I 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.
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?
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.
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.
I listened to 10 hours of streaming, on-demand radio and podcasts. Non-stop. I didn’t seek out fringe offerings. I was doing due diligence to hear what some consider to be the best news and talk offerings the U.S. has to offer.
I was duly impressed with the juggernaut that is WTOP – “Washington’s TOP News.” Always a ratings and revenue winner. The powers that be, and I assume Jim Farley is to credit, have found the delicate balance between authoritative and approachable, credible in content and casual or accessible in delivery. They make it seem natural and easy. It’s not. All radio news folk should listen to the morning drive team as inspiration.
That’s the good news.
What I encountered for most of my 10 hours of sensory assault was racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, thoughtless garbage. Some of America’s iconic radio stations and shows are stuck in the past. They are unaware, unstructured, unprepared, and undermining radio’s credibility and relevance. It makes me wonder who is minding the store. Who is coaching talent, air-checking, providing vision and evolving the product to exceed the expectations of the listeners? From offensive Asian accents and decades old stereotypes to provoking coworkers to assault each other with racist and sexist insults. It really is the worst that radio has to offer.
And apparently iHeartMedia and Cumulus don’t care, because… why? The shows/talent are generating too much revenue, they don’t scrutinize content only numbers, or they really don’t care what people think. It is a shame that radio has to suffer for these fools. There are too many pros doing remarkable radio that the industry should be defined by lazy, uninspired, reactionary, out of touch offerings like I experienced.
We must expect more from our peers.
I heard this tease today on the radio on one of the most successful radio stations in America…
“Coming up next? Dave!”
Who is Dave?
There are few people that are worthy of teasing their appearance on your radio show with one name and among them are Cher, Shakira, Madonna, A-Rod, Elvis, Sting, Bono, Adele and Charro. There are others, but none are named Dave.
Teases are meant to keep me from punching to another station or getting out of my car. “Coming up next? Dave!” doesn’t provide any incentive to the listener. There’s no hook and really no bait.
I have been known to tell talent focus less on WHO and more on the WHAT and WHY. WHAT’s next and WHY should I care? The WHO is a means to accessing the relevent content and not the reason to stay tuned.
If Dave was an oncologist with new details of a skin cancer treatment, WHO he is remains less important than WHY he is talking.
If Dave is a gunman who fled the scene of a foiled bank heist and called the station to tell his side of the story, WHO he is remains less important than WHAT he is.
It doesn’t mean we never identify who we are talking to. I believe it is less impactful – as a tease – to sell a name of a guest instead of selling the sizzle of why what’s next on your show is worth waiting for.
For the record, Dave was the first name of the sports anchor. Who knew?
This happened Monday night on TV in Vancouver…
Female Anchor: Did you guys see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on 60 Minutes last night?
Male Co-Anchors: No. Nah.
Female Anchor: (visibly shocked)
Female Anchor: Well, anyway…
I know point out bad banter on TV is like pointing at rain drops in Seattle, but there are important takeaways for radio anchors and hosts hidden inside this gem.
Be Prepared. As someone who works in and talks about news for a living it is imperative you take time to watch/read/listen to the things that your listeners are talking about that day. Not only does it make you more credible and authentic, it allows you to develop an opinion about it, reflect interests of listeners back to them, and it reinforces you commitment you have for your job and the product to you co-workers. Your team needs to be able to trust that you’re up to speed and able to carry a conversation or, in this case, what would likely have amounted to a 15 second banter.
Never Kill A Bit. With due respect to Nancy Reagan – don’t say “no.” Saying ‘no” always kills the bit or the banter. It stops conversation cold. It makes everyone on set look bad. Even if you haven’t watched/read/or listened — find a way to say yes and keep the conversation going. “Boy, everybody is talking about it today. What did you take away from it?”
Don’t Assume. Before you make assumptions that a co-worker must been up to speed on a story or event, take a minute off air to ask, “Is it okay if I ask you about…”
The main idea here is work harder to put you and your co-workers in a position to win every minute of every show even if it’s 15 seconds of banter at the end of the show.
Every day in radio we have a choice to make.
What is our show or station going to be about today?
What do you want to be “famous” for today? What do you want people talking about, reacting to, or sharing? What makes you different on this day from everyone else?
Depending on your format it could be something about Donald Trump or Lady Gaga. It could be the Oscars, Kobe’s farewell tour or a new release from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
Consciously or not, decisions on what our show or station is or is not are made every day.
At the Oscars they had a choice to make – are we going to be about “celebrating cinema” or “racist Hollywood?” Host Chris Rock and presumably all involved in creating the awards show actually chose the latter.
I applaud them for tackling the elephant in the room head on from the start of the show. Rock’s 10-minute monologue/sermon/stand-up didn’t let up for an instant. It went on and on and on. And everything in the show seemed tied to that core concept.
Great. They chose to be about something big, bold, and important. But…
But, it’s not what the attendees or the TV audience signed up for. So millions fled.
What happened? Chris Rock was in a no-win situation. If you don’t address it you get criticized. If your skirt over it with a few jokes you get criticized. If you go full throttle you get criticized. And even now, everyone is talking about Rock’s words while skimming over the awards – many of which were upsets.
That doesn’t mean you stop taking chances.
I encourage all hosts and stations to take risks, be bold, try things and always be about something. But there is a trick to doing it effectively. The more that the “something” you are about on any given day matches the expectations of the fans, the better chance you have to keep them tuned in. It is less about being predictable and more about living up to your brand promise. It has to feel right and authentic in the moment for the audience. A rock station breaking down a GOP primary or a news station playing deep cuts off a Zeppelin album violate brand promises. Oscar watchers just wanted an awards show.
Man Meets a Radio Morning Host
True story. Names changed.
Man: Aren’t you Jim in the Morning?
Jim: That’s me!
Man: I listened to you once. You’re funny.
Jim: (confused) Once?
Man: Yeah, maybe twice.
Jim: (curious) If you listened and I was funny why don’t you listen more often?
Man: Oh, Bill & Jill down the dial do the news quiz every morning at 7:40a. And I listen to that. If I get to the Main Street Bridge before they start the quiz I know I have time to stop at the diner and grab a cup of coffee before work. If it starts before I reach the bridge I know I need to go straight to the office.
Jim: Well, that makes sense.
It sure does. Benchmark segments are brand extensions of your show. They help listeners navigate their day as much as it provides predictable, dependable anchors for your show.