your “database” of generic radio contest players? ¬†

Is there anyone in your group getting an incentive to 

A.) Find out


B.) Create new products and services specifically designed for those passionate communities?

Passionate, engaged communities will command far higher CPMs than generic, passive crowds.  But we can rethink that also.

This is going to be the prevailing wisdom of advertising in the years to come.  A bullhorn will not be able to compete with a whisper from a trusted friend.  Advertisers are now learning this. Where will we be, and what will we be doing when this is common knowledge?

If we are only rewarded for playing the Arbitron game – this kind of idea (or even the 5 Extra-Arbitron ideas you just had) will be viewed as completely useless and a waste of time. They will die on the vine. ¬†And we’ll be worse off for it.

I don’t see this as an Either/Or choice. ¬†But – ¬†BOTH / AND ¬†

We can be BOTH great mainstream broadcasters on the radio РAND dig deep into creating credible products and services for the MANY niche communities/interests that ALREADY exist within our fan base.   We can play Arbitron without being a slave to Arbitron.

This, along with many other ideas can happen Рfor real Рwhen we begin rewarding Extra-Arbitron thinking.  

Are we there yet?   

2009 can be the year we answer – yes we are.

–jeff schmidt


HD Radio Marketing is easy . . .

December 1, 2006

it’s just making the product live up to the marketing that’s hard.

Mark Ramsey at Hear 2.0 answers the latest report about another $250 million pledged to promote HD radio. Mark’s most excellent point –

You can’t expect to win over an audience for a new technology when the motivation for the existence of that technology is based on the needs of an industry rather than an audience.

Back in 2005, the HD people ran a $10,000 contest for radio promos selling HD Radio.

Encouraged by others to enter the contest – I asked myself – how would I promote HD on my radio station – KFOG.

I would talk to our listeners in language that speaks to THEM rather than pumping sunshine up the backsides of the HD execs and it would address how this whole new HD idea would improve our listeners FAVORITE RADIO STATION – not “radio” in general or generically.

So I made a KFOG promo and entered it in the contest. Obviously, it didn’t win or even get acknowledged.¬† Too local probably.¬† They awarded the prize to a cute promo that probably made the HD execs and radio insiders feel great about themselves – but wouldn’t sell a single radio.

At least not on KFOG.

Ok – I’m not bitter – really. ūüėČ

Anyway – the really sad part is – I wish I could’ve run my promo on KFOG back then.

Even today, a year later I still can’t run it. Not in good conscious anyway.

I couldn’t run it then, and I can’t run it now because we can’t make the claims made in the promo true (claims that were demanded by the HD people to be included in the copy)

That’s the biggest problem with HD – it’s all marketing (mostly bad) with very little substance (even worse).

I’ve LINKED to the KFOG promo for your enjoyment.

I’m pretty sure I know how to talk about HD with our listeners more effectively than the national “discover it” stuff – but the product actually has to deliver before I do.

I believe it’s going to depend on individual radio stations to make HD relevant to their listeners.

Right now – we’re not set up to do that and another $250 million in inventory wasted on promoting “HD Radio” generically isn’t going to do that either.

This promo has been sitting on my Hard Drive, waiting to become true for over a year now.

Maybe 2007 will be the year the HD radio people will call me and scream with joy – “You can finally run the promo! It’s all true! It’s all 100% true! ”


Blinks = more clutter?

August 21, 2006

FMQB is reporting that Fox Broadcasting is trying Clear Channel’s “blink” concept with a few of it’s hit shows.

Listen to audio examples at the FMQB link in Real Player format (are those guys still in business?)¬†¬† They’re quick :02 shouts that pop up between songs (where stations normally ID themselves)

The example for the Simpsons is pretty basic (Homer: DOH!¬† VO; Simpsons tonight at 8 on FOX)¬† It happens in a . . . blink!¬† it’s the radio equivalent to the TV Bug (the little logo in the corner of the tv screen)

Also – more and more TV shows are putting promos in the bottom left hand corner of the shows for :05 after the show comes back after commercial.¬† I don’t know if anyone else has noticed but the shows are actually being cut to make room for these over-lays so they don’t take too much attention away from essential show content.¬† In other words – you think the show has started again (got your attention) but they really aren’t starting anything important yet because you’re supposed to be watching the little over-lay promo in the lower left hand corner. ¬† In effect – they’ve REDUCED the show but a few second.
Clear Channel’s BLINK idea is very similar.¬† Clients WANT to be IN THE PROGRAMMING – not sectioned off in commerical internment camps know as stop sets.

The thing is – these BLINKS will never REPLACE the stop set or even reduce stop set frequency or length¬† – it will happen IN ADDITION to the stop sets.¬† So radio will still have 12-15 minutes an hour of mixed :30s and :60s –¬† PLUS another ___ BLINKS per hour.

I can’t really see how listeners won’t hear this as MORE clutter.

Holy Headline!

August 9, 2006

FMQB wins the “Most Absurdly Inaccurate/Misleading or wholly Yanked out of their Bum Headline Of The Day Award” – an award I just made up – for this little ditty –

Study: Radio Ads Drive Domestic Auto Sales

August 9, 2006

A new study conducted by The Media Audit,… of 17,395 adults planning to buy a vehicle in the next year showed that better than 1 in 5 of them are heavy radio listeners.

Follow along with me now – 1 in 5 people planning to buy a car in the next year are HEAVY radio listeners.

The Media Audit also found that heavy radio listeners are skewed towards domestic vehicle purchases while heavy Internet users are skewed towards foreign vehicles.

Fact 2 – heavy radio listeners are more likely to buy a domestic car.

FMBQ conclusion – Radio Ads drive domestic car sales.


Did they forget to print the part of the study that actually proves that point?

This is another example of mistaking correlation with causality. Or – if you prefer – crap reporting.


Per Jalopnik –¬† Ford Motor Car is buying ad space on about 400 blogs.

HD Radio – “Discover It” campaign to begin

July 28, 2006

From FMQB I learn that the next wave of publicity for HD Radio begins in 50 markets on Monday July 31st.

You can sample some of the audio creative here.

I only had time to listen to a few of the 25-54 mainstream styled spots and I have to say I wasn’t nearly as disgusted as I was with the “Are You Def Yet” stuff.

A few spots actually went right to the benefits!

My concerns were NEVER with radio’s ability to hype the shit out of HD Radio . . . . rather with HD Radio’s ability to actually live up to our hype.

Ultimately – listeners will tell US if it’s really the coolest thing ever.

Don’t go there if ya don’t get it

July 19, 2006

Via FutureLab comes this –

Even though I’m not aware of attempts by radio to engage in the social media sphere – I was moved by the simplicity of this observation.

It serves as a warning sign – bring something more than the standard PR & Promo language if you want to participate.





Parody – the sincerest form of flattery

July 18, 2006

Fred Jacobs‘ on target post today about the Apple vs Windows TV ads reminded me about this.

created parody on YouTube of the now famous “I’m a Mac – I’m a PC” Apple TV commercials.

Anything that stands up and TAKES A STAND is ripe for Parody.

The funny thing – at least to me – is that these parody spots don’t actually knock the Apple spots down.

They’re amusing – but in the end . . . I think they actually re-enforce the ideas presented in the original Apple spots. They almost paradoxically strengthen the message of the original. That’s not very good parody. Which is EXACTLY WHY they re-enforce the original. See?

Then again – maybe I’m too much of a mac guy. ,-)

Seth Godin said in Purple Cow that you know you’re on to something when parodies of it start showing up. That doesn’t indicate if the “thing” you’re “on to” is GOOD or BAD. Just that it’s striking a chord.

I can’t help think about how little radio itself is the target of good parody.

Stern, Limbaugh, Dr, Larua have certainly been targets of both good and bad parody.

The Jimmy Fallon Rock DJ guy on SNL a few years back comes to mind also.

But most of the time – it’s US who are doing parody off the work of others. And let’s be honest – often it’s not very good.

Hey – I’m not pointing fingers – I won a “production award” by copying the famous On-Star spots. Many winning entries in these type of radio creative awards go to take-offs or send-ups of popular commericals.

Does Radio ONLY respond to the pop culture created by others? Or can radio influence and create pop culture also?

As #10 of Adliterates list of Aphorisims states –

10)Great brands create culture, weak brands copy it

I personally try to do more creating – and a lot less copying.