What he said . . .

August 30, 2010

I’ve been pretty disgusted and embarrassed by the recent “Mandate FM Chips in Cell-phones” issue.

Disgusted by the industry heads who proposed and work towards making it happen.

Embarrassed by my radio peers who justify it. You know who you are. Shame on you.

This Hypebot post nails it:

If you’re in radio, the current plan seems to be to avoid innovation and creative destruction at all costs by mandating an entire industry that you don’t control or have any say over to install FM radio receivers in every single device that they oversee just so you can expand your market share and somehow cushion the blow of all the licensing fees that you have avoided paying for decades.

Yet, every single music startup online has been nailed to the wall with such exuberant charges that they can barely afford to keep the monthly Internet and electric bills paid.

In an alternative reality, had tech startups been able to circumvent those fees in the way that radio has maybe the social ecology of music culture online would have likely evolved to a point where the idea of listening to two talking boxes blab on about Paris Hilton’s latest public screw up between two overly produced songs and three brain-dead commercials about banking and life insurance plans would have lost all public interest by now.

The remainder of the post is a parody of 10 ways to use Government to save other aspects of the music business.

Of course – they’re all ridiculous.

But so is mandating FM chips in cell phones.


Talkin Bout a Revolution

January 29, 2009

Time for my annual blog post about radio. 🙂

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 – at 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 – to 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 – of 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 – AND 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 – for real – when we begin rewarding Extra-Arbitron thinking.  

Are we there yet?   

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

–jeff schmidt

Auto Wi-MAX Whoop-Ti-Doo

January 3, 2007

Wi-Fi in the car has for some years now been the most popular thing us techy radio folk have both warned about and waited for.  

The thinking goes – once internet is in the car – use of the RADIO device for entertainment will decrease.

That would be bad because we radio folk currently OWN the in car environment and drive-time listening is our biggest cash cow.  

By way of Mark Ramsey at Hear2.com we learn about the first Auto Wi-Fi provider – AutoNet

This means soon our cars can be roaving Wi-Fi hotspots giving us and our in car passengers all the greatness the internet has to offer –  at 70mph.  

Of course the question radio folk ask – what does this mean for radio?  

First – let’s take ourselves out of “RADIO PERSON” mindset and get into “NORMAL PERSON” mindset for a minute.  In other words . . . a person for whom radio is NOT their life.  

As this normal person – imagine yourself driving to work like you always do – but now you have internet access in the car.  If you drive alone (as most of us do) what are you going to do?  

A radio person answers by saying they’re going to hunt down the internet streams of the radio stations already programmed into their radios – and maybe some out of town commercial stations and internet only stations.  


A normal person is probably going to check e-mail, sports scores, stocks, weather, traffic & news alterts while they get their 12 in a row from the radio.

So the real question is how does the KIND of media people want online change when they are in a car?   Let’s step back a second and look at the internet from desktop/laptop level.  

Alexa currently says these are the Top 100 most visited websites in the US.  

Microsoft Network (MSN)
Windows Live
CNN – Cable News Network
Microsoft Corporation
The Internet Movie Database
The New York Times
Photobucket image hosting and photo sharing
Apple Computer, Inc.
Best Buy
BBC Newsline Ticker
United States Postal Service (USPS)
Digital Point Solutions
Bank of America
Adult Friendfinder
Dell Inc.
EarthLink, Inc.
Circuit City
CBS SportsLine
AOL Instant Messenger
My Way
FOX Sports
AWeber Systems
Fox News Channel
Buy.com, Inc.
Washington Post
Constant Contact – Do-It-Yourself Email Marketing
The Drudge Report
BellSouth Internet Service
Yahoo! Search Marketing Solutions
Webmaster World
USA Today
Internet Archive
Chase Manhattan Bank
Hewlett-Packard Industrial Ethernet
Costco Wholesale Corporation

I don’t know about you – but I can’t see USING any of these sites in their current form as I’m driving to work.   How are you going to use Yahoo, Google and MySpace while you’re driving?  

Certainly, “audio media” over the internet will be more popular in the car than at the desktop just by virtue of the fact that a driver can’t read the NY Times online AND drive.

But the real opportunity to my eyes is in making all the sites people already love and use the most – useable, safely, to the driver of a car.  

So, where does this leave radio?  

Streaming 12 in a row of all your favorite hits of the 70s, 80s 90s, and Now with less talk along side the 10,000 other internet audio streams?  

Blogger Hugh McLeod of gapingvoid.com once wrote –

“Don’t try to stand out from the crowd – avoid crowds all together.”


October 9, 2006

Back in May – Susquehanna, the company that owned the radio stations I work at (KFOG/KSAN) was sold to Cumulus Media for about 1.2 Billion.

To raise that kind of cash Cumulus had to bring in several private equity investors and let them own 75% of the company.

For 1.2 Billion, Cumulus got to control 36 radio stations in major markets like San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and other medium markets and about $300 million in annual income. Pretty big deal.

In part of the sale process, CEO Lew Dickey came by and gave us his best CNBC styled CEO address about the wonderfulness of radio and the radio business and – in one comment – he laughed off the internet “bust” as a challenge to radio. I’ve been bothered by that ever since. I thought it lacked a full appreciation of reality. I remember thinking that Google was no company to laugh off.
Now, just a few minutes ago, 1 website – Google, just bought another website – YouTube – for the equivalent of 1.65 Billion in stock. What they really bought was an audience – over 100 million video views per day.
In 2005 – Google made over $6 Billion in income – and over 3.5 of it was gross profit. More than any radio company.

The internet is clearly the next place to use, consume and create audio and visual entertainment. There’s a lot of money to be made – and Google is extremely well positioned to begin selling AFFORDABLE, TRACKABLE advertising into radio, AND online video.

Am I the only one for whom the idea of only buying radio transmitters is beginning to seem . . . . quaint?

Ripped from the Radio Headlines

August 29, 2006

Couple of bits caught my eye today.

From Inside Radio

Bonneville’s going to charge $4.99 a month for access to its Washington, D.C. classical service.
This isn’t just any classical service — it’s the “VivaLaVoce.com” choral/vocal stream. It’s very popular and Bonneville says that’s the problem — “the increase in royalty and streaming expenses has outpaced our ability to support the station commercially.” Starting Friday it goes commercial-free – and subscription-only.

Who the hell wants to pay for radio . . . I mean geeze.  ,-)

I hope we’ll find out what happens to the service – does it thrive under the subscription model – or die on the vine?

I also wonder at what point along the axis does an internet stream become so successful it can no longer be supported with ads that would make it a viable AM/FM format.  Is there a hole between them – is that where Satcasters are living?   Is there a PAY RADIO space where terrestrial radio companies can/should be playing in?

Should we be investigating this BEFORE we go shooting off our mouths about how “no one should have to pay for radio”.

And this

Christina Aguilera picked to host new Clear Channel online video show 

What do you mean online video show?   Aren’t we in radio?  ,-)

Back in July I posted

New Technology levels playing fields and removes barriers .

It means Newspapers don’t need FM transmitters or FCC licences to create audio entertainment that competes with radio. Neither does TV.

It means TV networks don’t need a printing press and a distribution channel to deliver written content that competes with Newspapers. Neither does Radio.

It means Radio doesn’t need space on a cable network to get the scoop on a world premier of a music video. Neither does Newspapers.

This the future of media – and it’s open to everyone that chooses to participate.

Clear Channel gets that.  But here’s the thing.  It’s not JUST other RADIO operators that we’re competing with – it’s ANYONE with a good idea.

As Hugh McLeod said in one of his cartoons –

The World is Changing  – and the parts that aren’t no longer interest me.


Ramsey gets Godin on Radio

August 23, 2006

Mark Ramsey has one of my favorite blogs Hear 2.0– let alone “radio blogs” and today is an excellent example why –  he interviews Seth Godin about radio.

Solid Mark.

Podcasting viewed thru old media lens

August 21, 2006

Mark Ramsey’s Hear 2.0 tackles the obvious resistance radio broadcasters have about podcasting – namely – if I put my “content” online – why would anyone listen to my radio station?

One issue I have with Mark’s post (and I think it’s really with Mark’s articulation of the broadcasters point of view) is his use of the word “audience”. For example –

If you podcast highlights or bits or interviews of your show as online bonuses or delay the podcast for a reasonable time, I believe this will ADD to your on-air audience, ….

If you podcast your entire show online on the same day it runs live, I believe you will SUBTRACT from your audience.

The implication here is the only “audience” worth having is the one listening to your content on the AM/FM device.

To me – audience is audience whether listening online or on an ipod. That’s the leap broadcasters are going to have to get their heads around.

By maintaining this dividing line between online and on-air it enforces the broadcasters view as ” if I refrain offering my content online I FORCE people to listen to my station to hear it”

This – is old school. And it’s also bullshit.

The future is not going to be kind or supportive to systems that put limits on users. Phone carriers are going to start figuring this out too.

Worrying about keeping in use, or forcing people to use certain devices ONLY at certain times to get certain content is increasingly becoming out dated and intolerable.

Radio thinks it can keep that system intact by using the new mediums to put out morsels – or as Mark calls them “teasers” that seek to FORCE people back to the radio at prescribed dates and times.

That’s a nice transitional move to get reluctant broadcasters USED to these new ideas of making content float freely between devices- but ultimately it’s not going to matter.

If you’re not on-demand – you are probably not going to be IN demand.

Scarcity – manufactured or otherwise (as in “appointment” based listening) is an Industrial Age mechanism that is vastly outdated in a digital era.

One of the larger points I think Mark misses here is that of the USER’s perspective. For them it’s increasingly a question of “if your not making your content available to me when I want it to be available – I’m not going to use it.”

Mark uses an example of not listening to the public radio station itself because he can get the shows online.

In the Public Radio world, for example, many of the weekly programs are podcast in their entirety. As much as I appreciate this, it absolutely reduces the listening for many would-be listeners.

Reduces listening to the CONTENT – or the AM/FM device?

My own experience offers the opposite example of Mark’s point.

I love KQED’s Forum – and yet I can’t listen when it’s on the radio in real time. So – I’m NOT a listener.

But once they started podcasting the FULL SHOW – not only did I go from being a NON-LISTENER to a REGULAR listener of the show – I also have a way to tell friends about the show (or specific shows) – some of whom live overseas – and they have a way to use the content at their own convenience.

This is true of many programs. KCRW is now on my radar and I’m a fan of some of their shows because they are podcast. Not only do I NOT have to be FORCED to listen at specific times – I don’t even have to be in the same CITY.

I know this frightens broadcasters in much the same the way selling SINGLES on iTunes frightens record labels.

Letting people get ONLY what they want – and not FORCING them to listen to or PAY for the stuff they don’t want is how it’s ALL going to be.

That’s where things are trending.

I can relate a story from a recent listener panel. A listener asked why we don’t play more world music on KFOG. When we told them we have a world music show they asked when they could hear it. When we said it was on Sunday Mornings at 6am – the room literally burst into laughter.

Its absurd and everyone knows it. If we could – we’d podcast that show (and others) today.
Smart broadcasters – with good content – know that podcasting doesn’t drive audiences DOWN – it expands them. Potentially exponentially.

But we have to let go of the notion that we’re in the AM/FM DEVICE USAGE business.

Sorry – that’s the new game EVERYONE involved is going to have to learn how to play.