Saturday, December 29, 2012

When your life depends on it

 Many topics to cover in this blog but so little time, what with the holidays, some traveling, and the publication of two new novels.  (See THE SPIN and ON THE ROAD TO KINGDOM COME for more on those.)  I absolutely do want to talk about the upcoming sale of Arbitron, the radio ratings company, to Nielsen, the TV ratings company, and its potential impact on media, advertisers and consumers.


But today I need to pile on my old medium of choice, broadcast radio.  The holidays bring back many not-so-fond memories of my days in radio when we had to scramble to make sure our stations were staffed during the holidays.  See, in those days, we thought it to be important that someone live be there, playing music, giving news and weather updates, answering the telephones, and communicating with our listeners.  Yes, even on holidays.

That is no longer the feeling, of course.  Most radio stations are on auto-pilot most of the time, but especially on holidays.  Syndicated programming or deejay voice-tracking are the rule.  When severe weather threatened our area on Christmas Day, James Spann, one of the local TV meteorologists (his blog is the first choice of anyone who wants up-to-date and detailed weather info), even warned people NOT to rely on broadcast radio for alerts during the holidays because "they will be unmanned."

He was absolutely correct.  Fortunately, my area was spared, though we are still nervous after the killer storms we have experienced in the last couple of years.  But just down the road an EF-2 tornado struck Mobile, Alabama, on Christmas Day.  The potential for such a storm was known and disseminated by all media for several days prior.  TV stations used their "weather cams" to broadcast live the funnel cloud as it touched down.  Station web sites fed updates and images live.  Facebook and Twitter were full of eye-witness reports.

Radio played Christmas music, rock and roll, country, or syndicated talk.

That meant people in their cars or otherwise out and about--unless they were also fiddling with their smart phones--had to rely on the "old reliable" broadcast radio stations for a warning.

God help them!

Here is a post by one frustrated person in Mobile that appeared on a local blog:

Mobile radio was nowhere to be found when it came to tonight's tornado emergency.  Even after a confirmed tornado touched down in one of Mobile's most populated areas, none of the stations could be bothered to break away from their programming.  It wasn't until well into the warning that Cumulus finally switched all their stations to airing Local 15 TV's audio, but by then the tornado was long gone and all that was left was assessing the damage.

To make matters worse, the EAS alerts that passed through the audio from NOAA weather radio were awful.  Clear Channel's was audible but delayed by what seemed like a minute or two compared to Cumulus, and Cumulus' audio was almost unintelligible at times because they had such a weak signal from NOAA it was static-laden. 

Tell me again why anyone here or anywhere else should trust local radio to tell them ANYTHING in a timely fashion?  It was an embarrassment.  Yes, I realize this is a holiday and everyone's gone home for the week but this storm system was being hyped two or three days ago, plenty of time for SOMEONE SOMEWHERE to put in a contingency plan. 

No, that would make too much damned sense.  Gotta play Jingle Bell Rock for the umpteenth time, gotta put on Delilah or whatever, gotta air those ads.

Thank God for the internet, right?  I got timely text updates from both the NWS Mobile, some of the local stations and even James Spann from ABC 33/40 in Birmingham… I got live streaming video from WKRG's website… but I couldn't get a god forsaken weather report on my car radio to save my life.

This is it.  I am done.  Between the poor sound quality and processing, the narrow playlists, the faux local voicetracked DJs, the lack of local weather & news and the 6 minute commercial blocks, I am DONE with local radio.  Screw it.  They can continue to play to the lowest common denominator and rot in hell for all I care.

Sense his/her anger?  Again, at a time when broadcast radio is facing the biggest challenge since TV came along to confront the medium, it appears that those who hold the keys to those facilities have thrown up their hands and given up.  If they don't even care enough to prepare for a potential devastating, life-threatening event, then what will they do to connect with listeners in less crucial ways?

That continues to irk me no end, since I still believe in the innate and potential power of the audio medium.  And, in this case, their lackadaisical attitude could have killed some people.

Don Keith N4KC

Monday, December 17, 2012

Surprise! Less listening to broadcast radio

The ratings for broadcast radio are finally confirming what many of us know intuitively.  Media users are spending less time with their old friend, the "radio."  See this recent article in one of the radio trade publications that has heretofore denied such erosion:

Weekly time spent listening declines by 28 minutes.
The average American aged 12+ spent 13 hours and 51 minutes listening to radio a week, according to Arbitron’s RADAR 113 report, which covers March 31, 2011–March 28, 2012. While that’s a healthy number – nearly two hours a day – it’s down 28 minutes a week from one year earlier: 14 hours and 19 minutes. More alarming are year-over-year declines among young adults.

I can hear the spin already.  "Statistical quirk."  "No problem since folks still spend two hours a day listening to radio."  "It's that damn PPM device!"  (PPM is the device Arbitron now uses in the larger markets to measure radio listening as opposed to the old methodology: asking a sample of listeners to keep a diary of their radio usage for a week.)

Oh, and the one I expect to hear most: "Doesn't matter.  Radio is an average-quarter-hour medium."

Without going into detail, average quarter hour (AQH) is a measure of how many people are listening to a station in an average quarter hour during the time period specified.  Radio has always loved this number since listeners tend to jump around from station to station.  But if someone who is keeping one of those diaries for Arbitron indicates listening to a station for only five minutes out of a fifteen minute period, the ratings company gives that station credit for keeping the listener for the whole fifteen minutes.

Advertisers, on the other hand, want people to stick around long enough to hear their commercials.  And ideally hear them more than one time.  That means they care more about time spent listening to a station (TSL).  And the newer PPM methodology does a much better job of measuring that parameter than the diary ever did.

Simple fact is people have far more listening choices than ever before.  That more and more includes in their automobiles, the traditional bastion of broadcast radio.  And at the same time, the nature of over-the-air radio broadcasting today is that programming is less and less innovative and compelling, surrendering precious hours of time spent listening to other sources of entertainment, information and companionship.

So actually it is no surprise whatsoever that people are listening less.  And believe me when I tell you that they will continue to do so.  At least until someone offers something on the airwaves that makes them not only listen more often but for longer periods of time.

Don Keith N4KC

Friday, November 30, 2012

Damn statistics

I have spent a great deal of my professional life around statistics and broadcasting, with Tapscan and Arbitron (the radio ratings company), and marketing/advertising.  I totally agree with the old saw, "There are lies, there are damned lies, and there are statistics."  In fact, I spent about a dozen years teaching people how to take audience "estimates" and try to make their radio stations look as if they deserved some advertiser's dough, even if the numbers did not appear to justify it.

Truth is, no radio station or cable channel or individual TV show has all the listeners.  There can only be one number-one station or time-slot at a time.  But any ad-based medium must show that it has an audience and that their ears and/or eyeballs have some value to advertisers at some price.  Or that their ears and eyeballs were the precise ears and eyeballs the advertiser most coveted.  That takes skill.  And research that allows the seller to demonstrate where his strengths are.

That brings me to a short article I saw today in one of the radio industry trades.  One that sort of makes my blood boil.  Regular followers of this blog know that I--someone who still believes in the POTENTIAL power of radio for entertainment, information, and advertising--believe current "broadcasters" are fumbling the ball every way they turn.  And with all the other sources of entertainment, information and ads out there to challenge the medium, they radio is fumbling on its own 10-yard line!

Here is the headline:

Study: Pandora users hooked on AM/FM.
Another study confirms that listening to streaming audio services is additive to radio listening and not cannibalizing the medium. A survey by Vision Critical finds that Pandora listeners report spending 50% more time listening to AM/FM radio than non-Pandora listeners.

First, I don't know who "Vision Critical" is or what their methodology was in this study.  And I have no idea how they asked whatever questions they asked.  But every ounce of common sense I have left causes me to seriously question the proposition...of their research, if this story is accurate, or of the story itself if they have found this nugget on their own and it does not necessarily reflect what the study actually determined.

How about you?  Do you really believe that people who report themselves to be Pandora listeners spend 50% more time than non-Pandora users with over-the-air AM or FM radio?  There are only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, and 168 hours in that same week.  If you sleep 56 hours, work 40 more, watch the average amount of TV, and have any kind of life, you probably don't spend a ton of what's left listening to anything, Pandora or Hot One-oh-Whatever FM.

And unless you are really weird, when you do listen to something aural and electronic, you only listen to one thing at a time.  So how can you possibly listen to Pandora AND 50% more than other folks to AM/FM?

Oh, maybe the average Pandora listener hears only 15 minutes of their wonderfully-customized music mix.  And they also enjoy 22.5 minutes of AM/FM in the car on the morning commute.  Then it makes sense.

See, I just used statistics to disprove my silly proposition that this "study" is a crock!

Don Keith N4KC

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Just how rapidly is technology changing?

Yes, this blog is about rapid technological change and its effect on society, media and my beloved hobby of amateur radio.  I also maintain that those who cannot cope with quick change must be living in hell right about now.  I suspect many of those folks just shut down and ignore as much of it as they can manage.

But how quickly are things changing?  eMarketer is out with a report on how some select categories will change over the next year:

  • Facebook users:  147 million, up 4%
  • Twitter users: 36 million, up 14%
  • Smartphone users: 138 million, up 19%
  • Mobile Internet users: 144 million, up 18%
  • Mobile video viewers: 23% of the population, up 20%
  • Smartphone video viewers: 22% of the population (and more than half of smartphone users): up 22%
  • Online movie viewers: 27% of the population, up 16%
  • Online TV viewers: 35% of the population, up 13%
  • Tablet users: 31% of the population, up 42%

I'd say anyone trying to resist that tide is subject to drowning!

Don Keith N4KC

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Content is, of course, king

Just saw a cogent comment in USA TODAY by Matt Krantz in response to a reader question:

Companies that make the entertainment and content viewed on the bevy of new mobile devices, websites and Internet-connected TV devices are winning new appreciation with investors. Disney (DIS), Time Warner (TWX) and Viacom (VIA.B) shares are all at or near their 52-week highs as investors appreciate the value of the content, not just the hardware.

For instance, a healthy piece of [Disney's] growth is coming from digital-streaming deals with Netflix and Amazon. And at Time Warner, part of the company’s potential upside comes from a number of digital projects ranging from HBO Go, TV Everywhere and All Access.

Disney’s $4 billion purchase of Star Wars creator Lucasfilm is another example of how media companies are bolstering their content.

(Thanks to blogger Mark Ramsey for the lead on this quote.)

I had already been thinking about a post in regard to the Lucasfilm/Disney deal.  This goes back to something I have been preaching for a long time: those who will be most successful in the world of rapidly changing technology as it pertains to media are those who provide CONTENT.  Consumers are ravenous for good, creative content, and so are the companies mentioned above and others who have cable channels, theater seats, download servers, mobile devices and more for which they have to supply CONTENT.

Oh, there is plenty of success available for those who develop, build and market the devices on which all that CONTENT will be accessed...computers, servers, smartphones, TVs, radios, and on and on and on...but that requires that you already have the infrastructure to do all that developing, building and marketing.  That takes labs, factories, offices, and lots and lots of capital...or an idea so great and radical that someone will supply you with all that to get it off the ground.

Today, creating CONTENT requires only one thing: a creative mind.  You can create that CONTENT on a keyboard, with a telephone, with a simple digital camera, or with other readily available devices.  Even a legal pad and a pencil.  Heck, I'm creating content right now!  And that's on a 7-year-old computer with a simple Internet connection.

By the way, on a not-really-unrelated topic, I have just done a soft launch on a new project about which I am way beyond passionate.  The UNTOLD MILLIONS Oral History Project is an effort to get as many people as I can interested in gathering, preparing and publishing some really vital content: the oral histories, journals, diaries and recollections of people who can supply us eyewitness history.

We are losing WWII veterans at a rate of 700 per day, and with each of them we are burying or cremating human history.  When you factor in those who experienced other wars, the Civil Rights movement, the Great Depression, the space program, and other significant history then you see where the name of the project originated.  We are losing millions of untold stories by not using a little effort and modern digital publishing to collect and archive these real-life experiences.

I've done an e-book on the subject, too, and it is available for download HERE.  Proceeds from the sale of the book go back into the project.

I appreciate your helping me spread the word.

Don Keith

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Another media "shoe" drops

I've posted at length here about how certain media are suffering in the face of rapid technological change.  You have seen my rants about how my town's formerly daily newspaper has--mostly through arrogance and a severe lack of understanding of its readership and advertisers--fumbled badly their inevitable transition to a digital format.

Well, today comes news that another venerable brand in the media is succumbing:

Tina Brown, who edits Newsweek and The Daily Beast, announced this morning that the nearly 80-year-old weekly news magazine will go all-digital. The December 31 edition will be the last one in print. Its online successor, to be called Newsweek Global, will offer a single, subscription-based international edition designed for e-readers, tablets and the Web and targeted to opinion leaders. Even so, Brown and Newsweek Daily Beast CEO Baba Shetty say that they “anticipate staff reductions and the streamlining of our editorial and business operations both here in the U.S. and internationally.” The execs say that they are “transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it,” adding that they “remain committed to Newsweek and to the journalism that it represents. This decision is not about the quality of the brand or the journalism—that is as powerful as ever. It is about the challenging economics of print publishing and distribution.”

(This excerpt is from DEADLINE.)

I admit that once I got over the initial shock of learning this icon's print version would go away--and that its CEO's name is "Baba Shetty"--I came to the realization that I had not read a word in Newsweek in over a decade. I think I saw a copy in the dentist's office a while back but the copy date was months before, and the news in it, even when the issue was fresh, was over a week old.

Time--and technology as it affects media--marches on.  Trees everywhere are cheering.  And I'll have more and more fodder for this little blog as more dominoes fall.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

That ham radio trend line

There's an interesting discussion ongoing on some of the amateur radio blogs about how an analysis of the number of searches in Google for the term "ham radio" is trending.  No doubt about it, if you simply look at the graph, it shows the hobby I love so much--and that I fully credit for getting me into a career in media--is trending more and more southward:

This could mean a number of things:

  • Interest in amateur radio is dwindling.
  • People are getting their info about ham radio in other ways besides searching for the term on Google.
  • They are searching for info on the hobby using other keywords, such as "amateur radio."
  • Nowadays, people search initially for information on a subject and then, if they find what they seek, they bookmark it/make it a favorite and don't search anymore on Google.
You know what my heart tells me.  Licensing backs me up.  We have more licensed amateurs in the country now than ever before in the 100-year history of the hobby.  My sense is that the hobby is vibrant and growing, and, before you give me that "rose-colored glasses" brand, I am pretty good at looking at things such as research data realistically.

On the other hand, I still believe it behooves those of us active in the hobby, those who want to see it continue to grow, expand, and become even more exciting and diverse, have to be evangelistic about it.  We have to do what we can to recruit potential hams into our little "cult of the airwaves."

That was one reason I wrote the book RIDING THE SHORTWAVES: EXPLORING THE MAGIC OF AMATEUR RADIO.  I want people to understand that the hobby can be much more than sitting in a basement sending Morse code.  As with most technology, our avocation has dramatically changed, and for the better.  It offers so much to younger people who have grown up with cable, satellites, computers, and smart phones, and who might think amateur radio is still what their weird uncle used to do in his back room with all that spittin' and sparkin' radio junk.  And it absolutely can lead to a career in a technical field, including computers, comunications, engineering, meteorology, media and more.

We won't panic about that trend line.  We will continue to do what we should be able to do best: COMMUNICATE!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Last kick to the groin of THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS

Okay, this will be my last diatribe against the "new, expanded" three-day-a-week, "subscribe to our twice-a-day email or go to our digital platform for the latest breaking news" BIRMINGHAM NEWS.  See, I am sure these are good business people, doing all they can to serve their customers and the public trust, reacting intelligently and with determination to rapidly changing technology as it affects the media.

No!  No, I don't believe that for a moment.  I believe they are clueless and more than a bit arrogant.  They should have seen this change coming and started reacting to it years ago.  But I suspect that is where the arrogance got in the way.

Blessed with a building full of printing presses and a talented staff of writers and editors, plus a legacy of printing and delivering a daily newspaper for a long, long time, they obviously felt they were immune to technological innovation as it pertained to media.  They even built a beautiful new and likely very expensive building downtown, across the street from the one that had served them well for lo, these many years, so they clearly felt business would continue happily.  Did they not see how other media were being decimated by Internet, email, cell phones, satellites, and more?  No, they didn't.

Did they not see their customers growing older, grayer, and falling away in shocking numbers, either dying off or choosing to get their news in more instantaneous ways?  Did they make any effort to cater to younger or more technically savvy readers?  No, again.  Yet they continued to charge for advertising as if their readers were still there in abundance and actually represented the demographics that many advertisers craved.

Did they not see that there could be some kind of marriage between new and old technology that would made a daily paper economically feasible while still meeting the "I want it now and on whatever device I choose" needs of younger customers?  They must have suspected it or they would not have created the relationship with, their digital partner, years ago.  Yet they never seemed to fully buy in and make it a true working relationship until they had to...when they stopped publishing a paper four days a week and news-hungry readers had no other choice.  And, from the looks of, they still don't understand that traditional newspaper readers are completely lost (read: "mad as hell!) with their dismal, confusing and flying-ad-dominated web site.

So for the last two times THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS has landed in my driveway, they have thrown me TWO newspapers.  Sunday, the first three sections--including my beloved sports--were missing in one of the packages but all were there, thankfully, in the second one.  Today, there were TWO complete papers, all in pink newsprint in a worthy breast-cancer-awareness effort...which I appreciate, what with my wife being sixteen years cancer free after a bout with that bastard of a disease.

And in addition to the continuing mass of typos, I am also bothered by the way they now do the comics and puzzles.  Today, they ran the Wednesday ones first, followed by Tuesday and then Monday.  That means if you do the Jumble, as I do, you get the answers to Tuesday's puzzle right there at the bottom of Monday's, before you even turn to Tuesday.  And Monday's answers show up in the second puzzle, intended for Tuesday.  Wednesday's answers won't show up until Friday, I assume.  And though I am no fan of most of the comic strips, does this mean that regular readers of those panels that have continuing stories need to start reading backwards, from the last of the section, in order to follow their strips in chronological order?

Do they even care anymore?

Even before I knew of THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS's three-day-a-week decision, about how dismally they would fail in a promise of "new, expanded content," and how terrible a transition they would make to a replacement digital platform, I had predicted that we would be without a daily newspaper here in my hometown within five years.

I now predict that will only take three years.  And I may be a hopeless optimist in that dire bit of prophecy.

Don Keith N4KC

Monday, October 8, 2012

I stand corrected...

I apologize.  Apparently I was the only one disappointed by the new "expanded" editions of my local formerly-daily newspaper, THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS.  Although it is now published only three days a week instead of seven, the newly formed entity responsible for both the printed and digital editions has repeatedly told subscribers that those three papers would offer much more content and would be well worth only getting three-sevenths of what we pay for.

Well, in my previous post here, I expressed my disappointment in the initial edition, which landed somewhere in the same zip code as my driveway on Wednesday.  Disappointment on a number of fronts, including LESS content, a staggering number of typos, pages padded with larger fonts and big ads for the paper itself, it's digital affiliate, and employment ads for the new company.  (That last one especially vexed me, because we all know they furloughed a bunch of people and immediately began running those "we are hiring" ads, yet a cursory look at Alabama Media Group's employment site elicited the cryptic phrase "no active job openings at this time."  Huh?)

(Incidentally, they must be getting a bit of negative feedback.  I note that we can now subscribe to a daily "obituary" email that lands in our in-boxes if we are afraid we might miss the death and burial of a friend or acquaintance due to the infrequent publication schedule of the new newspaper.  Seems a tad ghoulish but who knows?  And they will also be offering an "early edition" of the Sunday sports section, available on Saturday, to fill the gap in high school sports coverage.  How that will work after football season remains to be seen.  I can't see many wanting to rush out and get an "early edition" of the Sunday sports pages to check prep track and field results in the spring.)

I must have been wrong in my hasty opinions.  In Sunday's print edition, there was an article--the latest in a series of their "here's why this is happening" expositions--in which Kevin Wendt, their vice-president/content, gushed at what an overwhelmingly positive response there was to their three-day-a-week "expanded" edition.

He should know.  He is VP/content.  Surely they are giving him feedback.

I have no idea.  I'm just a subscriber who felt otherwise, based on my observation of all three editions so far.  Nothing in Friday's or Sunday's papers has caused me to change my mind.  (By the way, what is it with the two-inch strip of white that now appears at the bottom of each page?  Is that the same tactic THE NEWS used several months ago when they clipped the horizontal size of the paper by what appears to be two columns on each side without telling anybody?  When their "broadsheet" became a "not-so-broadsheet?"  They just need to make sure they adjust ads in their classified section accordingly.  Yesterday, a bunch of classified display ads were clipped at the bottom and I know those will be hefty refunds or make-goods the paper will have to swallow.)

No, if Mr. Wendt maintains folks have absolutely been thrilled by the new, expanded content, I suppose he is in a position to know.  My sample is only the several dozen people with whom I have discussed this.  And it has been exactly 100% negative with no margin of error.

Mr. Wendt further maintains as a very positive sign the fact that hits on were up 28% at the first of last week.  Wow!  With several players for Alabama injured over the weekend and with their future statuses unknown in time for that weekend's Sunday paper, the presidential candidates debating each other, a family killed by fleeing (alleged) felons in a car crash, and other relatively major stories breaking--and no newspaper on Monday or Tuesday to give us the details--a few more people decided to wade through the maze of headlines, pop-up ads, and junk that is's cluttered and unfriendly interface to try to find out more.  I wonder what their impression was of how they will now have to attempt to get their news fix.

Sorry I cannot directly address more of Mr. Wendt's reassurances.  Nor can I, in the spirit of fairness, give you a link here to his reassuring words.  See, we tossed the Sunday paper--except for the coupons--in time for the garbage truck this morning.  And despite spending most of the past hour trying to find the column on, I was unable to do so.

I suppose THE NEWS was afraid that wonderful and reassuring piece might have been viewed as too self-serving by the booming new digital readership.

Don Keith

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Time marches on...but "new" newspaper stumbles

Look, I get it.  This blog, after all, deals in part with how rapidly changing technology affects media.  I understand why my local daily newspaper, The Birmingham News, has gone to only three printed papers a week while attempting to shuttle subscribers to their online affiliate,, and a "digital edition" of those three papers they intend to print and toss my way each week.

And while I may be a curmudgeon, I am not the typical newspaper-loving curmudgeon who simply refuses to accept such dramatic change to a daily habit.  Again, I understand the technological...and, more importantly, the economic...factors that are driving this thing.  Just as with books, radio, TV, and all other media, there continues to be speedy change and it will be difficult for many of us--even those who have grown up during a time when all this came about--to adapt as this parade becomes a foot race.

But The Birmingham News is stumbling right out of the block.

I won't even go into the snafu of trying to get my subscription renewed, an adventure in which they wanted to charge me the same seven-day-a-week rate for only three papers a week, then offered me a stunningly low price to renew, but then somehow cancelled my existing subscription in the process, a month before it ran out and the new delivery deal started.  Or later refused to honor that stunningly low price, saying it did not even exist on their rate card, but still lowered the price somewhat...after finally re-starting the subscription I had already paid for.  No, I won't even go into that.

Today was the first day of the "new, expanded" daily paper.  To soften the blow, the paper has continually promised that those three printed editions each week would be well worth giving up the other four days.  I did miss my Monday and Tuesday papers, but with the promise that those three papers a week would offer much more content and features, I awaited anxiously the delivery of my Wednesday edition.  Since this was the first one, I figured it would live up to the hype and be an example of what was to come.

I was even a bit nostalgic as I walked down and found it, halfway down the hill next to the driveway, under the crepe myrtle tree, amid the briers, where the carrier has consistently thrown it for the past ten years, despite my complaints and the 150 feet of nice grass frontage on the street where he/she could have more easily tossed it.

Upon lifting it, it did seem to be only about the same weight as the usual Wednesday paper, with all the food ad inserts, but I still hoped the content was all that was promised in all those comforting articles the paper has been running for the past few months.  Here is what I found inside that tightly bagged publication:

  • Once the inserts were set aside, the paper actually seemed slimmer than the usual day...except for Mondays, which has recently more resembled a pamphlet.
  • Typos!  Lord, the articles I perused were full of typos.  I have heard that many employees have been furloughed at the paper, and it appears some of them were copy editors.  You would have thought, with three days to produce this, their first edition  under the new deal, they would have had ample time to edit their copy.  Guess not.
  • The editorial page was practically vacant.  Today, on the day of the first presidential debate, I would have loved to have seen some of the usual columnists' opinions, one way or the other.  Even the editorial cartoon...which has been a mish-mash anyway since their last full time cartoonist fled for greener pastures...was of a naked angel distributing what appear to be printed newspapers, carrying some kind of cryptic sign that seems to make a reference to the paper's move to digital.  The cartoon was in color, though.  Maybe that is what is meant by "new, expanded."
  • No separate "Local" or "State" sections of news.  They were crammed into the front section, and even that was taken up with two big ads for employment at the new Birmingham News.  Two ads the paper has been running for all those new jobs for which they are hiring...after the furlough of long-time staffers mentioned above who were, apparently, unable or unwilling to move to the digital world.
  • Apparently the number one worry among miffed subscribers has been how this new publication schedule will affect those polar opposite sections, the obituaries and the comics.  Well, I see several dead folks who had the audacity to go to their rewards on a day when their obit would not be printed--except somewhere amid the bits and bytes on after their interment.  And does running three days' worth of comic strips, crossword puzzles, Sodoku, Dear Abby, and Jumble in one fell swoop give the same experience as it once did?  It certainly does not fill the promise of "expanded," though the actual, physical size of the puzzles is certainly EXPANDED.  They are huge!  At least I can cheat and identify that one obscure word in Jumble by simply flipping over a few pages. Unless it is the last one in the bunch, then I have to wait until Friday to cheat.  And I can enjoy a triple dose of Dilbert...once I finally locate the strips among the huge conglomeration of cartoons across those six pages full.
  • I don't know what it was, but something was missing in the paper today.  There was little substance at all.  The "Food" section was combined with the "Living" section, yet even jammed together, there were only three pages of content before the comics and puzzles.  "Business" was slim, too, but I suppose I should be thankful they still ran the "Alabama Stocks" listing and in much bigger font.  If I didn't cynically suspect they did that to fill space, though.
  • The "Sports" section.  Goodness.  When I heard "new, expanded," I thought immediately of how they would now go into greater depth in their sports coverage.  Maybe expand baseball coverage some since there are still some divisional races going on.  NASCAR is at Talladega this weekend, so racing coverage would be huge.  Alabama is the number one college football team in the country and the Auburn Tigers and the real local team, UAB, are having a tough year, so now they can spend more time and newsprint delving into the teams, players, strategy.  Nope.  There appears to be even less content!  In an effort to fill even the six pages of "content" in today's sport section, they used a bigger font to list the games upcoming this weekend as well as the betting lines, and on the second page, they put a picture four columns wide of a guy on a surfboard in France.  On a surfboard in France!  Baseball?  Today's games were listed.  Not even divisional standings.  By default, I have to go online to see what's happening.  College football?  The short roundup of each of the teams consisted mostly of material from the coaches' MONDAY news conference!  And their lead sports columnist's offering today has at least three of those serious typos mentioned above.  Oh, and of those six pages, one full page was an ad for
Okay, it was their first "new, expanded" paper.  Maybe they are honing it, pacing themselves.  But they've known for months now that this edition would be landing beneath my crepe myrtle tree amid the briers.  Seems they would have come out smoking, not only meeting but exceeding the expectations of guys like me who would be a tad cynical no matter what.

It didn't happen.  And, by the way, they are fumbling the whole digital thing, too. has a less than impressive user interface, even after some clean-up they have done lately.  And it is especially baffling to those accustomed to a printed paper, who want to scan not only headlines but the first paragraph or two of a story before committing to clicking to read it all, putting up with pop-up ads, flashing icons, peel-down corners, and more.

Apparently, they anticipated the angst.  Monday morning, I glanced out my window and saw what appeared to be a newspaper in the drive-way...not beneath the tree in the briers.  Huh?  Turns out, it was a publication attempting to tell folks how to navigate their new source of news on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and  And it took them eight pages to try.  Eight pages filled with confusing but colorful stuff.  I can only imagine what most of those receiving it thought.  And how the ones for whom it was obviously targeted--those with limited computer skills--would react.  

Is there some irony in the fact that the publication attempting to give instructions on using the News's new digital platform contained almost as much content as their "new, expanded" printed edition that landed in my brier patch today?

Don Keith

Monday, October 1, 2012

Paying your fair share of income taxes?


You can argue back and forth all you want about whether or not presidential candidate Mitt Romney is paying his fair share of taxes.  Whether 14%...much less than the percentage less-advantaged citizens, including me, pay of their own fair or not.  Seems to me, though, that most of those who paid more, as a percentage of income, did just what Mr. Romney did.  They probably did not use dedicated accountants and tax lawyers, but they did go to H&R Block or used TurboTax to complete their returns.  And they took advantage of every single deduction and exemption they legally (and sometimes not so legally) could employ, all to lower their obligation.

Didn't you?  Did you not take advantage of every loophole and deduction you could find in order to avoid paying any more than you were required to pay?

On a similar subject, and one that is near to my heart, is just how stupid, bloated and unnecessarily complex our current tax code is in this country.  An interesting article I received recently from my financial advisor--one of his jobs is to help me invest what little money I have in a way in which I can keep all of it that I am legally allowed to--talks specifically to an interesting point: how much our tax laws actually cost and me...and all because of how goofy it is:

In 2011, the Laffer Center published a report detailing the cost of complying - or creatively circumventing - our nation's tax code. The report estimated that U.S. taxpayers pay more than $431 billion annually to comply with and support the administration of the U.S. income tax system. That comes to nearly a third (30%) of the total income taxes collected - money that potentially could be saved by a simpler tax code.

According to the report, taxpayers spend money unnecessarily to comply with today's tax code in various ways. For example, time and money is spent collecting records, organizing files, and learning tax regulations that change every year. Businesses hire teams of accountants, lawyers, and tax professionals to track, measure, and pay their taxes. And perhaps the greatest expenditures are used to hire tax experts to take advantage of our complex tax code for legal tax avoidance and even illegal tax evasion.

According to the Laffer report, the following are specific yearly cost estimates for how much we, as a country, spend in these endeavors:
  • $31.5 billion for professional tax preparers such as H&R Block and purchasing tax software
  • $12.4 billion in IRS administrative costs
  • $377.9 billion is how much it costs individuals to spend 3.16 billion hours complying with the income tax code
  • $216.2 billion is how much it costs the U.S. economy to have these hours diverted to this non work/productivity endeavor
  • $2.94 billion is how much it costs businesses to comply with the business income tax code,
  • $161.7 billion is how much it costs the U.S. economy to have these corporate resources diverted to non-revenue overhead expenses
  • $9.3 billion is spent on taxpayer audits each year

For far too long, our tax code has been used for so many other purposes than what taxation is supposed to do--pay for our government and what it is specifically designated to do with the money--that it has become a mishmash so convoluted and dense that nobody understands it.  That includes the branch of government, the Internal Revenue Service, whose job it is to administer it.  Hence those articles every year about people who call the IRS with questions and get the wrong answers.

I'm afraid it has also become so intertwined and interlaced that it will be impossible to bring any kind of sanity back into the mess.

Or am I just being my usual pessimistic self when it comes to bureaucracy and big government?

Don Keith

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Political SILLY SEASON II: Obama, Romney, and Samuel L. the "F" word

In a previous post, I decried the condition of political discourse and voter decision-making, mostly based on the 30-second TV and radio spot.  About our tendency to elect leaders based on focus-group-approved catch-phrases and carefully-honed slogans.

Now I have been exposed to yet another way the politicos are using media--that most powerful medium of all, the Internet--to carry on the same sort of lowest-common-denominator marketing to attempt to persuade me to vote for a particular candidate.

Take a look at THIS SHORT VIDEO and come on back.

So what's your take?  This is my blog so I'll give you mine.

I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.  I think Samuel L. Jackson is a fine actor, and probably a decent guy who believes very strongly in some basic things.  He has every right to support any candidate he wishes and to encourage others to follow his suggestions about where votes should go.

Look, I know this video was produced by Jackson and the son of George Soros with the explicit hope that it would go viral.  I suppose I am doing my part to help it do just that.  When I saw it first, it had just over 300 views on YouTube.  What is it up to now?  It must be working in that regard.  And that, of course, is the beauty of the web.  Whether you agree with the message or not, you may forward it to others and eventually it will have more views than those expensive TV commercials do.

Maybe you forward it because you DO believe in the message.  Maybe because you DO NOT.  Maybe because you think it's clever and well-produced.  Because you like Samuel L. Jackson.  Maybe because you get some kind of sick kick out of seeing the screamed word "bulls**t" part the hair of those gals.  Or hearing an obvious pre-teen girl yell "f**k" out the window at the neighborhood.

All in all, though, this little three-minute mini-movie exhibits precisely what I was saying in my previous blog post.  This stuff must work.  People must actually be making up their minds about who they will vote for based on clever video, the same simplistic charges, and the shock value of the production instead of actually taking the time and effort to research who the candidates really are, what they have done or promise to do, and what traits or beliefs make them the best for the job.

I've made up my mind already.  Unless there is something in the debates or that I learn about my man, I know which lever I'll pull in November.  Tripe like the Samuel L. Jackson video won't change that, so it was wasted on me.  But how many others will say, "Geez, if Jackson is for Obama, I guess I am, too.  He did pretty well with that airplane full of snakes."  Or even worse: "Wow!  How cool.  They said f**k and bulls**t right there in an ad for Obama.  If they are that cool...and the prez has been on 'The View' and 'Letterman'...then he is my guy!"

(Disclaimer: I am about as independent a voter as you will meet.  Politically, I am practically a left-wing radical when it comes to social justice, human rights, and individual freedom.  On the other hand, I'm way, way libertarian when it comes to government assuming too much power, meddling in our lives, and building a bureaucracy to solve real or perceived problems that end up making the problems worse at an unsustainable cost to taxpayers [War on Poverty?  50 years and trillions of dollars later, I maintain poverty is still winning that war!].

But I have kept an open mind and I have researched the presidential candidates...way beyond watching commercials and viral videos and reading op-ed pieces by writers who always come down on the same side of any issue.  I can show you real things that have been done in the past 3.5 years that scare the heck out of me.  Not a slogan in an ad or a rhyme in a silly video.  Real actions that threaten the very fabric of our country.  I'll mention a few and close this thing out.

How many "czars" have been appointed by our current president with unknown authority or agenda, with no oversight to speak of from the other two branches of government or the American voter?

How many "executive orders" have been issued and signed by the current president that create reams and reams of new, cumbersome and questionable regulation and policy and happily do so with little research, no legal action, very little oversight, and practically no consideration of their outcome or effect on us, our country, or the economy?

How many new federal agencies, committees, and other bureaucracies have been created to solve what someone considered to be problems without apparent consideration for whether they were actually necessary, whether or not another agency or body was already charged with doing that job, and how in the world we were going to be able to pay for all those new people, buildings, computers, and paperwork?)

Okay, I think I'll go lie down for a while.

Don Keith N4KC

(Want to have a book published but don't know how to get it done?  Or have a book--fiction or non-fiction--but keep getting doors slammed in your face.  Grab my new e-book WRITING TO BE PUBLISHED...AND READ! now only $2.99 per download.  See more by clicking HERE.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Political silly season

I keep seeing the news articles about whether or not media are reaping a bountiful harvest from the political ad spend in this presidential election year.  Truth is, yes, they are.  Maybe not as much as they had hoped, what with all that spending on shadowy stuff like social media, tweeting, texting, and other ways of avoiding actually having to give answers to questions that voters need to hear.

But every four years, traditional media get a nice infusion of dollars for those pithy 30-second commercials that are so carefully crafted, focus-grouped, honed and targeted so you, the voter, don't even have to think.  All you have to do is react to the stimuli.

If I sound jaded, I am.  Why, at a time when we have literally unlimited pipelines of communication, do people still rely so much on the TV and radio spot to inform them about a candidate's fit for the most important job on the planet?  Little wonder we hear responses like the ones I heard the other day, when a typical TV reporter asked typical people on the street who they intended to vote for and why.

"President Obama, because I just don't think Romney looks honest to me."

"Obama.  He really cares about people like me and Romney doesn't."

"Romney is just for the rich.  He'll take care of his rich buddies and we middle class and poor people will get hosed."

Lord help us all.  What a disgusting waste of highly-evolved media.

I would hope anyone--whether he is voting for President Obama or Mr. Romney--would have better reasons for doing so than what they glean from a television spot.  Or a line of rhetoric in a campaign speech, for that matter.

Are we really too busy to read opinion pieces, visit the candidates' web sites, research the many reliable, unbiased sources for the truth when so much is riding on how this election goes?  Could we take just a few moments from watching the Kardashians or Honey Boo-Boo to look up the records and experience of the two men running for president?

I'm afraid we are all too lazy or disinterested to go to the trouble.  Let the marketers define these men for us, then pick the one whose campaign team does the best job of selling the can of beans, not the one who would be more likely to do the best thing for our country.  Let them cull it all down to 30 seconds, then get me back to "American Idol."  Or even worse, vote the white candidate or the black one.  Or the one in the party you have always voted for.  Or the one your union, your minister, your parent, or someone else told you to.

Hey, with Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey both on that panel, the sparks will fly, I betcha!  And THAT is what's important!

Who was it who said, "People deserve the government they elect?"  I don't know, and I don't have time to research it.  They're about to vote somebody off the island and I don't want to miss that!"

Don Keith N4KC
(Author of the new book RIDING THE SHORTWAVES:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Technology creating more free time? Hah!

I clearly remember the prediction that the rapid growth of computers would eliminate paper from the scene.  With disk storage and monitor screens, email attachments and more trees would forevermore be safe from the chainsaw.  Right.  The dang things just made it so easy to print stuff that I suspect more data ends up on paper than ever before in our history.

Then there was the speculation that with the computer, we would rely on the wonderful machines to do all the time-consuming and repetitive chores that had kept us chained to our desks and we would suddenly find ourselves with a plethora of free time.  Everybody ready for the 20-hour work week?

But as we all know, work tends to follow the same motif as a gas in a closed container.  It expands to occupy the volume of the container, spreading itself as thin as it must to get it done.  Now we must multi-task to try to stay up.  Because it is easier to do stuff, we take on more stuff to do.

My own experience verifies it.  Before May 5, I worked a fairly stressful 50 or so hours a week.  Still, I found time to write a couple of dozen books, watch a lot of football, keep the yard at least at a 4 on a 10-point scale, and play with the grandkids.  But boy, when I retired, I figured, I will at worst have that extra 50 hours to goof off, wool gather, pretend to be watching TV while I did eyelid inspection from the inside, and all those other things I had been procrastinating about accomplishing.

You guessed it.  The projects effectively occupied that 50-hour hole almost immediately and all the other stuff was still out there to try to get done.  Technology did not help one bit!  In fact, it gave me the opportunity to do some pretty exciting stuff.

As note in an earlier post, I have become a publishing fool on's two primary systems.  Just in the last few weeks, I have:

  • Published my book on amateur radio, RIDING THE SHORTWAVES: EXPLORING THE MAGIC OF AMATEUR RADIO, in both Kindle format and traditional paperback.  This is the type book no major publishing house is going to do, so I did it myself.  And sales have been phenomenal.  So has input from those who have bought the book.  I was just up at the Huntsville, Alabama, hamfest this past weekend and sold just about every book I took up there.  Thank you!  
  • Brought back into print my second novel, which was out in hardback in 1997.  WIZARD OF THE WIND did pretty well but never was published in any other format.  I got the rights back several years ago and now it's out there for Kindle as well as in paperback.  This is my radio broadcasting deejay novel, about what the heck happened to what was once a magical medium.
  • Just issued a novel that is quite unusual and had so far not attracted the attention of any publisher.  Well, I finished it up, did some tweaking, and now THE SPIN is available for readers to discover.  I'll be using some of that Amazon magic to promote it over the next few weeks, too.  I think it is a story folks will really enjoy and be inspired by.
  • And today, I'm working on getting "The Ride Series" novellas I did with Edie Hand up and available in paperback and e-book.  The original publisher never bothered, and response to those books has been wonderful.  Now I can give them a second life.

See what I mean.  Thanks to all that new technology that was supposed to allow me beau coups leisure time, I am busier than ever.

Not, by the way, that I am complaining!

Don Keith N4KC

Monday, July 30, 2012

OK, OK! I'll do it!

Ever since I began writing articles about my hobby of choice--amateur or "ham" radio--for my ham radio web site and several others, people have been asking me when I was going to do an amateur radio book.  The truth is, I have just been too darn busy to even think of such a thing.  And I also knew, in my heart of hearts, that it be would difficult indeed to get any kind of decent book contract for such a niche book.  I presented my idea to the American Radio Relay League, the ham radio national membership organization, and they passed, so that confirmed my feelings.  If they had no interest, I doubted anyone else would either.

Fast-forward to July 2012.  Things have changed, both in my personal life and in the wild and woolly world of big-time book publishing.

First, I retired from my 60-hour-a-week day job back in May.  And as I shuffled through the articles I had in the can, several more I was working on, and a few still in my head, I realized I was closer to a book than I had thought.

Secondly, as I investigated Kindle Direct Publishing at for the re-issue of a couple of my previous now-out-of-print books (see my post just prior to this one), I realized that I should absolutely pull the ham radio book together for that outlet at least. I believe Amazon has become a real threat to traditional publishing companies--especially when it comes to e-books--as the old-line publishing houses struggle to figure this thing out.  At the very least, it gives me the opportunity to make my book available at a very reasonable price to those interested in amateur radio.  No, I don't make much money, even if I actually sell some downloads of the book, but that is not really the object anyway.  As I have said many times, and not totally facetiously, if I wanted to make a fortune writing books, I would write pornography (See FIFTY SHADES OF GREY).

Then, as I considered other options, I realized that Amazon offers a truly unique opportunity for works like this one that allows me to offer the book in a traditional paperback format.  It is a print-on-demand deal, but I ordered some copies as soon as I got the book and cover uploaded and accepted and the next day got the message that they were being shipped that day.  Wow!

This was with very little upfront cost and minimal hassle.  Now, the paperback will be available not only through, but through major distributors, for order by libraries, and even in many European markets.  We will see how good the print job is, but believe me on this: the major houses don't necessarily produce the highest quality book any more.

Talk about rapid technological change and its effect on society and the media!  Radio, TV, the Internet and telephone communications are not the only things evolving at a dizzying pace.  Include the anachronistic business of book publishing in that mix, too!

Realistically, will tons of booksellers and all the Barnes & Noble stores order a box full of the books?  Or will thousands of libraries order up a couple dozen of copies?  Of course not.  The big publishers do have sales staff to encourage that sort of thing.  But a) no big publishing house was going to do a contract for RIDING THE SHORTWAVES: EXPLORING THE MAGIC OF AMATEUR RADIO and b) even if they did, it would be somewhere near the bottom of the sales staff's sample case, so c) Amazon's various self-publishing options are perfect for this kind of book.

By the way, if you have any interest in the dynamic and rapidly growing hobby of ham radio--believe me, it ain't your weird uncle's past-time any more!--then you may want to stop by and take a look "Inside the Book," read the description, and maybe buy a copy or two...for yourself or someone you know.

See, right there in that last sentence, I did more publicity for RIDING THE SHORTWAVES than the big publishers do for most of the books they print up and ship out!

Don Keith N4KC

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It Never Gets Old. No, It Doesn't!

There was a box on my doorstep the other day.  When I opened it, it was filled with my author copies of my latest book, FIRING POINT.  Just as with the previous 23 books, I had to sit there for a while, looking at the cover, flipping through the pages, reading excerpts.  It was still a thrill to see a real, live book with my name on the cover, filled with words that I wrote (well, helped write in this case since my co-author, George Wallace, is a gifted storyteller in his own right).  I admit I even smelled the fresh ink and paper and, even after 17 years, seeing a book that I wrote right there in my hands was as much a hoot as it was back in 1995 when I got that box of copies of THE FOREVER SEASON from Robert Wyatt, my editor at St. Martin's Press.

Now I've been to and read the write-up and downloaded the Kindle version of FIRING POINT, dropped by Barnes & Noble and grabbed the eBook version there for my wife's Nook, and even went to to listen to an excerpt of the audio book (Stefan Rudnicki has done a fantastic job with the narration).

That was when it occurred to me that back in 1995, that box of books was it.  There were no eBooks, for sure, and audio books were big, bulky things on cassette tape.  Now those formats come as CDs or downloadable files for tablets, smart phones and other media.  Technological change.  Boy, is our primary topic giving publishers fits!  Traditional publishers, that is.  They are slowly but surely figuring out what is happening and how they should react.  At least some of them are.

I spent most of the last week or so playing the part of an editor/publisher, see.  I got the rights back from St. Martin's Press years ago on my second novel, WIZARD OF THE WIND.  Despite wonderful reviews, it never really sold very well and was never released as a paperback or audio book and nothing else existed then.  Since then, I really had no way to do anything else with it.  Publishers are not typically interested in re-doing books that did not sell well...even if there were beau coups great reviews.  "Damaged books" they call them.  But now, thanks to and Kindle, I have an outlet for the book that may just find some new readers.  Readers who grew up on radio, rock and roll, and the legendary disk jockeys who brought that groundbreaking music to us over the airwaves.

I have gone back and edited the manuscript myself.  There was some lazy writing in there, and I wanted to tighten up the prose a bit and update the story and how it equates to what has been happening in the radio broadcasting biz since it was published in 1997.  I added an author's note that spelled out exactly what I was trying to say by telling the story of fictional deejay and media mogul Jimmy Gill.  Then,with all that hard work done, it was a matter of minutes before I managed to get it converted to Kindle format, uploaded, looked at for formatting, and sent on its way for final approval and into the catalog at Amazon.  I have another couple of unsold manuscripts I'm looking at to self-publish that way, too, and have a ham-radio-oriented concept I'm working on, too.  I love the possibilities!  I'm also investigating Amazon's print-on-demand option for a couple of projects, too.

I can't wait until I see WIZARD OF THE WIND (and the cover I designed for it) pop up on Amazon, ready for sale and download.  It will still be just as big a thrill as seeing that box full of FIRING POINT copies show up on my doorstep.

It never gets old.  No, it doesn't.

Don Keith N4KC

(PS: I'll be harping on the eBook of WIZARD OF THE WIND as soon as it is approved for publishing and in the catalog.  Brace yourselves!)

(PPS: I am still producing this blog under protest using Google's Chrome browser.  It's an okay browser but I resent Google forcing me to use it if I want to continue to use their Blogspot service.  Pretty heavy-handed, I say!)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

DVR for AM-FM? Gee!

Radio is the most ephemeral of all media.  Don't look up the word.  It just means it's here right now and then it's gone forever.  If someone says something especially pithy, makes you laugh, elucidates...oops!  Unless you had a tape recorder rolling, it's gone.  Oh, some stations and shows offer podcasts, but that's their opinion of what you found worth hearing again or sharing with friends.

Well, now along comes DAR.FM, a service that allows you to record your favorites and listen to them anytime, anywhere.  "Anywhere" assumes you have a computer, smartphone, or other device that will allow you to access the Internet, of course.  And the part about you being able to easily share whatever it is with your buddies is still in development.  But still, this DVR-like service for radio has some real possibilities.

HERE is an interesting interview with DAR.FM's founder, Michael Robertson.  If you don't have time to view the entire thing, skip to about the last six-and-a-half minutes.  There Michael has some interesting thoughts about how people expect to consume media content and how your old jalopy fits into that equation.

Rapid technological change.  You ain't see nothin' yet!

But the one thing that will drive it--beyond smartphones, apps, the Internet, WIFI, and all that other geek stuff is...wait for it...CONTENT.  You still have to have something on the air that is compelling enough that someone will want to record it, play it back, share it, and cherish it.  I agree with Robertson that some of that exists now.  But when people can truly access content from a wide range of geographies, regardless the time of day it aired or was made available, then those who produce something worthwhile will be royally rewarded.  As now with the wide range of TV content required to fill all those channels 24/7, there will be a tremendous hunger for audio magic.

And those who think compelling content is streaming the same tired old songs one after the other will fade away like that daytime AM radio station when the sun goes down.

Don Keith N4KC

Friday, June 1, 2012

Interrupting for attention

Followers of this blog have seen before my mentions of consultant Seth Grodin and his pithy observations on the nature of marketing, media, and the like.  In a recent interview, Grodin made some especially salient points on the subject of "moving from advertising to marketing."  Common misperception: advertising IS marketing.  No.  Advertising is one aspect of a much bigger thing called "marketing."  Marketing can start when a product or service is first conceived...who needs this widget?  What makes it better than other widgets already out there?  Can we make it and sell it at a price that can be competitive and still make enough money to make it worth our time and effort...and risk?  At some point, you finally start thinking about advertising, where, to whom, how much, and how.

As with everything else, marketing and its more visible component, advertising, are affected by rapidly changing technology that has scrambled the landscape.  Changed it since I started typing this post.  And Seth Grodin has some interesting points to make in that regard:

We all grew up learning about the industrial revolution. Every revolution then brings an age behind it. The industrial revolution created the industrial age. What was hard about the industrial age was making stuff. Henry Ford didn’t get rich because he ran good commercials. He got rich because he made a car better for the money than anyone ever had before. So, for half a century making stuff was key.

Then, once you got factories up and running making stuff, there’s a demand for mass media. We invented television to make advertisers happy, not the other way around. And so in this second era, the mass media era, we’ve got lots and lots of attention because television manufactured attention and we needed to grab that attention and turned it into money. 

But attention is now scarce. It’s not abundant anymore. There’s a million or a billion channels to choose from, not three. There is a store one click away that sells every item ever made as opposed to the local store where shelf space was scarce. All of those things undermine the importance of making average stuff because it’s easier than ever before.
You can design something on your computer, send an email to China and a month later it comes back and you didn’t have to do anything. The hard part isn’t getting shelf space because everyone gets the same amount of shelf space on Amazon as everybody else. The hard part is earning attention and trust, and nothing that Henry Ford did was about attention or trust.

Interruption (as in traditional media advertising) does work unless your interruptions are being interrupted.
If you stand up in church and start screaming and yelling, everyone will notice you. They may not trust you but they’ll notice you. What has happened is the amount of interruption, the amount of noise, has gone from getting two emails a day to 450. So you can interrupt my email box all you want. It’s not going to work.

And so we replaced this idea that you could steal my attention with the idea that you could earn it and I have to pay it to you. I can’t get it back because once attention is gone, it’s gone forever. But the person who owns attention has built a worthwhile asset.
Name one company that has gone on the internet and built a brand, a jingle, a slogan or a logo. The answer is none. The Internet doesn’t build those things the way TV does. What the Internet builds is connection, and every successful Internet company and every successful Internet marketer is successful for that and only that reason: They have earned attention, built trust and turned it into profit.

Grodin goes on to talk about telling stories, establishing "tribes" that are loyal to whatever you are selling.  These should be familiar concepts to those who follow this blog.

Each day, I mark several emails as "spam" and block the sender from ever landing in my inbox again.  But I don't do that to every piece of incoming advertising email.  Some I am polite enough to unsubscribe.  Others I allow to waft right on in every single time for my consideration.  Why?  Because some of it has earned my trust.  I want to see what they have to offer.  I have become part of their "tribe."  Same thing with ads that interrupt "Hatfields and McCoys" or whatever else I may have DVRed.  If I want to see the "story" they are offering, I'll allow that ad to spin out in normal time.

Example: the DirecTV commercials that tell me--through outrageous example--what will happen if I continue to stick with cable.  Some hate 'em.  That's the risk they take when they tell a story.  But the stories they tell will resonate with many, many others who are frustrated with cable.  That makes the ads successful.  That and the marketing that went into not only the ads but the product offered about which they speak.

Don Keith N4KC

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hate to say I told you so

Three totally unrelated things today. 

First: all the media news today is wrapped around the announcement by newspaper conglomerate Advance Media that their New Orleans Times-Picayune would soon cease publishing a print edition every day.  They will only throw a paper in Crescent City driveways on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.  Otherwise, subscribers will have to get their news from their online "digital" edition, which will thoretically be updated constantly.

Told you so.  The economics and competitive landscape for traditional newspapers have long since been obsoleted, not just by technology buy how people expect to get their news.  Stay tuned.  This is only the first shot.  My hometown paper, The Birmingham News, also an Advance paper, announced today they and others in the group will do likewise beginning soon.  Prediction:  none of these entities will be publishing traditional newspapers--any day of the week--within two years.

Second item: amateur radio circles have been all atwitter about the introduction this week of a new transceiver from Kenwood, their TS-990S.  Not really "introduction."  They had a non-working prototype for view at the massive Dayton Hamvention last week.  Kenwood is not talking much, for good reasons.  Some features are not yet set.  And they have patents pending on some things they would prefer remaining quiet about.  But that has not stopped rampant (and often ludicrous) speculation.  It's fun, though.  Plus it is a vote by a major manufacturer that the hobby will continue to grow and be vibrant.

I had told you earlier that new technology in the manufacture of ham radio gear would reinvigorate the market, and with it, the hobby.  Here's proof.  The fact that both QST and CQ Magazine, the hobby's two major publications, are now offering digital editions is another example of how ham radio continues to do its best to keep up with how potential hams expect their hobby to evolve.

Finally, what is this with an ugly message at the top of Blogspot's post page that tells me that my browser is no longer supported by "Blogger?"  Internet Explorer is no longer supported?  The most widely used internet browser by miles?  They are kind enough to suggest that I try Chrome if I am having problems.

I am.  Having problems, that is.  Editing this post is almost impossible, and I had to add that huge image of the Kenwood TS-990S just to get a cursor in the edit box.  I still can't go back with the mouse and put the cursor anywhere else in the post, not can I copy the text.  I just hope Google is not throwing its weight around.  I don't mind downloading and using Chrome.

But don't force me.  I don't respond well to intimidation.  Give me some reasons, Google, and I will be glad to consider it.  But don't tell me you are going to make it impossible for me to continue a blog I have been using for years just so you can force me to devote even more of my computer's hard drive to Google.

Don Keith

UPDATE:  Yes, indeed.  When I downloaded and installed Chrome, my blog posting page works beautifully.  Please, Mr. Google, explain to me why you would disenfranchise all users of the latest version of what is still--in many analytic reports--the number one web browser?  Because you can?  It worked.  I downloaded your damn browser.  And I guess I'll see if I want to use it instead of IE9.  But I won't enjoy it.  So there.