A naked conversation* with Bob Hamilton

We have the solution at New Radio...

Almost 50 years ago when I told my dad I wasn't going to follow him and my brothers, as well as my grandfather, into the Methodist ministry, instead, opting for a career in radio he said to me, "I don't mind that you're not going into the church, but please go into television...radio is dead."

If you go back to the late 50's you must know that with the advent of television, it was generally assumed by almost everyone that all the transmitters were going to be turned off and radio was going out of business.

What my dad hadn't fully grasped yet was that some courageous people, particularly Todd Storz and Gordon McClendon, had completely reinvented radio.  Instead of the half hour drama shows, the music shows with big bands and orchestras, the long interview news shows, radio had become fast moving disc jockeys, records and information and entertainment in quick bits.  

Fortunately for radio, Elvis had hit and rock and roll had grabbed the nation..particularly the under 25's.  And, Eisenhower had single handedly devised the Interstate highway system which put people in the car for longer periods of time.  You couldn't watch television and drive down the new freeway at the same time.  Radio became king in a car that had an increased usage.

The pioneers of new radio at that time had to have great courage to make such a drastic change in the media that had once owned the nation.  There was no guarantee that the "re-invention" of radio was going to work.  It must have also been painful to not only redefine what radio was but what everyone did inside that station. I had the opportunity to work with the great Alan Clark at WKY in Oklahoma City in the 60's and he told me many stories of the old days of radio.  Alan was the "music director" of the old WKY in Oklahoma City.  He was the person who decided on the sheet music, booked the bands and dealt with the "song pluggers" in the old radio days.  When I worked with him, he had been relegated to filing records in the library, after the station turned to the new top 40 music and jocks format. (Before, you take this as a sad story know that Alan loved working with the new music and was like a father to all us young disc jockeys).  He made the cut and changed.  There were many who did not and they left radio because they couldn't or wouldn't adapt to the new radio.

It seems that radio has cycled back to the 50's.  It's been so long since we had a quarterly report come in from radio that was in the plus category as far as big profits were concerned you have to go back in the archives to find it. "Down 2%..down 3%..." And, like in the late 50's most of the people I talk to who work in radio on a day to day basis are not happy, but spend more time talking about the old days or what they might do in the future other than radio.

This is not to paint the future of radio as bleak.  Still, over 90% of the people in North America listen to radio once a week or more.  But, stats are that the listening time and advertising dollars are in a plunge, and radio must do something about it..even re-invent itself.

The television of the 50's is the digital age and the internet of today.  This is no surprise to me, by the way.  We first discovered on line in the early 80's and dropped our radio magazines and newsletters and put Radio Star on line 25 years ago this past February.  We have watched the growth of the technology every day since..the first color screen..the first picture..the first sound..the first internet radio station, the videos, the hyperlinks and most recently the advent of Web 2.0.

You don't have to be reminded that the Internet, mp3 players, video players and cell phones have taken away hours that people use to listen to the radio.  There was a day when you had two choices when it came to music.  You either went to the store and bought the record or you waited until it came on the radio. (Of course, when the cassette recorder came about you could also get a copy from one of your friends, but at it's best the cassette quality was horrible...listen to one lately?) Today, with the Net, and services like Rhapsody, Pandora and many others our listeners can hear any piece of music, anytime they want...for free or, at worst a subscription for $10 a month...or so. And, car radios now have a plug for that portable player where you can plug it into the sound system or eve better, a Blue Tooth wireless connection to do the same thing.  Those were hours that would have been spent listening to the radio five years ago.

And, it's going to get worse.  Two years ago I took an 11,000 mile, two month trip across the U.S. in my little Roadtrek RV...I listened to internet radio all across North America with my Verizon Wireless 3G connection..only about 15% of the time did I not have connection. With Wi-fi, Wimax, 3G, and 4G being the target of companies like Sprint and Verizon...we are only a short time away from "always on, anytime, anywhere" connection to the Internet. If I were to tell my dad today that I was going into radio, he would say, "Don't go into radio..radio is dead..go into the Internet business.

The good news, however, is that radio also has the internet. It is difficult to find a radio station today that has not set up a website..and a majority of stations are now streaming a simulcast on their websites. But, are we taking full advantage of what we can do with our radio station websites?

Before we can re-invent ourselves the first order of business seems that of definition. What is radio anyway? How would you answer that? Is it a license given to us by the FCC?  Is it a number on Wall Street or at our local bank?  Is it a transmitter?  When we are webcasting on the net, the license or the transmitter do not come into play.  We don't need them there.  But, what sets us apart from little Johnny webcasting from the closet in his room?  Certainly, it's a group of professional people...engineers, sales people and above the crowd talented people who design, plan and implement compelling "programming" that a lot of people want to hear.  "Content is king" has never been truer.  At one time, you had to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get that microphone to reach your market. It was a privilege only enjoyed by people willing to go through the strict requirements of the FCC to get a license.  Today, you can spend $10,000 or less to reach the world. The only difference is "content."  "Content is king" but it also needs a distribution system.  Radio is very much the personalities on the air, the writers, the producers, the program directors.  But, it is also the management that keeps the electricity on and the ideas flowing, and it's the sales staff that brings in the money to pay the content people.  So, could our most paramount definition of "radio" be "a group of professional people delivering content?"

And, what difference should it make how we deliver that content? Would it be the same coming off a transmitter, a website simulcast, as an on demand file on our website, a one hour podcast shot around the world or ("shudder") even a video?  Sacrilege!  In a recent survey we did on New Radio Star we asked the question of all the media out there what is radio's number one competition?  To our surprise the answer, overwhelmingly, was television. With the huge growth of video on sites like Youtube and many others, and the technology that lets us take a $200 camera and post a great video instantly, what would keep radio out of the video business?  Is there anything in the definition of "radio" that says it's an audio only medium?

And, while we are defining radio, we should also define what our website is. What is it supposed to do?  Most radio station websites today are a couple of things...first, it is a step up from the station brochure.  It lists the station address, the jock and program lineup, and promotes the station, its shows and events.  Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it is a place to park advertising.  Depending on the station, we may also hear the webcast, perhaps a blog from one or more of the jocks, and some pictures from events.

There are a couple of more things most radio station websites have in common. First, they are seldom updated.  What is different today that wasn't there yesterday?  Ask yourself the question, what is it about this website that makes me want to come back again day after day? Would you visit your own website often if you were a listener?  I asked one market manager recently how many people inside the station updated his station websites.  He told me their webmaster was the "weekend guy", so nothing got changed during the week.  No one else at the station knew how to change anything on any of the six websites.

Secondly, most radio station websites are not "alive."  They don't reflect the radio station with its dynamic, constantly changing entertainment and programming. They don't talk about something that is going on now on the station, or happened an hour ago.  They're more of a billboard that we glance at as we travel down the web highway.

But, the number one, most important theme that all radio websites I have visited have in common is....There is no evidence of any listeners.  If you examine the most successful websites of the past few years, they include sites like MySpace, Facebook, Youtube, Pandora, Rhapsody and many others.  These sites are all "social networks," meaning they interact with their listeners and in most cases depend on their users for content.  80% of the videos viewed on Youtube are generated by their users..much more than the videos posted by large broadcast companies.

I'll submit for your consideration that radio was the original MySpace. Radio has always involved its listeners on the air..."phones" and "phoner" are radio cliches.  Morning shows today still hang their hat on those phone calls from listeners and they often control the direction of the show. Yet, there are no signs of those listeners on any website we can see.

At the recent NAB convention in Vegas I came away with two thoughts that stuck in my head from the many brilliant speakers there.  The first was from a radio station exec who advised..."You must make your website part of the very DNA of your radio station."  Would that work?  Not "my station has a website," instead, "my station IS a website."  If something is going on on the air, the listeners see it on your website.  If something is going on, on the website, you hear it on the air.  Not only "joined at the hip"..the on air sound and website "have the same hip."

The second thought in Vegas that stuck me was from Christine Di Stadio, the Director of Digital Media at Belo's KHOU-TV in Houston.  She said that when a person comes to work at KHOU, the internet is part of their job description no matter what position they have at the TV station.  She said sales people carry digital cameras with them, not only camera people...and everybody at the TV station knows how to update the website.

If you are known as a radio station AND a website, both internally and to the public will you lose your self identity? Is a transmitter and a broadcast radio "real" and the internet too ill defined as an image?  Who among us does not believe that in the not too distant future all of the radio broadcasts will be over IP...the internet if you please.  Once all of North America is covered with broadband from the Mojave to the Everglades will we forget that an "internet connection" even exists?  In 2025 when we drive down the road listening to a radio station will we be able to tell whether we're hearing it over the Internet or via broadcast airways?

I cannot tell you how many times disc jockies have recently complained to me that their manager was always hounding them to push people to the station website.  First of all, if that website is dynamic, exciting, entertaining and informative, the website will have all the traffic it can stand.  And, secondly, I've told the guys to ask the manager what the website is doing to drive listeners back to the radio station.  If the station website is part of the DNA of the station, on air will drive traffic to the website and the website will drive listeners to the on air sound, because they are both the same thing.  

Recently, at the Midwest conclave a radio consultant suggested that a station should have a program director for the radio station and a program director for the website... a sales manager for the radio station and a sales manager for the website. This is exactly what NOT to do.  The program director programs the radio station and the website and the sales guys are as much a part of the website as they are the radio station....because they are the same thing.

Five years ago the internet connected computer was in the office. We went on line, printed out what we needed and took the papers with us.  Now, with the advent of laptops, cellphones and wireless networks, we are taking the internet with us.  This demands that a website be constantly updated if it is to build loyal users.  A new internet has come about in perfect timing with radio's needs.

Radio has a limited budget to keep its website updated constantly.  So, when you are talking about keeping the site constantly changing, the question is "who's going to do it?" Enter Web 2.0 and New Radio, our new company that is planted totally on the very unique Blogtronix platform.  Without getting into too much detail here, suffice to say that Blogtronix is the only platform we could find that incorporates all the Web 2.0 tools..blogging/posting, audio, video, RSS feeds, widgets, etc from top to bottom.

We have set up one Blogtronix server for all interactive media sites that are subscribing members of New Radio.  This will give radio stations some very unique tools.  

Who updates the website?  First, every single member of the radio station staff, from intern to General manager can update the website from anywhere, anytime. Secondly, the listeners...there is more than one advantage to making your listeners central to your interactive media site.  Not only does it provide local content, but it builds brand loyalty for your website and your radio station.  Third, RSS feeds from various sites constantly update information on your site...from news to sports to weather to traffic..locally, nationally or worldwide.  This all happens without you touching anything once you have added it.  And, finally, various widgets you add to your site update information automatically as well.  

This leaves your local webmaster to design and improve the look of the site, design ads, etc.  No more does all content need to filter through him.

Know that the New Radio/Blogtronix platform allows you to set permissions on who can and cannot automatically post to your radio station site.  You can allow posting only with your approval, or set five different levels of users that can post without screening, etc.  

Posting from your entire station staff and listening audience can give your shows material to talk about on the air as well.  If there was a concert last night no one at the station can attend your listeners are telling you about it. If there is a traffic jam or accident they can instantly send you details and pictures or video clips from the scene.  The list is endless...and those can be things you can talk about on the air as well.  If your on air staff is considering the website as part of the show, there will be many ways you will intuitively drive traffic back and forth.

For more details on New Radio and Blogtronix go to newradio.com where you can also watch video screen casts of how it works and how you can make additional revenue for your station with it.

Just to summarize....we believe that radio has the incredible opportunity to reinvent itself with a new kind of presence on the internet.  And, with Blogtronix and the experienced staff of New Radio, we have the perfect combination to do just that.

If you agree or disagree, or have questions, add your comments below or contact us via email or phone...

Thanks

Bob Hamilton, President
New Radio Star/New Radio
831-626-1571
sysop@newradiostar.com

*a naked conversation is a communication without pretense or political manuevering...a conversation from the heart..
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