Sunday, July 17, 2005

"I don't care about you being first, I care about you being right" Paul Drew

As a young music director for RKO in Chicago the experience was a wake up call. Each year end music directors prepared a report for corporate - the peak position (using national charts) for each song that had made the station playlist. This RKO liturgy was pure Paul Drew. Three great lessons wrapped in a pragmatic accounting task. Being my first at bat in this ritual, I checked in with my fellow RKO MDs. Two, Guy Zapoleon in LA and Dave Sholin in San Francisco, seemed confident they had "played their cards well" both advised this was a serious exercise. The parable of talents came to mind, I would reap what I had sown. Shpilkes. As it happened my scorecard was mixed. Tsoris. In the process I learned three important lessons. First, grading one's own work against a standard is powerful - people don't argue with their own data. Second, what you count you improve. Third, what we allow we encourage. The process was a staid reminder of what really mattered. Our charter was to play the hits and we were held accountable and responsible to produce that result. Later when I had the opportunity to talk with Paul about the process he said "I don't care who played it first, that's easy, I care about how often we get it right - I don't care about you being first, I care about you being right." Smart and wise gentleman Paul is, he truly understands what counts.

Lucky for us in media the important metrics and measures, the counting, involves the most simple of arithmetic. The media business is not nearly as complicated as some would have you believe. To properly and fairly appraise media today we have no need for advanced theoretical mathematics, no reason to create elegant algorithms, the math required to gain understanding need not rise to the levels of algebra or calculus. Let's face facts - we are not dealing with the higher orders of math needed to solve The P vs NP Problem here, it's only the media business not a shuttle launch. What circumstances now demand is that we see reality as it is, not as it was, nor as we wish it to be. Simple arithmetic will provide the needed insight.

Bad couple of weeks for the dead tree guys. First the NYT - Time split on confidential sources. Send your reporter to jail, defend the public's right to know versus Give up your source, no one is above the law. Serious stuff no matter your opinion, very serious. We need a federal shield law and nothing short of it and we need it now. I urge you to please join me in writing to members of congress this week.

Then, talk about your simple arithmetic, Q2 numbers evidence circ declines for Tribune, Knight Ridder and McClatchy. The last of that bunch is a surprise since the McClatchy gang has enjoyed some 20 consecutive years of circ gains. Tony Ridder said big market ad revs were up only 0.4% - the two numbers most important, circ and ad rev, are symptoms of the bigger problem - leadership. Perhaps J.K. Rowling will end up this year's only real winner in the dead tree trade.

Leadership in action. Need an object lesson in the power of observation and simple solutions? Joseph Medill Patterson, grandson of the Chicago Tribune founder, began New York Daily News in 1919. Having observed that broadsheets were difficult to read in crowded rush hour trains - he introduced the first tabloid. Occam's Razor at work.

Are you dialed into Jimmy Cramer, the Prophet from Philly? JC's Mad Money may be the single best use of TiVo. He points out the facts on GE's performance. The A students (my editorial not JC's) at Immelt's GE continue to amaze, Q2 earnings up 24%. It's power, finance and materials biz brought home the bacon. But what about their broadcast holdings? Ad sales for NBC's fall prime down $700 million from last year. Jeffrey Immelt stated the obvious "We have to do a better job on the programming front. That's what we're all working on." Bravo to Immelt for coming out, his admission sets a fine example for others. Let's hope it gins up the discussion and delivers us some real must see TV. Losing 700 million tends to create a fresh clarity and renewed focus on what matters.

News Corp is getting into the internet business - yawn.

Produce five million viewers for an online event while putting the cable and broadcast folks to shame in the process and you get offered a much better job. Live 8 producer Kevin Wall is named to head a new outfit called Network Live - a jv with AOL , XM and AEG (a concert promoter that also owns venues). The announcement said "three leading entertainment companies" wow - is that the flock XM now flys in? It is past the time the street starts demanding XM and Sirius publish listenership numbers. Once we out these guys and their tiny numbers we can still praise them because they may well deserve kudos for "best sleight of hand." Meanwhile back at the ranch, America On Line Latin America files 11, TW out 160 large - ouch!

John Rook deserves your bookmark...there's some thinking going on over at his place...

Create the kind of programming a listener doesn't even think of turning off. Programs that become magnets for listeners. Let that programming become what you are known in and day out. No promotional campaign can beat it.

A radio wizard of another era said it best. Bill Gavin told me it's not what you say you are but who you are that counts. In frustration of not being able to match a competitor with advertising dollars, Bill reminded me radio has a very valuable advantage over most products its self. Slogans and advertising campaigns on other media such as television and billboards are fine, but radio misses the point entirely when it fails to use its self to promote its self. That competitor who spent a vast amount of money in promoting it self, was wasted as my station with no outside advertising campaign continued to be top rated. Gavin said, see John, its what goes out the speaker that counts, not what you paste on a damn billboard.

Kudos and five stars to you JR! Dear reader, you should take the time to read the important things this gentleman has to say, the obvious is almost always the hardest to see - his writing including the bonus of obvious lesson is here. Since he brought up Bill Gavin it reminded me...

At Bill Gavin's retirement gala, I was named one of 25 on his Quarter Century Honor Roll, the last awards Bill was to give out. To be named one of Bill's 25 along with rock stars like Clive Davis, David Geffen, Chuck Blore, Berry Gordy, Paul Drew, Pat O'Day, George Burns, Rick Carroll, James Gabbert, Mo Ostin, Elmo Ellis, and Joe Smith remains one of the most special achievements of my career. I was the youngest named, the kid among that group of giants; when first told of the honor I was certain there had been some mistake. It remains, to me, an honor of great significance, a recognition without equal (sui generis). This is difficult to explain to those that did not know the amazing Mr Gavin, the person John Rook correctly calls a "radio wizard." Thanks John for reminding all of us about Bill. Read John's entire article here

While you're out crusin around check out Jaye Albright - 10 Biggest PD Mistakes - here's a taste...

6. Has a 'not invented here' attitude about new ideas and approaches. Doesn't bother to network or seek objective opinions of knowledgeable counsel.

5. Under-estimates the competition.

4. Sees radio as a craft, not an art. You can get everything you need to know by copying winning radio stations in the same format in other markets.

Well said Jaye! You may read her entire post here

Light, if any, blogging this week, too much going on.