It is certainly not a new idea, but from the first answer of the first session “in the Bear Pit,” at the 2016 RTDNA Canada National convention in Toronto, “multi-platform” was on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
A big priority for Troy Reeb, Corus /Global VP of News, Radio and Station Operations, is to “build out news talk on multi-platforms.” He stressed the importance of following the audience, which he notes “has a good appetite for good storytelling.”
At CTV, President Wendy Freeman is encouraging her team to “do everything” in the ongoing fight for more eyeballs on their content. And she stressed that in this evolving world, “everybody does everything.”
There are even multi-platform content units and assignment editors at CBC now. But GM and Editor in Chief Jennifer McGuire insists the government subsidized digital news teams is just serving the public’s best interest and it’s just how the are connecting to their audience. (Reeb wondered aloud if an 1,100 person digital team wasn’t a bit extreme. McGuire assured him they weren’t all in news.)
At the radio news panel, reporters shared stories of having to carry two cell phones, a Marantz, and a selfie-stick so they can record audio, take videos, pictures, live tweet and record video stand-ups for video packages that are expected after the radio report, web story, and social is complete. All done from their car on an iPhone before being dispatched their next assignment. AM 640 Program Director Nathan Smith added, “Radio isn’t cut any slack on digital, because we are radio. The audience expects multimedia coverage.”
Multi-platform audience measurement was also a topic. The future of measurement is in being able to track users as they transition from device to device throughout each day. A concept which could become too invasive on panelists if not done elegantly. And we’re closer to that reality than we think, according to Numeris EVP Lisa Eaton, “We know, throughout the day, what people are doing.” (Editor’s note: creepy.)
Former Al Jazeera America TV anchor Ali Velshi sobered up the room with a reality check. He preached about how radio and TV have enjoyed perpetuating a good thing, but despite continued monetization we have a false belief that radio and TV are still relevant and we are on a road to oblivion. The newly monikered “Multimedia content creator” dreams of a virtual reality world where he reads the news to each person personally in the form of an avatar. Velshi also insists operations like VICE News have an edge because they aren’t having to defend legacy systems and processes and can go straight to innovation and experimentation. He added, “I’ve come to believe we need to embrace digital NOT as an adjunct, but to fully replace radio and TV.” He was passionate that our digital plans should be completely disrupting our traditional platforms and should be capable of destroying the current radio and TV models.
It’s certainly food for thought. The world is changing fast and we need to more than keep up, we need to be on the front lines trailblazing and creating the future.
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??
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.
Keep 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.
In 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.
In 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.
In 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.
In 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.
The news is devastating to the 13-year old boy inside us all: Playboy magazine will no longer print nude pictures. The magazine that coined the word “centerfold,” will no longer have a use for the word it originated.
Playboy without nudes? That’s like getting money from a bank without having to talk to a teller, filling your own gas tank at the service station or listening to radio that isn’t being transmitted through a frequency to your bedside alarm clock.
It is progress, evolution, and necessary for survival.
I recently finished the audio book “Team of Teams” by General Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal rose through the ranks of an Army most of us recognize: order, discipline, structure, pictures of pin-up girls, top-down commands, and a clearly defined org chart. This is the Army depicted in movies, which won wars, and saved thousands of lives. This is the Army where if a commanding officer orders you to “jump” you ask “how high?”
As General of the Joint Special Operations Command in the mid-2000s, McChrystal quickly realized war was no longer like chess where one man was commanding all the troop movements of his enemy. Times had changed. Taliban and Isis were playing by different rules. The terrorists were recruited, trained, given the game plan and then empowered to make decisions in the moment. There was no way to keep up. As soon as JSOC thought they had a target in their sights, they had to wait to get the “go ahead” from McChrystal. Sometimes that meant waking him up and debriefing him, before he could make a decision. Each time, the targets vanished.
So they changed. McChrystal held a JSOC strategic meeting each day for everyone on the team. A video conference beamed to wherever his forces were stationed. Gone were the days where the General had a master plan and the forces were on a “need to know” basis. Now everyone knew everything. That created a shared consciousness. In addition, each unit was now empowered to execute in the moment based on collective intelligence, situational circumstances and timeliness. They became a team of teams.
It worked. The JSOC became more effective and agile. It morphed from a traditional org chart to an organizational web. McChrystal was hands off and eyes on. He was leading, not commanding. “Thank you” replaced the cold, directive language he was taught in the Army.
Adapting to technology.
Creating a collective intelligence and a shared consciousness.
Respecting and empowering your staff.
This isn’t Google or Apple or a quirky start-up in Silicon Valley, this is the Joint Special Operations Command.
And now it is apparently Playboy Magazine.
For radio it is time. Our enemy is no longer the station down the dial. It’s all around us and three steps ahead. We are battling for people’s time and attention on the device of their choosing, for on and off air talent, for digital solutions and distribution platforms, and for monetization. Frankly, a fifth front could be a public perception problem.
This is no longer a problem solved by a billboard campaign or a clever TV spot. To win we need to do what we do differently. “Team of Teams” may be a good place to start.
We humans love a good story. Always have. One reason is that when you listen to a great story it triggers the imagination and empowers each of us to personally become involved in the story by privately conjuring up images, emotions, smells, noises and more in our head. Stories ensnare us by making us work to create the final product. Suddenly, we’re “personally” involved.
On the radio, there are several ways to harness the power of storytelling. For the sake of this blog let’s keep it planning, performance and use of audio.
Those three elements are also how I would I describe why I enjoy certain podcasts (Serial, Mystery Show, and Radio Lab to name a few) and certain radio shows and hosts (All Things Considered, Brandmeier, Ron & Don, Kevin & Bean, Scott Simon, and more.)
Planning. Planning includes actual planning. Having listened to the radio for three hours in morning drive the other day heading to the airport, I am sad to report that “planning” and “prep” are endangered species. Planning doesn’t mean you have to write out every word and reaction, but that each segment has an intention and a payoff. More often than not what I hear is a couple hosts and a producer throwing out punchlines or inadvertently going in opposite directions. There’s no narrative to a segment of the show. Don’t “save it all for the air,” plan it out and make sure everyone knows where it’s going. I mentioned it doesn’t mean writing out every word, but it may mean just that in certain situations. Remarkable writing is powerful. (Listen to Scott Simon’s tribute to Will Rogers)
Performance. We are in show business. That doesn’t mean we have to act goofy, juvenile or over the top. We still want and need authenticity, but when you are on the radio remember that no one can see you point, roll your eyes, put your hands on your hips, put a finger to your lips or see your crazy shoes. Your words and how you perform them will greatly impact the listener’s ability to “get” you. Whatever your personality is, because the listener only has the ability to hear you, amplify it by 5% or 10%, 20% if you need it. I call it vocal animation. It means consciously and effectively using the full range of vocal attributes — intonation, pace, tone, volume, etc. A little vocal showmanship is imperative to actually being heard and received the way you intend. (See: Rush, Beck, Howard, Radio Lab, and the list goes on.)
Audio. Podcasts are kicking radio’s backside as it pertains to effectively using image inducing, transportive audio. I’m not sure why… other than it takes more time. Not all stories and topics lend themselves to great natural, ambient audio or story-advancing sound clips, but we need to do a better job of seeking them out instead of assuming it doesn’t work or presuming you don’t need it. Audio is your paint. Great audio blended well creates remarkable images in the mind. Bad audio poorly placed results in a muddled mess. (Great example of good audio incorporation: The podcast Mystery Show)
Planning, performance and audio. Three ways radio shows and hosts can grab the attention of the listener and trigger their imagination.