Engage – or drift

August 31, 2010

I admit it.

In my radio work I’m often jealous of other media.

Not all of it.

Just certain examples where other media THINKS and ACTS in direct opposition to how we in radio think and act – and the results are often quite cool. Then I find myself wondering – why can’t radio think like that?

Most recent example is the ARG going on for the Showtime Original series Dexter. (arg = alternate reality game)

More on that in a moment – but allow me to digress: why aren’t our programming, promotions and creative people expected to have any gaming knowledge/experience?

Why don’t they know basic game theory, or even basic principles of good game design? These are people that are expected to create “contests” to engage listeners.

10 Songs in a row = audience.

Games = engagement.

People that tell you they don’t like radio games aren’t lying. They don’t like radio games. But they play games. Just not OUR games. Because we suck at it.

Caller/texter 10 is not engaging.

Here’s what I do know. There’s more gaming going on in more ways in our audiences than we have ever thought to consider. People that tell you they can’t play radio games at work have no problem playing countless social games like Farmville at the office.

Look at what people – especially women are doing on their iphones on public transit – playing casual and social games.

Games know no bounds and can be designed to work within ANY medium.

But a sense of what makes good game design is crucial. Unfortunately these are not traits we seek or hire for in radio.

Shifting songs around in Selector, plotting your listen to win contests with “Caller 10” attached and you think game theory/design is not relevant to you?

Ok. Good luck with that.

Back to the Dexter ARG.

Dexter/Showtime could easily have said – we’re just a TV network – a PAY TV network – with an hour long drama. We’re no game designers. We make TV shows. That’s all we do. Law & Order doesn’t do ARGs.

Screw this expensive game thing. Go buy some billboards!

Sound familiar? We’re radio people – not__________ It’s too hard, too foreign, too “has KROQ done this yet?” Let me check the charts.

Here’s another issue. Think about this for a minute.

In radio – we forsake everything for MASS.

If it doesn’t reach the largest group possible – we ignore. And we leave a lot of opportunity unexplored in my view. We’re a relatively vulnerable, stagnating medium as a result.

Now look at Dexter.

A show you can only see if you subscribe to Showtime (about 15 million people do) and of that about 2 million watch Dexter. (guesstimates pulled from various reports around the interwebs) But we don’t need the specifics to understand the fractions.

Number of Dexter viewers < Number of Showtime Subscribers.

The Dexter ARG (an incredibly intricate, well thought out and executed piece of entertainment) appeals to an even smaller chunk of Dexter fans still. The hyper-fans. Actually – even a smaller sliver of hyper-fans. Hyper Dexter fans who are into Alternate Reality Games.

How’s that for niche? So why do it?

If modern radio people were running that show we could count on these things.

Dexter would have been re-written so as to appeal to ALL 15 million Showtime subscribers. So – it would suck. At best, mediocre. Can we make it more like Everyone Loves Raymond? That show had great numbers!

An ARG that only interests a fraction of the show’s audience – shelved.

Let’s give away $10,000 instead! Everyone loves money! Oh – and make sure the audience won’t have to jump through too many hoops because, really . . . we’re not worth it and they might tune away.

I could also imagine hearing this sentiment in a conference room meeting – “once we have your $10.00 per month – we don’t need to spend money to “deepen” that relationship – it’s not like you’re gong to start giving us $15 a month – will you? ”


To be clear – it’s not the specifics of doing an ARG that has me jealous.

Although it would be cool if stations had personalities and stationality traits that would lend itself to such activities. (we came close on kfog in the late 90s with a puzzle based exotic trip giveaway – sounded very cool on the air)

But it’s the THINKING behind the Dexter ARG that I most wish we had more of in radio.

With even greater budget and audience pressures than we have in radio – they are unafraid of engaging smaller passionate communities without an obvious “this = that” action to rating payoff.

The ARG communities is exactly the kind we in radio toss away and disregard as “too narrow” or “too niche”.

So – we give away concert tickets. Because our research shows everyone loves raymond – I mean free tickets! And coupons!

If you’re waiting for your research to say : “You guys should do a really elaborate off the grid type engagement game that requires lots of fan commitment and effort and will only appeal to your most fanatic, engaged fans” – good luck.

We can engage the part of the audience that WANTS to be engaged. They are there. Like Showtime.

We can also ignore them. They are too small to matter.

We can continue to facilitate passivity on the broadest possible scale.

But when we choose that path (it is a choice) – we really shouldn’t be surprised how vulnerable our station is to anybody that comes along playing more (fill in your core music here) with fewer commercials.


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. 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

when looking back is still looking ahead

February 12, 2008

I stopped blogging here about the challenges and opportunities facing radio in Feb 2007.

Not because the issues changed.

Not because the challenges were being met.

Not because the opportunities were being seized.

I stopped because I began to feel like a broken record. Everything I had to say about these issues I had already said. Several times. In several ways.

Every issue that arose only provided another opportunity to repeat the same things. I wasn’t into doing that. That’s not good blogging form – I know. But that’s the decision I made. Swimming against the tide is EXTREMELY tiring. It seemed pointless to expend the energy.

That was a year ago. I left the blog up because I felt the ideas I expressed were valid even though the tide within the power structure of the industry was going in the opposite direction.

A few days ago – in preparation for an upcoming meeting that promises to approach many of these issues, I reluctantly scanned through the old posts here.

I’m a bit surprised to see that everything I said then is still stuff I would say today when talking about the same issues. In other words – these ideas are not fads. These are not flash in the pan – hot today gone tomorrow ideas of the moment. They represent a fundamental change that is clear to me. It’s undeniable. Resisting it is foolish. These are cultural changes which will occur with radio or without radio.

Unfortunately, looking back on these year old posts and finding the content is STILL very forward looking from where we are even today is a bit sad.

Now please don’t mistake this. I’m not putting myself out there as a visionary futurist or anything of the sort.

But the notion that these observations are STILL seen as “cutting edge” demonstrates how glacially SLOW the radio industry has been in taking even modest steps forward.

Granted – there are steps being taken within the industry. But little of it appears poised to usher in a new era of growth & innovation. Little of it appears to be embracing, at a holistic level, the cultural changes taking place.

Radio – at it’s best – at it’s most successful – is a reflection of the culture.

Present day radio at large is falling WAY behind the emerging culture.

I still have a lot of ideas about these issues. And I’m feeling compelled to being blogging them again.


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 Рwhat 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 Рimagine yourself driving to work like you always do Рbut 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 Рuseable, 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.”

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! ”


Big Isn’t Broken

November 22, 2006

One of the main ideas being expressed in commentary about the Clear Channel sale is that it’s business model of “getting big” is broken. That “consolidation failed”.¬†¬†

I don’t agree.¬†¬†

By what standard of measure does one conclude that BIG is broken?  Or consolidation failed?  

The answer being given is that Clear Channel Рafter becoming the biggest radio company thru acquisition after acquisition failed to deliver per share returns expected by Wall Street, and has thus withdrawn from the public equity market and gone private.  

That’s it?¬†¬†

Failing to deliver 15% per year share price growth is one thing.¬†¬†Failing outright its quite another and we shouldn’t get the 2 confused.¬†¬†Clear Channel is NOT a failed company.¬†¬†

Had Clear Channel TRULY failed, the company would have been broken up into lots of smaller, much more highly profitable pieces.¬†¬†It hasn’t.¬†¬†I’ll address the 450 spin offs in a minute.¬†¬†

Clear Channel¬†¬†has changed where it gets it’s expansion money from.¬†¬†That’s the big story. Clear Channel no longer has to play games to make it’s public stock look like Google.

But it DOES still have to generate MASSIVE returns to the private equity folks.¬†¬†But they don’t need to manufacture results THIS QUARTER.¬† They’re on the¬†3-5 year plan.¬†¬†

So has BIG really been repudiated?  Has economies of scale really failed?

If you still think so then you’re forced to answer the question being begged –¬†¬†Would shares in public radio companies in a non-consolidated radio business be returning 15% a year – the Wall Street expectation?¬†¬†

I don’t think so.¬†¬†

There’s simply not enough pure business growth happening in radio. It’s a lucrative business with desireable assets – it’s just not growing at the clip public markets want.

So Radio, whether big or small, many or few -is not going to be an attractive public investment in the current market.  

Maybe those people want to say “Wall Street Radio” failed. Fine.

But “Big Radio” has yet to kick the bucket.

So what are we left with.  Clear Channel sells off almost 450 stations. 

On the surface it looks like Clear Channel is going back on the “get big” strategy.¬†

Consider that those 450 station (over 40% of the total number of stations owned)¬†contributed ONLY about 10% of the company’s revenue.

Let’s be honest here – from a big business owner’s perspective (40% of your assets are contributing only 10% of your revenue) – that’s like working for minimum wage.¬†

On a personal level -imagine taking a second job that required 40% of your time but only boosted your income by 10% – you’d probably quit.

That’s what Clear Channel did. Jettisoned those stations to focus their attention on the properties that have the best chance of churning out the most cash.¬†¬†And get more.¬†¬†

Yes more.¬†¬†I think it’s a mistake to think Clear Channel is out of the acquisition business.

Clear Channel is still big.¬†¬†It’s massive actually.¬†¬† And it’s probably going to get even bigger over the next few years.¬†¬†

They may spin off a few sticks here and there – but I suspect they’ll be picking up as many winners as they can also.¬†¬†

And while it’s possible a few mom & pop operators may emerge from the 450 CC spin offs – it’s more likely they’ll be scooped up by already BIG radio companies – like the one I work for Cumulus. Or – another group could develp to buy most or all of them at once.

Big radio isn’t broken or even dropping a few pounds – it’s just updated it’s fashion.¬†