Thursday, July 29, 2010

Still dying after all these years...

Back to amateur radio for a moment.  Amateur radio and how technology is affecting its growth.  There is a very good editorial in the August issue of CQ MAGAZINE about how ham radio has been dying...for over 60 years.  As with many other things technological, innovation and change is supposed to have been causing eroding interest in the hobby since the so-called glory days of the early 1950s.

See, that was when people were buidling their own gear--because they could, before ICs, surface-mount technology, computers-masquerading-as-radios, and the like--experimenting, learning.  It was also before ubiquitous cell phones brought us the ability to talk without wires around the world, the internet, email, IM, and Facebook. 

Ham radio is dying!  That became the cry from the masses.  And it only got worse when things began to change and the old timers felt their world crumbling beneath their feet.

Hey, I was just getting into the hobby when SSB began replacing AM.  Talk about wars!

Well, all that technology has failed to put a dent in our wonderful hobby.  The numbers are up and, as of right now, we have far more active amateurs than ever before.  Some of CQ's guesses on how to determine who is "active" may be statistically fuzzy, but I think they are about as close as we can get. 

I'll throw one more thing into the mix: I hear people say that the bands are just not as crowded as they once were.  Well, they weren't in the pile-up for the Rwandan dx-pedition the other night!  Truth is, we have more bands now than we had in the '50s.  160, thanks to antenna experimentation and more widely available commercially made gear, is viable.  And many prefer VHF/UHF and FM now and spend more time there.  They were non-starters 60 years ago.

No, CQ's point is right on.  The hobby is healthy and growing, innovating and morphing.  And it's still one heck of a lot of fun!



Don Keith N4KC

Saturday, July 24, 2010

And now for something completely different...

To quote Monty Python...and now for something completely different.  My son and his family are on the final leg of a three-week road trip from Alabama to Oregon and back.  They went by way of Glacier National Park, and then back through Utah and Colorado.  Here are some of the pix they have sent along the way.

That guy in the beard is my son, Gary, along with his wife, Trish, and our grandkids Laci and Alexa.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Old tech, new tech

Some news items:
  • Arbitron announces that they will now go door-to-door in some of their rated markets in attempt to convince certain hard-to-reach demographic representatives to participate in their PPM panel.  Hear that?  Door-to-door.  "Please, please, please carry one of these little devices so we can see what radio stations you listen to."
  • My old friend Alan Burns has conducted a survey that says almost 60% of females 15-24 years old can foresee a day when they won?t need to listen to music on the radio.  That is because they?ll be able to get what they want on their cell phone, iPod or online. Another 24% strongly agree with that prediction.  That, my friend, sounds the death knell for radio.
  • Ad sales have turned the corner for a segment of broadcast radio.  No, not necessarily who you think.  National Public Radio--NON-COMMERICAL RADIO--reports ad sales are pacing as high as 7% above this time last year.  
  • Change is coming rapidly for one of the most archaic of media: the book.  Have you heard of the "amplified edition?"  That is what they are calling Ken Follett's new "book," "Pillars of the Earth."  According to the publisher's press release, it will include “striking video clips, beautiful art and original music from the upcoming, critically acclaimed Starz Originals 8-hour epic television event based on the book.”  It will be available for the iPad, the iPhone, and the iPod and can be continually updated with new material during the time of the airing of the TV mini-series.  Thnik Gutenberg just rolled over in his grave?
Don Keith N4KC

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sorry. I could not help myself.

I promised myself I would not get back on this subject for a while...that I would get back to other rapid tech change topics and amateur radio and leave broadcast radio alone for a while.  However, I thought parts of this interview on Mark Ramsey's blog were so right-on, I couldn't help myself. Some of you know that I've been preaching for a while now that traditional, over-the-air, broadcast radio's whole model is quickly being turned upside-down, that how radio serves listeners and sponsors and how they make money off that service is changing radically.  That is so obvious, yet broadcasters still try to keep the medium locked into 1975.

Mark's interview talks mostly about "social media," but that is mostly a buzz word. What it comes down to are those other buzz words: "content," "interaction," "distribution," "companionship," and "tribe building." Radio, TV, Arbitron, Nielsen, and ad agencies better learn what those mean, and what they mean to their business, or they will go the way of the daily newspaper. It just won't take nearly as long for some of them! I found Brogan's comments on "formats" especially on-target.

Chris Brogan doesn’t do a lot of interviews, and it’s because he is in such strong demand. Chris is a well-known name in digital media circles. He’s a social media advisor and the author of a terrific new book called Social Media 101: Tactics and Tips to Develop Your Business Online and the co-author of the modern classic Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust.

Today, Chris has some lessons in social media for radio and some criticisms over the way radio is currently sold relative to rising digital media. Listen to our entire interview here – or subscribe to all the Mark Ramsey Media podcasts at iTunes.

Chris, when we talk about social media strategy, what are we talking about?

We’re talking about how you use the various social media tools to handle your existing business communication needs. That could be marketing, it could be customer service, it could be sales. We’re talking about how you go down those roads to deliver further business value.

Okay, so if I’m a radio station looking to develop a social media strategy, what are my first steps?

Radio stations are looking for a few things.  They’re looking to keep their audience quite engaged. They’re looking to show some value back to their sponsors (that’s really the basic business model there). Radio stations get paid when sponsors feel like they’re having some kind of impact using the station.

So the strategy begins with using listening tools to find out who’s who in your local target audience. If you’re a digital radio station, you can search and find who’s talking about the various topics you cover on the web. If you Google the phrase “grow bigger ears,” I walk you through how they do that in a blog post.

After you’ve listened and you find where your audience is, the question is how can you drive a little more value for your various sponsors?

For example, if you’ve got a sponsor selling golf club memberships and you’re local to this particular country club, then you might start looking for golfers who are talking about being in your area or visiting the area where your audience and your sponsor is. You can start actually targeting and making conversations happen. And if the audience is amenable to it, then of course you’ve done a bit of service to your sponsors. And it’s a lot more two-way.

I think there’s a lot of opportunity to do more two-way conversation, because if you think about your typical on-air persona, it doesn’t allow for back-and-forth but you can easily do it online.

Chris, that brings to mind another question: To a great degree, radio broadcasters view the social media tools as extensions of their marketing and promotional capability, and this type of marketing (unless we’re talking about contesting) typically isn’t two-way. How can they think differently about this and view it as something bigger than simply another way to promote their wares?

First off, listening applies here. You can actually listen at the point of need. You can find people who are open to the opportunities you’re selling.  So as opposed to just blurting out that “we’re sponsored by Buffalo Trace Whiskey,” it would be great to be watching people talk on the social web or talk in blog posts about using or consuming that kind of a product, and then you can actually jump into the conversation, talk to them about what they’re interested in and “oh by the way, I happen to be sponsored by Buffalo Trace Whiskey. Have you ever tried that? Do you like that?” etc. So there are a lot of opportunities for that sort of a thing as well.

What do you say to broadcasters who say this sounds great, but there are two problems: First, the numbers seem really small compared to the world of broadcasting. And second, advertisers pay us for the number of ears we reach, and with that smaller audience, it messes up our business model?

To be honest, the numbers that are getting quoted a lot by most of the ratings services are all sort of back-of-the-envelope guesses. There’s a whole lot of extrapolation that comes from the mainstream marketing machine as far as how many people are listening to any given station.  There’s not a lot of reality between what the quoted circulation is and real consumption.  The online opportunity is to say we can track exactly who takes an action. Otherwise, it’s what I call the “shiny store syndrome.” If I have a video on YouTube and I get 10 million views of that video but I get four more sales, is that a real success or not?

So what I tend to do is look for ways to measure on the dollar sign because that’s really the opportunity that’s going to move the needle somewhere.  What I tell clients is don’t look at the numbers and simply how much you spend; look at whether or not you can actually track uptake in sales based on the execution.

When you say “on the dollar sign,” you’re saying measure the end result that one is trying to achieve, not the number of ears one gets along the way, right?

Exactly. Because, again, I just don’t think that the “ear” numbers that we’re getting in mainstream media or “eyes” in television are actually accurate anymore. And it’s time for a change.

I had a conversation with another author who used to be with P&G, and he said in terms of the mass amount of reach, those numbers are generally discounted by advertisers anyway because they’re so far from the sale. That relates to the point you’re making.

Right. What I’m saying is who really gives a rat’s a** if you say my audience is 65,000 strong. If you don’t make four more sales after buying some advertising space on that particular show, then who cares?  I would spend a lot of my time using the social tools to build relationships, build community around the would-be sponsors that you have; not necessarily about your content, but about the kinds of people who would need to consume that content with whom you’re actually placing your advertising relationships, and then see if you can actually move the needle.

Especially with the social website tools, you can have tracking, you can have links and actually measure the success of those links, and then you can show it to the advertisers and say “you know what, I got you 125 clicks and I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but look how many of those converted to a sale?” If you say 40, then I had a 30-something percent success rate on anyone who looked at your sales material and actually took an action. And of my 65,000 listeners, a 100-and-something came.

That’s the real percentage. That’s the real number, and I can show it to you on a graph. As opposed to “here are some people I think might be listening to the station sometimes, and here’s how old they are because that’s what they said in a survey, etc.”

You’re not arguing that broadcasters face diminishing prospects, are you?

No. Actually, I keep thinking that there’s a lot more opportunity in things like broadcast radio as well as satellite, but I think we have to rid ourselves of this whole mystique about it being one thing and the social web being another thing.  I think a lot of these stations are starting to falter. So many programming formats don’t work the way they used to. I think the opportunity is to really get in there and shake it up.

As I’m watching some stations decline, I have seen two come up in the Boston market where I’m based, and I think about it with my wallet and say: Could I spend a little differently if I had access to the air? And I think the answer is “yes.”  I think too many broadcasters used to say “I have this money now. I’m just not going to jump to this other thing,” and then they were saying, “I lost some of that money, but I’m still not going to jump because at least I have some of it.” Instead, they should be saying “I’m ready to make some investments and I know it’s going to be smaller yields in the short term, but it’s going to grow.”

Here’s what I think: There’s no such thing as radio per se anymore – or television or advertising agencies – it all falls under the same banner called “media” which includes social media as part of its tapestry. And if you’re a broadcaster reaching zillions of ears, your job is to give those ears something to do and someplace to go whether or not it’s to a website devoted to your radio station. True or not?

Way back in the 1990s, we were saying “come to this website because I’ll have a whole bunch of ads around it and you can click on something, and hopefully I’ll make some money if you do that.”  The new way we do it is we go where the people are – we fish where the fish are – and we build opportunities to make more impressions.

I think there are a lot of more interesting opportunities today, but it’s going to be more of it’s a blended thing. If I were a guy holding on to a bunch of radio stations, I would hold on to them, but I would really reconsider my programming, and I would definitely create a home-based “outpost strategy” where there’s main content, and then there’s a lot of effort devoted to going out to where the fish are – to bring some presence and relationship in there.

So, what you’re talking about is not more “impressions” but more impression?

Yes, absolutely. That’s a really great way to say it. I think that there’s so much more opportunity to get ahead of people and make relationships happen, but it’s going to be a model where you’ve got to get to where they are. Don’t expect them to come to you.

Don Keith

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A true hero

Want to meet a true hero?  Charley Odom is one of the key characters in my book WAR BENEATH THE WAVES.  The local TV station in his hometown did a profile on Charley this week, and I believe it is well worth watching.

That is not because they feature several pictures of my book (though I am thrilled to hear that Charley loved the book and recommends it to everyone he meets).

No, it is the simple fact that we are losing a thousand WWII veterans every day.  I'm on a mission to not let their stories die with them.  And it was an honor to be able to keep Charley's heroic night in the Makassar Strait--as well as all the other things he did on our behalf--in front of people.

Click HERE to see the TV profile.

Don Keith N4KC

Jumping around...

Several things on my mind this morning, so indulge me as I jump from one blog-related (more or less) topic to another:

Defending Microsoft
Why do I find myself continually defending Bill Gates and Microsoft, as if they need my help?  I know it is popular to pick on them because of their size, wealth, power and oft-times obtuse behavior.  But I wonder where computers would be today if Bill had not semi-swiped that first OS code and made it possible for the average guy to put truly amazing computing power on his desktop.  Yes, someone else would have done it if he had not.  And people would have hated him, too.

Need I remind folks again that Windows has to work on an almost infinite array of hardware, and perform with an unbelieveably large number of software apps?  And that there is a massive sub-culture out there bent on finding holes in the system and ways to break it?  Trying to stay ahead of that bunch of inglorious bastards is one reason Microsoft has to continue upgrading, fixing holes, making things more complicated for us law-abiding users.

(And you self-righteous Apple bigots: Apple is hardware.  They only have to write and upgrade an OS that works on their hardware.  Developers write apps for their hardware and OS, not something that has to work with an almost infinite variation of hardware.  Where are the SOBs who want to go after the smugness and self-importnce of Apple?  I don't understand.  They are rich and powerful, too.  Just not as rich and powerful as Bill and his little software company.)

Heat affecting FM radio
The latest excuse coming from broadcasters to explain why ratings are diminishing?  It's too hot!  Yes, the heat wave on the East Coast has caused listeners to have a harder time pulling in the FM stations.  Somehow, the heat is sapping the signals.

Huh?  First I have heard of this phenomenon.  Stations in Arizona and Florida have never--to my knowledge--noticed such a thing.  No, it is more likely that the heat has kept people inside more, not in their cars, where traditional terrestrial radio still has an advantage over other media.

Can anyone enlighten me?  Can a temperature 10 degrees above normal affect FM broadcast radio signals enough to keep someone from being able to listen to a station?

Every vote counts--for a hundred thousand people
As the good folks at Arbitron continue to give value to their expensive ratings, they are allowing subscribers to carve up their data thinner and thinner.  When interfaced with the Selector music scheduling system, program directors can see exactly what happened to their "audience" when a particular song played at a specific time of day, down to the minute.

Beautiful!  You play the latest Lady Gaga and the numbers dive.  You drop the song and play something else that showed a healthy spike the last time you played it.  Everybody's happy, right?

How goofy is that?  When you carve up the ratings so fine, you are depending on a very, very small sample base.  See, Arbitron relies on a panel of people who have agreed to carry their portable people meter, which can tell what radio station the volunteer is listening to at any moment.  In a city the size of Birmingham, Alabama, there may be only 800 people participating as panel members.  That means every person is representing almost 1,300 people's radio listening.

But in some very narrow demo groups (say, African-American women, 18 to 24 years old) one person could represent a far larger percentage of the group.  If that one person stops listening when the Lady Gaga song comes on, the needle dips and the program director panics.  Never mind that the one meter-carrier actually loves the song but arrived at work, or had to turn own the radio because she was at the drive-through at Wendy's.  But based on her actions, neither she nor all the others who like the song will hear it again on that station.

I'm a data guy.  Research is a wonderful thing.  But this is just plain goofy!


Don Keith N4KC

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

If you had to give up...

There's a column in the current issue of POPULAR COMMUNICATIONS magazine that does some mean speculating.  It is based on the old premise of if you were stranded on a desert island, what food -- music -- books -- whatever -- would you want to have with you.  Well, it turns out that my old friends at Arbitron and Edison Research have done a similar study, asking people what medium they would prefer giving up if forced to choose, television or the Internet.

Does it surprise anyone that the answers break out neatly along generational lines?  Those born from 1945 to about 1965 don't even hesitate.  The Internet is gone baby gone.  Those born after 1965, and who came of age with the advent of the web, would kick the TV set to the curb in a heartbeat.

It would be very interesting to give respondents more choices.  How many, if required to do so, would keep their cell phones to the exclusion of everything else?  Their satellite TV?  Their wi-fi?

How many of them would choose radio?  No, don't answer that!

As I watch how quickly new technology like smart phones is assimilated by younger people today, I wonder just how quickly the pace of technological and communications advances will accelerate.  Companies depend on creating buyers for ever-changing products.  Unlike dishwashing detergent or ketchup, we have a generation that not only wants something new all the time but that demands it.  They are quick to abandon anyone who does not innovate...or at least give the appearance of being out there, leading the pack.

Have these companies created a beast they will have trouble feeding?  Or is there room--technologically and economically--for ever-growing advancement?  That is, if there are enough visionaries to keep coming up with ideas, enough venture capitalists to stoke the furnace, and enough potential buyers to make it rewarding.

Don Keith N4KC

Saturday, July 3, 2010

"Facing" Technology

In the face of rapid technological innovation--when there are more and more gimmicks and gadgets to capture our imagination and dollars--we sometimes forget what that technology is supposed to do.  What it means to real people doing real things in a real world.

Here is an example.  The iPhone is a cell phone, right?  It is a gadget, and people migrate to it and line up to buy new versions of it--even if the antenna doesn't work right sometimes.  But the people at Apple realize something very important.  No matter how many Gs it accesses or what the data bit transfer rate is or how easily it can acquire a cell site, it is far more to their customers than a telephone/game device/camera/GPS.  Watch this video, and than I want to compare this to another technology that is near and dear to my heart:

Now, let's talk about broadcasting.  And by that, I mean traditional, over-the-air radio and TV.  How do the guys who have the keys to these stations reach to the heart of their customers, their listeners and viewers?  By playing "the best of the 70s, 80s, 90s and today?"  By "playing more of your favorites without commercials?"  By running promos with "The Night Team" out on the street (where they NEVER are!), coatless, tie undone, shoving a microphone into the face of a firefighter?

When has radio truly offered companionship, a shared experience?  When has your local TV station done something that met a real need for a significant number of its potential viewers?  When have broadcasters truly done something that reached the hearts of the people they purport to serve?

When have they done what Apple is doing and used their technology to do anything more than try to jack the ratings?

Don Keith