Radio: There will be no more new music formats

Mark Ramsey says the last successful new radio format was the Variety Hits format, “Jack.” I barely remember that format (now 15 years old). Mr. Ramsey says there as been no new youth-based format on the radio fail in generations… and there never will be “but because the tastes are so fractured among millennials that there is no popular thread of music that isn’t already absorbed sufficiently well by an existing format.”

I’m not sure who would care about this theory besides someone who programs a radio station. He offers some insight into who listens to which formats and why but it all seems a bit… academic to me. Like reflecting on Mayan culture.

How to hire radio talent

Mark Ramsey is a “media strategist, researcher and trend-maker.” What we used to call a consultant. Here’s part of his answer to the question: “what qualifications should we be looking for in talent, programming, and sales that are different from today’s conventional qualifications?”

For talent, nothing else will be more important than that talent’s skill and engagement with social media and digital platforms.

Here’s some questions he’d ask before hiring:

  • How big is your personal audience, the one you have direct relationships with, as measured by social media?
  • How many Twitter followers do you have?
  • How big is your Facebook fan page, and how strong is your engagement?
  • How many Instagram followers and likes do you have?
  • How many YouTube subscribers and total views do you have?
  • Do you have a website for your own brand?
  • How big is your brand’s personal email list? How often do you send out email? What do you send?
  • What podcasts do you produce? How much listenership do they receive? How many podcast subscribers do you have?

“In other words, to what degree do you – the talent – take responsibility for building your own personal brand? And how can you demonstrate the power of that brand to me?”

I think he’s right. As I’ve watch social media grow and evolve I’ve wondered how I would have fared in this new media environment. Glad I didn’t miss the “spinning records” era.

Asking the right questions

“…the implicit assumption is that radio’s past must be sustained into the future, and with a few tweaks here and there we can dial up our relevance […] and dial down our risk. This is equivalent to the consumer products company that asks “how can we make a new product that we can successfully sell?” – as long as that product is envisioned, made, and sold to fit with all the previous products the company has sold in the past.” — Mark Ramsey

Heavy snow knocked out power to our house yesterday so as darkness fell, I built a fire, turned on some solar LED lamps and dug out a transistor radio. I didn’t sample a lot of stations but the ones I listened too sounded… quaint?

I probably haven’t listened to a full hour of “terrestrial radio” in the last 5 years so what I heard felt strange in my ears. The phony DJ voices; snatches of Alice Cooper’s syndicated show (shudder)… but the most jarring was the lack of control over my experience. Don’t like a song? Well, tough shit, just gotta wait till it’s over and hope you like the next one better.

I’m going to take it on faith there are radio stations (somewhere) breaking new ground and reinventing themselves for the new media world in which they find themselves. If you know of one, drop a link (or just the call letters) in the comments.

“Threads of advertising-sponsored content”

“Advertising is becoming content, not message. Or, more specifically, the message is knit into the content.  Under that scenario there is no 30-second spot per se, there are simply threads of advertising-sponsored content.

Creating “content that people choose to watch (and share)” (and listen to) is the job of every company that calls itself “media.”  This goes to the heart of radio’s revenue model because it is clearly out of step with the direction of clients and their agencies.

This is why the structure of so much of radio is outdated.  We have sellers who move spots and programmers who mix music. What we need amongst these are content creators who match consumers with clients in the presence of our brands by bringing compelling ideas to life.”

— Mark Ramsey Media

The end of radio coverage maps?

A radio station coverage map is just what it sounds like: a cirle showing how far your station’s signal reaches. The bigger the circle the better. Now a new BMW option might make coverage maps less important (obsolete?)

Yes, I know, not everyone can afford a BMW but is there any doubt this technology will find its way into every vehicle? Not for moi.

Mark Ramsey sees the car as “a digital lifestyle accessory” and wonders how broadcasters fit into the consumer’s mobile digital lifestyle?

“Maybe it’s with unique and exclusive content. Maybe it’s with digital bells and whistles that make your content sing. It’s not with the same old same old. And no number of debates about FM on mobile phones will solve this problem for you.”

On more than one occasion I’ve wondered what would I do to stay fresh and relevant if I were running a radio station. How might I insure that my station was on that BMW dashboard/iPhone? And I don’t have a good answer. But smarter folks than I are figuring this out.

Radio by any other name would sound as sweet

Mark Ramsey was listening to Fresh Air on NPR the other day and heard Terry Gross reading the credits, which included a reference to “the Chief Content Officer.” That what most stations call their “Program Director.” (A job I once held)

Mr. Ramsey also mentioned that back in July National Public Radio annoucned it would hereafter be known as NPR. It’s been National Public Radio since 1971 but switched tothe acronym because –according to the Washington Post– “Its news, music and informational programming is heard over a variety of digital devices that aren’t radios.”


Our company operates several news networks, including:

Radio Iowa
Wisconsin Radio Network
South Carolina Radio Network
Nebraska Radio Network

We (not me) came up with Radio Iowa back in 1996 and thought it was pretty cool at the time. Like, “Radio Free Iowa.” I was not involved with nameing the others.

We have websites, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages but are first and foremost radio networks.

If someone were starting a new radio network today, what would they call it? I have no idea.

What does “Being Local” mean, anyway?

“I think the term “local” dates to a time when communities could only be served by media which originated within them – the local newspaper, TV, or radio. Today, communities continue to have local pride, interest, and concern, but their means of expressing and sharing in those things are no longer limited to the media which so happen to be around the corner.”

“There is no longer any such thing as “local” as we traditionally use the term. The definition of “local” is both expanding (interests are broader than geographies) and shrinking (I am the ultimate “local”) at the same time.”

“If the Internet makes the world “local,” then what’s is your (radio) advantage?”

— Mark Ramsey at Hear 2.0

Mark Ramsey interviews Seth Godin

Mark Ramsey has done another interview with Seth Godin that I highly recommend. Mr. Godin is promoting his new book, “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?” I encourage you to listen to the interview. It isn’t long. Here are a few excerpts:

“…school was organized by the powers-that-be to turn the typical student into a compliant, quiet, sit-in-straight-rows, fill-in-little-circles-on-the-SAT, follow-the-path, go-to-the-job-you-get-at-the-placement-office kind of person. And there’s a reason for that: It’s that if you are the organization busy hiring people, the more people you have who want to do the jobs you’ve got, the cheaper you can get away with paying them. As a result, we’ve created a culture where a few people are able to drive the agenda and a lot of people end up working hard to fit in and have a lot of fear about doing anything but that.”

“You read about people who are making $80K, $90K, $200K a year as middle managers for Fortune 500 companies, and then they get laid off and can’t make $15,000 a year working at a 7-11, and the question I’d ask is: Where did the $70,000 worth of value go? Did the person change or just their income?”

“It’s a crisis because all these years that we were watching blue collar people lose their jobs, exported to China or wherever… All these years that we watched machines replace people on assembly lines, we just shook our heads and said that’s really sad but that’s not us, that’s them – good thing it’s not us. And now it’s us, now they’ve come for us.”

“Well, I think that broadcasters have now embraced the fact that spectrum is finally on its way to being valueless. It was an 80-year run, but there’s no intelligent person I know that says that in 10 or 15 years from now they are going to be glad they own 660 on the AM dial.”

“All those kids who are in school today, who are learning how to do the jobs of 1960 or 1970, they’re in big trouble. All those 40- or 50-year-old executives who are hoping they’re going to wait this thing out, they’re in really big trouble.”

Listenomics and why things are different this time

Picture 2

I remember reading Bob Garfield’s The Chaos Scenario as an article in Advertising Age but I’m not sure I listened to the interview Mark Ramsey (Hear 2.0) posted to his website back in March. More on that in a moment. I don’t think the book is out yet but here’s a blurb from the web page:

“What happens when the old world order collapses and the Brave New World is unprepared to replace it…as an ad medium, as a news source, as a political soapbox, as a channel for new episodes of “Lost?” That is The Chaos Scenario.

In this fascinating, terrifying, instructive and often wildly entertaining book, Garfield is not content to chronicle the ruinous disintegration of traditional media and marketing. No, having established the problem, he travels to five continents for solutions.

What he discovers is the answer for all institutions who wish to survive – and thrive – in a digitally connected, Post-Media Age. He calls this the art and science of Listenomics.”

Mr. Garfield is Advertising Age editor-at-large and co-host of NPR’s On the Media. Looking forward to the book. If you spot it before I do, let me know.

Radio needs to escape radio

Mark Ramsey says we don’t need radio but we need what radio provides:

“Society needs the comfort of our favorite songs. We need the real-time connection to our community (however we define “community”). We need to know what to wear today and whether or not school is canceled.  We need to stay up to date or to revel in our past.  We need to be outraged and informed and soothed and amused.  We need to be told what to do in a crisis.  We need to know what’s on sale and where.  And we need these things wherever we are – at home, at work, in the car, and on our hip.

As an industry, radio needs to recognize that its social currency is in what it provides, not in the manner it provides it.”