ObitsOnline

I’m in the middle of another Small Histories” project. “Learfield and the Internet” is the working title. I’ll share it here when it’s as done as I can do it. But here’s a sample of the kinds of stuff we slung against the wall. ObitsOnline.

I knew from my small market radio days that people loved obituaries. Every morning the local funeral homes would call in details of funerals and visitations and we’d read them on the air. We tried to kill the feature once but people went ape shit.

The great thing about the early days of the Internet was nobody knew what might work so you could try anything. Why not let funeral homes throughout the state (Missouri) log in to an online database and post funeral announcements. The public could search by name, date, city, etc etc. We pitched the funeral home associations in Missouri and Iowa (maybe some other states, I don’t recall). Here are some screenshots:

The idea never got off the ground because in 2000 most funeral homes were still trying to figure out their fax machines and were convinced the people in their communities were not using computers and were unlikely to do so any time soon. I have no idea what the business model for this might have been. In those days we were thinking more about what would be cool or interesting.

Echo Look: Hands-Free Camera and Style Assistant

“Using just your voice, easily take full-length photos and short videos with a hands-free camera that includes built-in LED lighting, depth-sensing camera, and computer vision-based background blur. See yourself from every angle with the companion app. Build a personal lookbook and share your photos. Get a second opinion on which outfit looks best with Style Check, a new service that combines machine learning algorithms with advice from fashion specialists. Over time, these decisions get smarter through your feedback and input from our team of experienced fashion specialists.”

Echo Look from Amazon »

When newsletters were printed and mailed

In 1988 if I wanted to communicate with the 60 radio stations affiliated with our news networks, I printed it and put it in an envelope and mailed it (USPS). Took as long as four days to reach some stations. No fax machines yet and email still years away.

This has such a Pony Express feel to me, here in 2017. The idea of a monthly, printed newsletter seems… quaint. But I recall almost every company and association doing a monthly (sometimes quarterly) newsletter. Somebody spent hours writing these things, often with multiple managers “signing off” before they went out.

When desktop publishing (and laser printers) came along, newsletters got ugly, fast. That was my opinion and I my philosophy was text-only; short paragraphs; one page, front and back. I read somewhere, “No more than an hour to write and a minute to read.” I think I knew, in my secret heart, that nobody read these things anyway. But I did them, every month for years. I kept most of them and they provide tiny snapshots of what was going one with our networks at the time.

Today we have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds and maybe even a blog or two. But I’m seeing some Big Names moving back to newsletters. Easier to monetize? More likely to be read?

Clyde’s first business plan

It’s pretty easy to come up with an idea for a new business. It’s really hard to write good business plan for a new business. In 1972, 28-year-old Clyde Lear put together a proposal for regional radio network. He showed it to a half dozen local businessmen who invested in him and his idea. Last year Clyde’s company was valued at more than one billion dollars. It’s not really his company anymore, he sold it a few years ago.

Clyde kept that first business plan and it’s interesting reading. I worked for Clyde for 30 years and have known him for 40 so it might be more interesting to me than you. He’s graciously allowed me to share some of it here. It begins with the concept, his “big idea.” An excerpt:

Regional news and farm networks have been especially lucrative. The growing farm economy required quick dissemination of farm information. Much of this information is a necessity to the agribusinessman. Further, the advertiser wanting to market his good — machinery, seeds, services, fertilizer, feed, chemicals — looks for the way he can get the greatest number of farmers and ranchers to hear his message at the lowest possible cost. The regional farm network is the answer.

Advertising rates, proposed programs, projected expenses, descriptions of other networks. In 1972 there were 113 radio networks in the U. S. and Clyde researched eleven of them. An example:

Ohio Farm Network: This is a full-time farm network, but distribution is by tape, and five days late. Programming is entirely morning about 20 minutes in length. It is entirely a pre-sold program, based on a percentage of the rate card of each station. One man handles all the programming and all the selling. The overhead is low, and sales, by comparison to the others, are moderate at best, seldom reaching $10,000 per month.

If you’ve ever thought about starting your own business, or if you started your own business, you might find this bit of history interesting. The company that Clyde and others built from his original idea doesn’t look much like his original dream but that was never a static thing. You can download Clyde’s original plan here.

 

State Farm Drive Safe & Save Mobile

If you don’t know this about me already, I’m not very concerned about privacy. I think you should have it if you want it and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to get it, but it’s not a high priority for me. Might be someday. Not today. As Estelle Costanza said, “I’m out there, Georgie!” I’m willing to give up some (a lot of) privacy to get some conveniences.

That said, today I activated State Farm’s Drive Save & Save program. Keep a little Bluetooth beacon in my car that works with an app on my iPhone to track my driving. According to their website the track acceleration; braking; turns; mileage; speed and time of day (rush hour, late night, etc)

According to the marketing material (and my local agent) I’ll get an immediate 5% discount and another 20% if I don’t go above the national average of 12,000 miles a year. “More small discounts may be tallied if you prove to be a safe motorist, do not drive over 80 mph and avoid driving between midnight and 4 a.m.” I think I meet all of those goals but we’ll see.

I found this while googling around: “State Farm warns that some drivers already getting a low-mileage discount may see a rate hike. “If you currently receive a premium reduction for low estimated annual mileage (under 7,500 miles annually for personal use) and your vehicle is actually driven more than that, your premium may increase at a future policy renewal period.”

I know this kind of thing freaks a lot of people out. But not me. I’ll try it and if I don’t like the results I’ll stop. And if State Farm fucks me over, I’ll just switch providers.

Everything that can conceivably be made of plastic is made of plastic

David Cain on materialism. If you feel like you have too much shit and most of it really isn’t very good shit, take a few minute to understand why. A few excerpts:

When a friend of mine inspected the damage from a fender-bender, what upset him most was the discovery that his bumper was nothing but a brittle plastic husk supported by three pieces of styrofoam. The vehicle was new and probably cost about $35,000.

If we were things-lovers we’d have better things, and few things we don’t use. […] Something happened at some point that left us preferring more things over better things, and acquiring over using or owning.

Marketers began to sell products in a way that suggests you are buying something deeper and more abstract than a material thing: a sense of freedom, belonging, security, virility, popularity—any of the non-material qualities we perpetually seek and never have enough of. They sell us what we want to be, not what we want to have.

Our desire for self-actualization is bottomless, and so when we try to buy it, we buy endlessly.

The hallmark of stress and unease is rumination—unconscious, uncontrolled thinking about things you aren’t really doing and conversations you aren’t really having.

RepublicTigerSports.com

During the early days of what we then called the “World Wide Web,” there was a mood of “digital entrepreneurism.” Anybody with a minimum of technical skills could create a website. Later, when blogs became a thing, it got even easier. You could start your own newspaper or magazine or — when the bandwidth got better and the tools easier — audio and video. Anyone could create their own “content” and do so for fun or profit. That was the dream and a few made it a reality.

One of those was my friend David Brazeal. David grew up in Republic, Missouri, a small town just outside of Springfield in the southwest corner of the state. He earned a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and then reported news at a radio station in Jefferson City, MO.

That’s where I met him and then worked with him at Learfield Communications. David started in the newsroom but migrated to some of Learfield’s early, digital businesses. He was very good at what he did but eventually grew restless and longed to strike out on his own. His idea was to create a website that covered high school sports in his hometown.

With his wife’s blessing, he quit his very good job at a very good company and started RepublicTigerSports.com in 2009. David has defied the odds and made his “micro-site” a critical and financial success. I think it’s safe to say he covers high schools sports in Republic better than any traditional media outlook could or would. The town does not have a radio or TV station but does have a weekly newspaper.

I don’t think I could begin to describe the breadth and depth of the content on his site. If you are even remotely interested in what he’s doing, spend 10 or 15 minutes on the website. If you’re still interested, you might enjoy listening to the interview below. Runs about 35 minutes.