Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Is our government the world's biggest counterfeiter of currency?

by Don Keith

Today's topic has little to do with rapidly changing technology.  It simply is one that is heavy on my mind lately.  And then I see an article that explains the issue perfectly, though it only makes issue hang even heavier on my mind.

I speak of government economic policy that follows the idea that printing tons of money and putting it into circulation "stimulates" the economy.  Or that creating more low-paying or temporary government jobs leads to "job growth."

I tend to believe that reasonable government regulation and otherwise getting out of the way of entrepreneurs in the private sector would do a much better job of creating economic growth (to all levels of society from the poorest to the mega-rich) and lead to far more job creation.  Apparently, though, profit motive and an unfettered, free-market economy scares some folks.

The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer, they say.  Greedy capitalists will rape and pillage, hording all the money, while we middle-class schmucks work ourselves to death to make them richer still while we continually lose ground, earning less.  Government must regulate and stimulate or bad things happen.

Anyone who believes that has no concept of economics or human nature or how money gets made, spent or invested.  Read the article and you will see what I mean.

(Best-selling author and award-winning broadcaster Don Keith is also a ham [or amateur] radio operator and blogs regularly on rapid technological change and its effect on society, media and his primary hobby of choice. His author web site is  His amateur radio web site is

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Radio broadcasting "feel good" stats -- REDUX

By Don Keith

Following up on my recent post about how head-in-the-sand broadcasters seize upon any feel-good statistic they can find, here comes another one.  And this one is from the same industry trade as the previous straw-clutching "study:"

Survey: Spotify users more likely to be radio listeners.
A new study offers more evidence that the growth of digital music services is additive to radio listening, rather than cannibalizing it. Streamers are 9% more likely to listen to the radio than non-streamers, according to a new global survey conducted by comScore and commissioned by Spotify.
I doubt Spotify was trying to do over-the-air broadcasters any favors with this particular comScore survey, but count on radio station owners to find something...anything...they could claim as a positive stat.

OK.  People who listen to music streams...that is, music over the computer, tablet, smart phone or other source that does not come from some tower on a mountain...are 9% more likely to listen to the radio than those who don't stream.

There are the usual questions from anyone who knows anything at all about research and stats.  Who participated in this study?  What are their demographics?  How many respondents were there?  What does "9% more likely" mean?  Are we only talking about listening to music stations or to radio in general?

Then there is the biggest and most obvious question: did it not occur to the headline writer/positive news gleaner that people who enjoy music enough to listen to Internet streams probably enjoy it enough to seek it out on the radio as well if that is a choice?

There is no way to know how many people listen to Spotify most of the time but can't do so at other times, say while at work.  Many companies forbid employees to use their computers to stream music at work.  Millions more don't have access to a streaming device at work but may well have a radio within earshot. Those respondents would have to include radio listening if asked.  Many--likely most--don't have the capability of streaming in the car so, if they want music, the radio is the only choice.  The only choice, too, for traffic, weather and news while commuting.

The fact that folks who listen to music on their phones or computers are only 9% more likely to also listen to a radio station is not good news.  Not good news at all!  Nor does it prove--or even suggest--that digital music listening is "additive" for over-the-air radio listening.

And what is that I see out there on the sandy horizon?  Lots and lots of ostrich anuses.

(Don Keith is a licensed amateur radio operator with the call sign N4KC. He is a best-selling author and worked in media and advertising for over 45 years.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Another totally misleading feel-good stat

By Don Keith

I'm always on the lookout for folks who use statistics and so-called research to back up whatever preconceived idea they espouse. Seems I spot them most often among radio broadcasters who are desperately trying to show that their industry is not in deep, deep trouble and their 1935 business model is being zapped by rapidly changing media technology and how people seek out information, entertainment, and audio companionship.

Latest example comes--as it so often does--from the broadcast trade publication INSIDE RADIO:

FM/AM radio still leads the listening pack: report.
There is fresh research showing radio continues to hold onto its primary place in Americans’ listening lives. A survey conducted by Morgan Stanley found 86% of those surveyed said they currently listen to FM-AM radio. While slightly below the 92% reported by Nielsen, the survey puts broadcast radio well above any of the competing media outlets.

Well, there it is. 86% of people listen to AM/FM, over-the-air, tower-on-the-hill, "the biggest and best hits of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and today with the fewest commercial interruptions," "The Vinnie and Veronica and Vomit Boy in the Morning Radio Show" radio.

Wow!  That's 86%!  That's good, ain't it?

"Okay," the statistical-common-sense voice inside me says, "who did Morgan Stanley--the epitome of trusted media research--ask about their listening habits?"  Give me some demo information. And what were the "competing media outlets" they mentioned?  How were they listed in any questions that may have been asked about them?  And how were the questions worded?

"Do you listen to AM/FM radio?"

How many among you, after thinking about it for a moment, could answer any way other than, "Well, not very much, but yeah.  I may catch the traffic report on the way to work. Or try to catch the score of the game last night. Or the guy in the next cube listens to sports talk all day and I have to listen, too, whether I want to or not.  So, yeah, I guess I listen."

Ding!  Ding!  Ding!  We have a "yes!" And we have ourselves a genuine feel-good statistic!

86% said they listened. Not how much they listen or how often they listen or whether or not simply having the car radio on in the background while chatting on the mobile phone counts as "listening." And we have no idea how many people are even aware if the audio they are hearing spilling out of the dashboard or on their tablet, smart phone or computer at any given time is AM, FM, Pandora, Spotify, their own iTune library, or some kid in his basement in Bloomington streaming head-banging metal music all day.

The most stunning stat here is that 14% of whoever they asked said, "No. I do not listen to AM or FM."

As theoretically ubiquitous as broadcast radio is supposed to be, how would it be possible for anyone not to occasionally--even if accidentally--listen?  Maybe Morgan Stanley's definition of "listen" is far more liberal than mine. Or that of the merchant who is paying good money for that commercial on the AM/FM station.

But, if it makes you feel good, take that 86% stat and run with it, broadcasters.  You still need to be aware, though, that regardless of what this feel-good stat is purported to show, other media that are perfectly capable of delivering compelling audio content to listeners is taking that former audience of yours and running away with them.

And feel-good stats or not, you will have one hell of a time getting them back unless you give them some good reason to return.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Fighting technological change...with spitballs and a cap pistol

by Don Keith

First, before I begin my rant, I hope you and yours have a wonderful bunch of holidays.

Now, let me once again castigate those who have control of my former medium--broadcast radio--for going to war against a raft full of new high-tech challengers armed only with spitballs and a cap pistol.  As the business is crumbling around them, traditional broadcasters continue to argue among themselves about which "solution" will keep them vibrant and profitable even as the whole business of audio has lapped them and is racing away from them.

Even as they load up the FM band with low-power translator stations to find so-called format niches, even as they buy off phone companies to build in FM receiver chips in their devices, they fail to notice that their former listeners are finding much more compelling audio content coming at them from all directions.  (Same is true for video content and no-clue TV station operators, too, but we won't go there for now.)  Do the radio station operators decide to invest in providing something worth listening to, programming that would make listeners stay with them, even through the commercials that the radio stations themselves say--on the air!--are evil?  ("And now, another long set of hits without commercial interruption...")

But wait.  Commentator and researcher Mark Ramsey says it better than I ever could HERE.

It is well worth the read, whether you care about radio or not.  Here is a brief excerpt if you can't be bothered to click on the link above:

I have often pondered what broadcasters could do if they turned back the clock on the six- or seven-figure investments they made in HD radio and funneled just a portion of that capital expense into the quality of their content.
Which makes your brand more compelling in the face of “fractionalizing attention”? Investments in HD radio? Or investments in superior content? Debates about the “connected car”? Or content that draws people to your brand no matter what channel distributes it? FM chips on mobile phones? Or content that demands to be heard on mobile phones, regardless of the mechanism?
Rapid technological change can be a good thing.  It can also trample into the ground those who don't have the smarts, creativity, or insight to react and take advantage of it.

A bunch of people who hold licenses for radio stations are getting trampled right this very minute.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The end of radio

by Don Keith

Regular followers of this rapidly-changing-technology blog are well aware of my constant harping on the dismal future of broadcast radio...those who still broadcast from a tower on a hill and believe that--because they are there and free--they will never succumb to new technology.  Just in case you have not seen my posts urging broadcasters to wake up and provide content worth seeking out--to use the brands they have established to beat out Pandora, Spotify, and other new competitors--here is a succinct summation of why and how soon over-the-air radio will be graveyard dead.  It comes from marketing guru and visionary Seth Godin:

An end of radio

Eight years ago, I described how city-wide wifi would destroy the business of local radio. Once you have access to a million radio stations online, why would you listen to endless commercials and the top 40?
I realized last week that this has just happened. Not via wifi, but via Bluetooth and the smart phone.
The car-sharing driver (Bluetooth equipped car, with a smart phone, of course) who picked me up the other day was listening to a local radio station. It was almost as if he was smoking a pipe or driving a buggy. With so many podcasts, free downloads and Spotify stations to listen to, why? With traffic, weather and talking maps in your pocket, why wait for the announcer to get around to telling you what you need to know?
The first people to leave the radio audience will be the ones that the advertisers want most. And it will spiral down from there.
Just as newspapers fell off a cliff, radio is about to follow. It's going to happen faster than anyone expects. And of course, it will be replaced by a new thing, a long tail of audio that's similar (but completely different) from what we were looking for from radio all along. And that audience is just waiting for you to create something worth listening to.

(To see more of Seth's thinking go to his blog page

Is it too late?  Maybe.  I'm afraid that the current owners of most of America's radio stations are not willing to admit there is a problem.  And even if they were, they would consider the solutions to be too expensive and too risky.

They simply don't have the imagination to realize that their current content is no match for the other choices listeners now have.  Or the creativity to put something on their air that would compete.

Sad, sad, sad.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Why people don't "love" broadcast radio

by Don Keith

I know some regulars here might grow tired of my continual reference to researcher Mark Ramsey and his comments about what it will take to "fix" traditional, over-the-air radio stations.  However, I can't help it.  The guy just keeps hitting it out of the park (note timely World Series-week baseball reference).

Broadcasters are facing their eventual demise (in my opinion, not necessarily Mark's) because they continue to ignore rapid technological change and how it is affecting their medium, including their very business model.  Affecting it just as it is TV, newspapers, magazines, the movies, and every other source of entertainment, information, and distant companionship.  You see, radio station owner/operators think of themselves as a ubiquitous medium with primarily over-the-air brands that listeners will continue to flock to and enjoy.  They are convinced that people still have allegiance to "radio" and to specific stations and call letters and positions on the AM and FM dial.

Apparently they still don't realize that potential listeners (and potential responders to their advertisers' messages) don't care how they get their entertainment, information and companionship.  There is no loyalty--and practically no awareness--of Rock 107 or The Q.  People just want to be able to find something compelling, creative, fun, interesting, entertaining, and warm, and they will use whatever medium, device or circuit they can locate that reliably delivers what they seek.

Mark's latest post is right on target.  He references an author who insists that a brand must include "love" to be as successful as it can be.  That brand does not have to be a broadcast facility either.  It applies to anyone trying to attract "customers" to a "product."  Call it "love," "warmth," "feeling," or whatever you like but it has to affect a user/customer in some emotional way for it to be successful.

I do know there is no "love" or "emotion" in a radio station that streams the same limited-playlist of music that "customers" can get easier from myriad other sources, has only cold, distant voices repeating meaningless slogans between the songs, clusters commercials into huge blocks that encourage people to hit the button or mouse and go elsewhere, and still believes listeners will flock to them just because they are offering "the biggest and best hits of the 80s, 90s, and today with fewer commercials."

Technological change has made such "safe" and lazy programming/branding--content without "love" or "warmth"--obsolete. There are so many places people can find soul-less content.  Why should they remain loyal or care about or go to any trouble to find and listen to some particular radio station when there are other choices that are equally boring but have no commercials or are easier to access?

Somebody is going to have to break the mold or over-the-air radio will be dead as a hammer.

Sorry.  I just don't see it changing.  It's a shame.  The very entities that once owned the hearts (and ears) of its customers are ignoring the obvious and have already squandered the huge advantage they once held.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Finally, a dose of reality

by Don Keith

Regular visitors know I often rag on  some of the radio-broadcasting trade newsletters who do their best to put a positive spin on even the worst news.  This is especially true when it comes to how rapidly changing technology and consumer demand have affected their previous monopoly on the automobile dashboard.

An article today in INSIDE RADIO, though, seems to actually acknowledge reality, admitting folks may be punching something else on their car radios besides "AM" or "FM:"

Fresh insights intoconnected car streaming.
More than one-third of Americans driving a car with a next generation dashboard regularly listen to streamed audio while behind the wheel. That’s according to a new report from Nielsen. The bottom line: if consumers have a digital dashboard system, there’s a good chance they’re listening to something other than broadcast radio at least some of the time.

Soon almost all cars on the road will have that "next generation dashboard," and the percentage of users who will opt for something other than "the biggest hits of the 80s, 90s and today" will climb well north of 33%.

What do broadcasters do to stem the tide?  Certainly not waste time and energy lobbying Congress to require FM tuners in cell phones.  Or barter precious ad time to cell phone makers to bribe them to include such a device.  Or give out more and more tiny-powered FM translators to AM station owners to further clutter the FM band with bad programming in a useless effort to save AM.

How about putting something on all those stations that would compel listeners to come back?  Or to choose not to leave in the first place?

Streaming the same songs everyone else is, Satanizing commercial content, being as bland and boring as possible, investing more money, time, and thought into cell phone FM tuners than in creative, innovative programming?  Continue that path and see how long radio broadcasting is a viable business model.

Or how long before NOBODY is listening.