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Oh, Canada!

Larry in VancouverI am moving to Canada. (This is me and the view from my new office.) —>

Let’s get the two most popular questions out of the way first.

No, I’m not hightailing north of the border in anticipation of a Trump presidency.

Yes, you can crash on my couch when YOU want to escape Trump’s empire.

Why Canada?

I have been consulting Corus Radio in Vancouver since January 2014. I’ve had the pleasure of coaching and strategizing alongside some brilliant radio leaders. I have worked closely with and been inspired by dedicated, committed and talented radio staffs. And have I rediscovered the excitement that radio can deliver when a company commits to success, invests in its future and wants to make a difference in people’s lives.

Last August, I was asked to serve as interim Program Director of News-Talk 980 CKNW and AM 730 All Traffic, All the Time. So, for 9-months I have been commuting between my family in California and my work in Canada. Three weeks a month or so in Vancouver with a weekend home and then one full week with the family each month. It wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t always easy. It took patience, sacrifice, and an exceeding amount of trust from all involved.

Now the “interim” has been removed from my title and my family is moving to British Columbia. I will continue to write blogs and create Radio Stuff Podcasts as time permits.

Radio is Radio, Right?

Sort of.

Radio is different in Canada than the U.S. though not so insanely so. Here are some of the nuances.

Language | Bottom line you will hear more adult language on radio in Canada. From bullshit to asshole and the treasure trove of curses in between. Not fuck. But most anything else. In the U.S. that sort of language is prohibited by the FCC from 6am to 10pm and most companies avoid it all together.

Governing Body | The governing body over radio in the U.S. is the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). Listeners can complain about stations to the FCC, but unless there is a deluge of complaints about a certain broadcast the complaint falls on deaf ears. In Canada, the governing body is the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission) and the broadcasters created a coalition called the CSBC (Canadian Standards Broadcast Council) which fields each listener complaint. The complaints are formally delivered the radio station and stations have a finite period of time to respond to each complaint. If the listener remains unsatisfied by the response, the CRTC can make a ruling on the matter.

PPM | People meters in large markets is the standard in both the U.S. and Canada. Three distinct differences though. 1) Nielsen (in the U.S.) is a private, for-profit company that monopolizes broadcast ratings data. Numeris (in Canada) is a not-for-profit, member-owned tripartite industry organization. If you want ratings, you become a member.  If you are a member, you’re part owner. 2) In the U.S., radio stations are battling for quarter-hours. If a listener tunes in for five minutes in a quarter-hour it counts as 15 minutes of listening. In Canada, it’s minute-by-minute. Five minutes of listening is worth five minutes. 3) We also recently began receiving overnight ratings in Canada. So day-to-day you get a snap shot of listening patterns in the market. It was terrifying at first, but really quite useful. Knowledge is power.

Media Companies | In a very broad stroke, based on my observations and experience, media companies in the U.S. are grossly over-leveraged, cost-cutting from the front lines of content creation, investing in upper-management and are more fiscally focused than audience focused. Contrarily, in Canada, I see more fiscally responsible companies seeking strategic acquisitions, cost-cutting and efficiencies at senior management levels, investment in talent and technology and a stronger focus on the consumer experience. Extreme generalizations, I know, but it is my experience.

Listeners | Listeners to radio in Canada are different. The connection to the stations seems stronger and more personal, which means they feel like owners of the stations they listen to. That leads to lots of calls and emails for minor errors and great outrages each demanding returned phone calls, retractions, apologies, and retribution. It also leads to more passionate, dedicated listeners. I know listeners in the U.S. call stations too, but in my experience, for every call I received from a listener as a PD in the states, I get 10 in Canada.

Those are the main differences that come to mind today, I’ll add more over time.

Now off to get a Tim Horton’s coffee and a maple donut.

Navigating Change

Change is scary and uncomfortable for most people.

It just is.

Humans like to know they are safe and secure. We want to know we have enough money for food and someplace hospitable to rest our head at night. So, when pink slips start flying like they did at KGO last week in San Francisco or organizations are merged and realigned like Corus Entertainment last week in Canada, fear takes hold. It’s instinctual.

But resisting change is actually more lethal for entertainment and information industries like radio (see: music industry, Blockbuster Video, newspapers). There is hope and opportunity in change. You just have to be willing to see it and seize it.

Yes, what happened in San Francisco to KGO is tragic. It was a juggernaut of a radio station that has slowly and systematically been starved of resources and been a victim of benign neglect. The dedicated staffers who were sent packing after years of pouring their heart into a product deserve better. They tried to find a small part of a corporate beast they could love and quickly realized the beast was indscriminate. But now they are free. Unschackled. No longer beholden to a dream of yesterday’s KGO. There is life after KGO right Gil Gross??

Gil Gross Facebook

Right Claudia Lamb?  (Article: KGO and the Death of Radio)

In Canada, a completely different scenario. Not one of downsizing and cost-cutting but of investing and growing. Eerily, employees feel similar. Corus just completed a $2.6B acquisition of Shaw Media and new corporate structures were unveiled. The questions came fast and furious; Why? Where’s this worked before? What’s it mean for me? How can this possibly work? When are they going to fire me? Don’t they know we’ve never done it this way before?

Fear. It’s contagious.

differentKeep in mind, change isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s just different. When companies change it often creates opportunities. New managers, new faces, new processes and procedures and fresh eyes on old problems. It doesn’t have to be scary. It should be exciting. Anytime you get to work for a leader who has bold vision and a sense of purpose and direction embrace it, champion it, and rejoice. The opposite is stagnation. The opposite is KGO.

It reminds me of a phrase I quickly learned while working at ESPN; “evolve or face extinction.” In the past week, we’ve seen this played out in both directions in dramatic fashion.

 

The Future of Radio is the Past

95459-004-7DEC0D53In the Golden Age of radio, the 1930’s and 1940’s, radio actors created theater of the mind. Each night a different character in a different radio drama from Sherlock Holmes to the Shadow. Foley artists brought the shows to life. Game shows were launched. And news was the backbone bone of a growing entertainment industry. It was new, exciting and fun. Ideas were being dreamed and hatched daily and the industry was evolving even through the war years.

130424112409-alan-freed-c1-mainIn the 1950’s and 1960’s Rock-n-Roll took hold of radio and shook it up. The DJs are still legendary today for having the guts to introduce listeners to music most decried as sinful, distasteful, and obscene. Not only did the great DJs of Rock-n-Roll find new artists and spin their records, many become concert promoters in their town bring big acts to cities across North America: Elvis, the Beatles, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and hundreds more. It was new, exciting and fun. Ideas were being dreamed and hatched daily and the industry was evolving.

stuart8In the 1970’s and 1980’s, FM radio exploded. Despite having been patented in1933, FM radio didn’t exceed AM listening until 1978. Many AM juggernauts had FM sister-stations that station owner’s didn’t want to mess with. So, they let employees who were interested play around with it. Budgets were non-existent, no one told them what they couldn’t do and they re-invigorated radio for another 35 years or more. It was new, exciting and fun. Ideas were being dreamed and hatched daily and the industry was evolving.

serial-podcastIn the 2010s, Podcasting is exploding. Some are great, some are horrific. Some are theater of the mind mysteries, while others are based in news, music discovery, current events or something else otherwise indescribable. These podcast hosts are their own promoters, appearing on each other’s shows, creating events, selling partnerships and evolving what is possible in the audio space. It is new, exciting and fun. Ideas are being dreamed and hatched daily and the industry is evolving.

The future of radio (spoiler: there will be a future of radio) is in our hands. By the 2020’s, it is paramount that the industry discovers what’s new, exciting and fun. We need ideas dreamed up and hatched daily in order for the industry to keep evolving.

Recipe to Make Radio Fun Again

2015-06-26 08.37.05I remember when I first got into radio the studios were magical. I’d spend hours with a grease pencil, a razor blade, and splicing tape to execute just the right edit on a bit that would come and go in 60 seconds. I’d cue up records and practice talking up the post. We’d all hang out in the jock lounge, dream up crazy ideas, laugh a lot and sometimes break some rules. We were excited to get to the station each day. We’d compete with each other, offer bets to each other to slip obscure words into our banter as seamless as possible, and generally battled for on air supremacy. It was friendly competition and it made us better. It was fun.

We made it fun.

The reel-to-reel machines, the cue-burned records, and the couches in the lounge weren’t oozing fun. They just were there. It was the energy, enthusiasm and approach we took each day that made working in radio a good time.

The same holds true today.

One person in your life decides if you have fun in radio: you!. You have to create the fun, bring the fun, dream up the fun. The fun wasn’t swept away into the engineering closet with old cart machines. It’s hiding inside you. Let it free. Start small and see how your having fun at the radio station becomes as infectious as morale-killing-negative-gossip only with the opposite result.

Categories: Management, Radio, Talent Tags: , ,

If Radio Was Like Blueberries…

PattsBlueberriesI spent a good half-hour talking to a blueberry farmer the other day. He was passionate, knowledgeable, and eager to discuss the business. He talk about how blueberries are becoming more popular internationally in China and some countries in Africa in addition to North & South America and Australia. He knew all about his competitors both regionally and internationally. He was gracious towards them. He saw them as a teammate in the global distribution, promotion and consumption of blueberries — instead of an evil enemy.

Ever notice we don’t seek out varietals of blueberries? We go to the store and buy blueberries. In fact, there are several dozen popular kinds of blueberries. (I dare you to name two.) But the blueberry industry, the farmers and marketers, focus on getting blueberries in shopping carts and mouths. They aren’t pushing you to eat Bluegold, Chandler, Elliott or Legacy blueberries. Just Blueberries.

What if radio did that?

What if everyone who grew and sold radio was passionate, knowledgeable, and eager to discuss the business?

What if we talked about the growing appetite of radio around the world and the role is plays in people’s lives?

What if we really were knowledgeable about our radio competition home and abroad? And didn’t talk bad about them?

What if we just all came together and encouraged everyone to listen to radio?

What if…?

Are You Really Done With That Great Radio Talent?

This week a disturbing trend creeped into my consciousness. Radio is losing great talent at an alarming rate. It started with Stern, Leykis and Corolla. Apple is plucking great radio talent from the UK. I talked with three guys that previously worked for me who are out of work and they aren’t even getting nibbles. One of them said, “I’m not sure radio has a use for me anymore.” These are all really talented folks. There are dozens and dozens of these people who are now cranking out great, inventive and creative podcasts to keep sharp and selling insurance or cleaning pools to help make ends meet.

I and others have frequently asked, “Where is the next great radio talent coming from?” But, really we should be asking, “are we really done with that great radio talent?”

Radio needs to find ways to use all these discarded personalities turned podcasters that has either fled radio out of frustration or were pushed out the door. We need guys and gals who love radio, get radio, are good at radio and are ready to reinvent it.

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Larry Wachs, sinner

Larry Wachs is one of those guys. For 20-years he hosted the Regular Guys radio show, entertained listeners, and made companies like Clear Channel and Cumulus lots of money. Now he’s like too many other great radio talent: out of work and off the air.

“I think I committed the sin of making too much money for the Cumulus people. They don’t like their talent making money,” Wachs talked about the end of the Regular Guys on Episode 101 of the Radio Stuff Podcast. “I was also burnt out. In all fairness to Cumulus, I did sit down with them a year before and them pretty much gave me the hint that this run was coming to an end.”

For now Wachs is podcasting, redefining his style, honing his craft, and building his storytelling muscles, because he wants back on radio.

“Oh yeah, absolutely. I love it. It’s the best medium. It is so warm and intimate. And when done right it is extremely powerful.”

Great talent is out there just waiting for radio to give them another shot. We’d be shooting ourselves in the foot not to give it to them.

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Seven Ingredients of Great Radio Talent

The recipe for being a great talent on radio is really a witch’s brew; a pinch of this and a touch of that. Everyone I talk to seems to have a bit of the trade secret to share, but tragically there is no mysterious vault where the “great talent formula” is locked-up. From my experience at least some of it is gut instinct, DNA-related, or luck.

But, we do have the start of a recipe thanks to some heavy-hitters in the radio world who’ve been gracious to give time and insight to the Radio Stuff Podcast. So, here is the start of a winning blueprint for being a great talent.

Steve Goldstein Amplifi

Steve Goldstein

Have something to say.  “Point of view. That tops the list,” says former Saga Communications programming exec and Amplifi Media CEO Steve Goldstein. (audio) “There are a lot of good mechanics out there and they can make a DJ show work, but somebody who has a point of view and something to say that’s where personality comes in.”

Make eye contact with the listener. This is hard to manufacture if it doesn’t come naturally. It’s not actually looking into the eyes of your listener, but as Goldstein explains, “the ability to say, ‘I know who you are and I know what you’re going through.’ It’s tough.” This authentic connection to an audience is paramount to greatness.

Be hungry. The best talent are insatiable. “Everybody should be hungry. If you know what you want to do – do it. Be hungry and just get there,” says iHeartMedia VP of Talent Development Dennis Clark. (audio) He has worked with the likes of Ryan Seacrest, Elvis Duran and Bobby Bones and they all have this in common. “They’re hungry by just performing and doing a quality show and they just love the business of radio. I think a guy like Kane in D.C. or Fred in Chicago they really have a bunch of different places they’ve been to become better and better along the way and really grow their personalities and grow their acts. Same thing with Elvis, he went from Texas and New Orleans to Atlanta, Philadelphia and then finally New York. Ryan too, you know? If he could’ve been hired in any job in radio he would have taken it at the time when he was just starting out at Star in Atlanta.”

2015-03-17 10.31.19

Dennis Clark and Larry Gifford

Be now. We live in a world of rapidly decreasing attention spans. Frankly, I’m surprised you’ve made this far into the blog. Being “now” is a mantra you hear from Clark a lot. “The one thing that is a demanding factor from our listeners in radio is what’s going on right now. What’s happening? What’s the latest? I need a friend right now, I need companionship. Whether its music or a talk show or a personality morning show or it’s a vibe or feeling or something like that – “now” is crucial.”

Social currency. I preach this to my clients. Social currency is a detail, a nuance, an observation, an opinion, a theory or a revelation. It’s radio’s equivalent of a meme. Something you include in your show because it arms your listeners with information that is sharable when they’re at work, play or home. Dennis Clark also talked about this. “Radio gives people such small talk pieces that they can take to their family at home and “oh, I didn’t know that about Taylor Swift” or “I didn’t know that about the New York Yankees.” So, they can hear things from people they relate to and bring it to their conversations.”

david-g-hall

David G. Hall, Media Strategist

Create a partnership. Success at a radio station demands you to be on the same page with management. Media strategist David G. Hall believes trouble is inevitable if you don’t. (audio) “More often than not what happens is the leadership of the station doesn’t really know what the target is or they don’t do research. They’re not really sure who they are trying to go for. So, then they have a morning guy who’s not clear who he is trying to talk to and he goes on the air and does something that he thinks is pretty good and then he gets in trouble for it, because it is so far out of whack of the expectations of the manager – who never shared those expectations to begin with.”

So what does a talent do?

Hall explains, “The best thing to do is to ask for the expectation. Be really clear.” Hall suggests you ask the following questions of your program director and it will make a huge difference in how you go on the air and will really focus what you do;

  • What do you expect of me?
  • What is the target audience?
  • Where are we trying to go with this radio station?
  • Who are our competitors on either side?
  • Who am I trying to take listeners from?

Storytelling. This is my addition to the list.  Stories are an effective way to transport an audience and share important information and values. Learn to write and tell stories in short form and long form; from 140 characters to an hour-long production. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain and thus are better remembered than simply stating a set of facts. When we experience emotional stories it also produce two chemicals in the brain; Cortisol which focuses the audience’s attention and Oxytocin with makes them more empathic. (Watch a video on it here) It’s science people! If you’re not a great storyteller, practice becoming one.

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Subscribe to the Larry Gifford Media “Radio Stuff” email and each Tuesday you’ll receive an email with all sorts of stuff about radio. Sign up here.