Monday, May 11, 2009

Clear Channel

63° - clear/sunny at 8:25am

Welcome to another work week.

When I started writing this blog post this morning, I had six other topics I was going to include. My first topic however, was Clear Channel and I've run out of room. This is a piece I didn't want to write.

Still doing a lot of reading as details trickle out about Clear Channel's latest changes, including its "Premium Choice" programming, which essentially syndicates some of the company's better talent to stations around the country. I've found it difficult for me to critical of Clear Channel. My years with them were pretty good ones that I would be hard to trade for anything else.

If what I hear is true, its disappointing to hear that "Premium Choice" won't be localized, unlike the out-of-market voice-tracking the company had been doing - where the local PD would actually schedule the music and ship a log, liners and market information to the remote talent, resulting in a local sounding airshift with some good talent.

How weird to be nostalgic for that period!

This must explain the company's rush to "localism", which is essentially an increased PSA load. Advance damage control but hard to do much otherwise with a skeleton staff.

One PD who works crosstown to a Clear Channel cluster recently described Premium Choice to me as sounding like "bad 70s satellite." I hope not! On the other side of the coin, a large market PD with the company told me via Twitter "Wait till you hear how it sounds. I think you'll be stunned."

OK, fair enough. I haven't heard the product yet.

But apparently gone from any station "opting in" (your definition of "opting in" may vary) to Premium Choice is local scheduling of music. The national playlist rears its ugly head. Interesting that this comes from a company that spent a lot of time over the years denying that there was a corporate playlist (and when the did there really wasn't).

While its true that the hits are the hits are the hits, I don't need to mention that there's always been differences from market to market (that's what local music research
was all about) and this research is what gave stations a competitive advantage. Added: in the very simple sense, it was finding out what your local audience wanted and giving it to them.

Given the present economy, Consultant Harve Allen noted in this piece he posted over the weekend that
"It's the perfect storm--negative cash flow and bland & sterile local radio stations."

And Harve adds:
"Are you mad yet? I hope a little bit."

Harve hints at something that I've said many times one way or another: it's unique hard-to-duplicate content that makes for a winning radio station. And I'm simply repeating something that (love him or hate him) Randy Michaels said to group of programmers at a Dan O'Day conference years ago.

Pulling back the local personalities and becoming music intensive (and with a national playlist at that) offers nothing unique and difficult-to-duplicate. Nothing. Anyone can do that!

There was a day when a smart crosstown competitor would take advantage of a situation like that. I really hope those days aren't over yet, but my guess is that the MBAs making the programming decisions at Clear Channel are betting that there's nobody in most of their markets who will come in and kick their ass.

Or maybe they simply don't care.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Radio Stories: 20 Years Ago in Tampa

63° - hazy at 10:28am

Consultant Tim Moore of Grand Rapids (and Naples, Florida) based Audience Development Group writes and distributes a weekly email titled "The Midweek Motivator", which is available free via subscription on the ADG website.

This morning Tim wrote about a legendary radio battle that took place in Tampa 20 years ago and what can still be learned from it. With his permission, I've republished his piece below:

Not since Pearl Harbor had the world witnessed a classic attack like the one that sank Edens Broadcasting's battleship Q-105 twenty years ago. Though no lives were lost, a legendary CHR was torpedoed, rolled over, and sank. It was a story of hubris, élan, overconfidence, and unbridled aggression. In 74 days, one group's largest cash cow was trumped by a pig, and the Tampa Bay market was never to be the same.

Beyond the fact that it's a 20 year anniversary, why showcase the story now? Perhaps because there exist multiple learnings from this epic showdown which should be revisited by any serious student of how battles are won and lost; leaders playing defense, attackers using guerrilla tactics, and the history that lingers (since history is always written by the winning side).

In 1989, Edens Broadcasting was nationally developing with Q-105 its flagship for ratings, revenue and cash flow. WRBQ was recognized as one of the elite large market CHR's regularly scoring in the mid teens 12-plus. The rules of marketing warfare proffered stations of iconic proportion like Q-105 if not unassailable, were certainly unbeatable and not worth the pain for a would-be attacker. Gabe Hobbs and Marc Chase were alpha-thinking in the Jacor situation room across town. Somehow the concept of a Pig as the personification of a CHR surfaced. Hobbs and Chase had always wanted to do a CHR in Tampa, but Jacor owned the Eastman Radio rep firm, and thus had assured Q-105 that Jacor would stay out of the CHR brand. Inconceivably, Edens and Q-105 dropped Eastman's representation, and a large farm animal was born.

Believing Q-105 was "Fortress Singapore" immune to attack-and-conquer strategy, Michael Osterhout (Edens COO) upon hearing of Jacor's guerrilla assault quipped, "I sure hope you're renting and not buying." Game on. Hobbs and Chase knew Q-105 would throw large sums into the battle, so thus started their campaign with brilliant and unconventional tactics: they made a demand for money. They went on their News-Talk giant WFLA and reported they were "holding Q-105 up for a million dollars in ransom or they'd switch formats." A week later the sum bumped to five million. At five PM that same Friday, WFLZ became "Jamz 93" for an hour, then, abruptly switched back to Gold without further comment. The following Monday morning, Gary Edens was ensconced at the St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco. WFLZ's morning team woke Edens up at 4 AM Pacific Time and offered Edens one more chance to "pay-up" or be attacked. His response was something to the effect of, "Bring it on, boys." With that, Power Pig threw the switch, and Paula Abdul's Cold Hearted Snake fired the first torpedo.

Surprisingly says Hobbs, "We kept waiting for them to react, and they did nothing." It took Q-105 sixty days to trim spot loads, calibrate music, and re-image against the Pig. It was too late. In 74 days, Q-105 decompressed from a 14.4 to an 8.6 and Bay Area economics were forever changed.

Midst the trail of flotsam, Q-105's thousand-dollar-a-spot morning rate slipped to $250.00. Cash flow plummeted, and WRBQ's parent company would never recover. What started out as a game, became arguably radio's most vitriolic war.

Lessons carried forward remind us no format is unassailable, yet too few companies have the ingenuity and commitment to carry out a Power Pig assault. The right people with a big idea and a lot of passion can remake an entire market (in 74 days). We asked Gabe, "If Edens had paid the million, would you have gone away?" He grinned, and replied "absolutely." War is hell.

Tim Moore can be reached at

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday Morning Odds & Sods

60° - sunny at 10:49am

Good Morning from Okemos

Listening this morning to Bob Stroud on Chicago's WDRV...who - at the moment is doing a time-warp this this week in 1970.

Just played "Spirit In The Sky", "Instant Karma" and now "Come & Get It". Nice start to morning. Later: Bob's switched gears to 1975...and is now playing Kraftwerk's "Autobahn"....and its off vinyl....complete with ticks and scratches...too cool!

San Diego: Mark Ramsey points out a (copy-protected) campaign from AAA KPRI that tells the market "Don't Listen". A campaign designed to encourage trial. Perfect in the PPM world. Mark observes:

"...our goal should not be recall - it should be trial. The best way to get folks to remember they listen is for them to actually listen. Don't put the case before the horse.

So KPRI's campaign is obviously designed to seduce trial. Not to sell product attributes and benefits or, God forbid, awareness and recall. You can't know whether you like something or not until you try it, so why not?

And even smarter in the world of PPM, by the way."

Mark's complete post - including reader comments - is here. Anyone else here old enough to remember "Try It, You'll Like It" (I thought so..)

Last weekend: had the opportunity to check out night #2 of WCSX/Detroit's Birthday Bash featuring the J. Geils Band. Awesome time and kudos to OM/PD Doug Podell for pulling it off. The band only getting together for shows in their hometown of Boston and their adopted hometown of Detroit. 2 nights that sold out in minutes. Great time!

Speaking of: Noted that WCSX - after months with PPM data - has now shorted its morning drive show by an hour and gets back to music at 9am instead of 10. The station now kicking off its return to music with "9 at 9".

Haven't heard the feature yet, but I'm assuming "9 at 9" is similar to the "10 at 10" feature heard on other stations around the country.

Think summer. The sunshine today has me thinking warm weather (and mowing the lawn). Consultant Dave Lange has put together some ideas for radio in the summertime, noting:

"Radio has a real chance to shine as TV largely shuts down and our mobile medium has the advantage of being able to move with the audience. As they spend more time outside radio goes with them to the patio, the car, out in the community and even to the beach/pool. This is a time to hustle if you want to build your audience for the Fall."

Dave's suggestions for radio - including appearances, music, imaging and more here.

Great read: Rick Kaempfer's interview with Chicago radio legend John Gehron. Its been up for a week - but it was new to me this morning. Here. Also on Rick's Chicago Radio Spotlight is an interview with Chicago radio's Buzz Kilman. Worth the time here.

New Media Webinar: A "power lunch" this Tuesday at noon eastern from McVay New Media. SIgn-up and check it out here.

It's been another tough week for radio with cutbacks and furloughs at a few radio companies. I'm at a loss to offer anything positive. Bless the companies still investing in the product and people, both on air and off. And investing in real localism, radio's single biggest advantage over competitive media in this broadband/multi-media era. Think content that's difficult to duplicate.

There's people and programming assets that too many companies are foolishly throwing away. All in all a loss for listeners who can typically get what content is left through other sources. Example: how many sources are there on the internet for Ryan Seacrest? Don't need the local station for that. I'm just sayin'....

That said - the opportunity is may soon be ripe for a strong local competitor to take advantage of these MBA-programmed stations.

Related: this post from consultant Alan Mason.