Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Everything you can imagine is real." Picasso

"Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple." Dr. Seuss

"I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer." Douglas Adams

Today's image: Colors of Life by Lunalunita. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

The usual suspects

The broadcast trade show is broken

Please allow me to get the disclosures out of the way before we begin. In the last century I served on the committee responsible for oversight of the NAB RPC. I remain a fan of NAB, David Rehr, John David and others on NAB staff. I have always respected Steve Goldstein and believe him to be a good man. I served as board chair of The Conclave and continue to support that organization and its programs. Tom Kay and Ron Fell are friends. As any reader of this blog knows I am a loyal Dave Winer fanboi. Count me a long-time supporter of SXSW and a newfound advocate for Kelly O'Keefe. I make about a third of my annual income as a professional speaker and attend a variety of conferences for different industries. The following is offered in the spirit of constructive criticism. On with the show...

Dave Winer is a world-class expert on certain matters of the internet. Moreover, Dave has a unique pov when it comes to the world at large. Case in point, Dave's take on conventions...

"Let's get people with big ideas to contribute them, and to disagree with other people with big ideas."

Read Dave's post Time to shake up conferences? here.

Yesterday a uniformed federal employee brought me a beautiful full-color brochure from the NAB. The very well done piece promoted the NAB Radio Show which is now less than a month away.

Putting aside the expense, timing and not even getting into the communications channel used, the program - as outlined - was less than exciting. It did lead me to check out the complete agenda as presented on the NAB site. What I found, with some exceptions, was disappointing. The usual suspects leading discussions on predictable subject matter. Let me at least hope that I am dead wrong here and the association plans to do live streaming of sessions, enable/encourage live blogging and all kinds of other wonderful things now common at tech conferences. Please allow me to have child-like faith in the possibility of surprise.

Some of the people that put radio into critical care are among the presenters. Unless they plan on announcing their resignation, giving their last industry address before retirement or sharing something new or interesting they should not have been invited. Alternatively, they should have been honest enough to decline the invitation with the admission that they a) have no idea how to successfully address radio's present challenges b) have not been able to fix their own problems and don't feel qualified to counsel others.

What's needed badly here is intellectual honesty and cognitive diversity. Speakers should be qualified for invitation. The decades old practice of inviting the business card must come to an end. There are scores of people on the program that would never have a chance of being invited if they did not hold their present job.

I commend show chair and radio ace Steve Goldstein on making some bold moves this year, 15 sessions on digital is a good start. He's right to say there is a hunger for new thinking. What's required, however, are the new thinkers. The same old thinkers, ones that have found their way and are able to offer bullet proof evidence to support any such declaration, are certainly to be included. Where is the diversity? Where are the women? Kudos for inviting Kelly O'Keefe. Kelly gets it as too few do.

However, doing the arithmetic, conservatively...1,500 paid @ $500 each = $750,000 and this is the agenda we get?

Was it not possible to find a woman to at least moderate the all male group pd session? By my count there are 20 women speaking out of 141 speakers. Perhaps that says it all. Folks of color? Don't ask. Unless there is a sea change at this year's show my best guess is the majority of presenters will simply show up and wing it. Those that come prepared to deliver something of substance will be counted on one hand at the show's end (vendors excused from the count).

Where's the session with radio programming ace and award winning HD Radio innovator Mark Pennington doing a show and tell of the top ten killer HD2 streams? Let's get this straight, you give the guy a national award but failed to engage him in the design and leadership of a session related to his award, HD2 best practice?

How can the radio industry hold a meeting in 2008 and not invite internet radio rock star Kurt Hanson to put together a session or two?

Denise Shiffman would have made a great addition to the show. The smart kids at Google and Microsoft are reading her book this summer. And who forgot to invite Microsoft and Google? Susan Crawford is another that would have added much. Her take on the current regulatory environment would have been right on time. More fresh faces? Let me commend to you Clay Shirky and, since he's hanging his hat in Texas these days, how about inviting Hugh MacLeod to mix it up?

Some perspective.

Back in the last century when radio stations were powered by fire wood I had dinner in the city with my friend Rick Sklar. We had a wonderful time at one of Rick's favorites The Russian Tea Room. Over dinner Rick got into his agenda. As the highly successful and very respected lead programming guy on the NAB RPC Steering Committee he wanted his junior member on the same page. "Every year there are about fifteen hot people and ten or so red hot topics. Our job is to make sure the hottest people are invited and the red hot topics are covered. We play the hits, no excuses." Rick went on to suggest we stage point - counterpoint debates. "Jingles - YES or NO" was one I will never forget because the then CEO of TM, a jingle company, was also on the committee (representing show vendors).

Rick recruited me that night. I adopted his "damn the torpedoes" attitude especially about association politics. "Someone needs to care about the manager that pays their own way, uses their vacation time to attend and expects to go home with something practical they can use. That's our job. Dave, we gotta look out for the hard working station guy or no one else will."

Took that philosophy to heart when named chair of The Conclave. My version of Rick was "What can we provide that will cause the gal/guy in Bismarck, Omaha or Milwaukee to invest their own money, burn their vacation time, get behind the wheel, drive to The Cities and go home pumped, excited about getting back to work?" Conclave exec dir Tom Kay continues to lead that effort and has done some wonderful things. The Conclave is half-right on their brilliant Edison Research 30 under 30 collaboration. The next step should be unleashing the 30 to design, staff and lead their own sessions. Come on guys, this stuff writes itself. Take a flyer on the kids, they are living closer to the future than any of us.

Steve is right about fresh ideas. He's got the right attitude. He's got the almost completely wrong, business as usual agenda. Points given for some new stuff, just not enough of it. To borrow a line from Michael Rosenblum you need to "burn it to the ground" and start fresh.

Clearly, the problem here is close is not good enough. Close only counts in horse shoes, slow dancing, bad breath and grenades. ROI is the name of the game. More importantly, NAB should be leveraging tech and offering access online for those who will not attend for whatever reasons. Those staying at home will out number those attending by a very significant number. What can NAB do for those hard working folk?

Here are some things to think about for next year (and some for this year if someone is willing to do some work). Ordered as last minute this year and next year:

Flood the zone with connectivity, encourage live blogging. Live stream as many sessions as possible (audio feeds are ok, this year). Set up an official show blog with comments, chat, all handouts and ppt. Establish flickr and YouTube accounts, push a Radio08Austin tag, let all contribute. Enable and encourage export, sharing of all assets via CC license.

Engage the first tribe of wireless in the from scratch, blank canvas agenda creation. Allow all who wish to design and pitch a session using the SXSW model. Establish a wiki to design the conference particulars down to the food. Enable and encourage voting on the sessions pitched, again ala SXSW. Bake diversity into the steering committee. Create a new revenue stream by offering remote conference attendance. Qualify presenters. What have you done in the past six months that no one would question is totally amazing and game-changing, industry-changing? Show us. Ensure a mix of the wise sage and the young gun. More women! Fewer old white guys!

When Ron Fell ran The Gavin Report he once told me he wanted his conferences to "make a difference." Ron inspired me to do a great session at his conference the one and only time that I was invited to present. Pages of the leave behind from that session are still sent to me, the session still mentioned when I meet people. Ron raised the bar. He told me "let's give them something that makes them feel good about deciding to be at The Gavin, we have to give them practical things they can use, something that will help them to win and make them look good to their boss."

Thanks, Ron. You said it better than I ever could have.

Good luck, Steve. No disrespect intended, you have moved things forward and made some progress. We still need much more. Game on.

Congrats & cheers: Radio programming ace Fred Jacobs and the Jacobs Media crew are inviting you to participate in an election. Your choice for President of Radio. Mad cool concept. More info here.

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