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Radio Is a Perfect Replacement for a Streaming Service

People are always on the hunt for free-content; there is no better time than now for radio to remind the world what it does best.

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Have you been following the stock market this week? If you haven’t, I’m warning you now not to look at your 401k, IRA, or other investments. You won’t like what you see.

But why is it happening? The economy has slowed, interest rates are rising, and recession concerns are real. But one of the biggest drivers in the market downturn recently is tech stocks. The tech-heavy NASDAQ is off 22% year-to-date, as the Wall Street stars are falling back down to earth. 

There are many reasons this is happening, but to tie it back to our industry, one important trend that’s taking place is that people are cutting their streaming services. 

new study finds that 57 percent are planning to cut some of their paid streaming subscriptions. Overall, the average person is dropping three out of five streaming services from their current arsenal.

People are pulling back and re-evaluating their needs. But one thing that was clear in the study is that people still want great content; it’s just a matter of how much, or if, they’re willing to pay for it.

Well, hello, radio!

This feels like the perfect time for radio to begin reminding its audiences and markets that it remains the ultimate free service for the user. Granted, I’ve noted in prior columns that radio would be wise to try and diversify its revenue streams by trying to find subscription-based angles that work for the consumer and are of value. 

But in the meantime, if cutting is now the name of the game, yet people are always on the hunt for free content, there is no better time than now for radio to remind the world as to what it does best.

At the top of mind will be in-car listening. Would some cut satellite and return to terrestrial? Very possible. But let’s not forget about the in-home options. The phone, which no one is ever giving up, is now the in-home radio. 

So is Alexa. People have these devices or will continue to get them, regardless of their number of subscription services. It’s a one-time purchase that provides enormous value to millions in the house.

In this survey, users were asked what would keep them loyal to a streaming service. The top three answers were: affordability, a wide selection of content, and a user-friendly interface. 

You can’t get more affordable than radio, the wide selection of content is not debatable, and the user-friendly interface… well, in fairness, that depends on the platform you use. But as the late Meatloaf said, two out of three ain’t bad.

Many have written about radio’s demise for decades, and while the platform is suffering from the same media fragmentation as every traditional platform, it’s still highly valuable, listened to, and sought after. We forget that about ourselves sometimes and let the doomsayers have too much of a say.

But now, as the supposed new age, tech experts hit some bumps in the road, and radio has a chance to make a move. It’s not easy, and it won’t be happening overnight. But let’s work on reminding anyone searching for great audio content that there is a place to get it. 

And unlike every other new form of media looking for a credit card number and a few bucks per month, we aren’t. And for millions, that in and of itself is a breath of fresh air, and hopefully makes them bring us new users and more occasions. 

BNM Writers

Jack Swanson Found Success in Radio Much More Than Happiness

Swanson worked at WLS from 1973-79. Swanson said it was a radio era that included Larry Lujack, Fred Winston, Tommy Edwards. Legendary personalities.

Jim Cryns

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I’ve had more jobs than Jack Swanson has had hot dinners. Unlike Swanson, I’ve been canned from a few. There’s always the job you loved, and sometimes you wish you could go back. 

“I quit WLS and in many ways I regret it to this day,” Swanson said. “I quit every radio job I had, never fired. If today I could wave a magic wand I would have stayed at WLS in Chicago.”

Swanson worked at WLS from 1973-79. Swanson said it was a radio era that included Larry Lujack, Fred Winston, Tommy Edwards. Legendary personalities.

“One of the best collections of talent ever,” he said. “As my career went on, I was generally more successful than I was happy. I found I always performed better when I was around really crazy-talented people. I think you’ll always perform better on a great team.”

Swanson explained that just doesn’t happen today as great teams are very expensive. 

He worked at KGO a total of three times. Every year he’d sit down with the GM and there was a ‘come to Jesus moment.’ 

“As PD, it was not uncommon to get a budget dropped in front of me and the GM would glare at me and say, ‘Do you have everything single thing in this budget you need to become number one?’ Now that’s a whole new kind of pressure.”

Reading between the lines, Swanson said what they were really saying was, ‘You’d better bring me a winner.’ To accomplish that, you always need a few dollars more. When you have the appropriate budget, you get better performance all around. 

“From your on-air people, producers, and other staff. It’s a great environment when people feel appreciated. Like they’re being paid what they’re worth.”

The third time at KGO, Swanson quit after only three weeks. 

“I just wanted out,” he explained. “I had a three-year contract so that complicated things. The nice people at Cumulus indicated they might sue me if I left. I figured, ‘Have at it. If you want to sue an old man, do your worst. The truth is I didn’t think they knew what they were doing. I had to negotiate a departure.” 

Talking about KGO and their abrupt shift of formats, Swanson said he thinks ownership got desperate. “I don’t fault what they did. They were in a corner. Their money people were getting very edgy. But what fills that gap?”

Unfortunately, San Francisco currently has no local talk station despite being the fourth-largest radio market in the country. KSFO is also programmed, all syndicated. 

“Tragically, it’s all radio from a computer,” Swanson said. “Radio is a crazy business. People don’t want to invest because they generally want to keep their money.”

He said all the time people say radio isn’t what it used to be.

“Not even close,” Swanson said. “It doesn’t mean I don’t honor and respect radio. You should let your talent shine wherever you can let it shine. Back in the day at WLS, it was possible to make money. It’s not really possible any more. It’s like 1,000 points of light. Anybody can go on Amazon and purchase a Mr. Microphone and have their own show and talk to the world.”

The fact that podcasts are the new popular kid on the block isn’t lost on Swanson. With 2.4 millions podcasts today and counting, Swanson said there are just too many, a sensory overload.

“They’re like exploding stars, scattering around and trying to find an audience,” he explained. “There are only so many hours in a day.”

His resume is extensive; VP and general manager at KING AM/FM, VP of programming at KGO/KSFO, director of news and programming at KCBS Radio.

Swanson began his radio career as a news anchor and reporter for WLS Radio in Chicago before becoming the News and Program Director for KGO. 

“While I was at WLS, it was owned by ABC, and we had 25 full-time new people.”

He is the recipient of numerous awards including the best radio program director in America, and the best news talk PD for four years and the best programmer for three years by Radio Ink and Radio & Records.

Having spent most of his time in major markets, Swanson has great respect for people who spent their careers in small, or medium markets.

“If you’re on the endless chase to be in a bigger market, when you get there it can be hollow. If you find a city and community you like, it can become a great home forever. There aren’t any gold watches in radio. My advice to talent is to listen to your stomach. There’s nothing more important.”

Some people are naturally good at what they do, but a PD can only take you so far.

“It’s like being a football coach,” Swanson said. “You can’t make your quarterback a star, he has to do that himself. My career has been satisfying. I’d say it has been 85-90 percent luck. Being in the right place at the right time. That’s absolutely true for my career.”

He’s had great success in radio. But now, things are different. 

“I definitely wouldn’t encourage young people to get in the business or pursue a journalism curriculum,” Swanson said. “Years ago, I had a group of students come into KCBS, journalism students from the University of California. About 13 kids came in and said they wanted to see the real world of broadcast journalism. They asked me for advice and I told them if they were intent on the degree, for God’s sake don’t go on for a masters in journalism. One of the students told me they were all in the masters program. I don’t want to say we’re dumb in radio, but we’re not the smartest people.”

When KGO was part of the ABC group, and ABC was sold to Disney. Swanson was stunned. They sold all the stations for a great deal of money.

“I asked why they were doing it? This was 20 years ago. An executive at ABC told me radio had no growth potential and that’s what they wanted. They took all the money from the sale, billions of dollars, and put it into Pixar. While I was angry at Disney, they saw the writing on the wall.” 

In 1994, Swanson was to program KSFO. He’d done that once and didn’t want to go back. 

“KSFO was a dog, but the essentially offered me a blank check to fix it. So I went back. Within a year I took the station from 36th in the market to number two, just behind KGO.”

Swanson said they went all conservative at KSFO. This was before the Fox News Channel. Limbaugh existed, but there were no all conservative stations with the exception of one in Seattle.

“There were mostly religious stations with conservative hosts, but nobody was listening,” Swanson said. “They waved the flag and I personally didn’t know people like that. Suddenly there was  a need to provide a place where people could say what they never dared to say out loud.”

Anybody in the business will tell you the line between journalist and opinion is evaporating. “They are broadcasting information that we want to hear to make us feel right about our beliefs,” Swanson said. “People may not believe when someone tells them they love them, but they always believe them when they say they’re right.”

He said when he went to school, students tried to find the truth as best they could understand it. Swanson said he’s not so sure that can happen anymore.

“When I started in news, I had an AP and UPI teletype in my station,” he explained. “I knew everything that was going on and listeners didn’t know any breaking news. We had no morning news, no news channels, newspapers came out twice a day. Radio was the only way to learn immediate things. What a responsibility it was.” 

Swanson said the most important things politicians can do today is listen. He explained they stopped listening a couple of years into their careers.

“They no longer hear their constituents. They just say what their base wants them to say.”

Does he have an encounter with someone that he holds dear? Not really. 

“I did encounter Richard Nixon once,” Swanson said. This was during the heat of Watergate and Nixon was in Madison. 

“The President was walking toward Air Force One and the national press was all over him,” Swanson said. “With Watergate crushing him, He wasn’t about to talk with anybody. I was behind the press line and I yelled out, ‘Mr. President, your tan looks great. Where did you go to get it?”

Swanson said Nixon stopped, pivoted and looked his way.

“Nixon turned around and came toward the press line and we chatted a bit. I think he just liked the fact that someone wanted to talk with him as a human being.”

For a moment, Nixon wasn’t such a Tricky Dick. 

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BNM Writers

The Donald Trump Conundrum For News/Talk Personalities

I would suggest that in order to not risk alienating either side of the audience, that we guide the conversation this early in the process.

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With 721 days to go until the 2024 Election, Donald Trump decided it was time for him to officially jump into the race. He could not wait any longer. And on Tuesday night, in a speech that lasted more than an hour, he decided to move ahead and officially kick off 2024, one week after the 2022 midterms ended. 

This has created an interesting dynamic for talk radio. Not only does it give reason to quickly move on from the over-analyzing of dissecting what happened in the midterms, but Trump is generally good for business, especially when he has been (mostly) off the radar the last two years. 

And as is always the case with Trump, the opinions and emotions will be strong across the aisle.

But with the opinions and emotions so strong across the aisle, what’s the play for News/Talk hosts?

Many are comparing this to 2015-16, when conservative-leaning media broke down pro-Trump or never-Trump, and it changed the landscape and careers for some, depending on which side of the aisle one landed on. 

However, there are stark differences this time around.

Those who would call themselves conservatives would all agree that the policies implemented by Donald Trump were a success. Whether it was economic policy, foreign policy, trade policy, or judges appointed, the 45th President kept to his word on all of the above and they were all highly-successful, especially before the pandemic. 

There is no true “never-Trump” angle amongst conservatives like there was in 2016. The question this time around is simply: “Is Trump the best person to move Trumpism forward? Or is there a better option to keep the movement moving ahead?”

That’s a very different conversation amongst the news/talk audience, that if handled properly, should not result in audiences turning on their favorite personalities, regardless of which side of the conversation one might come down on.

For these reasons, I don’t foresee a “civil war” amongst conservatives in the way we saw it six years ago. 

And for our audiences, there will be hosts who lean more Pro-Trump or Pro-DeSantis (or whoever else), but I would suggest that in order to not risk alienating either side of the audience, that we guide the conversation this early in the process.

That doesn’t mean not having an opinion. That’s ultimately our job. But if we form that opinion, on either side, through the prism of, “We’ve still got 18-24 months of this, things will change, and here are the pros and cons of what I’m thinking…”, it creates an environment that invites listener interaction and makes your show the place to voice opinions on both sides of the issue.

Also, that audience interaction will remain our great leverage in this conversation that cable news, newspapers, and social media can’t duplicate with the same intimacy. So let’s take advantage of it and it will also give us an on-the-ground feel for where the audience is in our market in a way the political consulting class can only dream of.

That’s how we can win this 2024 news cycle, that, yes, believe it or not, has already started. 

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BNM Writers

Post Midterm Elections: A Fresh Approach?

Among the predictable messages that come after election results, no matter how long they take is “we need to do better”.

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The leftovers from the midterm elections are still in the refrigerator but I’m looking forward to either finishing them or tossing them out.

I will not feed them to the dog, I love dogs too much.

Among the predictable messages that come after election results, no matter how long they take is “we need to do better”. That’s generally a given after looking at either side of a political scorecard but in this particular case, I think it resonates a bit more, for us.

We, the news people, need to do better. Actually, we need to be better. 

And, of course, we can be.

Once again, this is not an attempt at cheerleading nor is it a shot in the arm. 

I am no more a clean thinker than anyone else on the planet but I believe I share a common vulnerability; fatigue.

The hamster wheel that is a job like ours perpetuates a buildup, a film of apathy and when it comes to covering politics, or more accurately the antics of politicians and candidates, it’s a difficult ride to dismount. 

But once again, we have that regular opportunity to alter the game plan again. 

The faces are now changing in leadership (a little) and prominence (somewhat) but of course, some things will remain familiar. 

The House is flipping, 45 wants to be 47 and the old arguments will now feature a few new, differing voices.

It is these potential differences, I believe now as much as ever, our audiences want us to steer towards. If you ask yourself, “how weary am I” from the last two years of diatribe, in-fighting, out-fighting and people in power being just plain mean, ask yourself, “how weary are they?” … our audience?

I could name names, point fingers and cite examples but the joy of this business is the fact that anyone reading this (thanks, by the way) can think of countless citations all on their own.

 So, what is happening right now?”

Will another run at The White House come with a different approach by the now again candidate?

Congress has yet another opportunity to be something other than what they have been.

What will we do? 

Will we be different?

I would ask, should we be different but I already think we should, so ask yourselves.

Legislating, campaigning, and communicating… are all becoming more and more feral.

And we, in this business, wait for it, we pursue and we cannot wait to cover it.

Our broadcast sense of neutrality and non-partisanship deteriorates by the minute. 

Hell, we even add to it all.

We are on the hook for some of this, make no mistake. 

I’ve asked this before, but what’s more disheartening than hearing or seeing a veteran, tenured and respected anchor/reporter wearing their political and personal leanings in their coverage.  Former Presidents are Former Presidents, yet suddenly Donald Trump is Ex-President Trump. I never heard, of Ex-President Obama or Bush or Clinton or Hoover.

False Claims have now become Lies

We lash out in the only way most of us know how, in our writing. Are we being clever or clandestine or just unscrupulous? At a minimum, it’s immature.

If you really need that badly to step into your own stories using addition or omission, go get a talk show.

(This is not a positional complaint by the author here, it’s about how we report the news. Anyone wishing to know where this former cop-current newsperson stands on issues social and political, feel free to send a detailed list of questions. You’ll either be fascinated or incredibly bored.)

We are supposed to know what’s important and relevant and what is not. 

When we ignore that ability, we become exactly what we at least once didn’t wish to be.

What actually is happening in the story constantly takes a back seat to the language, the insults, and the juvenile name-calling that we’ve become so accustomed to. So much that it falls into our coverage without us even thinking about the issues that are actually being batted about, they are lost or diluted.

And that’s not what we are supposed to be doing.

It’s a lot easier to republish somebody’s rehearsed soundbite or republish a tweet than actually tell the story with detail and non-partisanship.

There is no wrong in reporting incendiary remarks or behavior when it is actually news but we are regularly caught in somebody else’s trap, an individual looking for coverage, for attention. They need facetime or namespace and they use us to do it. 

We did a weak job because the same people will do it again tomorrow. We put them in control of our jobs.

Afterward, we look at the work we just produced and realize we just got hosed. 

But, I say with a distinct level of insufferable naiveté, our job is our job, our work is our work.

We shouldn’t let somebody else take the wheel.

The truth is still out there and we don’t run from it, we pursue it. At least we are supposed to go after it.

The job is to clear away the brush, the camouflage.  Real journalists (I will never call myself one, I simply stand in awe of them) will sidestep the rhetoric, all veil and the deception. They can do that and still be creative, engaging and accurate.

The lawmaker, the politician, the candidate all hold dominance over the news media when their soundbites and exclamations drive the story. 

We can only control what we do.

I would much rather it be we to effect change as opposed to someone like Kari Lake or another politician or wannabe thinking it will be up to people like her to “reform” the media.

So, what are we going to do differently this time around? 

And before we arrogantly start thinking that it’s not we, who need to change, think again.

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Barrett Media Writers

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