Coping: With Late Night Radio Media Changes

Reader Mike wants to know what I think…something I avoid like the plague…

George, You are a former top management media guy so I wonder if you see recent and coming events as a major move in media, or just a blip.  As you likely know, one of the most sought after voices in radio, TV voice-over, etc. has left the most popular nighttime radio program because corporate interests did not value his truths.  Somewhat parallel to this is that one of the greatest, most popular nighttime voices and visionaries in radio history will also soon leave the corporate rein to host his original program via livestream.  As a radio listener since my first transistor in 1960, listening to The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, and Batman, I believe it is a media megashift, only beginning to occur, albeit–surprisingly–on radio, not satellite television.  I think it is the NEW BIG PICTURE in radioland–in media.  What do you think?  Thanks, Mike  [Background article]

That article is only one take on things.  Here’s another.  And another. Long list.

I happen to enjoy all the hosts involved.  But we need to be more precise  in how we view media  in this country.  So allow me to lay out the foundation so you can appreciate when things like this happen.  I don’t have any inside knowledge, but since a reader asked, time for a little chalk-talk… Radio Management 101.

How Segmentation works:   When a radio station (or network) makes a decision about radio show hosts it involves many things which get wrapped up into “ratings:”

Content:  As I’ve been listening to both Wells and George Noory at C2C (don’t have Sirius/XM) I can sense a very practical broadening of scope of C2C’s guest list.  They are trying to become more mainstream, is what I sense.  And to do that, they are going into areas that audience research shows people are keenly interested in.

C2C seems to be “going broad” and there’s slight reduction in woo-woo.  Wells covered a lot of ground that programmers and advertisers might consider a bit to “conspiracy theory” oriented. Art Bell’s XM/Sirius doesn’t have the total station audience size of Premier Radio Network as I understand it.

Audience Disposable Income:  The larger problem is that we live in an age of “segmentation”.  NBC Radio used to have a program on weekends called Monitor.  Here’s a bit from Wikipedia about it:

Monitor was an American weekend radio program broadcast from June 12, 1955, until January 26, 1975. Airing live and nationwide on the NBC Radio Network, it originally aired beginning Saturday morning at 8am and continuing through the weekend until 12 midnight on Sunday. However, after the first few months, the full weekend broadcast was shortened when the midnight-to-dawn hours were dropped since few NBC stations carried it.

The program offered a magazine-of-the-air mix of news, sports, comedy, variety, music, celebrity interviews and other short segments (along with records, usually of popular middle-of-the-road songs, especially in its later years). Its length and eclectic format were radical departures from the traditional radio programming structure of 30- and 60 minute programs and represented an ambitious attempt to respond to the rise of television as America’s major home-entertainment medium.…”

There was a problem that NBC Monitor had and it’s somewhat analogous to the problem that C2C has. 

Remember, back when Monitor started, there wasn’t much competition for listenership. Color television hadn’t be introduced yet and television stations were still figuring out their new technology.

But by the time Monitor was finishing up, color television was really coming into its own.  The Tonight Show had already seen the legends coming through:  Steve Allen, Jack Parr, and Johnny Carson…  So there was not only a content battle, but there was also a medium battle.

Media Battling  Just as Monitor was “up against television”, so to Coast2Coast AM is up against technology:  People are getting more and more information from the Internet and streaming sources.

But what most people may not appreciate about XM/Sirius is that they are facing media competition, too, in some ways that Art Bell may not have appreciated fully (in terms of XM/Sirius ability to promote).  I speak (as a pilot here) about the competition which XM is suffering at the hands of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcasts.

Just 5-years ago, a pilot of an airplane who wanted live weather in the cockpit for reasons of safety and comfort only had two ways to get weather.  One of those ways was a $40/month subscription to XM live weather which came up on the aircraft GPS  or glass cockpit display when so equipped.  ADSB is rolling out fast and will be fully implemented (and did I mention required) by 2020?

With the same weather  information now coming into airplanes FREE from ADSB gear (which we have in our old Beechcrate) there’s a potential loss of an income stream  for XM/Sirius if I’m reading it right and so they will have evolved new business strategies to cope and those may not involve what the former dean of late-nighters would want.

Oh, and another thing:  When it comes to supplying content, XM/Sirius has ANOTHER problem in the form of barriers to entry when it comes to supplying audio for those satellite television audio channels.  And in the home or workplace, look at the price points of operations like  and for audio.

Audience Spending:  Another key point is how much money an audience spends.  Take the Betty and Barney Hill UFO case:  1961!  I mean the reality is that story is 53 years old.  How many times can it be retold?  Even if the audience is big, there are no used UFO dealers.  And some of that audience can only be described by the word flaky.

Similarly, the stories about the emergent police state are interesting, but the people who are into that are likely not to spend as much money or be as large an audience as, say, people who are going to be dead some day. 

If I were consulting Coast2Coast, I would tell them to “keep it broad” and go after people that are doing more than old UFO reports.  I think it would be a marvelous place for someone like Senator Ted Cruz, or Hillary Clinton to “show their stuff” and actually take calls from the audience. 

You don’t think a late night show with Cruz on police state or Hillary on Benghazi would be worth listening to?  That’s the difference between mass appeal and vertical markets like UFOs.  Dead bankers are interesting items – as they happen – but how many shows can you build and how long before people turn off the radio?

That 2016 front runners taking calls from real people?  That is something I’d stay up for.

Audience Turnover:  A key in all of what’s going on is audience turnover.

Here’s how that works:  When we first began talking about the prepping niche here at UrbanSurvival, our advertisers in stored foods did extremely well.  Some have been with us for years.  Yet the sales of stored foods – as a result of advertising here – has NOT continued to expand ever-skyward. 

Reason?  Our audience doesn’t turn over.  In other words, on a typical day, 20,000 people might read 43,000 pages of UrbanSurvival and over the course of a month, maybe 250,000 unique visitors will come by.

The problem is saturation.  At some point, everyone who is ever going to buy “survival goods” will have as much as they need and sales will fall.  (Not too many new foods are being invented, right?) 

Well, the same thing happens with radio audiences, too.  The turnover slows (audiences like rocks, tend to stratify).  And while there may be some really great guests out there who connect a huge number of dots (like Douglas Dietrich on UFOs and WW II, for example), there are only so many of them.  Graham Hancock can’t be on every day…he has research to do, books to write and ditto the likes of Dr. Dean Radin.  Genius needs time to genify, if you will.

Sourcing:  So ultimately, the problem comes down to a very complex analysis of figuring out how people “source” their media.

Take, for example, one of the comments in that YouTube video above.  The one where the fellow said something to the effect that John B. Wells had done great things for the “patriot movement”.

That may be so (in fact it is likely so) but the problem is that there are also millions of people who will turn off the radio rather than hear something they don’t want, or, alternatively they’ve gotten elsewhere from Rush Limbaugh, or whoever.

Polarizing content doesn’t build huge audience….or does it?  It could be argued either way.

Bottom Line:

We don’t know enough specifics other than to lay out the playing field.

A little personal story:  A few billion years ago, in 1972 or so, when I was interviewing for a morning news anchor job in San Francisco at KFRC where I would have worked with a fellow named Dr. Don Rose, had I taken the position, the program director at the time (Les Garland) summed up the success of “The Super 6-10” this way.

“You can’t give the audience what it wants.  And you can’t give the audience what you think it needs.   But you’ve just got to give the audience what they think they’re getting.”

Best damn advice ever in media when it comes to radio content.

Toss the dynamics of ADSB versus XM and the limitations of streaming versus AM and the public burnout on political hacks into a Cray Supercomputer and maybe you can get a more precise answer.…

All three hosts will give you something different and not just to your ears, but to a media outlets bottom line.

Oh, and because you’ve been attentive getting this deep into the discussion?  One more perspective on radio that will explain EVERYTHING about media you ever wanted to know about how radio works on the inside….

Go listen to what TM Productions in Dallas put together for a a jingle package they produced in 1978 called “The Winning Score.”   It’s 19-minute radio “play”.

When you’re done, you’ll either be laughing or crying…there’s that much truth in it.

Life and Linux

I was going to neatly organize all of this morning’s thoughts under neat, catchy headlines.  But no, I think it’s time you “growed up” and got a sense of the debris field in my life wrought by Linux.

Not that you would care, but this is for all of those who have been telling me to “Change over to Linux…you’ll love it!

That’s a load of crap…  Not to go off on you, but here are a few lessons learned if you actually swallowed that stuff like “Gosh, George, Linux is great…easy to use…and runs flawlessly.”

That’s in a different Universe.  Let me give you the problem.

I needed to get a server ready for an advanced development project with a client/partner.  And to do this, we need a machine that would be low-priced and that would quickly get up.

So I had this old computer:  Pentium 4, 4GB RAM, a 75 GB hard drive and a 160 GB drive, and both CD and DVD drives.

I  got the Bitnami XAMMP stack installed (which gave me the PHP 5.4 base, Apache server, and Tomcat for pure development) installed without too many hours of  pain, I decided to also build an Ubuntu Server Linux bootable drive on D: which was the 160 DFB drive. 

Bad move.

I managed to crash Ubuntu LTR 12 something about a half dozen times.  Still, that isn’t the half of it.

What the “reuse and repurpose” people don’t mention is when you take an old computer and want to build a server on it, you end up removing all the old pictures and music you had stored on that machine, which previously had simple be “hung” (wirelessly) on one of the wireless networks here.  5-hours file cleaning.

Enough of the whining…but for the next machine (when we get to the beta on the secret project) I’m going to buy a quad core smoker and do it “ground up” with current technology. Ubuntu 13 seems to have forsaken the lowly 32-bit processors.

And yes, somewhere in here you will begin to see the rhyme:  How the ratings battles in radio carry over as a template, to understanding the battles between generations of processors.

It’s all the same evolve and replace strategy.

One lesson I can share with you this morning:  When you go rebuilding old computers?  Don’t even THINK about using the updated graphics card.  Use the onboard video…pull the PCI card out and bronze it, or something.

There:  I just saved you two hours of computer technician training.  Rip out everything but the drives and the motherboard.  And then, one by one, put the sound and video card upgrades in.

Trust me (and my liver) on this:  If you don’t, the problems will drive you to drink.

Peoplenomics:  Tomorrow we get a bit heavy:  Economic Implications of Civil War

In the meantime, write when you break even…