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Apple’s New Nano: Radio Reinvented

If you own a DVR and have realized that watching television is an entirely new and fresh experience when you truly are in control, then have I got a product for you.

In case you missed the announcement yesterday, one of the many features of the new iPod Nano is an FM tuner.  But not just any FM tuner mind you.  Side note: I honestly think those in the industry clamoring for an FM transmitter to be added to everything from your toaster to your blow dryer are wasting their time.  The need still exists to think of your radio station beyond your terrestrial FM signal.

Having said that, I underestimated the power of a company like Apple to completely reinvent the experience.  If you’re like me and own a DVR, or listen to podcasts often, or generally appreciate the power of time shifting the content you consume, you too may have found yourself reaching for your radio dial attempting to do the impossible: rewind the feed to confirm you did indeed just hear the phrase “F hole.”

Guess what?  You can do that now.  Interrupted while listening?  Pause the song that’s playing and pick up where you left off.  If the station allows song tagging, you can even “bookmark” the song so that the next time you sync your Nano with iTunes, you can go through your list of tagged songs, preview them and purchase the ones you want.

I’ve recently begun to notice more and more the “radio is not where it’s at” montra.  If you’re an artist or a label, replacing radio as a destination for your music is not only unwise, it’s just plain dumb.   Why would you when radio listening could directly result in the purchase of one of your songs?

Don’t look now but I think listening to the radio just became cool again; for the average consumer as well as the industry.  Thanks Apple.

Am I wrong?  Do these seem like cool features to you as a consumer?  Do you like the idea of being able to pause your radio?  Rewind it?  Fast forward it?  Tag a song?  What difficulties does this present for advertisers, if any?

The Race to 500

At WAY-FM, we like to have fun.  So, as we planned for next week’s 2-day fundraiser called the “Race to 500,” we decided to create a video to help get the word out.

If you share our passion for seeing lives changed through music, I hope you’ll join us on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.  We’re asking for 500 listeners to consider a $100 donation to the station.  If you’ve considered a donation before but, for whatever reason, couldn’t or weren’t sure about making a monthly commitment, this is a great way to get your feet wet, so to speak.

I invite you to tune in Tuesday and Wednesday from 6am to 6pm both days for the “Race to 500.”  You’ll hear numerous stories of young lives impacted through a simple radio station and the music it plays.  2 days, 500 people, each donating $100.  Together we’ll continue to change even more lives through the power of music.

If you’d like more information just visit our website and click the “Race to 500” banner.  And thanks for considering partnering with us.   I truly appreciate it.

Oh Ye Consumer of Little Faith

Have you heard the news?  You want, no, you desire something you don’t even know exists.  As soon as you realize it exists, you’ll no doubt find it all but impossible to control the impulsive urge to go out an buy one right away. 

Best Buy thinks so.  And so does much of the radio industry.  How could these two behemoths possibly be wrong?  From All Access:

Portable HD Radio Comes To Best Buy
Insignia Radio

Portability come to HD, as BEST BUY has launched the INSIGNIA HD RADIO PORTABLE PLAYER. As the first-ever portable HD RADIO player, the INSIGNIA HD RADIO Portable Player will make it possible for listeners to take the HD RADIO experience on the go.

“The sound quality and LCD screen features of the INSIGNIA HD RADIO portable are phenomenal,” said INSIGNIA PORTABLE HD RADIO Product Manager MIKE DAHNERT.

“We applaud BEST BUY for setting a precedent in the audio entertainment marketplace by offering the first-ever portable HD RADIO receiver,” said iBIQUITY Pres./CEO BOB STRUBLE. “With new HD2/HD3 digital channels, crystal-clear sound, no subscription fees, and now, thanks to BEST BUY, the ability to take digital radio on the go, it’s a total win for the consumer and one more indication that the HD RADIO momentum is continuing.”

No word yet on whether they’ll be stocking them in the dieing, after-market car audio/satellite radio section, or at a brand new HD radio kiosk near you!

Oh ye consumer of little faith, do you even know what programming is available to you right now in your town via an HD radio you have to buy in order to receive said programming in the first place?

I didn’t think so.

Past, Present and Future

Recently, I was asked to respond to a list of interview questions from HisAir.net’s Ted Kelly.  His website serves as a “one-stop shop” for all things Christian radio and Christian music industry-related, complete with station links, job postings, show prep and research, among other things.

Future Past & Present signpost in the sky

I decided I’d post my repsponses to his questions here before they’re actually puplished on the HisAir.net website, beginning with a brief career capsule.

Jeff, born and raised in Indianapolis, did stints at several Indiana stations (WERK, WLBC and WXIR) in the 80s and 90s before moving to Nashville in 1996 to accept a radio promotions job with Myrrh Records, helping launch the career of Jaci Velasquez.  After stops at three other labels, Jeff joined 88.7 WAY-FM full-time in 2000.  Since that time, Jeff has served in a variety of rolls including afternoon and then mid-day host, followed by six years as co-host of several incarnations of the CHRSN network morning show (Marcia and Jeff, Jeff and Elisabeth, and Jeff and Stace in the morning).  Jeff was promoted from production director to operations director in January 2005 and is thrilled that he no longer has to wake up at 2:45am.

How has WAY-FM evolved over the years?  I’m not going to talk here about how the company has evolved but instead how the product and content have evolved. There was a time when everything on the air seemed to go through this “let’s clean it up” filter.  I had this fear of offending someone and felt the need to homogenize everything I said and did on the air.  That has definitely changed.  No topic today is off limits.  Granted, we might encourage each other to choose certain words carefully, but Wally is offending people every day.  I love it, actually.  Brant is probably second in line when it comes to who’s offending the most people.  He rocks.  I don’t know if you know this or not but Christians, as a group, are easily offended.

Has WAY-FM made any changes due to the economic situation, or been affected in any way? You’re kidding, right?  Is the Pope Catholic?  Is Brant Hansen a hottie?  Is Wally a woman trapped inside a man’s body?  It’s safe to say we’ve been affected, probably more than most in the WAY-FM family.  Business underwriting is way down, though listener giving is actually ahead of where it was last year.  Radio, as a medium, has to get better at monetizing content.  In the future, that may or may not include “selling spots.”

How is WAY-FM able to connect with listeners on a local level? Several ways actually.  A recent example is the not-so-Good Friday tornadoes that ripped through the nearby community of Murfreesboro.  We asked listeners to donate new and slightly used gift cards to those affected.  This really seemed to connect.  People didn’t have to go out and get something.  They just looked in their purse or wallet and said, “Oh yeah, I do have a gift card I haven’t used yet.”  In one week we collected nearly $3,000 dollars in cards and cash (I’m happy to report that I successfully resisted the urge to sneak a card for myself).  We also use social media extensively (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) for each of the four stations we operate from the Nashville office.  This has aided us tremendously, especially in markets we can’t be in every day or every week.

What criteria do you require for a song to be played on your station? WAY-FM is structured such that music decisions are made at the network level (Network PD, Network Music Director).  I like this because it means I don’t have to make time for people like Brian Thiele, Tara Stepp, Andrea Kleid, James Riley, Kai Elmer, Grant Hubbard, Josh Lauritch, Mark Giles, Brian Dishon, and Chris Hauser…is that everybody?  Sorry if I left you out of my list of people I’d rather ignore.  Most of you are on Twitter as much as I am.  That’s probably enough.

What kind of promotions work best for WAY-FM?  Simple but compelling.  Right now, listeners are calling a number we’ve set up to share how their mother sacrificed for them as a child.  Some of the calls are pretty compelling as you might imagine.  We’re pulling the best of these calls and incorporating them into new promos that prompt more of these types of compelling calls.  Makes for a compelling presentation on the air.  I like using the word “compelling” in case you hadn’t noticed.  The non-compelling calls we just pretty much laugh at and make fun of.

How do you think Christian Record labels can better serve Christian radio? While I ignore most of their calls and e-mails regarding local promotions, give-aways, interviews and such, I think that, over all, they’re doing a pretty good job.  Fortunately for me that whole “ignoring” thing just goes the one way.

In your opinion, what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio today? Does anyone really care what Jeff Brown’s opinion is about this?  I highly doubt it.  I suggest, however, that you care about what Mark Ramsey’s opinion is about the obstacles radio faces.  If you read his blog and are familiar with Mark then you already know what I’m driving at.  If you don’t, it’s too late for you so you may as well begin working on your career “Plan B.”

What do you believe is the primary role of the Christian radio air personality? Did I mention “to offend” already?  That one comes pretty easily.  What I really mean is when you’re connecting in a truly honest and transparent way, listeners will naturally be drawn to you.  I’m fortunate to be associated with three of the best in the business in this regard: Brant Hansen, Donna Cruz and Wally.  I’d add Dean O’Neal, Scott Smith and Lisa Williams to that group.

What (if any) Christian radio stations do you consider as innovators today? Not many actually.  We’re not innovating nearly enough in my opinion.  To me, innovation means remaining relevant.   Z88.3 in Orlando is head-and-shoulders above the rest of us in this area.  Instead of sitting on their hands and saying, “Well, we can’t be THE severe weather station” or whatever because they’re the Christian station, they said “We WILL be that station and we’ll do it better and more consistently that anyone else.”  They made a commitment to it and stuck with it.  You can no longer call them a niche format in Orlando.  They’re as main stream as any other station in their market.  Several hundred radio stations across the country are a few years (maybe months) from becoming obsolete and irrelevant.  They continue to do radio as it’s always been done. If you’re content with disseminating your content via a terrestrial FM signal and complementing it with a website and stream, begin now to think about what you might do if it all went away.  Because it will.

Where do you see Christian radio in 5 years? It’s no different for Christian radio than it is for main stream radio.  Please go to http://hear2.com and familiarize yourself with Mark Ramsey and his way of thinking.  He is radio’s best thought leader today and I believe he is dead-on in virtually every way.  If you’re working on approaching your station’s future as Mark suggests, I think you’ll have a legitimate chance of existing in 5 years.  Otherwise, again, dust off your “Plan B.”

The Future’s So Bright (At Least It Can Be)

I was replying this morning to a comment from Robbie Newton on my last blog post.  Robbie is a former WAY-FM board member and someone whose opinion I respect a great deal.  As I wrote my reply, I realized this was one of those moments where the conversation warranted a blog post of its own.

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Basically, the conversation revolves around the question, “Where is radio going?”  There are a lot of opinions as to what that might look like.  Some believe radio will suffer the same fate as many newspapers recently, while others feel (myself included) that the level of radio’s suffering will be directly connected to its level of willingness to adapt to the changes in listener habits and preferences.

My conversation with Robbie thus far, beginning with his initial response to my post 10 Years Ago Today: My WAY-FM Journey:

I find this post very interesting.  As a former member of the board of directors, I observed the ministry up close and personal for over 15 years.  I agree that Matt and Bob are two very fine Christian men.  I see the current turmoil in the industry as ultimately being a good thing because those with the best ideas and courage to take risks will emerge as industry leaders while the rest will fall by the wayside.  I think many inside the industry are realizing that radio was never really about radio in the first place.  It was (and still is) about the listener and communicating with them.  I sense that you might be a little uneasy with those at the corporate level and what decisions they will make about the future direction of the ministry (to feel this way would be understandable).  You mention that you are willing to do everything in your power to ensure the survival of your slice of the pie.  What if ensuring your survival called for the sacrifice of other pieces of the WAY-FM pie, would that be okay?  How does one decide which slice to cut if there’s not enough money to go around?

You are very wise. :-)

First, I agree that it’s not about radio, but about the listener.  Too many in the industry at large fail to realize that.  I think it was a very forward-thinking move years ago when the word “radio” was removed from our mission statement.  To me, it was a realization by the executive team that, while radio is the medium we use today to reach youth and young adults, it may not be the primary vehicle used tomorrow.  I, personally, am striving to be a forward-thinker within the company so that we as a company – not just WAY-FM Nashville – don’t “fall by the wayside.”

As to your question, I hadn’t considered that scenario specifically.  All I can do as operations director is try to ensure the station I work for is making an impact in the local community.  Hopefully, listenership increases as a result of that along with listener donations.  And, I hope to be able to do that for as long as they will let me, meaning, I don’t take anything for granted.

How does one decide which slice to cut?  Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but if it does and it were me doing the deciding, it would be difficult to cut long-established stations if for no other reason than the obligations established within their community of listeners over a long period of time.  Other stations though are practically brand new and still trying to find an audience.

Getting back to the reference to a ‘slice of pie’, perhaps it’s time to go back into the ministry kitchen and start cooking all over again.  Who would be the chefs? I suggest that they should be current senior management, station managers, other key stakeholders (such as thought leaders in the Christian recording industry), current listeners, post-listeners, and most importantly, pre-listeners.  Their assignment would be to bake a brand new pie.  The available ingredients would include the current assets of the ministry (staff, facilities, technologies, etc.), and a God-breathed understanding of the current culture in which you have been called to reach.  So my question to you is quite simple…what do you think the new pie would look like, especially your slice?

The “ingredients” are limited only by our imagination.  As someone within the company who has immersed himself in all things social media the past 18 months, there are several things I see happening in order for WAY-FM, and radio in general, to remain relevant.

  • Downloadable Audio – Podcasts basically.  Not revelatory, but something that’s not happening now no doubt due to limited resources.  I, for one, don’t want to wait for someone else within the company to make it happen.  Rather, I want to take the bull by the horns and set an example for others to follow.  This would include “Mornings with Brant,” “Total Axxess,” the “Top 20 Meltdown,” etc.  I’d like to see each station given the opportunity to monetize it independent of one another.  Give us the ability to further localize the content.
  • Downloadable Video – In essence, video podcasts.  However, I want to take this beyond shooting artist visits and behind the scenes goings-on during certain shows.  Right now the video that is being shot (during certain shows and at local events) is being pushed out primarily through YouTube.  To my knowledge, no one within the company is providing video content in subscribe-able form (apart from what YouTube offers which leaves a lot to be desired).  I see this including deliberate, produced video “shows” that serve as an extension of what we’re doing on the air and in the community.  They may or may not be hosted by on-air talent.  We have a plethora of people on the local level who bring to the table talents we’ve yet to tap into.
  • Live Streaming Video – No matter who we have on the air in any given year, there’s always a certain level of resistance to this.  I believe the future of radio includes nearly 24/7 video streaming (Ustream and/or Stickam among others make this possible).  You could even toy with making this kind of content available on a premium member-type basis.  Again, give the local station the opportunity to monetize it.  But with a paid subscription model, you could award a percentage to the station from which the subscriber originates with the rest going to corporate.  This could be invested back into the product.
  • Twitter – Again, not revelatory, but with just a few exceptions, I’m not sure we’re tapping into this as deeply as we should.  I wonder too if anyone within the company realizes that Twitter gives us the ability to text our listeners directly for FREE.  Sure, there are limitations with Twitter as a texting model that become a non-issue with most third party texting services.  But in light of budget cuts and the current economic climate free is a pretty good alternative.
  • Live Chat – Sounds so 90’s doesn’t it?  Bare with me.

I see the FM radio experience being taken to a new level (a la Leo Laporte) with radio, streaming video, live chat and/or Twitter all happening simultaneously, with phones, of course, still an important part of the equation.  We’ve got to allow listeners the opportunity to interact with us in any way they choose.  Gone are the take-it-or-leave-it days.  Give them a multitude of ways to engage our content both live as-it-happens, as well as on a plane 30,000 feet in the air, during a cross country road trip, or anywhere else they might not otherwise be able to experience our content now.

Questions:

  1. How do you prefer to interact with radio?  Phone?  Text?  Twitter?  Not at all/Passive listener?
  2. Does the idea of live, streaming video as it relates to radio intrigue you at all?
  3. Do you like the idea of being able to take your favorite radio show with you wherever you go to listen to whenever you want?  Minus the music?
  4. Would you welcome the opportunity to interact with other like-minded listeners live and in real time while listening to your favorite show?

Feel free to answer any or all of the above questions in the comments.  You too Robby!

10 Years Ago Today: My WAY-FM Journey

It was on this date in 1999 when a new season began in my life.  I hadn’t even recognized it as such just yet (that would come just over a year later), but I was about to begin a journey that would lead me away from the Nashville music industry – my reason for coming to Nashville three years earlier (to the day) – and back to my first love.  Radio.

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The WAY-FM Media Group (and I say this in all sincerity) is by far the best company I’ve ever worked for.  Before coming to WAY-FM, the longest I’d spent without interruption at any one company was about two years.  I’ve now done that five times over with my current employer.  No small feat to say the least.

I’m the first to acknowledge how truly blessed and extremely thankful I am for being given the opportunity all those years ago by Matt Austin and Bob Augsburg, WAY-FM’s General Manager and President/Founder respectively.  The staff over the years has gone through a multitude of changes, but one thing has remained constant: I’ve truly enjoyed every single individual I’ve had the chance to work with.

Names like Doug Griffin, Karla Lawson, Ace McKay, Kortland Fuqua, Andy Thompson and Jim Turvaville (aka “Turbo”) immediately come to mind when I think of those early days.  Later, it would be programming pros like Doug Hannah and Dave Senes that would cross my path; two men from whom I’ve learned a great deal.

As much as anyone, it was sometimes the “non” WAY-FM staff – consultants and talent coaches – I often learned the most from.  I will always be indebted to guys like John Frost and Tommy Kramer.  Not to mention the more recent and awesomely talented air staff I’ve had the opportunity to work with.  The names are many and include stars like Marcia Ware, Jayar Reed, Jeff Connell, Donna Cruz, Wally and Brant Hansen among others.

I dreamed of this job as a kid.  I often think back to that Christmas I got that first tape recorder.  I’d listen back to myself saying or doing whatever for hours.  Then there was the record player/AM-FM radio/8-track stereo combo I cut my DJ teeth on.   When I remember those days, it’s difficult for me to believe I’ve been doing this for nearly 22 years.

As I look to the future, I can’t help but wonder how much longer I’ll be allowed to do it.  I wonder that, in fact, for all of us in this “business” of radio.  I believe if we, as an industry, listen and put into practice the ideas and methods of thought leaders like Mark Ramsey, Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Michael Hyatt, Fred Jacobs and Jerry Del Colliano, we may surprise a lot of people and actually survive this uncertain future we face.

Make no mistake.  It is a future that will include, if radio is to truly remain relevant, time shift-able any-time content (making our terrestrial signals irrelevant if not unnecessary), constant video content creation and distribution, and a complete and total willingness to embrace all things social media, not as a promotional platform, but as a community one (hat tip to Mark Ramsey).

What will that look like for companies like WAY-FM?  Will it be driven at the corporate level or will individual stations have the opportunity to build their own communities?  When the terrestrial signals are rendered irrelevant, will corporate view individual stations as no longer necessary, or choose to keep them alive, honoring the company’s original mission to impact the local community?

All I know is, with the slice of the WAY-FM pie in which I’ve been entrusted, I plan to do everything in my power to ensure our survival, not for our sake, but for the sake of the community we strive to impact.  I hope I can continue to be blessed with that chance for many more years to come.

Photo credit, FrogMiller

Help Me Help You

I’m wondering if you can help me with a decision I’ve been struggling with for several months now.  I should start off by saying if you’re not a Twitter user, you’ll probably be indifferent to my dilemma.

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Late last year, 88.7 WAY-FM in Nashville, the station for which I serve as operations director, began utilizing Twitter as an additional way to deliver traffic and weather information to listeners (@wayfm_nashville).  Through Twitter’s ability to deliver tweets via SMS, listeners can receive this information right on their cell phones.

While I’ve not yet collected measurable feedback from listeners on the usefulness of this feature (though I did ask for feedback on Twitter while writing this post), a number of people within broadcasting and other closely-related industries have called it “brilliant” and “really well done.”  Maybe they say that because we seem to be ahead of most other stations in this regard.  Though sometimes I wonder if stations that aren’t utilizing Twitter just feel it’s a passing fad.  Will they be proven right?  Too early to tell.

At any rate, my struggle lies in effectively connecting with listeners via @wayfm_nashville who aren’t interested for whatever reason in receiving traffic and weather this way, if at all.  I’m worried that some who follow us will be put off by these 3 to 5 tweets sent every weekday morning.

My first thought is to separate traffic and weather tweets from normal, every day WAY-FM tweets with the creation of a new, traffic and weather-only Twitter username.  This would free up the other username for general information, conversation and contesting.

With this in mind, I grabbed @WAYtoWorkUpdate, which is how we refer to the updates on the air during the morning show.  Next would come the somewhat difficult task of communicating the change on the air, not to mention the added burden of keeping up with an additional username (not only for us, but potentially for those following us).

So, where to go from here?  I would love to get your thoughts and opinions on this in the comments.  Thank you in advance for your time.  By the way, if you’re not in the Nashville market, you can sample WAY-FM online at wayfm.com.  I’d be curious to get your general thoughts on the station as well.

Photo credit, Lee Nachtigal