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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Even The Band On The Titanic Kept Playing

Her name came from Greek mythology - it meant gigantic. She was 882 feet long, 92 feet wide and 104 feet tall. She weighed 52,000 tons. When Thomas Andrew built this massive ship in 1912, she was called the world?s first ?unsinkable? ship.? On April 10th she set out on her maiden voyage from Southampton, UK to New York City. An engineering marvel for her time. On April 14th, four days into the maiden voyage, she hit an iceberg at 11:40pm. There were 2,224 people on board. By 2:20 am, the Titanic split apart and sank to a depth of 12,415 feet.

The Titanic had the capacity to hold 64 lifeboats that could hold 4,000 people. More than enough to carry everyone on board. However, White Star Line, the corporation that owned the Titanic, in an effort to save money, decided to carry only 20 lifeboats. Accommodations for less than half of the passengers. This was, after all, the ?unsinkable ship.? On April 15th, 1912, 1,502 people died as the unsinkable ship  plunged to the bottom of the icy waters.

The first step in solving a problem, is recognizing there is one?

It occurs to me that the prevailing logic in the industry seems to be that radio is an unsinkable ship. Yesterday the headline in Radio Ink was, ?A Majority of Managers Confident About Radio.? This was based on a survey of managers done by Radio Ink. The survey asked a series of questions to high ranking and middle managers in our industry. The article goes on to say that 60% of the people in radio today would, after knowing what they know now, still choose a career in radio;  36% said, ?maybe;? and 6% said ?no.? Of  managers surveyed, 47% are ?somewhat confident,? 24% ?very confident? that radio can retain its stronghold in the automobile and hold off competitors.

When only 60% of the most successful in the industry say they would choose this career again knowing what they know now, WE HAVE A PROBLEM. That means potentially 40% of the people working in radio today wouldn?t work in radio again if they had only known. That?s a problem.

Just 10 years ago we were planning Christmas parties for 53 people on staff in our small/medium size market. Last year the party was held at a bowling alley with only 23 people invited. In markets large and small radio is imploding. Staff cuts are again making the headlines. The headlines are filled with ?The Annual Christmas Blood Baths? because revenue isn?t where we want it to be. Sure, blame the sales department. Blame it on lack of sales skills, blame it on the difficulty of ?finding good people? to sell. There are a myriad of reasons why selling radio is more difficult today than it ever has been.  Chris Lytle and I have a passion for trying to change that part of the problem.

But for a select few, nobody seems to recognize the real problem facing radio today. It?s not technology, it?s not reach, it?s not signal strength or tower height.  It?s CONTENT. There are four keys to successful advertising regardless of the medium:

1. Reach - Are you reaching enough people?
2. Frequency - Are you reaching them enough times to have impact?
3. Consistency - Are you reaching them over a long enough period of time to change behavior?
4. Compelling/ Creative - Is your message one that motivates them to talk about you and more importantly take action?

Maybe we should learn from what we teach advertisers. When was the last time you read in the local paper or watched on the evening news a story about a local radio air personality doing something compelling that people were talking about?

Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan was recently quoted in Radio Ink saying that radio needed to be ?cool? again. While I agree in principle with Jeff?s assertion, I think it?s more than just ?cool.? I think we have to make radio ?matter? again. 

I was getting text alerts from my cellular provider saying that we were approaching 90% of data usage. I asked our boys, (16 and 14) what they were doing to use so much data.  The 16 year old admitted that he was streaming music on his phone while driving. Frustrated, I asked, ?Why don?t you listen to the radio while you?re in your car??  ?It?s boring,? he said.

The Radio Ink survey of managers found many managers telling them repeatedly that an investment in live, local content was critical for the future of radio. Put those comments next to the headlines of just two weeks ago where the major companies?, ?Annual December Firings Begin.?

You can?t be ?cool,? you can?t ?matter,? and you can?t maintain relevance when you are gutting your staff. That market where I was planning Christmas parties for 53 now has only 6 live shows in a cluster of 5 radio stations.  We used to have 5 live shows per station.

Those who remain live in markets are so scared they are going to be next to be shown the door, many aren?t taking the creative risks to make a difference in their community. 

I recall major breaking news events growing up. We all gathered around the radio to hear the latest in real time. You couldn?t get ?real time? reporting, or ?live, on the scene? reporting from any other medium in a small town. I remember driving the news vehicle to the scene of a major accident or major disaster and doing ?live reports? at all hours of the day or night.  People tuned to radio because we were on the scene. Sadly, today more news breaks on Facebook and Twitter than it does on the radio. Today, you?re lucky to have a board op in the building running a cluster of 5-7 stations on the weekend. Someone to ?reboot the computer? if the system goes down.

We need to make radio ?cool? again; we need to make it matter.  The great news is that we still have the ?reach.? We have the ability to do it frequently and consistently, but we must do it with compelling creativity. There are talented, hard working people in radio stations today who are fighting to keep the passion alive. We need to lift those people up, not lay them off.

?The only reason people listen to radio is for the local presence? is how one manager surveyed by Radio Ink put it. If that?s true, and I believe it is, then for the past several years, by eliminating live local programming, we?ve been doing it wrong.

White Star, the owners of the Titanic, eliminated life boats because the Titanic was the unsinkable ship. It seems for years, radio has been eliminating talented people in an effort to save money because with our massive reach, we too are the unsinkable media. Like the band on the Titanic, we?re still playing music, but it?s just not enough.

Jeff Schmidt is EVP and Partner with Chris Lytle at Sparque, Inc. At Sparque We believe in challenging the status quo and thinking differently about sales and sales training. We believe training should be an investment based on a desired outcome rather than something you ?buy by-the-hour.? You can reach me at

Twitter: @JeffreyASchmidt

(12/17/2014 1:12:12 PM)
Oh Steven Roy,
If you "don't miss it (radio) a Bit", why are you reading a radio industry news blog?
(12/17/2014 12:43:48 PM)
Your teens will grow up with any luck.
Looking to adolescents for keys to the future is a fool's errand. They tend to become us, not the other way around. Don't believe it? Why then did conservative Republicans just experience a landslide election? We had enough of your teen's President.
(12/17/2014 9:31:09 AM)
Spot-on article. Consolidation and digital changed everything.Ego can also be labelled as a "person of interest". I feel radio has never recovered.It has always been wise to have a Plan B when Thanksgiving rolls around; we all know that. I am very fortunate to have had the career I had for so long in NYC, making lifelong friends with immensely talented individuals some of whom still have jobs/careers. I am in Financial Services now, and don't miss it a bit.
Merry Christmas!
(12/17/2014 8:50:19 AM)
(A brief aside to Jeff with reference to another chat: I missed the double-typing of the word "being" (below). It is another example of the neurology of accessing an electronic medium. Were that written as "hard copy", very few would have missed that - otherwise obvious - error.
(12/17/2014 8:21:10 AM)
Besides "The Wiz" in Austin, I can claim there is another radio-guy, this one in Chicagoland, who also has credibility with me. Thanks, Jeff, for being being clear.

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