Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Life is something like this trumpet. If you don't put anything in it you don't get anything out." W.C. Handy

"Turning it over in your mind won't plough the field." Irish proverb

Today's image: Fall Splendor by WisDoc. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

A fresh voice: Jay Marvin, a gifted radio performer, has taken up blogging. Here's a taste...

"When was the last time you took a road trip and let your radio run up and down the AM dial? I did it twice this summer. What I found was God awful."

"Now in 2007 let me let you in on talk radio's dirty little secret. I bet you already know this so maybe it's not that big of a secret after all. For guys like me, and there are some exceptions to this rule, there is an unwritten Black List in the format. The thought pattern goes like this: no matter how good you may be on the air you can not work on most mainstream, big stick, AM talk stations in this country because as a liberal the core will reject you. In other words you wouldn't play Led Zeppelin on a country station now would you?"

"Just do me a favor and don't complain when my eleven year old nephew grows up to think radio is something his Uncle Jay use to listen too and did for a living. It was way too stale and lame for him. And when he tried to go down to the local radio station to stare at the DJ or talk show host the door was locked and there was nobody there. So much for the idea of a backup bench."

Jay Marvin is offering up his unvarnished view of what's happening today. Agree with him or not we should applaud his effort. Read his blog Pattern Change here. Welcome to the conversation, Jay!

Kudos to Jay for his mention of the greats including Al Jazzbo Collins. Agreed with Jay on the state of AM radio. The AM radio of today fails to live up to it's potential. In most clusters the AM station does not get the attention nor the resources needed to stand on its own. The AM is too often used to clear only network properties after morning drive (that is, if there even is a local breakfast show). My pal Eddie McLaughlin argued years ago that there were fewer program directors at work in AM radio. "Most are operations managers, they are managing clearances and the daily operations issues, not directing programming or talent." Perhaps the best examples of what has happened to AM radio may be found by examining weekend programming. The accepted trade craft suggests today's preferred weekend programming to be the brokered program. While paids have always been around the majority were once well produced national shows. Now we have the local mortgage broker, dentist, fitness expert, handyman or other local business owner who qualifies to get on air not based upon the quality or substance of the program offering but rather on her/his ability to pay. There are some well done local brokered programs, however, the majority are not good programming. One need only look at the numbers to understand the result. A loss of weekend audience has been accepted and traded for cash. While this near-term economic solution may work in helping the GM make her numbers it concurrently works against the station strategically. Weak weekends harm total week delivery and also weakens weekday delivery. Your poor weekends begin to kill your stronger weekdays. This is the hidden cost of poor brokerage programming.

My thought is AM radio is still very much alive with potential. It is even possible to produce good paid programming. All that is required is some original thinking, some honest hard work to produce good shows. The diversity missing most in broadcast today is diversity from the neck up.

Compare & contrast: My colleagues working in public and community radio can rest assured, local spoken word programming will remain their exclusive province, well as a practical matter make that almost exclusive. Commercial radio's almost complete and total failure to offer remarkable spoken word programming on FM is a trend that will likely continue in the near-term horizon of twenty-four months. Moreover, live and local spoken word will continue to be a great and valuable franchise for public and community radio. Commercial radio is having another bad revenue year and next year holds no better promise in the majority of markets. Economics will continue to dampen most innovation in commercial radio including spoken word. The only real competition in spoken word will remain, in the main, national in nature - between commercial and public networks and other providers. There is a potentially dangerous plug and play mindset at work here that has little to do with the actual options available.

Next generation broadcast talent: Jay Marvin makes a very good point about the next generation of broadcasters. Let me take this opportunity to extend my previous remarks on this subject matter. My thesis: today's youth are as creative as any previous generation. They have a significant edge over previous generations because of now common place technology. They are producing very cool audio and engaging video (without the previous requisite need of expensive hardware, without the need, nor perhaps desire, for broadcast distribution; they share as they wish via the vast and growing free media platform communities). That broadcast may be failing to attract the best and brightest of this next generation is a commentary about broadcast, about leadership.

Best of times, worst of times: We must learn to fully embrace the paradox, the solutions to today's most complex problems are simple. We must dare to take a contrarian pov. Let me again proffer the notion that the solution has nothing to do with getting better and everything to do with getting different, dramatically different. The herd instinct is creating a moment of incredible opportunity for those with the courage, stamina and imagination to reinvent, to break with the past, to call out the status quo for being what it truly is - just not good enough.