Sunday, August 30, 2009

Morse Code Limerick

Okay, enough ranting and raving for now. This is fun. My friend, Jim Carpenter, N4PAI, sent me the following. You have to know Morse code to appreciate it:






The author is Bill Munsil, K1ATV, from Flagstaff, Arizona. Am I a geek because I think this is hilarious?

Don Keith N4KC

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The World's 4th Largest Country

I had occasion to attend an interesting conference today. An assortment of folks gave presentations about new interactive media, social media, email marketing, and the like. All interesting and enlightening stuff. These speakers were smart, and I learned quite a bit. But I came away thinking--and I'm convinced every one of them would agree--that nobody really has a handle on this sort of thing.

See, for the first time in the history of marketing and advertising, the customer is in control, not the marketer or advertiser. For the first time, the people we are trying to sell is more in control of our message than we are. A couple of generations who have been sold, sold, sold are perfectly willing to tell us to take our sales pitch and put it where the sun don't shine--sideways. That's hard for some staid, set-in-their-ways marketers to understand.

Traditional media are already hurting. Newspapers, TV, radio. Oh, they'll blame it all on the recession, but the boat had sprung a sizeable leak long before that storm blew up. (There is a stunningly accurate essay on researcher Mark Ramsey's blog that talks about the reluctance of radio station owners to change their ways. It's long but worth the read HERE)

If nothing else, the sheer size of it all should be enough to strike terror into the hearts of the Luddites in the ad game. There are 200 million blogs out there. YouTube posts videos so fast, you would not have time to watch them all without getting behind. The Krispy Kreme doughnut Facebook page has 20,000 followers.

If Facebook was a country, its "population" would make it the fourth largest on the planet.

A Chinese web site similar to Facebook is even larger.

I think I need to lie down for a while.

Don Keith

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Whatever happened to, "I wanna see the manager?"

Ever been miffed by the tatted-and-studded person at the drive-thru at the Burger Doodle? Got a potato-crunch-grease-patty in your sack instead of the fried doughnut stick you actually ordered. You probably demanded to talk with the manager, who turned out to be a slightly older tatted-and-studded person, and who promised you a free chocolate-covered simulated frozen milk wad on your next visit to make up for it.

Well, you've been going about it the wrong way. Technology has evolved to the point that, if you are creative enough, you can bring the whole chain to its knees:

Don Keith N4KC

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cool stuff that fits this blog

Always on the lookout for cool stuff that deals with the subject matter of this blog.

If you doubt that Facebook, Twitter and other "social media" are fundamentally changing society, look at this:

Hey, want to send your name to Mars? Free? Simply follow this link, enter your name, and hit "Submit" and your name will be encoded on a chip that is going to Mars in 2011:

So much going on out there in the cyber-world, so little time...

Don Keith N4KC

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The silly season

It must be the heat. What did the Indians say about the British colonialists in their country? "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out into the mid-day sun." Must be plenty of mad dogs and Englishmen in the media, advertising and regulatory realm these days.

  1. Some radio stations are refusing to air ads for those who would raise radio's royalty payments to writers and publishers. And some are refusing to play songs by artists who are speaking out, saying radio should pay more. This is getting ugly. Music royalties are dwindling because folks are not buying records/CDs. Records and CDs with a bunch of songs they don't really want, but for which the writers and publishers got their penny or penny-and-a-half simply for being on the same album with the song they do. No more. People download the MP3 of just the song they desire to own. Record stores are shuttering their doors (though I saw an intersting story on NBC Nightly News about how people are starting to buy vinyl albums again, mainly just because it's suddenly retro and cool). So how do writers and music publishers make up that lost income from folks who bought their songs without really wanting to? Charge radio more for the privilege of playing their music on the air. Radio yelps, "Whoa!" They say if they did not play those songs on their air, nobody would know about them and would not even know to go download them. (Weak argument since most stations play very little new music..."the best of the 70's, 80's and 90's!") And besides, radio is hurting just as badly as the music industry. If they have to pay much more money for the right to play songs on their air, they may just have to pull the big switch and send their licenses back to Washington. Complicating the deal: stations typically pay based on their revenue. Radio revenue is down. Songwriters and music publishers are starving.

  2. The stand-off finally attracted the attention of "Big Brother." The Federal Communications Commission (the agency that grants broadcasters their license to transmit) suddenly decided this week to wade in and take a look at the situation. August or not, that sent a chill up the spines of broadcasters. But can the FCC tell radio stations which songs they can and cannot play? Or which advertising they have to run and which they don't? Well, they already do when it comes to political ads, but could car dealers suddenly pop up and say radio is refusing to run ads for the revenue-strapped auto industry unless the poor dealers are willing to pay the ad rates the stations demand? "They're hurting," the FCC might say. "Give them lower rates. After all, we...the federal government...own a share of some of those carmakers, so let's give them a break." Brrrrr. Shiver!

  3. Minority radio station owners apparently think nobody feels their pain. They have complained long and hard and sought FCC intervention in their spat with Arbitron, the company that measures radio station listenership. Arbitron has new technology, you see, that is supposed to be much more accurate in determining who is listening to what station, when, how long, and such. But when they began using the device in some markets, hip hop, urban, and Latino stations saw their ratings drop. "It ain't right!" they shrieked. Never mind that the ancient measurement device used before was suspect (The diary! A #2 pencil and a little paper booklet! People were asked to keep a diary of what they listened to! To write down the stations they punched in on the radio on the way to work during rush hour traffic! Billions of dollars have been spent for advertising based on who people remembered to write down in a diary over a week's time!). The old diaries showed those type stations had more listeners than they probably really had for a number of reasons beyond the scope of this rant. Nobody wants to hear, "Put something on your air that more people want to listen to, why don't you?" No, the minority broadcasters first went to state attorneys general, and they got sympathetic ears in New York and Florida. But those guys have no jurisdiction at all and can only create a lot of smoke and fire. That despite the fact that Arbitron blinked in New York and made a few concessions they were probably going to make anyway. Next, the broadcasters went to the FCC. There are still rumblings there, but if anybody can figure out what that agency's realm has to do with a publisher of copyrighted, syndicated data, then please enlighten me. Data that are universally accepted as the currency of buying and selling advertising on the radio by advertisers, ad agencies, and 95% of the radio stations in measured markets. Now, the wounded broadcasters are appealing to President Obama. That's right. They are asking the leader of the free world--a man who has a few things on his mind, like the economy, healthcare, wars in Irag and Afghanistan, global terror--to intervene because their ratings are lower when listening is more accurately measured. Silly!

  4. And now, maybe the silliest of all. The little device Arbitron now uses in many markets is called the Portable People Meter, or PPM. They ship them to families who agree to carry them for a period of time and they are able to quite accurately tell which radio or TV station, or other source of audio such as Internet streaming, they are exposed to. (Note I did not say "listening to." That's a whole other can of worms, and it's just too dang hot.) So what happened was that several of the devices didn't make it to the intended panel members' home and ended up for sale on eBay. Yes, you, too, could have bought your own PPM to amaze your family and friends. But somebody beat you to them. A guy named Randy Kabrich, a radio consultant who has been uber-critical of Arbitron and the PPM since day one...sometimes justifiably so, sometimes not. He says, since he owns them now, he is going to dismantle the devices and see if they work as well as Arbitron claims. See, Arbitron has not been very forthcoming about their technology...for several reasons. First, of course, they don't want any competitors (and they suddenly have a very big one in Nielsen, the TV folks, who are moving into radio) to know too much about how the gizmo works. But who knows? Maybe there is something inside the little case that gives Kabrich and the black and Latino station owners ground to stand on. It's shaping up as a big PR problem for Arbitron (who let their long-time and very, very good PR guy go last year) and its new CEO. Silly as the "eBay PPM" incident is, it will be interesting to watch through the haze and humidity of the Dog Days of August.

Gracious me! Note that all this silliness relates to technological change. How people get their music. Who makes money on the songs that are written, performed, sold, played on the radio. Whether stations can play what they want for whatever reason and sell advertising to whomever they damn well please. How audiences are measured. Whether the FCC or state attorneys general or President Obama have any reason at all to even consider getting involved in all this heated, sunbaked mess.

Pass me another cold beer and I'll sit back and watch all this play out. It's better than any re-run sit-com you might catch on TV right now!

Don Keith N4KC

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What's in a name?

I understand giving up some brand equity to reflect a stronger, more defensible brand. I really do. But on what basis does Radio Shack decide to drop the "Radio" from its name and become...are you ready?...The Shack?

Huh? Company chief marketing officer Lee Applbaum says the change was simply adopting the name most customers and employees called the electronics store anyway. I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone call it "The Shack." Have you? And I've been a customer for 40 years. "Rat Shack," maybe. Lots of times. But I wouldn't recommend using that name either.

I guess Rude Counter Person Who Does Not Know Jack was taken already. Or maybe didn't test well in focus groups.

Incidentally, I first heard about this in one of the radio industry trades, and their position was that The Shack no longer wants to be associated with radio. Does that mean the Rockettes will soon be hoofing in the City Music Hall? That kids will be riding in Flyer wagons? That the Queen song will forever be renamed, simply, "Ga Ga?" And our beloved hobby will become "amateur?" Or, worse, "ham?"

Christian Science Monitor reporter Matthew Shaer has some cogent cognition on the subject in his blog HERE. There is a funny blog post on this topic HERE.

Sad thing is, Radio Shack (I know it was officially one word, but I can't make myself do it) was once a good source of various parts, cables and tools electronic hobbyists required. Or had people manning the store who could explain to the unitiated how to hook up a set of speakers or program a scanner. Need a couple of BNC connectors and a short piece of coax at 8 PM? Run down to the mall. They sold quite a bit of amateur radio gear for a while, too. Heck, I bought my first computer, a TRS-80, from The Shack (grrrrrrrrr).

Truth is, they lost their image a long time ago, carrying everything from cell phones to CB radio antennas. Yes, they once had the image as a haven for nerds, but at least they had an image an were a haven for somebody with money to spend.

Oh, well. I guess it is true, what I read the other day. You know a company's dying when it reaches for that last straw, "re-branding."

Don Keith N4KC

Saturday, August 1, 2009

What do people want?--part II

Along the same lines as yesterday's blog comes an interesting article on the CNN/Fortune web site about Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix. There is also an interesting video interview with him at the bottom of the article.

Key and very cogent point: though he and his company have built an amazingly strong business mailing DVDs to customers, do you think he plans to do that forever? No, of course not. He knows that technology is coming quickly that will allow him to provide movies to customers in myriad other ways.

Reed is NOT in the DVD movie mailing business. He is in the "giving customers a way to watch video entertainment economically and conveniently" business.

So I ask the question, are radio and TV companies in the radio or TV business? No. A million times no.

Don Keith N4KC

(Click HERE to read the article and see the interview.)