It’s Not Beats1’s Fault, Blame Steve Jobs

RS 107 cover

Click image to listen to my review of Beats1.

Beats1 is on the air!

I’m underwhelmed thus far and I blame Steve Jobs. He taught me to expect the unexpected. He created products that at first blush seemingly made no sense (an iPad? I have an iPhone. Why do I want something bigger?), but were nearly instantaneous culture changing innovations. He created a brand expectation that sadly Apple can no longer live up to.

In my mind I was really hoping Beats1 was going to be revolutionary, be a paradigm shift for radio, inspire a new generation of broadcasters and push the industry back on it’s heels a bit. I imagined that they would figure out a way to integrate a song an hour from everyone’s personal iTunes collection weaving it seamlessly into the fabric of the radio station making it a truly personalized experience. I envisioned a XAPP Media type vocal recognition program which would allow you to say out loud, “buy this song” and it would instantly download to your iTunes account. I counted on Apple to create the fully integrated, connected, social savvy, second screen radio has been struggling to create. My expectations were too high.

Instead, so far, the bigger impact of Beats1 is for rising artists who get a global spin and ideally, for them, an instant international fan base. (Also, Pandora founder Tim Westergren’s dream. AUDIO)

As it impacts radio, Beats1 seems more of a blast of the past than a quantum leap into the future:

Shouting city names over records.. Radio does this.

Live reads. Radio does this.

Pre-Recorded outdated promos. Radio’s got those in droves!

DJs that talk too much. Radio’s got ‘em.

DJs in multiple locations. Yep..

Dead Air. Sure.

Celebrity DJs. Requests. Listen call-ins. Social media engagement. Radio does all that too.

What exactly is the innovation here?

It’s week one, so we’ll give them time to get settled and check back in next month or so. Meantime, if you hear something truly unique let me know.

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Peering into Periscope

periscopePeriscope continues to gain traction as real-time video interaction with a round-the-world audience is too big of an opportunity/novelty/ego-boost to resist.

I’ve tested it out a couple of times, talked to folks using it and done some research. Here are some keys for radio folks looking to use Periscope.

BEFORE YOU GET STARTED

Power up. Make sure your phone is fully charged and you have a strong wi-fi or 4G connection.

Have a purpose. You will want to know WHY you are initiating a Periscope session. There are many ways you can use it. Here are some:

  1. Impromptu Q&A sessions. Great way for listeners to chat with hosts or debrief reporters of a big story.
  2. Live news coverage / press conference. Let the audience see what you see when news is breaking.
  3. Introduce new show features / characters / hosts to your fans.
  4. Make announcements about your station or show.
  5. Get feedback/information/ideas on show topics, events, contests, etc.
  6. Go behind the scenes of the radio station.
  7. A regular mini-show; “Today’s Big Idea” “The Bonehead of the Day” or “The Daily Session.”
  8. Tell stories to engage fans. Storytelling is as much of a key to a successful Periscope as it is your radio show.

Write a title that entices. This is your tease, but it should also give the audience a snapshot of the video session they’re joining. Many have luck asking a question so the audience engages from the get go.

Example. What is the worst part of Mondays? Who is your man-crush / woman-crush? How do you make a good cup of tea?

This keeps the session focused and people can immediately play along.

periscope-screenshotDURING YOUR SESSION

Steady the phone. There is not a stabilizer built into the Periscope app, so many of the video sessions I’ve joined are blurry, vomit-inducing messes. Either steady the phone by holding it with two hands or set it up against a computer screen, some books, or a put it on a tripod.

Keep the phone vertical. Unlike most apps and cameras on your phone, Periscope doesn’t work so well when you try to flip the phone in the landscape mode. It is seemingly incapable of readjusting once the session is started. Keep your phone straight up and down.

Frame your shot. Keep the focus of your video in the top 1/3 of the screen, because the lower 2/3rds is fill by comments and hearts. (Pro Tip: Hearts are like an infinite “like” button. Viewers can tap the screen as many times as they like and each time they tap a heart appears.)

The talking part. There is no need to begin talking at the beginning of your session, unless you enjoy light banter with yourself. Wait until people start arriving to your Periscope session before diving in. (Editors note: As pointed out by James Cridland there are those who will access your replay in the 24 hours that follow, but most consumers of your Periscope will be live. It depends on which audience you want to record the Periscope for I suppose.) And when they show up, talk to them. Answer their questions. Ask them questions.

Trolling. This is still the internet and your Periscope video is not contained to a small group of your best friends. All Periscope videos are available to anyone. If you attract a troll, just ignore them.

If you’re using Periscope for radio or radio-adjacent projects I’d like to hear about your experiences and would appreciate you passing along any tips in the comments below.

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Categories: Radio, Social Media Tags: ,

Where is the Outrage Over PPM?

Nielsen-ppmThis week I went down the PPM rabbit hole and it is worse than I ever imagined.

After talking at length with researcher Richard Harker (hear the interview here), watching this 25 minute video on the science of watermarking audio, reading blogs and articles and then comparing it all to my personal experiences with PPM data, I believe the issues with PPM are nearing DEFCON1 for our industry.

Some things all radio broadcasters should know about PPM

The PPM tones are encoded and masked by other audio. If there is no audio on your radio station, there is no PPM encoding. If you are a spoken word radio station every time the host stops talking, takes a breath or a dramatic pause – the PPM tone stops encoding.

The PPM tones encode at certain frequencies (1 to 3 kilohertz), much higher frequencies than a typical male radio announcer, meaning higher pitched voices and music actually be decoded more consistently.

There has been no test results, at least released to the radio industry, how loud the radio station must be playing or how close to the radio the PPM device needs to be in order for the masked tone to be recognized and decoded. Though it is noteworthy that background radio station formats, like smooth jazz, have suffered greatly in the PPM era.

Audio watermarking technology can be wobbly leaving gaps (some small, some giant) in decoding and unknown amounts of unreported listening.

PPM encoding on internet streams is even less reliable. Just like a .jpg or .mp3 is compressed to make smaller files, your internet stream is compressed too, which means there is even less audio to mask the tone behind.

Because of these factors, some radio stations may only be encoding 50% of the time or sometimes even less and receiving greatly reduced credit in listening compared to what is actually happening.

My Conclusions

Radio should be mad as hell. This is costing people jobs, livelihoods, and impacting radio families across the country. Programmers, myself included, have made “strategic” adjustments to shows, personalities, and formatics based on inaccurate PPM data.

If I’m Premiere Radio or really any big radio company I’m lawyering up. With the hit talk radio has taken in recent years (see: Rush) could it be that the audience likes it fine, but PPM doesn’t?

Fight back. The Voltair seems to be a worthy investment for some stations. It essentially makes your watermarked audio easier for the PPM to recognize and decode.

Also, and this goes against my better judgement, if you’re News/Talk or Sports I would seriously consider adding a music bed or crowd noise at all times so the encoding never stops.

The Controversy of Making Radio Sausage

I’m not a country radio expert. I do know radio and understand there is a science to programming music logs for appealing to core listeners and maximizing CUME, AQH and TSL. I get these things are researched and researched and researched. Radio music programming may actually answer the question every 10th grader asks, “When will I ever use Algebra in real life?”

However, I am also fascinated by the bluster this week over comments made to Country Aircheck Weekly by consultant Keith Hill.

This One’s Not For The Girls: Finally, Hill cautions against playing too many females. And playing them back to back, he says, is a no-no. “If you want to make ratings in Country radio, take females out,” he asserts. “The reason is mainstream Country radio generates more quarter hours from female listeners at the rate of 70 to 75%, and women like male artists. I’m basing that not only on music tests from over the years, but more than 300 client radio stations. The expectation is we’re principally a male format with a smaller female component. I’ve got about 40 music databases in front of me and the percentage of females in the one with the most is 19%. Trust me, I play great female records and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.” – (excerpted from the May 26, 2015 edition)

The backlash was swift.

After reading that Hill was getting mean tweets from outraged country star Miranda Lambert, death threats from fans and garnering negative headlines in USA Today, The New York Times and others, I saw another country artist, Martina McBride, talking about it on CBS This Morning.

My first instinct was, “Great. Here’s radio in the national spotlight again for all the wrong reasons.” I actually tweeted something like that at the time.

and Keith Hill (@unconsult) tweeted back at me. Later that morning we spent an hour on the phone. I wanted to hear his side of the story. Here’s our full conversation.

HIGHLIGHTS OF #SALADGATE DISCUSSION:

He’s been using the salad analogy, for various formats, for the better part of 25 years. His mentor used to use a soup analogy. “It doesn’t matter what the format is the first thing I tell them is to put in the salad bowl of the log: lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and peppers.”

He insists he’s not sexist or bias. ““Trust me, if playing 80% of females got me the highest ratings, I’d run over you in the hallway to put a female record on the air. I would walk over broken glass and chew razor blades to get to the studio to deliver what the audience will line up for.”

He wishes he would have considered his word choice more. “I wish I would have said make sure you don’t have too few females. Add until you get at least 15%.”

He believes the outrage focused on him is misplaced. “Their country radio that they were happy and satisfied with as a product was tuned to their taste by professionals like me to trick them and make them listen as long as possible. And then when somebody shows them our internal dashboard of metrics they go, ‘God! That’s bias.’”

Hill has also offered any Top 100 country radio station in the U.S. currently ranked #5 or better $5,000 to play 50% female artists for 6-months. He insists no station will take him up on his offer, because they know it will “tank.”

HOW MANY TOMATOES ARE ON THE SALAD?

I was curious. What is the percentage of males to females on country stations in the U.S.? I googled a handful of stations that share playlists of the last 50 songs on air (about 2 ½ hours of music) and did some quick math.

NASH FM 94.7 in New York City played 15% female solo artists including Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Shania Twain, Reba McIntyre, and Miranda Lambert

KNUE in Tyler Texas played 10% female solo artists including Miranda, Carrie, Kelsea Ballerini, and Jana Kramer.

KFROG in San Bernardino, California played 18% female solo artists including Miranda, Carrie, Kelsea, and Gretchen Wilson.

KISS Country in Shreveport, Louisiana played 6% female solo artists limited only to Miranda, Carrie and Kelsea.

WYRK in Buffalo, New York was at 16% female solo artists including Carrie, Miranda, Kelsea, Taylor, and Maggie Rose.

Three of these stations are operated by Townsquare Media, one Cumulus, and one CBS. iHeart stations only show the last 12 songs played but were right around 16% female solo artists. No station played solo female artists back-to-back.

The TopHitUSA.com “Country Radio Airplay Charts” only features 12% solo female country artists.

It turns out, like every radio format in the country – even spoken word – “country radio” is playing the hits. Finding out what listeners want and feeding it to them consistently is how radio stations generate ratings. Yes, there is a bias to it. We’re only going to feature artists, songs, stories, or sports that appeal to the most people in the listening demographic. Next year that 15% could be 45% if the listeners tastes evolve and change or if radio goes back to the old days when DJs were hit makers and aided listeners in music discovery. Neither is likely to happen anytime soon.

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Radio Lessons From The World’s Oldest DJ

sally hille

In the 1940’s Sally Hille made her debut on the radio. Today she is, according to Guinness, the oldest DJ in the world. I was lucky enough to chat with her last week on the Radio Stuff podcast. Three things really stuck with me.

She was a writer.

Sally’s first role in radio was as a writer. How did our industry ever turn our backs on that? TV shows and news programs have writers, movies have writers, Broadway has writers why does radio seemingly insist on winging it and/or using “whoever is available” to write sales copy, station production, and bits for radio shows? This is something that has frustrated me as a programmer over the years. While at ESPN, I tried to do my part by hiring a fulltime writer who worked primarily for Mike & Mike. It was an underappreciated position that disappeared soon after I left. Radio needs every advantage it can get and impactful writing will increase the impact of commercials, increase TSL and likely occasions. It’s hard to quantify the impact of a writer on the success of a radio station, but I believe it is the quickest way to make a noticeably positive impact on the listening experience. Hire writers.

Women are still getting shafted.

“Don’t you know people don’t want to hear women on the radio?” That was the PD’s reaction after Sally snuck on-air in the 1940’s to identify the radio station. The conversations haven’t changed over the years. When I started (and still today) I hear arguments that people won’t accept women doing play-by-play or being a lead host on a show. (I often hear similar arguments as it pertains to different races and ethnicities.) There are exceptions to the rules, but within the past few weeks I’ve seen sports radio networks and stations get banner headlines in the radio industry trade publications, because they hired women to host weekend shows. Most women on FM morning shows remain relegated to being the traffic gal, the news chick, or the bimbo. We need to do better.

RS 103 coverPodcasting isn’t too technical.

I encourage aspiring broadcasters to make a podcast and record it regularly (weekly or daily) in order to find their voice and style. The great thing about podcasts it that they are as long as you want, you can experiment with new ideas, you typically get positive feedback from listeners and you begin to build a following. For many reasons, most never do it. Usually, I hear something to the effect, “I’m not that technical” or “I couldn’t figure it out.” Sally’s show is essentially a podcast that is then broadcast later. She has a Yeti microphone ($129 or so), a free audacity editor and she uploads her podcast to Podomatic (I prefer SoundCloud.) She’s 95-years-old. No one has an excuse anymore.

Conclusion

The other thing I take away from my conversation with Sally is that the men and women who came before us, in radio and life, have much to offer in terms of experience and insight. Take time to sit with family and friends and ask them about their life. You’ll both be surprised at how much you enjoy it.

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Categories: Talent Tags: , ,

Top 10 Lessons Radio Can Take from David Letterman

Top 10 Lessons Radio Can Take from David Letterman (as heard on Episode 102 of the Radio Stuff Podcast)

10. People like lists.

9. Try new things. Crazy things. Challenge conventional wisdom.

8. Surround yourself with a team you trust.

7. Sometimes you have to leave a job to find greater success.

6. Produce. Plan. Prepare. Script. Rehearse. And then do what feels right in the moment.

5. Bring guests into your world. Own your interviews.

4. Don’t be afraid to fail.

3. Self-deprecation is an effective tool to win over an audience.

2. Surprise the audience.

1. Even a kid from small town Indiana can be a big time talk host.

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The ABCs of “U2 101″

U2101In Vancouver, Rock 101 rebranded as “U2 101″ for 16 hours as part of a promotion for the opening night of U2’s “iNNOCENT + eXPERIENCE” 2015 world tour. It was a great way to reinforce the station’s classic rock brand and own a major event that already had the city buzzing. To get the story behind the story, I chatted with Ronnie Stanton, Corus Media VP of National Brands and Programming and PD of Rock 101.

GIFFORD: What elements made up U2 101?

STANTON: 7am on the day of their first concert in Vancouver, which was also the first concert of their new world tour through to about 8:30am we did an interview with U2, in-studio, with our morning show “Willy in the Morning,” played lots of songs as well, but lots of great questions and those guys were fully engaged like they loved being there. It was really authentic, human, it was terrific. For the rest of the day we gave away pairs to the shows that night and played U2 double-shots. It was really cool. We changed every single element. The words “Rock 101″ did not appear on the website, they didn’t appear on the radio for that entire period. We were fully U2 101.

Grock101IFFORD: Why U2 101?

STANTON: U2 is one of the biggest bands in the world and at Classic Rock stations all around the world we’re trying to constantly reinvent the format to keep it relevant and keep it less nostalgic. So, when one of your core artists does a major tour you want to do everything you can to own the artist and own it in a contemporary way.

GIFFORD: How’d you pull it off?

STANTON: So, about six or seven weeks ago I started talked to the head of the record label, Universal, and I think it was more than anything about asking the pretty girl for a dance. This didn’t happen on other radio stations, because I don’t think other radio stations said, “Yeah we’ll change our name, yeah we’ll do whatever, like let’s get those boys in here.” And it turned into great radio.

GIFFORD: What was the reaction?

STANTON: Terrific. People loved it. In a PPM world if this doesn’t move the needle I’m going to just go buy a food truck.

The full conversation with Ronnie Stanton and some examples of the imaging will be featured in Radio Stuff Podcast Episode 102 (released 5/21/2015). Here are clips from the interview with Willy and U2. 

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