Reflections learned at NAB


Clark SmidtMy first Las Vegas NAB was in 1973, back in the days of the 7-7-7 rule.  2013 was my Top 40th.  Huge exhibit area, brainpower from all segments, sensory overload!  Seems many are getting lost on the Yellow Brick Road searching for a wizard and the answer.

Broadcasters always had the answer – but the forest and trees have become an intense jungle.  Cue “Reflections” – Supremes, ’67 the spacey intro and “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear…faster than a speeding bullet…it’s everywhere, it’s everywhere!”

Here’s “NAB Rambling.  Without the gambling”:

The many choices, channels and gadgets spell confusion.  We’re being sidetracked away from the fact:  Content attracts audience and advertisers.  If something excellent is out there, people will find it on transistor sister, car dashboard, web, smart phone, or magic chip.

Vaudeville’s Interlocutor evolved into MC, DJ, local personality, reporter, anchor person, media star.  Hall of Fame personalities Paul Harvey, Gene Shepherd, Curt Gowdy, Dick Clark and Cousin Brucie introduced, set up, explained and delivered excitement, relevance and content.

RAB’s CEO Eric Farber reminded the crowd to tell our radio story.  Absolutely, but we shouldn’t have to.  Radio is everywhere, wireless and free.  Maybe we’re being taken for granted because radio’s been broadcasting service for such a long time.  Today’s 6+, teens, Gen X & Y’s don’t have us top of their list because our content isn’t there for them.  They find what they need elsewhere, like on YouTube.  Anyone can play tracked music, syndicated shows or take the network.  Radio’s longevity comes from being LOCAL.  TV makes money with local news.  A good movie rings the box office, while a bad one closes fast.  Same for Broadway–content and great presentation. Show business.

Who’s developing content and who isn’t?  Many follow the leader, “They dropped oldies, so I will too.”  Some keep looking to others for answers while a good bunch are just moving forward and doing it themselves.  Yes, the bigs are cutting back, distracted or unsure.  But, you could hear the pride in Don Benson’s voice as he introduced Crystal Winners from the largest and smallest markets.  Joel Oxley and Hubbard have a lot to be proud of.  Local operations like Leighton Broadcasting in St. Cloud, MN keep hitting their local audience with great service that sells.  The audience and advertisers recognize something good.  They might not know the details as we do, but if it’s a hit, it’s a sought after, sponsored keeper.

Is too many too much?  Management stressed and stretched?  A radio cluster is like a litter of puppies: a few are always sickly.  Smart cluster coordination and use of resource to build content is where the focus needs to be.  If we don’t wake up and do it, radio will lose its place on the digital dashboard.  We’ll be gone from the charts and future wannabes, not pioneers, will look like heroes.

Fewer music formats appear to be paying attention to all the Alpha Boomers (55-64) who grew up with an addiction to radio, the local DJs, music and sports.  North Carolina PBS Director of TV Engineering Charlie Allen pointed out the biggest listener support dollars come from the DoWop shows.  Just like “The Jersey Boys.”  Go figure.

Verizon might not be as excited (yet) about the FM chip as Jeff Smulyan, but if a show is tops, it will be available, heard and measured.  Arbitron’s new CEO Sean Creamer was one of the most accessible execs at the convention.  He gets it.

It was good to see the future with educators and students present. Web radio, YouTube and blogs are what carrier current stations used to provide.  Maybe there could be more use of HD Radio as training ground or development of appealing formats folks want to hear.  Ask the smart people at iBiquity and they’ll say there’s little content in demand on HD.  While AM news simulcasts sound strong, the deep, deep album cut formats shouldn’t hear the light of day. Bloomberg just put their NYC financial service on an HD-2 in Boston.

We need radio as we knew it, leading the way and now covering more information and sources to edit, set up and present with effective delivery.

Heard around the NAB, Mary Quaas, Joe Schwartz and Ed Levine are stunning examples of hard work keeping their groups operating at successful prominence in their territories. Many commented it was good to see Bob Fuller and Larry Wilson “back in” with Live & Local Broadcasting.  Mentor Erwin Krasnow, Esq. continues to host his annual FCC breakfast; Erwin wrote the book – in fact, many – on broadcast essentials.

Tim Huban and his team at GE Capital respect there could be more than financials that make or break broadcast deal. Underperforming or distressed properties need the strategic planning, partnerships and local uniqueness to succeed.  Great ideas don’t cost money…they make it.

New ideas adding to radio include Dan Anstandig’s, George Bundy’s dotfm, Kathy Koch at Raj Aggarwal’s

Back in the day, there was a lot of dial twisting, fine tuning and adjusting.  Orban’s Roger Sales enjoyed hearing about PDs keeping the CBS/FM favored 8100A settings in their wallet.  Sound quality is right up there with production, personality, local connect and content.

Besides getting the order, the bottom line from the NAB is straight forward:  Know and serve the audience, respect them and keep ’em loving you.  Bet the sure shot and hit the Jackpot.  Time to re-add and update the content that made radio #1.  And, be sure to tell the advertisers about it:  Valuable stuff.  Without the fluff.

–New England Broadcast Advisor Clark Smidt has been helping broadcast stations and business since 1982.  He’s been an FCC licensee and created “Softrock: The Eagles. Without the turkeys” for CBS/FM. He can be reached at [email protected], [email protected]  and 978-470-2120.  Special 1-3 day spring tune-ups are available between now and 5/22.  I come prepared to your station(s) and deliver immediate results.  The process is respectful, positive and addresses your priorities without further obligation.