Thursday, July 31, 2008

One more from the Beeb

Yesterday I talked about how the BBC is using YouTube as an effective marketing tool by incorporating videos of their radio personalities into their new media mix of blogs, text messaging, podcasts, and website pages. Yes, the BBC has resources far and beyond most radio stations in this country. But their tactics can be used by just about anyone -- because most of these new media resources are free.

The Chris Moyles Show, on BBC Radio 1, generates a goodly amount of videos. And so they've taken the next logical step, which is to create their own YouTube channel. Now there's a single destination where listeners and fans can go to get all of the Moyles' show videos.

Again, this is something just about anyone can do -- but you have to do it right. Take a critical look at the page. It's effectively branded, and as you can see from the ratings, traffic is brisk.

For any station (or any other business, for that matter) that generates more than five videos, having a dedicated channel can be a great way to further focus the message.

You don't need to have a lot of money to survive in this changing media landscape -- just the imagination to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. Like the BBC.

- Ralph

Day 47 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A few tips from the Beeb -- with numbers

On one of my radio listserves, the subject of YouTube videos came up (after a radio announcer posted some videos). My contribution to the discussion, how a station can use YouTube as a marketing tool, was the basis of my post "Radio for video websites -- the easy way."

In the listserve discussion, I cited the BBC Radio 1's "Chris Moyles Show" as an example of how to integrate the various media. I linked to one of their videos involving the staff trying to talk while eating Pop Rocks, and explained how the show used this one skit on the radio, on video, as a text message topic, and a blog post.

Response from the listserve? "Eating Pop Rocks is dumb. What's the point?"

The point wasn't the content itself, but how it was being used to reach a wider audience through different media (as I further explained in another post).

Recently the Chris Moyles show did another video stunt worth paying attention to -- not necessarily because of the content, but because of what they did with it -- and the results.

The show's newsreader, Dominic Byrne, set out to make the world's most boring YouTube video. And the Moyles team set out to get that video as many views as possible. A silly stunt, sure, but let's look carefully at the execution -- and the results.



Listen carefully to the original segment. Although Moyles and his team are talking about a video (and a deliberately boring one at that), they use a wide range of audio tricks to make it interesting and fun on radio. When the segment starts, they note that the video has around 10,000 views -- by the end it's 100,000. Over 400 text messages come in during the segment, and the energy level of the segment is high throughout.

Now that broadcast has come and gone, but there's more to the story. I don't listen to the BBC live, but I did hear about this on the Chris Moyles Show podcast. And it pursuaded me to watch the video. I could have also read about it on the Chris Moyles Show blog. And played the Flash animation game. And watched the trailer.

As of this writing, the video has over 350,000 views -- which represents about 5% of the show's audience.

This video is silly, but what if these same tactics were used to drive traffic to a different kind of radio station video? What if it was a video designed to strengthen the brand of the station? What if it had an advertiser's message incorporated into it? Now you've got something that's working for the station in a medium outside of over-the-air broadcast. And what if listeners were directed to a page on the station's website to view the content? A page with additional advertising opportunities.

While 5% of an audience may not seem like much, consider this: a realtor shared a success story on our listserve. She was excited because advertising an open house on our local radio station resulted in 24 people showing up to the event. How much happier would she have been with ten times that turnout (closer to the 5% mark) -- or more?

- Ralph

Day 46 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How Keep Classical Music Boring - the Glass wall

A while ago I commented on how many public radio stations reinforce the perception that classical music is a dead genre that's bland, boring and irrelevant to most people's lives. Recently, one of the public radio listserves I subscribe to asked an interesting question:

How often does your station program Philip Glass?

A few stations played a fair amount, some played perhaps one movement of one piece once in a while, and many said they never programmed Glass at all.

Now let's put this into perspective. Philip Glass is one of the most successful -- and popular -- classical composers in the world. In addition to writing for the concert stage and the opera house, he also has a distinguished career as a film composer, creating scores for "Candyman," "The Hours," "The Illusionist" and many others.

And unlike many contemporary composers, his recordings don't have to be underwritten by grants (or the composer) -- they do just fine as commercial releases and pay for themselves, thank you very much.

Glass' music is tonal, melodic, and has a strong rhythmic pulse. You don't need a music degree to listen to Glass. It's all very accessible music (you can listen to Glass' music on his website if you're not familiar with it). And his music's popular.

So why won't some public radio stations play it at all? Because Glass' music has an energy and excitement to it (remember the driving rhythm I mentioned?) that demands you listen to it.

Classical music programming on the radio has boxed itself into a corner, serving as little more than highbrow Muzak for an increasingly graying listenership. The goal is to remain in the background, not to force the audience to engage in active listening.

In a sense, it's ironic, because Glass himself is no spring chicken -- he's of the same generation as the majority of the classical music radio audience. The same age as the listeners who (some programmers fear) might have a heart attack if they heard a little 30 year-old minimalism served up with their 300 year-old baroque concertos and 150 year-old orchestral tone poems.

There's no doubt that Philip Glass appeals to a younger crowd -- his concerts tend to be packed with 20- and 30- somethings rather than bluehairs. And for many in the audience, it's the only classical concert they'll attend.

But that's my point. Classical music is a living, breathing art form. Philip Glass is but one of many composers writing well-crafted music that speaks to the people of today in the same way that Handel's connected with 18th century audiences, or Brahms with 19th century concertgoers.

Should Philip Glass be played on the radio? Well, his concerts sell out, his recordings have respectable sales figures, his movies enjoy good circulation, and he's a well-known public figure. If this were any other genre but classical, there wouldn't be any question.

- Ralph

Special shout-out to KPAC, Texas Public Radio, who responded that they program a fair amount of Philip Glass. Yeehaw!

Day 45 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Collecting Cliches

We were poking around one of those antique malls this past weekend, and I was reminded of the Crazy Grandma Comic Book Price Guide at MisterKitty.org.

You hand her a stack of beat up Charlton [comics] from the 70s; next to worthless in anybody's estimation. However, the little old lady manning the antique booth has other plans. "These book for eight dollars each," she says apologetically. And what book would that be, you wonder? Why, the CRAZY GRANDMA COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE, of course!

Ever since those freaking baby boomers flashed on their own mortality and started turning every bit of their childhood into age-defying fetish objects, newspapers and Sunday supplements have been running inane little filler pieces all about how those old comic books rotting away in your attic are worth thousands of dollars. And maybe some of them are. But ALL of them are NOT. Beat-up Jughead comics will not put your grandchildren through college, lady.
So true. The articles they refer to (such as the Richmond Times Dispatch's "Love of collecting can pay off") tend to reinforce the perceptions non-collectors about collections by reciting the three collecting cliches:
  1. Collectible items are always worth a lot of money.
  2. Everything old is collectable (especially ephemara).
  3. Some people have enjoyed windfalls -- or even make a living -- buying and selling collectables.
So what is an object really worth? It depends on three factors:
  1. Desirability - most people tend to collect things from their youth. When collecting toy trains became an organized hobby in the 1950's items from the 1920's were hot. In the 2000's, trains from the 1960's are commanding higher prices than before, while the value of older trains has leveled off.
  2. Availability - How many are out there? Pulp magazines from the 1930's have a limited appeal, but every year they become scarcer, keeping the prices high (for some issues only). While they were published in the thousands, pulps were considered disposable entertainment, and many were either thrown out after reading, or perished in World War II paper drives. Those that survived are victims of their own cheap paper, which breaks down over time. Left untreated, a pulp magazine becomes increasingly brittle and eventually crumbles to pieces. It's a small collector's market, but the objects are in very short supply.
  3. Condition - This is part most crazy grandma's don't get. The more common an item is, the more important condition becomes. A tin toy Marklin Battleship from 1914 commands five figures -- even one with scratches and dents. Why? Because it's so rare (and desirable) that condition doesn't affect cost that much. A Matchbox car that's readily available can be worth maybe three figures if it's new and has the original box -- but beat to hell with most of its paint missing, the car's value drops to fifty cents (except in crazy grandma's booth).
Notice age has nothing to do with it. Something made just a few years ago could be extremely desirable and rare, which would drive up its price, whereas something very old that's in plentiful supply will never be worth much.

Age can indirectly impact value, as things tend to deteriorate over time, which can affect availablilty.

Understanding what really determines an object's value can really help the next time you're poking through an antique mall or flea market booth.

So what prompted this post? I found (and purchased) a copy of the Gold Key comic "Total War: M.A.R.S. Patrol" in an antique mall -- mint, in a protective plastic bag, for eight bucks.

- Ralph

Day 44 of the WJMA Web Watch.


Friday, July 25, 2008

"Lessons from Ovid" by John Amos

It’s an old story but a good one: a story for our own time, really.

And my guess is, not many people have heard it before. A short version goes something like this.
The man knew what he was doing, but he did it anyway. And then he laughed about it. As he laid the axe to the trunk of the oak, he knew he was wrong, defying the will of the gods. He knew these trees were sacred, but he just kept going. Without a qualm, he hacked down every tree in the grove. Then he looked up and scoffed, as if to say, “What are you going to do about it?”

But the gods will not be mocked.

They visited on him a punishment, tailored to fit his crime. They condemned him to perpetual, infinite, insatiable hunger.

During the day he ate everything within reach but was never satisfied. At night he dreamed of banquets, but the food tasted of nothing. Emptying bowls of heaped food, he craved bigger bowls, heaped higher. Food for a whole city could not satisfy him. Eventually he sold all his property, converting every possession into what he could eat.

At last, mad with hunger, a monster no longer a man, he gnawed his own limbs, and in a final feast, devoured himself.

Listen and learn: The gods will not be mocked.
That story, about a fool named Erisichthon*, comes from the ancient Roman poet, Ovid. His timeless work of mythology, Metamorphoses, contains dozens of such cautionary tales; and though it was written almost 2000 years ago during the reign of Augustus Caesar, it’s more than worth reading today.

Certainly Erisichthon’s story about human arrogance and the desecration of the natural world pertains to our day and time. If we listen, it has much to say about our insatiable appetite for more, our instinctual drive to consume without ever being satisfied. And it has even more to say about a race that’s blithely, casually intent on destroying the planet. Most importantly, it insists that there will be payback for our foolishness.

I recently read this story with a group of high school seniors. They got it. Immediately, intuitively. I didn’t need to preach about the environment or rampant consumerism or the spiritual emptiness of material things.

A good teacher just gets out of the way and lets the poet speak:
“None of it was enough. Whatever he ate
Maddened and tormented his hunger
To angrier, uglier life.”
Here’s a sampling of similar stories you can find in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: King Midas, granted the golden touch, realizes too late that he can’t drink water without it turning to gold in his mouth. Arachne challenges the goddess Athena to a weaving contest, loses and is transformed into a spider. Icarus escapes the Labyrinth on wings attached to his shoulders with wax. When he flies too close to the sun, the wings melt, and he falls into the sea. Narcissus stares into a pool and falls in love with his own reflection.

These stories, with their fairy tale qualities, might seem aimed at children. And in fact, it’s not hard to find beautifully illustrated, tamed-down versions in the children’s sections of bookstores.
But Ovid isn’t for children. He’s for adults. To quote poet Ted Hughes, “Above all, Ovid is interested in passion. Or rather, what passion feels like to the one possessed by it. Not just ordinary passion either, but human passion in the extreme—passion where it combusts…”

“Combustible passion.” Now there’s an idea that accurately describes our time. Terrorists strap bombs to themselves and blow up the innocent. Preachers beat the Bible and then get caught with their pants down. Cities burn as sports fans “celebrate” victory.

Listen. Every murder, rape, and suicide, every ugly out-of-control argument, every tongue-lashing a parent gives a child and every temper tantrum that child throws to get his way, every incident of road-rage, every common adultery, every needle in every vein: behind it all is passion run amok.

I’m telling you, Ovid speaks to our age. People are people: 2000 years ago in Rome or today in the United States. We’re all slaves to passion.

The great Roman poet shows us who and what we really are. Which is precisely why we should continue to read him.

- John Amos
from his column "Every Now and Then"
©2008 by John Amos, reprinted by permission
"Every Now And Then: Occasional Essays"

*My prose retelling of the Erisichthon story borrows phrases from Ted Hughes’ beautiful modern-verse translation, Tales from Ovid. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1997

Day 41 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Digital Experiential Divide

I've recently joined Twitter -- but this post isn't about that. Rather, it's about what happened after I joined, and the implications for others trying to move their businesses online.

If you're not familiar with Twitter, check out this video by Common Craft. As always, they do a superb job of clearly -- and simply -- explaining the basic concept.



And that's the crux of this post -- explaining basic concepts. These days it's not too difficult for most people to understand what a website is and why a business needs one (well, perhaps with one exception). And that's because most people have had experience with websites.

But many times the usefulness of a web-based application can't adequately be explained to someone who hasn't tried. But most people (especially business decision-makers) aren't going to try something unless they know what the benefit is.

How can you convey the concept of what these things are to someone with no frame of reference? Is a blog like a newsletter? A podcast like a radio show? Well, kind of, but not really.

I'm using Twitter both as a way to expand my social network and as a way for DCD Records to reach people. But when folks ask me what's new, I can't really tell them. Even some of my fairly Internet-savvy colleagues don't understand what Twitter is and why I'm there.

I've talked before about digital subdivisions. There's the big one among people who are online and those that aren't. And there's another one between people who actively use the Internet for many things and those that use it occasionally for forward e-mail jokes and visiting a few websites.

It seems to me there's a further subdivision among the active Internet users. There's those that follow the well-trod paths (visiting websites, using email) and those that are exploring the new services the web offers. And the problem is that the benefits of these new services are only apparent to those who try them.

But if your business depends on Internet traffic in a substantial way, then it might be a good idea to experiment a little. Not all of these new services are a good match for every business, but, hey. It's where the action is.

I'd be more specific, but well, you had to be there.

- Ralph

Day 40 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Talking about Silent Movies

I often wonder why so many people (especially those in my immediate family) are vehemently opposed to watching a silent movie. Perhaps they don't know how to watch a silent film.

Like any other kind of entertainment, silent movies had their conventions -- mostly based on necessity. Modern films rely heavily on sound effects to tell their stories (even the ones without explosions). But how do you convey a sense of impact without sound? Or communicate emotion and conversation when the audience can't hear the dialogue?

Most of these problems were solved rather ingeniously, and it doesn't really take a lot to appreciate this kind of movie making. Simply stop listening for audio clues, and concentrate more on the visual. In other words, look at what's actually there, rather than faulting the film for it couldn't possibly have.

Here's a couple of examples from a 1917 Fatty Arbuckle film, "The Butcher Boy." In this first scene, Fatty Arbuckle's cutting some beef for an order.

video

So what made this funny? A lot of humor depends on the unexpected, and this scene had plenty of that. Notice how subtly Arbuckle leans on the scale. He repeats the action three times so that audience gets it. And it's the kind of gag that wouldn't be appreciably improved with sound effects.

Then there's the unexpected use of the whisk broom and dustpan. He sweeps the steaks into it (unusual, but mildly amusing), and then uses the same equipment to clean up the butcher's block (eeew, gross -- but funny in a different way).

The casual way Arbuckle throws his equipment around leads to some humor based on the unexpected, and a little bit of thrill as well. Remember, that there's no special effects here. So Arbuckle really threw those chops over his shoulder and aced them on the hook. And he really tossed that butcher knife up in the air and moved his hand away at the last minute without seeming to watch the blade. These actions catch us by surprise, and we laugh in response (or we should).

Here's another scene. Arbuckle's making time with the shop girl, and his fellow employee, who's a rival for her affections catches them. As things go from bad to worse, customer Buster Keaton (in his first film appearance) walks in, and eventually the store owner enters as well.


video

In the beginning of the scene, we don't really need to hear any of the dialogue. The actors make it plain enough what's being said and how they feel.

So how do you indicate how hard the rival gets hit by Fatty's gut without the use of sound? Have the actor make a huge pratfall -- he's literally knocked off his feet. The exaggerated reaction is unexpected, and funny.

And notice how throughout the scene our expectations are set up and then foiled by twists (all designed for laughs, of course). The rival's going to whack Arbuckle with a broom -- but Arbuckle nails him first with a flour bag (and knocks him down again). Keaton enters, and because the rival ducks, unexpected gets a bag in the face (and goes down in a spectacular fashion).

The rival laughs, and Keaton tries to hit him with a broom -- a miss, and another incredible pratfall. Then the war starts (watch the rival leap over the counter in a decidedly odd and funny fashion). The rival's pie (which we expect to hit Keaton) clobbers the owner instead (who executes another athletic pratfall).

When the owner recovers, Keaton points out who through the pie. We expect the owner to retaliate -- but he hits Keaton instead! And then things escalate with comic exaggeration, and Arbuckle contributes just enough to keep everyone occupied while he and his girlfriend make their escape.

And even you don't find all of this isn't uproariously funny, consider the skill involved in these scenes. Without CGI, everything has to happen with split-second timing. At the very least, one can appreciate the high level of acrobatic skill required by all the actors to make these gags work.

The "Butcher Boy" isn't the best film of it's kind -- just one of thousands of two-reelers that packed as much humor into a 30-minutes as it could (notice in the clips how one bit flows directly into the other without pause).

But it's a good example of the kind of comedy that was prevalent in early part of the film era. And, in my opinion, it's still pretty darned funny. I'm not saying modern movies aren't, but if you pass on the silents, I think you're missing a world of laughs. And who doesn't need more of those these days?

- Ralph

Day 39 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Airport Observation

As I was sitting in the airport waiting to fly home from Orlando, I noticed a significant number of people wandering around with Bluetooth headsets rammed in their ears like some proto-Borg implant.

I understand that some people need to keep in constant communication -- like the President, or transplant surgeons, or the head of national security.

But it was 5:00 AM on a Sunday morning and most of these Bluetoothed folks were flying coach, with theme park shopping bags doing double duty as carry-on luggage. And many had their families in tow, clearly returning from vacation.

So who were they expecting to hear from at that time of day? I don't recall any of them actually taking a call, but by golly, they were ready!

I know a Bluetooth headset can make one look like an important captain of industry -- especially if the wearer's striding down midtown Manhattan in the middle of the work week, barking orders to an unseen caller.

But to be plugged in on a Sunday morning before the sun rises? Personally, my impression was less "captain of industry' and more "industrial tool."

- Ralph

Day 38 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Monday, July 21, 2008

HD Radio's unrealised potential


I always enjoy the HD Radio session at the Public Radio Development and Marketing conference. On the whole, public radio's understood the potential of the medium far more than commercial radio.

Commercial radio (read: the HD Radio Alliance) has been trying to sell the sizzle without worrying overly much about having any steak on hand. HD Radio lets you tune into other channels -- but most commercial stations don't have them. You can get song and artist info displayed -- but most commercial stations haven't activated that feature. You can get time, weather and traffic reports -- but most commercial stations don't offer the service.

On the other hand, public radio's been building solid, valuable services and only after they're up and running do they put the word out to their listeners. In other words, the steaks are cooking, come hear them sizzle.

In the presentation on Saturday, the panel talked about some real-world solutions. WAMU had a strong audience for their bluegrass programming. But as they grew more into a news/talk station, that smaller (but loyal) group was holding them back. Now the commercial radio solution would be to flip the format and blow off that audience. But WAMU developed an Internet bluegrass service, (Bluegrasscountry.org), and put it on their HD2 channel.

They then launched a concerted effort to help those listeners get HD Radio tuners (through fund-raising premiums and giveaways) so that they could still hear their beloved format. Instead of just a few hours of bluegrass programming, the HD2 channel gives listeners 24/7 coverage.

Remember the message in the Jacob Media presentation? You don't have to choose which audience to serve. Develop different content for different media and serve both. And that's what WAMU is now doing.

And public radio, especially the NPR Labs, are working on further services that can happen through the HD Radio digital data stream. Like closed caption displays for the hearing impaired. So now a station's news/talk programming can reach a previously unreachable market.

And there's other data services, such as navigation info, traffic reports and more that are available and public radio stations are using right now. And they're leading the initiative to improve range by making digital signal repeaters to strengthen the signal throughout the station's normal coverage area.

For most radio stations, "HD"could stand for "half-dead" radio. And no wonder. Only 17% of commercial radio stations are using any form of HD Radio.

Meanwhile, in the public radio sector, where 75% of pubcasters are using the technology, things are different. They're not dying, they're adapting.

- Ralph

Day 37 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Rad Idea for Radio


I received an email from a friend who listens to Leo Laporte's radio show. He said Laporte was talking about a speech he's going to give at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference. The jist of the speech? According to my friend, "Be afraid... be very afraid. Adapt or die."

A similar kind of speech was given today at the Public Radio Development and Marketing conference I'm at, but with a small difference that I think is a very important concept for businesses. And this is a concept that isn't limited to just radio, either.

Paul Jacobs, GM of Jacobs Media shared the results of the Bedroom Project, a study of how college-educated Gen X and Y use media. Rather than just using surveys, they had peer interviewers visit the subjects in their homes, apartments and dorms. The subjects talked about how they used various forms of media, and showed the interviewers (and their accompanying cameraman) how they incorporated various devices into their lives.

The results weren't surprising to anyone who's been paying attention. Whether they're online, or on their phones, or listening to their iPods or using their TiVo, there's three constants.

Control, variety, choice.

Gen X and Y want to watch or listen to what they want on their schedule. Watching "Lost" is great. The concept of having to be in front of the TV on Sunday evening is a non-starter.

This group also wants variety. They generally don't listen to just one genre of music, or watch only one type of TV show. The SAM format is radio's feeble attempt to emulate the listening habits of this group by slightly mixing some song formats together. But it doesn't go far enough. Mixing a few songs off a limited playlist doesn't come close to the real iPod experience which can mix together 10,000 tracks.

And this group really wants -- and expects -- choice. With everything that's available online, they see no reason to settle for a limited range of videos, or music, or news, or any kind of content.

So how does this group use radio? They don't. They can't control the programming on radio, they don't think there's any variety, and they don't have a lot of choices. It's irrelevant, and many of the interviewees didn't own a radio at all.

So that's the "Be afraid" part of Laporte's message. But Jacobs went on to offer hope. Because this demographic does listen to the music, news and entertainment offerings of radio stations (particularly public radio stations) -- but only if they're available online.

So that's the "Adapt or die" part of Laporte's message. And it's one I've been delivering for some time. A radio station isn't a broadcaster. It's a content provider. And if it wants to survive, it needs to be a content creator.

Now here's the new concept that Jacobs presented. While radio audiences are aging and not being replaced, they're not going away overnight. So a broadcaster doesn't have to choose what direction to go in. In the olden days, a station could be smooth jazz and serve an older audience, or switch to Top 40 and serve a younger audience -- but it couldn't do both. It had to choose which audience to go for, abandoning the other in the process.

The crux of the presentation was that Gen X and Y get their media digitally. Boomers get theirs over the air. So stations can keep serving the boomers with their on-air programming, and develop new online content (and not just recycled on-air content) to serve the next generation of listeners. In other words, one station can serve two audiences through two different mediums.

And that can be a take away for other businesses as well. You don't necessarily have to blow off your loyal customer base just because they're older to capture a younger market. You can continue to serve them as you develop new services for younger customers and transition your business as necessary.

Most of Jacob's audience wasn't afraid -- they were excited at the possibilities. I guess they've already started to adapt.

- Ralph

Day 34 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Communications Community


Day two of the Public Radio Development and Marketing Conference, and again important concepts are being discussed that are relevant to other businesses that rely on an Internet component.

Today the big recurring theme was community. Public radio has been generally more adept at creating a community of supporters out of their audience than commercial radio. Part of it's the nature of the media. Commercial radio derives income from advertisers -- the audience is only important because the bigger the audience, the higher the ad rates.

Since public radio relies on direct contributions from its audience for part of its funding, its had to develop a closer relationship with its listeners so they feel invested in the station so they can, well, invest in the station through their donations.

Social communities are becoming increasingly important in growing web traffic, as recommendations from friends weigh heavier than promotional pieces. Because public radio's dealt with community building for some time, the big question is how to translate that skill to Internet community building.

For many commercial stations, the concept of community building is a foreign one (and it's more than just a radio "listener's club").

Getting Internet coupons is groovy, but that doesn't build a community. A business can develop an Internet community around it by delivering valuable content to its members. The actual content can be anything -- online flash games, blogs, video clips, even Internet coupons. Huh? But didn't I just say...?

I did. But here's the critical piece that pubcasters are getting sooner than most. Whatever content is offered, whatever additional benefits the business offers, they have to reflect the values of the community it's trying to serve. The businesses that can do that will develop a loyal community of listeners/customers because their actions say they "get it." They understand what that community is all about.

Public radio development directors are getting it down here in Orlando. How about the businesses where you are?

- Ralph

Day 33 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Public Radio Puzzle


I'm here in hot, hazy and humid Orlando, Florida for the annual Public Radio Development and Marketing conference. So why should anybody outside of the public radio system care? Because at the core of this conference, these professionals deal with one of the fundamental problems of Internet businesses -- especially content providers.

Problem: How do you get people to pay for something they can get for free?

Anyone can tune their radio to the low end of the dial and listen to a public radio station for free. They can also watch a public television show for free, too. But these media need the financial support of their audiences to survive. So how do you get people to pay for something they get for free?

While this conference will really go into the nuts and bolts of various specialized fundraising techniques, the overall concepts apply to just about any Internet content provider.

1) Deliver quality content. If it's presented as having no value, it's tough to ask people to pay for it. Public broadcasting makes a point of delivering (and telling their audiences they deliver) quality programming.

Look at the music industry. The public "knows" that the price (and therefore the value) of a song is only 99 cents. That's what it is on iTunes, and that's what it is most everyplace else. Sure, it's a different price at Amazon -- it's lower. So when someone shares or illegally downloading a song, they figure the record company's at most only out a buck. Music isn't valuable, so taking it shouldn't be a big deal. See the problem?

2) Be specific about what you want the audience to do. People will generally cooperate if they understand what's expected of them. For public radio, it's explaining why they need the money, and how the listener can help.

For a website trying to build traffic, it's making sure the navigation is clear and intuitive -- and that the user doesn't have to jump through hoops to get to the content.

3) Develop more than one source of income. Public broadcasters get a small amount from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (they're not entirely funded by the government as some like to think). Pubcasters also bring in money through underwriting (sort the equivalent to advertising). And even listener support takes many different forms -- one-time donations, monthly contributions, thank-you gifts for certain pledge amounts, trips, prizes, special exclusive events, estate planning, and more.

The goal of any business with a web component should be to maximize the opportunities. It's a recurring theme in our WJMA website case study. A radio station that thinks its sole source of income is selling ads for its over-the-air broadcasts is living in the last century. Some income streams will be stronger than others. But which is worse: to have your primary source of income dry up, or to have your sole source of income disappear?

And that's why a lot of folks are here in Orlando. To share ideas and figure out how to persuade people to voluntarily pay for what they can get for free, and to broaden the revenue streams as much as possible for the rocky economy looming ahead. And who among us isn't thinking of that as well?

- Ralph

Day 32 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fair and balanced -- our five worst posts

Our last post we took stock of where we were after 30,000 views and ran down our five most popular posts. As as we've done before when we pass a milestone like this, we're also going to run down the five least popular posts, in descending order.

After all, what you don't like should get the same attention from us as what you do.
5) After the Bum Rush (Ralph) -- My analysis of the attempt to game the iTunes charts seemed to be of little interest to readers. Perhaps if I had used the uncensored version of the Black Lab's album art for "Passion Leaves a Trace."

4) The RIAA and musical myopia (Ralph) -- This was an explanation of the relationship between the RIAA, SoundExchange, the Copyright Board and how it all impacted Internet radio. A little too music-geekish, perhaps?

3) Pulling Cable (Ken) -- Ken's post about new fiber being laid in his neighborhood had him wondering if HDTV would soon be available. It was. And that's that.

2) The Revolution Will Be Dugg (Ralph) -- My commentary about the spreading of DRM codes as an act of civil disobedience seemed to not add much to the conversation.
And the absolute least-read post so far:
1) Return of the Marching Memes (Ralph) -- This was also the least popular post when we did the first survey at 10,000 views, and still sat in the basement at the 20,000 mark. Well, it seemed like a good idea when I wrote it...
Once again, I have four of the five bottom posts. Ken has one entry on the low end, but he still makes a strong showing in the top five.

We'll keep working hard to turn out posts you want to read -- and we'll take our lumps when we fall short.

- Ralph

Day 31 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Another milestone -- and our top five posts

This weekend "CE Conversations" passed another major milestone. According to Feedburner, (which tracks the subscribers to our RSS feed and hits to our Feedburner mirror site), we've had over 30,000 views to our modest little blog. (The StatCounter down in the lower right of this page tracks direct traffic to this site, but it hasn't been activated very long).

Every 10,000 views, we take a look at the most -- and least -- popular posts of all time, to see what you like to read (and what you don't).

So here's our five most popular posts since we launched in August 2006.
5) A Worthy Supporting Role (Ken) -- commentary on Rex Ingram's role in "Sahara" and how it played against racial stereotypes.

4) Who needs an iPhone, when.... (Ken) -- suggesting an alternative to the iPhone madness. It was written about the first generation iPhone, but Ken's thoughts are still just as valid.

3) Kens' Jeopardy Adventure (Ken) -- a new entry to the top five. I wonder how many readers thought this was about Ken Jennings. If our Ken aquits himself well on the show, maybe it won't matter.

2) The RIAA and the low-price spread (Ralph) -- another new entry to the list. The story of how the dairy industry tried to turn consumers away from margarine and back to butter with archane legislation seemd to me to have interesting parallels with the record industry's current shenanigans.
And the most popular post to date remains,
1) Greenberg Revisited (Ralph) -- discussing the importance of well-researched price guides as opposed to relying on Ebay to determine the value of collectibles
When we started, both Ken and I were writing about an equal number of posts. But with the passage of time and Ken's increasingly rigorous triathlon training regimen, his contributions have become less frequent even as his race stats have improved.

Quality still trumps quality among CE Conversation readers, though. Despite his decreased posting schedule, Ken still has three of the top five posts -- and his overall total of views still bests mine.

- Ralph

Day 30 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Video for radio websites -- the easy way

I've talked before about how radio stations can use videos to add valuable content to their websites (and thereby increase traffic). Recently, I was reminded that this video doesn't necessarily have to be generated by the business itself.

JD Slade is the morning DJ at WJMA-FM in Orange, Virginia -- the station we're using as a case study to see what works (or doesn't) online. JD's posted some videos on YouTube. They're not official WJMA videos, just clips shot by private individuals. While not great art, they're the kind of fun, casual videos many people post.

However -- even though these are personal videos, they can be potentially valuable content for WJMA's website.

Here's one of JD Slade having fun in the studio while a song plays.



So what's the takeaway?
  1. JD Slades's a person who knows how to have fun.
  2. JD Slade's full of energy.
  3. If you look carefully, you can see that he's not just flailing his arms -- JD really knows how to play the guitar. He's a musician.
Now if this video was embedded in the station's website with info about JD Slade's morning show, the augmented takeaway could be:
  1. WJMA's morning show is fun.
  2. WJMA's morning man, JD Slade, is full of energy.
  3. WJMA's staff (at least one of them) is a musician. They must really know a lot about the music they play.
Here's another one of JD Slade dancing at a local event.



The immediate takeaway?
  1. JD Slade is man who knows how to enjoy himself.
  2. JD Slade is a good dancer (decidedly better than me, that's for sure).
  3. This looks like a fun event.
Now suppose that video was taken at a WJMA remote, and posted to WJMA's website (with accompanying info identifying JD Slade as the WJMA morning DJ). Now the takeaway's changed slightly.
  1. JD is a man who knows how to enjoy himself. His morning show must be fun to listen to.
  2. JD is a good dancer. He sure has a lot of energy. I bet his morning show does, too.
  3. Looks like this is a fun WJMA event. The next time they're going to be out broadcasting somewhere, I'm going to stop by. They know how to have a blast.
Of course, the more videos of this nature the station has on its site, the larger the cumulative effect. By also placing them on YouTube (yes, I know that's where these originated), the station makes the videos available to other folks as well. And every time someone links to it or embeds it in their own blog/email/Facebook page/etc., it just serves as another free plug for, and another link back to the station. And in the realm of social networking, that's the most effective kind of branding there is.

So the simplest (and cheapest) way to generate unique content for a website? Let the staff do their thing with camcorders -- and post the videos that work.

- Ralph


Day 27 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The FISA Fallout

By now most Americans have formed an opinion about the Senate's vote on the Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA) amendments yesterday.

The particulars of the bill itself have been greatly discussed elsewhere (and you can also read the original for yourself). There were three different amendments on the floor.

The first would have removed immunity for the telecom who voluntarily participated with the warrantless wiretapping.

The second would have removed the immunity with the stipulation that if a federal court determined the warrantless wiretaps were constitutional the telecoms were safe from prosecution.

The third would have delayed decision on immunity until 90 days after Congress received the Inpector General's report on his investigation of the wiretapping activity.

All three failed.

Republicans were expected to vote down the amendments to protect the administration -- which they did. Democrats -- especially those recently sent to Washington to counter the Administration -- overwhelmingly did as well, to the surprise and consternation of many.

Now in the old days (I.E. just a few years ago), there would have been a great deal of hue and cry, but if the congresscritters hung tough, they could have ridden out the storm. And come the next election cycle, all would have been forgotten.

But that was before this current presidential campaign and the increased usage of the Internet to generate and organise political action. In reaction to this controversial vote, a new organisation has come to the fore.

The Accountability Now PAC (or Strange Bedfellows) is concerned with the rights of American citizens, especially those that have taken a backseat in the wake of anti-terrorist legislation (or in the case of the FISA flap, activities that circumvent the legislation).

It's an organisation that's pulling from both sides of the political spectrum, and number both Republicans and Democrats among its founders. The idea's pretty simple. Freedom and civil rights are pretty nebulous concepts that normally don't generate much interest. But Strange Bedfellows intends to be a large, organised, well-funded group that is interested, and will hold legislators accountable -- especially at election time.

So what's the first step? An old tactic from the Ron Paul campaign, the money bomb. Everyone who wants to donate does so on a designated day. If it's true that we have the best government money can buy, then the overnight appearance of, say, 10 million dollars in a PAC's war chest should make those in power sit up and take notice.

This is a new kind of response to politics as usual. And as practitioners of social science can tell you, the most effective way to change a system is to change how you react to the system.

- Ralph

Day 26 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Virginia Media News vs. WJMA - one's here, one's not

If you're thinking about revamping your business website, hopefully, you'll avoid the scorched earth solution of WJMA-FM. I've talked before about how they pulled down their site and replaced it with an unhelpful "under construction" sign, and recently replaced that with a simple placeholder.

End result? A single page site that says virtually nothing about the business. And as some have pointed out, by having no information, the page either suggests a broken website or a business that's gone under.

There's a better way. Check out VARTV.com, the Virginia radio, and television news website. Here's a screenshot of their current (as of this posting) website.

Notice the top story. The site's getting an overhaul, but it didn't disappear like WJMA's. Rather, the editor chose to alert readers that updates will continue, but not at the same rate while construction's going on.



I can handle that. Now when I see glitches on the site, or slightly stale news, I know why. VARTV's protected their reputation while they work on their improvements. The site's still functioning, and I don't expect traffic to decline significantly (if at all).

And that means that whatever ad revenue VARTV generates from said traffic will continue throughout the construction period.

Now that's how to retool a site. Not by going incommunicado the way Piedmont Communications did.

- Ralph

Day 25 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

WTJU -- wave of the future, or waving from the sidelines?

Jerry Del Colliano recently had a couple of interesting posts in his "Inside Music Media" blog. Now, Mr. Del Colliano's professional broadcasting credentials are impeccable, both as an on-air professional and as a major force in the industry. So let's assume his opinions have some weight. And what does he think radio needs to succeed with current and future audiences?

In one post he lists as a top priority:
Djs who play their own music -- not corporate or station playlists (I know, I know -- it won't work. It never does. Tight playlists and repetition win out in the end. Bla Bla Bla). No, this Gen Y audience means it.
In a post about Bob Dylan's "Theme Time Radio" program, he goes into a little more detail about what contemporary audiences are hungry for:
1. Someone knowledgeable about the music. In local markets that obviously can't afford a Bob Dylan, who is the guy or gal who is the most knowledgeable and put them on the air?

2. They want the dj expert to play their own records.

3. A sense of adventure. When was the last time a listener got a sense of adventure when listening to the radio? Duh! They didn't.

4. Unpredictability. It doesn't take a PD to know what the second half hour of a radio station is going to sound like -- the first half hour!
[This is just an excerpt. I highly recommend reading the whole post.]

Now here's the thing. This is exactly what I, and all the other volunteer announcers, do at WTJU every day. As the programmer/host, I love it. And from the comments I've received both over the phone and in person, the listeners do, too. I've done commercial radio the corporate way, and compared to that experience, this is much more rewarding for listener and announcer alike!

So here's the question. If Del Colliano is right, and this is what people want, why isn't WTJU the top station in the Charlottesville, Virginia radio market?

Well, there's several reasons. WTJU does block programming, which tends to lower audience size (and we don't do it very well, either). And there's the whole issue of marketing and promotion -- which I'll discuss in detail in a future post.

Suffice it to say, Jerry Del Colliano's model station is alive and well and broadcasting in Central Virginia. And it's managed to keep itself the best-kept secret in the area.

We've built it at WTJU, but we don't understand that people need to know about it before they'll come.

- Ralph

Day 24 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Monday, July 07, 2008

WJMA and the change that wasn't

Stop the (virtual) presses! There's finally been a change at the WJMA website!

As you may recall, we've been keeping tabs on this site as something of a case study on what works (and doesn't) for businesses on the web. And the change (after 23 days of an "under construction" placeholder) leaves yours truly with something of a dilemma. Should I consider our web watch finally over? Is this the final version of WJMA's website?

Hopefully not.

Because only two things have changed. The "under construction" line is gone, and the copyright notice has been updated to 2008.

So are we done? Is this the case of a mountain laboring to bring forth a mouse? [Aesop reference]

I don't really think so. I just think the placeholder's been spruced up a bit.

To the general public, nothing's really changed. You can get to the WJMA website, but you can't click on anything. You can't find out what services they offer, or any background about the business, or who to contact for advertising, or any information that a professional website should have.

I'm going to assume that there's a bigger and better WJMA website on the way. Nice try, but I'm not going to reset the counter. We're now into day 23 of the WJMA Web Watch.

But at least, we know there's somebody home!

- Ralph

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Fourth Going Forth

Due to a last-minute schedule change, I ended up not doing a Fourth of July program for WTJU. I had asked listeners to provide me with suggestions and offered something of a challenge. What would be appropriate music for Independence Day that hasn't been played to death?

Here's the playlist I came up with -- I might go ahead and air this Wednesday when I'm back on the air. After all, good music knows no season.

Quartet for Open Strings - Benjamin Franklin
- Although it's probably spurious, the quartet's a charming little work. And it's a good way to get Ben Franklin's name on the program.


String Trio No. 1, Op. 3 - John Antes

- John Antes was a member of the Moravian Church, which had a rich musical tradition on par with the best Europe had to offer in the 1700's. Antes' chamber works are the earliest by an American-born composer and compare favorably to trios by his contemporaries, Haydn, and Mozart.


Jordan - William Billings

- Self-taught musician William Billings, along with Supply Belcher, William Walker, and others, created a uniquely American form of sacred music that took off during the Great Awakening. Today many shape-note singing societies continue to keep Billings' art alive.


Shiloh - C. L. Barnhouse

- Barnhouse was one of the most important publishers -- and composers -- of band music after the Civil War. His impatience with bad music was well publicised -- and one I can empathize with.

Organ Concerto in E flat minor, Op. 55 - Horatio Parker
- Best remembered as the composition professor Charles Ives crossed swords with, Parker wrote in a Brahmsian style many others (such Charles Villiers Stanford and Hubert H. Parry in England) used. Still, his music possesses a unique voice that's well worth hearing.


Union - Louis Moreau Gottschalk

- New Orleans native Louis Moreau Gottschalk was the American Chopin. He toured extensively as a piano virtuoso, and virtually all of his composition were for his instrument. Yet there's no mistaking Gottschalk for a European composer!


Symphony No. 2 - Charles Ives

- Ives is perhaps the quintessential American composer. While classically trained, his music has a homemade quality to it. Ives often quoted American melodies in his music. His second symphony incorporates "Turkey in the Straw" and "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" among others.


The Pageant of P. T. Barnum - Douglas Moore

- Douglas Moore drew inspiration from American culture. His compositions grew out of the same gestures found in American folk music, and his two operas, "The Devil and Daniel Webster" and "The Ballad of Baby Doe" were both based on American folk tales. "The Pageant of P. T. Barnum" paints a musical portrait of Barnum and several of his more famous attractions.


The Merry Mount Suite, Op. 31 - Howard Hanson

- Howard Hanson's opera "Merry Mount" was set in the Maryland colony of the same name. It's his most popular work and has enjoyed a good run at the Metropolitan Opera.

Symphony No. 66, Op. 428 "Hymn to Glacier Peak" - Alan Hovhaness
- Alan Hovhaness was proud of his Armenian heritage, yet his music -- while ethereal -- never completely lost its American accent. His long, expansive hymn tunes, such as the one that opens this symphony could only come from this side of the Atlantic.

Freedom Fanfare - Tim Rumsey

- Rumsey is a modern American composer still in the early part of this career. The title of the work says it all.

And this just scratches the surface. I've left out Harry Partch, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Virgil Thompson, John Adams, John Alden Carpenter, and much more.

We'll see how many we can fit on Wednesday morning.

Have a great holiday!

- Ralph

Day 20 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

While one site's closed, another's open

Got another e-mail from a friend concerning the still-absent WJMA website. And once again, if your business has any kind of an Internet presence, this post is relevant to you.

The Old Time Radio forum's been talking about WJMA's "under construction" website.

Post subject: WJMA site is dead? but these links work!

These work!
http://www.wjma.radiohistory.net/WJMA%20history.htm
Air Checks
http://www.wjma.radiohistory.net/WJMA%20audio/WJMA%20air%20checks.htm
Walt S WKTJ
So folks looking for a site's that down find another instead. And that's the lesson. If you don't care about your Internet presence, your potential customers won't check back when you have your act together -- they'll move on.

If you're interested in finding out more about this central Virginia radio station, you'll find a ton of information at wjma.radiohistory.net -- both past and present. At the moment, there's no other choice.

- Ralph

Day 19 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

New Music for the Fourth

I'll be on WTJU-FM this coming Friday morning, the Fourth of July, from 6:00-9:00 am. If you tune into 91.1 fm (either by radio or online), you probably won't be hearing the "Stars and Stripes Forever." And you sure as heck won't be hearing the "1812 Overture! I've discussed why that's not appropriate for the Fourth before on this blog.

So what will I be playing?

Lots. There are almost 200 years of American classical music written by Americans for Americans that just doesn't get heard very often on most radio stations (that play classical, that is).

Why not? I'm not sure. It's not the quality of music -- some of it's on par with what was going on in Europe at the time. It's not the status of the composers -- many of them are safely dead and buried, just like Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven. I just think it's difficult for stations -- and listeners -- to stray far from the classical top 40.

Sure, Samuel Barber's "Adagio" gets played regularly, as does some of Aaron Copland's ballet scores and of course George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." But that's only a tiny part of the creative legacy our forefathers (and contemporaries) have left us.

I'll be playing some songs from the American Revolution, as well as some music from 19th and 20th Century composers. Perhaps Howard Hanson's "Merry Mount" suite, from his opera of colonial Maryland. Count on some Charles Ives as well.

But what else?

I have some ideas, but I'll entertain motions from the floor. If you have a favorite American classical composition you think I should play, leave a comment.

There're just a few guidelines.

First, it has to be classical in genre. No crossover stuff, such as an orchestral version of Lee Greenwood, or Mitch Miller singing patriotic songs!

Secondly, it has to be composed by an American.

Third, it has to be something a little outside the ordinary. So Copland's "A Lincoln Portrait" is out, as is any march by Sousa.

So what should I play? You tell me.

This is democracy in action. Let the people speak!

- Ralph

Day 18 of the WJMA Web Watch.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Radio in Virginia -- just how old is old media, anyway?

Got an interesting email from a friend. And if your business has a website, this message may be of interest. My friend writes:
I heard part of a story this morning saying Phil Goodwin [news director of WJMA FM] had won two (I think) awards from the Virginia Association of Broadcasters. The WJMA FM web site is still "under construction," so I didn't find any info there. Then I checked the VAB web site to get the details and found...
-- their conference is coming up June 26-28, 2008
-- a link for making hotel reservations
-- a link for conference reservations
-- a link for conference sponsorships
-- a link for the 2007 VAB Station Awards Guide and Entry Form
-- a link for a list of awards and nomination criteria
We've talked at length about how an "under construction" placeholder damages a business' reputation. I'd like to know more about WJMA's awards, but their site's still down -- as it has been for over two weeks now. Whatever positive impression I had of the station evaporated once I hit that "under construction" page.

But keeping a site up isn't enough.

You can tell if a brick and mortar business is thriving by how often their stock is refurbished, and with what frequency new products are added to the mix. For an online store -- or any other business, regular updates serve the same purpose.

Now I'm in the midst of a website redesign for DCD Records. If you go to the site, however, you'll still find everything fully operational. It's currently residing on a separate server, but once we have the new site ready , we'll move it over in the middle of the night when traffic is minimal. The next day, visitors will see the new site, and business will continue uninterrupted. (Here's a sneak peek -- comments welcome!)

Although I'm not putting a lot of effort into the old site, I'm still keeping it updated. The new release images on the home page change as we add a new product and the podcast listings get updated when we do a new post. Minimal maintenance, but still an indication that someone's home.

Which brings us to the Virginia Association of Broadcasters site. This is the professional trade association -- a media professional trade association. When I see out of date information on the site's homepage, I don't think media professional -- I think media amateur.

Most of the page are devoted to a conference that's already over. And when I go to the news page, I see the newest story is from June 2007! Their station locator page is riddled with errors, that neither the VAB nor the stations seem interested in correcting. WMJA, for example, doesn't show up either in a search of the Culpeper market, or the Orange market. I guess they're too busy constructing their own fantabulous website to worry about their listings.

There is no excuse for anyone professionally involved with media to make this kind of fundamental mistake. It simply shows that the VAB either doesn't care or doesn't understand the impression their website makes.

Radio is already considered old media. To show either an ignorance or disdain for the Internet (which is where media audiences are moving to in increasing numbers) make them not just old, but ancient.

- Ralph

Day 17 of the WJMA Web Watch.