Friday, October 30, 2009

Pandora's box

I know regular readers of this self-indulgent waste of bandwidth suspect I have an unnatural man-love for consultant/marketer/blogger Mark Ramsey. Not true. I do have an unnatural respect for many of his well-spoken opinions about the state of media in general and radio (still my first love!) in particular.

One of his latest posts revolves around the Pandora on-line radio service. And in that post, he refers to an article in the radio trade news service INSIDE RADIO:

Pandora is pushing its way into the car. The pure play webcaster that allows users to create and customize their own radio stations has its eye on the auto market and home appliance integrations. Pandora VP of business development Jessica Steel tells eMarketer that many of its 30 million registered users stream the service in their car via mobile apps. “We’re definitely looking at ways to make that experience more seamless — basically making all the core user interactions of Pandora integrated into the vehicle, so that you don’t have to fumble around with your iPhone to skip or rate a song.” Pandora has partnered with Sony to be included on Blu-Ray players and other devices. Echoing a refrain often heard in the over-the-air radio industry, Steel says: “Success for my team looks like Pandora being available on pretty much any connected entertainment device.”

You see that? 30 million registered users are already streaming their own customized "radio station" into their cars! 30 million! Add to the in-car listening sources such ubiquity-busters as satellite radio, people talking away on their cell phones, DVD players in the back seat, other people bringing "radio" into their ears using the cell phone, and you see why fewer and fewer are listening to traditional, over-the-air broadcasting RF from that tower on the hill. Radio broadcasters are losing critical mass at a stunning rate!

How do you counter that? Simple answer: put something on the air that people really want to hear and can't get anywhere else and offer it to them on a wide variety of platforms, not just from the roto-tiller antenna on the side of that tower on the mountain.

But, as you guessed, it's not that easy. Most stations are automated, voice-tracked, and syndicated, pulling music from a hard disk and personality from somewhere far, far away. Walk through your typical "cluster" facility. Nobody there! A receptionist. A gaggle of eager salespeople first thing in the morning and at COB. Maybe a GM or a "program director." They may or may not stream from a web site...many don't because they have not figured out how to make money on it or how to measure its reach...but otherwise, you got to have a radio to hear them. (I can actually show you stations who have to stop the occasional salesperson in the hall to voice a commercial. There are no announcers left except maybe the "production director," and he is already on 90% of the locally produced commercials.)

And when Arbitron (and now Nielsen) measures radio listening, everything is based on "share." Share of people who are listening to over-the-air radio who is listening to a particular station during a particular daypart. Oh, the research companies publish "rating" numbers, too--the percent of ALL people in the market who listen to a particular station, not just of those who are listening to ANY station. Shares are still showing in the 20s for some stations. But ratings are quickly ducking below 1, and you can bet salespeople for The Q and Classic Rock 100 Point 5 are not touting those numbers, regardless of where their stations rank. ("Rank" is an especially appropriate word to describe a list of stations, lined up according to their "share" numbers from three months ago.)

See, the day is coming when one lucky station will have a share of 100. The one person left still listening to traditional radio station will write down those call letters in his diary.

Everybody else will be "0."

Don Keith

Friday, October 9, 2009

Radio waves from hallowed ground

Let me digress from the usual for a short post about an upcoming event that will have absolutely no significance to most of you. It will, though,be near and dear to the hearts of my fellow amateur radio operators, and especially those of us who enjoy communicating with groups who set up in remote locales for what we call "dx-peditions."

But there is another reason I am excited about this particular operation. Using the call sign K4M, the "hams" will be set up and communicating from Midway Island in the middle--thus the name--of the Pacific between San Francisco and Tokyo. Some--though not nearly enough--also know it as the spot where one of the key battles in naval history was fought in 1942. Many feel the course of the war, and thus of history, was altered just a few wavelengths away from where the hams and the gooney birds--the islands only permanent residents now--will share sand the next few weeks.
Now, for those who don't know, I have written several books about the exploits of U.S. submarines in the Pacific during World War II. That little atoll somewhere northwest of Hawaii played a huge role in the success those submarines...more correctly, those submariners...had in doing more than their share of winning the war.

One of the most remarkable things that I wrote about was a former submarine who gave up his commission because he thought he was not being effective enough. That gentleman actually won a submarine command back in a poker game. He was the XO at the sub base on Midway when, one night in a heated card game, he made a daring move and took a huge pot. The base commander was one of the players at the table who lost, but he was duly impressed with how Commander Joe Enright played his hand.

"Joe, if you ran a submarine the way you played that hand, I'd give you the next boat that comes in," he said. And he did.

Enright ended up as skipper of USS Archerfish. All he and his brave crew did on that first patrol was sink the biggest ship that has ever been sunk by a submarine--the Shinano, a massive, "unsinkable" aircraft carrier caught emerging from Tokyo Bay on her maiden voyage.

What an amazing story! If you are interested, take a look at Gallant Lady on my web site.

But now you see why I am especially excited about talking to guys who will be set up on that hallowed ground, contacting fellow amateur radio ops around the world. It will be a new tally mark in my "Countries contacted" column. But I will also be proud to talk to that gooney-bird covered sliver of sand in the Pacific because of the brave men who stopped over there more than sixty years ago.

Don Keith N4KC

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Old People and Change

I think noted media researcher Larry Rosin has it exactly right when he talks about how the people who run radio--and other traditional media--are getting pretty long in the tooth, and is doing nothing to bring in young, creative talent to keep media relavant. Read his post HERE and come on back.

He's not saying, and neither am I, that us old guys can't and don't have ideas and relevancy. With age comes wisdom. Our experience has great value (though radio in particular has lost many of its true geniuses to other endeavors, but that is another post). But there must also be a constant influx of new talent and ideas, whether the industry is radio, TV and print, or car-making or widget-building. Larry is exactly right when he talks about today's younger creative folks wanting nothing to do with a moribund medium like radio, and industry that has shut its doors to them for a couple of decades now in the name of cost-savings, control, and that old bugaboo "risk aversion."

The smartest, most creative radio personalities worked out their chops at 3 AM on a little AM station in Keokuk. That station today is either dark or running ESPN Radio off the satellite twenty-four hours a day.
And that creative young guy is creating web apps for iPhones.

Don Keith N4KC