Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Lion in Winter

While others in my household watched Hallmark holiday specials, I viewed a different kind of holiday film -- "The Lion in Winter." It's the kind of dichotomy that's become the norm here.

Although many don't, technically one could consider this a holiday movie. The plot involves a family with strained relations gathering together for Christmas, where they air all their differences, and in the end, reconcile somewhat with each other.

In this case, the family is the highly dysfunctional one of Henry II. Henry invites his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine who has been kept locked up for some ten years (after siding with two of his sons in an aborted rebellion), to the winter court for Christmas. He also requires the presence of his three surviving sons. The eldest, Richard is Eleanor's favorite, while the youngest, John is the Henry's. The middle son, Geoffery most bargain for what position and power he can.

Added to the mix is Alais, Henry's current mistress, who came over 16 years before from France with a dowry and a promise of marriage. Also guesting with Henry is young Philip II, the new king of France, come to demand either a return of the dowry or the long-overdue marriage to one of the king's sons.

Ostensively, Henry's gathered everyone to announce his heir apparent -- and all involved (save poor Alais) play everyone against each other to ensure the right son is chosen.

OK, so it's not the kind of "comfort food" drama normally served up on TV at Christmas time, but that's part what made it so appealing. Almost everyone's lived through some kind of familial awkwardness this time of year, and "Lion in Winter" takes some of those spats and distorts them to funhouse mirror proportions.

The cast is superb, and the writing absolutely flawless. Peter O'Toole plays Henry II masterfully. He previously portrayed the character in the 1964 film "Becket" (with Richard Burton in the starring role), and this film seems very much like a sequel, giving O'Toole an opportunity to further develop the role.

Katherine Hepburn plays the iron-willed Elanor, and the rest of the cast is equally strong. Anthony Hopkins plays Richard (historically to become Richard the Lionheart, and Henry's heir) as a brooding warrior with dark secrets lurking just beneath. Nigel Terry (later to win fame as King Arthur in "Excaliber") portrays the snivelling weakling John, who would later be Robin Hood's enemy (according to legend) and sign the Magna Carta (according to fact). The biggest surprise was the appearance of Timothy Dalton as the young king of France (I didn't know he started films that early).

The film is based on a stage play by James Goldman, which means it's light on special effects, but heavy on dialogue. And what great dialogue it is!

Here's Eleanor scolding her children and perhaps saying something that's relevant today.

After all, if as Elanor says, the whims of rulers -- rather than events -- determine whether there's war or peace, then what does that say about the actions of current world leaders?

Yes, I could watch "Love's Enduring Promise" or some other holiday fluff, but I think I'll revisit the dysfunctional Plantagenets. Whip-smart dialogue, fully-realised characters -- and I haven't even mentioned the air of authenticity achieved by filming on location and an amazing attention to historic detail. No wonder it won three Oscars.

In one scene Elanor chases Henry from the room, making him physically ill with a detailed description of her affair with his father (which may or may not be true -- such is the level of mind games in this film). As he flees the room, she calmly observes, "Well, every family has their ups and downs."

It sure puts mine in perspective!

- Ralph

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How to Make Classical Music Boring

Yes, I know. Many people already consider classical music boring. But public radio has figured out how to make it even more so by borrowing a page from commercial radio.

Audiences continue to drift away from commercial radio, in part because each song is market-tested to within an inch of its life. Only the songs that test well and appeal to the broadest part of the demographic get in -- bland, generic songs tend to do the best, as they offend the least.

The New York Times recently published an article recently about how fewer songs were being played more often.

Tom Owens, the executive vice president of content for Clear Channel Communications, ... said that “Apologize” [the song that's the subject of the article] deserved such heavy airplay because it had received “off the charts” results in listener research testing, and added that the song is devoid of content that might prompt more conservative pop stations to limit its airplay. [emphasis mine]
The article goes on to explain:
Some analysts say that responding to the decline by repeating the big hits even more will set broadcasters on a path to losing listeners.
“What most of these folks do is retreat to a more safe position, and in radio, the safer position is to play fewer songs more often,” said Mike Henry, chief executive of Paragon Media Strategies...
So in November, the Public Radio Program Directors organisation announced the results of their in-depth study of midday classical listener preferences. By rigorously testing focus groups with 30-second excerpts, they were able to determine that
The High Appeal sounds were positive and uplifting, with a soothing or reassuring familiarity, in style and overall texture if not always in terms of the actual melody....

Familiarity was important to both Serious and Casual listeners. There was no evidence of “burn‐out” of often‐played music nor do Serious listeners show a great desire for obscure or challenging music on radio in middays.
In other words, music devoid of content that might prompt more conservative stations to limit its airplay.

And so public radio continues at an ever-increasing pace down the road commercial radio's travelled.

So what's the big deal? Well, first off it's a given that general managers throughout the public radio system will use/misuse this info to make their program and music directors keep middays mellow -- you know, the way they used to on those easy listening stations. Which means fewer pieces in heavier rotation.

So what's wrong with that? Many people consider classical music boring already because they perceive it as a dead artform of little relevance to their lives. And, given the programming on most stations, they're not far wrong. According to the bulk of what's played, classical music apparently started around 1700 with Vivaldi and ended around 1880 with Brahms. And one would think that everyone either wrote for orchestra or solo piano; that no one wrote for other solo instruments (especially the organ), or chamber music, or the solo human voice, or choral music. It would seem that no female ever wrote classical music, and all the men that did died over a century ago.

If public radio stations programmed rock the way they did classical, you'd only hear doo-wop and early sixties pre-British invasion girl groups. If that was your only exposure to rock, would you think it relevant? Would you be surprised to find out that new rock music is being written, performed and recorded today?

Ditto with classical music. There are composers writing exciting well-crafted works right now, being played by young musicians right now, aimed at audiences who are alive right now -- and you will very, very rarely hear a note of it on public radio. And for stations that follow this study's findings and stick to the familiar few works, that chance plummets to zero.

And I have a concern with the methodology. I'm not convinced 30-second sound bites are an accurate way to evaluate classical music. For most genres, sound is pretty consistent throughout the song. In general, once the tempo's established it's set for the rest of the track. The timbre usually remains consistent throughout, and although it might vary in dynamics, in most 3-4 minute songs volume significantly changes perhaps once or twice.

Classical music is all about contrast. Tempos vary greatly between the movements of a work, or even within an individual movement. A full orchestra may consist of 80 members but rarely do they all play at the same time. Orchestral compositions routinely vary the combinations. You might hear a solo instrument one minute, all the strings the next, and then a brass choir after that.

Thirty seconds can give you a good idea of what an average pop song is like, but is it really a fair way to judge the character of a work lasting 10-40 minutes?

Here's a little test. If you were in one of those focus groups, which of the following selections would you like to hear on the radio? Which would you not?

1. Selection 1: Smooth orchestral sounds
2. Selection 2: Winds, brass and percussion ensembles
3. Selection 3: Operatic voices singing in a quartet
4. Selection 4: Full chorus

Of course, it's a trick question -- all four samples come from the same piece -- the final movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. So if you said "no" to any of the choices above, you've voted to ban the work from the air -- even if you said "yes" to the other choices!

In most markets, the public radio station is the only source for classical music on the air. Instead of continually narrowing their programming choices, what if those stations took the lead and began actively promoting the music of THIS country and/or THIS century? I'm not talking about contemporary music that sounds like a toolbox descending a staircase. I'm talking about the melodic music of substance that the casual listener, as well as the serious classical music fan, could enjoy.

It's not that hard. I do it every Wednesday morning on WTJU. Classical music really is an exciting, vibrant, living art form -- even if it doesn't test well in focus groups.

- Ralph

Sunday, December 16, 2007

So What's Different?

Last night I watched "Network" again. I remember seeing Paddy Chayefsky's masterpiece in the theater when it first came out in 1975. I thought then that the movie articulated everything wrong with television. Revisiting it 30+ years later, I'm surprised at how relevant it still is.

Most everyone's familiar with Howard Beale's rant "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore," but that's not the part that resonated with me throughout the years. Rather, it was one of Beale's jeremiads where he reveals that TV will tell us whatever we want to hear -- and we take it to be true. (Fox News anyone?)

Here's the bulk of the rant:

Why is it woe to us? Because you people and 62 million other Americans are listening to me right now. Because less than 3% of you people read books. Because less than 15% of you read newspapers. Because the only truth you know is what you get over this tube.

Right now there is a hole -- an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube.

This tube is the gospel; the ultimate revelation. This tube can make and break presidents, Popes, prime ministers... This tube in the most awesome g*ddammed force in the whole g*ddammed world.

Woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people.

So you listen to me. Television is not the truth. Television is a goddammed amusement park. Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers, and football players.

We're in the boredom-killing business.

So if you want the truth, go to God; go to your gurus; go to yourselves! Because that's the only place you're going to find real truth.

Man, you're never going to get any truth from us. We'll tell you anything you want to hear. We lie like hell. We'll tell you that Kojak always gets the killer, that nobody ever gets cancer in Archie Bunker's house, and no matter how much trouble's the hero's in, don't worry. Just look at your watch. At the end of the hour he's going to win.

We'll tell you any sh*t you want to hear.

We deal in illusions, man. None of it is true. But you people sit there day after day, night after night -- all ages, colors, creeds. We're all you know. You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here. You're beginning to think the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal.

You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even think like the tube.

This is mass madness!

You maniacs! In God's name, you people are the real thing. We are the illusion.

So turn off your television sets, turn them off now. Turn them off right now and leave them off.
Television's not totally evil, of course -- and neither is the Internet. But as I look at the rise of Facebook, and the increase of online gaming and virtual worlds such as Second Life, I have to wonder.

What if we substituted the word "Internet" for "tube" and "television" in the monologue above. Would it still ring true?

- Ralph

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Orange Odor Update

In Orange County, Virginia the wheels of justice turn slowly -- but carefully. While the ongoing investigation of the spurious websites creating during the recent Board of Supervisors election continues, a new complication has arisen to muddy things according to the Fredricksburg Free-Lance Star.

There's now an additional question of print ads being run without proper attribution, which complicates the case somewhat -- especially if it turns out the same parties are responsible for both the newspaper ads and the websites. And that seems to be very likely.

Related to this story, I must acknowledge a correction. Teel Goodwin had objected to the mention of his son on the website. I said I didn't see the mention, so what was the problem?

An alert reader did, though, and pointed it out to me. Under the header "On Education:"
Teel Goodwin says: "We must provide our citizens the best educational system possible." source: campaign brochure
But, as the privileged son of one of the largest landowning families in the County, Goodwin is a product of private schools. And his son does not attend public schools either. source: public record [emphasis mine]
I could go back and edit my original post, but I won't. Let the record show that I was wrong (like that's a novelty).

But the exchange demonstrated what I like best about the Internet, especially when it comes to op-ed pieces -- accountability. No one has to take my (or anyone else's) opinion at face value. You can always check the supporting facts for yourself by just clicking on the provided link. If I'm wrong, call me on it and show me your documentation.

And if a post or a comment is curiously lacking in links? Well. That should tell you something, too.

- Ralph

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Radio Daze

So is ignorance really bliss? Or is it self-destructive?

As I've commented before, the problem with the digital divide is that it's completely insular. The firestorms of controversy and criticism that sweep through the online community are completely unknown to those offline.

Commercial radio thrashes about desperately trying just about anything to hold on to a shrinking (and aging) audience. The frantic pushing of HD Radio shows that commercial broadcasters know that something's wrong -- and their approach shows they have not a clue about what audiences want, or how to provide it.

The answers are online -- and the answer is to move online. But the decision-makers at these stations live offline. And so they never see the solution -- or are even aware it's out there in (virtual) plain view.

Here're three examples of where we are:

1) Audiographics bids adieu
Ken Dardis, a radio professional who's been pushing and prodding the industry for years, has finally given up. In his final post he writes:

...the decision will be either to stop writing altogether (because it doesn't seem that radio is interested in how to step into the future), or to write about these new things I'm learning which are turning the advertising industry on its head (and which have been brought up in this column hundreds of times).
After writing, and documenting and analysing the path radio needs to take, Dardis is through trying to shout across the digital divide. He's moving on. And who could blame him?

2) Hear 2.0 turns up the heat
Mark Ramsey, another radio professional, has continually commented and pointed the way for radio. In a recent post, he took the gloves off (and not for the first time):

It's time for radio to stop imagining that success can be achieved by consolidating and cutting until one day your entire group is run from a PC in a locked room like W.O.P.R. in the 1983 movie Wargames. No need for PD's or air talent in that world. No need for marketing or research or promotion or staff. No need for anything but sales and - if you're lucky - an ever-diminishing number of listeners. It's Dabney Coleman and a big Central Brain that asks millions of listeners at once: "Want to play a game?"
Is that the kind of radio industry you want? Because if you mistake the current down market for a cycle rather than a trend, that's exactly the one you're going to get.

Looks like Ramsey is also getting a little tired of shouting across that divide.

3) At WJMA, nothing's changed
It's been a little while since I offered up an analysis of the ramshackle website of our local radio station WJMA. It's been a while, but the DJ's page is still "under construction," the job page still wants someone for "overseas programming" and the news page is still blank with a date of November 9.

Lots of people read those posts -- even some in the Orange area. And yet, no comment for any of the posts, and no change. Piedmont Communications remain incommunicado -- offline.

It's one thing for an individual to opt out of the online experience. But for a business in decline to steadfastly refuse to consider investigating the most important cultural tool of the 21st century? That kind of ignorance can be fatal.

- Ralph

Virtually Repeating Myself

Something curious is happening with increasing frequency. I find myself saying "it's in my blog."

No, its not vain self-aggrandizement or a pathetic attempt to build readership one person at a time. Rather, its because I've shared thoughts and opinions about various topics in this public forum -- and prefer not to repeat myself.

In a radio listserv discussion recently, someone asked about Tom, the new Charlottesville station. Instead of writing out my opinion about it and all the supporting arguements again, I simply referred to my post about it.
Two weeks ago, someone who travels infrequently to Washington, DC remarked that WETA had returned to a classical format. He asked if I knew about it. Oh yes, I said, and rather than run through the whole story again, referenced my posts:
From time to time things that I've been familiar with for a while bubble up into the awareness of the general public. Claiming I've known about something for months when the subject comes up always seemed to me a bit pretentious -- especially if it was unsubstantiated.

Blog entries, though, provide clear documentation of exactly what I thought (or knew, or thought I knew) and when.

While perhaps not always evident, I do put time and effort into these posts, and try to provide as much documentation as possible. And that's really why I prefer to refer. Because all the links are here, and the reader can check my sources and judge for themselves whether or not my conclusions are sound.

As Omar Kayyam wrote:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Well, I'm not so sure about the last part (although I generally don't revise blog posts once they're out), but now that my thoughts about various subjects are publicly available, this finger's free to move on.

- Ralph

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Radio Websites -- Odds and Ends

Our recent series of posts about how to improve a radio station's website (using our local radio station WJMA as a case study) generated some good discussion both on- and offline. Rather than go back and alter the posts, I decided to just do a final roundup of ideas. Thanks to everyone who helped with this!

Don't be shy about your assets
Did you know that Piedmont Communications owns more than just WJMA? You wouldn't unless you went to their company page. On the home page for WJMA should be linked to WLSA, WCVA, WVCV, and WOJL, along with some indication as to their format. (Sorry, I couldn't find links to those other stations -- that's a whole separate issue).

This is important for two reasons: listeners and advertisers.

The iPod revolution has demonstrated that listeners are eclectic. While a person may prefer a particular musical genre, there's usually a few songs from other kinds on their MP3 player as well. A WJMA listener might occasionally go to another station for some variety. Letting them know what other music Piedmont Communications offers just helps keeps that listener within the Piedmont Communications family of stations.

As I said in the last post, a business' website often forms the first impression for potential customers.
Current and potential advertisers coming to the WJMA site need to be aware that there are other stations. Don't rely on a sales call to explain it -- the modern business owner (and yes, even little ol' Orange County, Virginia has a growing number of them) will do online research on their own.

Don't forget the video
I talked about always having a digital camera at hand to take pictures to post on the site. Video's great, too. Clips should be short, and make some kind of narrative sense. And if its an entertaining clip, like an office prank, then post it on YouTube and other video sites. The more content you have on the web and the more places you have it ultimately increases traffic to your site.

Link everything
Hotlinks are the key to a successful website. Any URLS in PSAs should be linked, as well as any articles referred to. Cross-linking between pages within a site is extremely helpful. If you're talking about something on another page in another category, don't make the reader go all the way back through the navigation menu to get there -- just link to it. They'll be more likely to visit that page, and more visits = more views for the sponsors on those pages.

No dancing baloney
Keep animation to a minimum -- especially with advertising banners. Also, go easy on the flash animation and other such distractions. While the goal is to monetize the site, ads should be carefully placed so they don't overpower the content (which is why the reader is there). And an excessive amount of banner animation can actually drive people from the site.

Did I miss anything? Add your comment below and let me know.

- Ralph

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Radio Websites -- Driving Traffic to the Website

Over the past three posts, we've been looking at radio websites and how to improve them, using our local station, WJMA as a case study.

We've looked at how to build unique and compelling content, and how to monitize it. So how does WJMA get people to come to this wonderful new website when there are millions of others they could go to?

Simple. Integrate the URL into the station's branding, and integrate the site into the station's broadcast content. Let's look at those two ideas in detail.

Integrate the URL into the station's branding
WJMA has a pretty simple URL, which helps greatly -- This URL should be on every bumpersticker, every promotional cap or T-shirt, every scrap of stationary, every business card, and anything else that bears the company logo. This form of publicity is pretty standard, but it's amazing how often businesses miss opportunities by thinking of the URL as a separate -- rather than an integral -- part of their branding.

WJMA has an additional advantage. It's a radio station. Every time an announcer opens the mike the URL should be mentioned. Now notice that I did NOT list the URL as "" Newcomers to the whole Interwebtubie thing carefully include the three dubs in every web address. And sometimes, bless their little hearts, they even include "http colon backslash backslash."

None of this is really necessary. Just say "" and move on. At the very least, the URL should be in every station ID and every positioning statement.

Integrate the site into the station's content
The biggest mistake many broadcasters (and other businesses) make is thinking of their website as something separate from their core business. It's not. The public doesn't think so. Increasingly, the website is a potential customer's first impression of the company.

A radio station owner may think they're a broadcaster, but that concept went out with the previous century. In the 21st century, a radio station with a website is a content provider. Some of that content are appropriate for the Internet only, some for on-air broadcast only. But the successful stations will create an increasing amount that uses both channels. Here're some specific examples.

1) Audience participation
Move call-in polls to the website. Setting up an on-line poll is pretty simple, and it's an easy way to drive traffic to the site. Ask for audience opinions. Have the listeners vote "thumbs up/thumbs down" on songs the station's considering adding to its playlist -- that's like getting focus group info for free!

"Battle of the bands" can be good, too. Have two new songs square off against each other on Monday, with listeners voting online. The winner's up against a new song on Tuesday, and that winner against another song on Wednesday, and on through the week, until the big finale on Friday. "American Idol" and similar programs have demonstrated the appeal of this kind of audience participation.

Here're some examples of how to do this on-air. Note to the webmaster -- the poll should be either on the front page or there should be a big button linking to its page. Make it easy to find!

"So what do you think about this new proposal to expand Route 29? Yea or nay? Vote and give us your opinion at"

"Who's going to take the Richmond 500 this weekend? Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson? Let us know at" [For polls with a big response, the dj could report on it from time to time, keeping the interest up and web traffic brisk. "Gordon's ahead in our poll by about 2 to 1 over Johnson right now. Do you think Gordan can take the Richmond 500? Vote now at We'll announce the final results at 8:35."]

"Got a new track from the Dixie Bee-Liners coming up next. Is it hot, or is it not? Let us know at" [Perhaps a 10-second clip could be posted with the poll so voters could listen again. This would be especially helpful if two songs are competing.]

And of course, these polls are also opportunities for sponsorship as well.

2) Additional information
Use the website to cut PSA clutter. Every station's received long-winded announcements that just make for bad radio if read in their entirety. Trim the message to the core, and put the rest online. Here's an example:

"And the FunRun to support the Red Cross happens this Saturday morning in Rapidan. See the Hardee's community bulletin board at for more information." [The website post would have the sign-up info, contacts, Red Cross URL, and all the other information provided by the organizers.]

"Orange takes on the Fluvanna Flucos in basketball action this Friday night. For game time and a complete listing of regional sports, check out the WJMA scoreboard at, sponsored by Faulconer Hardware."

"So we got an e-mail in from Patsy K. who's really hot about slow drivers. She says, "I've got to drive Rt. 231 to get to work. It's a two-lane road, with almost no opportunities to pass. Is it too much to ask drivers to at least drive five miles under the limit? C'mon, pick up the pace! Some of these geezers drive so slow I don't know if I'll even make it to work before we close!" I know how you feel, Patsy -- that's one of the nice things about getting to the station at five in the morning. I only have to worry about deer -- and at least, they move fast! Got something you want to vent about? Let us know. Go to 'Here's the beef' at and gets it off your chest. ' And if we read your beef on the air, you'll receive a gift certificate from Hardee's."

These are just a few examples, but there's many more -- as many as there are features on the site.

So will this help WJMA? I don't know. It depends on what they decide to do with the information (they may not even be aware this discussion is going on). We'll have some indication, though, when this page no longer looks like this, and (heaven help us) this page no longer looks like this (both screen shots were taken November 28, 2007).

- Ralph

Monday, November 26, 2007

Radio Websites -- Populating Pages with Approporiate Ads

Inspired by the uninspired website of our local radio station WJMA, I decided to help them (and many other stations) by offering up some practical ways to improve and monetize their site.

Last post I outlined how WJMA could generate a significant amount of unique content to attract visitors, and for very little money.

This time around, we'll look at how to make those pages and pages of compelling content pay.

A radio station is confined to a specific geographic area. The Internet is global. In the past, radio stations had to rely on local businesses for their revenue, with some money coming from national ad agencies. On the web, advertisers can come from anyplace. The trick is to match the right sponsor with the right traffic.

Local Advertisers
The time has passed when radio sales staffs can just do business as usual. WJMA's sales staff have some pretty highfalutin' titles, such as Senior Marketing Consultant and Senior Advertising Consultant (any junior MC's or AC's on staff?). Now's the time to live up to those titles.

The sales staff should actively encourage current clients to place banners online. Take Reynolds Pontiac GM of Orange, for example. I happen to know that their big supporters of the Orange community. So why not get their banner on the community calendar page or the local news page?

Placement on those pages re-enforces Reynolds' position in the Orange community. And of course, any click-throughs just mean more potential business for the car dealership.

Not every business thinks about promoting their website on other websites -- which is where the marketing consultant part comes in. The sales staff could offer a package deal of on-air spots plus web ads. Initially, the web ads could even be free just to show the value of website placement. It would also get the ball rolling, as it's easier to sell the concept of banner ads on a site if there's already ads on the site -- especially those of a competitor!

Internet Advertising
While local advertising in important, the web offers other possibilities as well. There are all kinds of affiliate programs one could join.

For CE Conversations, we've kept things simple and just used Google AdSense. There are other similar services that offer contextual ads. As content builds on a page, the ads become more focused on the subject of the page, which makes them more relevant (and, therefore, more appealing) to people visiting the page.

Our site has fairly modest traffic, which generates a proportionally modest amount of income. Potentially, WJMA's site should be enjoying a far greater number of visitors, and therefore, generate a significant amount of income. And if the service is free, and requires virtually no maintenance, how much income would it need to bring in to be considered profitable?

Another effective way to raise revenue is to join an affiliate program. I use one for the Gamut Playlist blog. Since the site is exclusively devoted to classical recordings, I joined Commission Junction to become an affiliate of It's worked very well. The revenue from the Gamut site is about twenty times that of CE Conversations (don't be too impressed -- no one's quit their day job yet).

WJMA could zoom in on specific products and services that match the interest of visitors to specific pages and populate the entire site with appropriate ads.

The only caveat is not to do too much. Too many ads diminish the effectiveness of the banners and clutter the site. Well-placed ads used sparingly, though, can be successful both for the client (the advertiser), and the host (the radio stations).

At this point, any radio marketing consultant worth their salt should be able to rattle off, at least, ten businesses or product brands that their station should feature on their website with affiliate ads.

So now let's assume that WJMA has a site chock full of interesting content and sponsors and/or banner ads on every page. The store's open, but where's all the people?

Stay tuned -- this is the easiest part yet if you're a broadcaster.

- Ralph

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Radio Websites -- Creating Compelling Content

The last post, inspired by the lack-luster website of our local radio station WJMA, I outlined three ways for a radio station to build a strong Internet presence and start generating revenue from it. As promised, here's a closer look at the first point -- creating compelling content.

To generate traffic, there has to be a reason to come to the site, and there has to be a fresh reason to come every day. There are two basic ways to do this:

1. Re-purpose the station's existing content
2. Create new web-only content

Neither of these is especially difficult, especially if there's someone on staff who's primary purpose is updating and maintaining the site content.

Re-purpose the station's existing content

PSAs (Public Service Announcements)
Radio stations receive a steady stream of PSAs from local charities, community music groups, high school organizations, churches, and various other groups. All these groups want to get the word out about their event.

Every single one of these announcements should go to the radio station website in a community bulletin board. It can be a straightforward listing, one after the other in chronological order, updated daily by the webmaster. A calendar in a sidebar would be very helpful, too. Just click on a date a see what's happening that day. And of course, any web address given should be a live link to the organization's site.

A properly maintained online community bulletin board can be a useful asset.

News and Information
Not everyone has a news department, but WJMA does. Why not recycle the broadcast news on the web? I'm not talking about streaming -- I mean really repurposing the content for a different media.

The national and state news Goodwin reads from various news agencies have no value online -- one can get that information straight from the source. What is of interest is the unique content Goodwin provides.

For example, Goodwin reports on an Orange County Board of Supervisor's meeting and uses some actualities (soundbites) during the newscast. That segment should be posted to the WJMA news page on the website as an MP3. It should also be carefully tagged, with the date, the subject, the names of everyone used in the actualities, and the name of the reporter.

Right now those reports are heard once and forgotten. Posting them online just adds value to the station's website.

J.D. Slade now does the morning show on WJMA. And if it's anything like his last stint at the station, the show should be funny and entertaining. I'm assuming the station can do airchecks (that is, have a setup that automatically records when the mike gets turned on, and stops when the mike turns off).

So take the best bits and post them to the site as MP3s. Even if there are only a couple of segments a week worth posting, it won't be long before the station's website has a nice collection of J.D.'s funniest moments.

Bits from other announcers can be posted as well. It can be very effective if there's an in-studio guest. Although listeners might miss the interview when it's broadcast, they can always revisit it online. And once WJMA has several of those posted, they'll have an impressive roster of names that show how important the station really is.

Create new web-only contentThis does not have to be a daunting task. Here're some suggestions.

Start a station blog
Give the webmaster authority to crack the whip, and open it to everyone at the station. So what should go in this blog?
1. Best bits from the shows (see above). The DJ should set up the sound clip, which would be inserted into the blog entry.

Ex. "Something totally unexpected happened this morning when I was talking to a caller. I know what she meant to say, but what she said was something else! [insert mp3 link here]."

2. New music/features. The program director/music director could talk about new music or a new feature. Again, it can be short but it will help promote the station.

Ex. "Next week we start a new program "Nashville Now" on Sunday mornings. The show will keep you up to date on what's happening in country music. Listen for it 10:00 every Sunday beginning this weekend."


Ex. "WJMA just added the new song by Kenny Chesney. It's the first tune off his new album and represents a return to his country music roots. Listen for the debut of "Walk Away, Rene" on J.D. Slade's show during the 9:00 hour tomorrow morning."

3. Events!
Any time the station does a live remote, or a charity event, someone should be taking as many digital pictures as possible. Use the best two in a blog post, and create a page for the rest of them.

Ex. "FunRun 07 was a huge success! WJMA was there in force, and over $10,000 was raised to fight cancer. Here's the WJMA crew hamming it up after the race [insert picture here]. Joe Smith was the winner, with an impressive time of 1:05:02 [insert picture here]. Check out our events page for all the fun! [link to the appropriate events page here].

Aggregation and Conversation
A simple way to have fresh content is to employ an aggregator on the station website. If you look over at the right sidebar of this blog, you'll see the latest tech news headlines, courtesy of Some of these services (like are free, and some are available for a fee. Either way, once the aggregator's in place, the site will have up to date headlines without any work from the station staff. And you avoid embarrassing things like having a blank headlines page with a date two weeks out of date.

Sean Tubbs of the Charlottesville Podcasting Network posted some excellent suggestions about getting content from outside providers. That's another great source, and Sean's post demonstrated another effective -- and important -- way to generate fresh content.

Radio broadcasts are one-way transmissions: I send, you receive. A website, however, can provide two-way conversations: I post, you comment, I respond, others chime in. And when folks post comments, they're showing that they're interested in your content.

Many old media websites offer free content but require a sign-in process to collect demographic data. This slows the conversation to a trickle. While you need to have some kind of simple screening process to prevent spam in your comment fields, the conversation should be open to all.

There's plenty of programs (some free) that provide data about your website's traffic (we use That's the information you should be concerned about.

When I wrote about the recent Board of Supervisors race, local traffic shot way up. Within two posts I knew what keywords would bring in Orange County readers. I also knew where they were coming from -- several came from the public school system's server, suggesting school board related topics might increase that traffic. I also knew what time of day they were reading, and how long they were spending on the site, suggesting the optimal post time as well as best text length. In other words, everything I needed to know to grow that segment of our readership.

Almost every page should have room for comments. And these should be read carefully. They'll suggest directions the site should grow in. Several posts on this blog were directly inspired by comments from readers.

Everything posted should be available forever (with the exception of old PSAs). The more content a station has, the more it appears to be a going concern. Plus, the more chances people will find something they're looking for.

Here's a real-life example. On this blog, I talked about HD Radio on QVC back in early September. Last week I started seeing an upswing in traffic. The post showed on a site collecting stories about HD Radio on November 21. So something I wrote two months ago is now driving traffic to our site.

If that post wasn't still available, it wouldn't have happened. So keep that content available. You don't know when someone will be looking for that Board of Supervisors meeting actuality, or something about FunRun 07 or that crazy thing that happened on the morning show a few weeks back.

OK, so say WJMA has their site packed with all this valuable and unique content. How do they make it pay?

Stay tuned.

- Ralph

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Radio Websites -- A Modest Proposal

The last post I heavily critiqued WJMA's website, a good example of what happens when radio stations who don't understand the Internet (or how to use it) go online.

Can WJMA's website be saved? Better still -- can it actually generate income? Sure. Management just has to embrace three crucial concepts.
  1. Create compelling content
  2. Populate pages with appropriate ads
  3. Drive traffic to the website
But for things to change, management has to do one of those paradigm-shifty things. One can no longer run a radio station like an automated jukebox and expect to thrive. The selection of tunes -- no matter how broad -- can't possibly match the range on the average person's iPod (or another MP3 player).

And the station can have all the unbroken music sweeps it wants. At some point, it's got to run commercials. An MP3 player never does.

It's also time to stop thinking of a radio station as just a broadcasting medium. Consider it a content provider and invest accordingly. Properly positioned, a station can use its over-the-air signal and a robust website to extend its reach far beyond its actual listening area. Which extends the station's potential client base beyond its immediate market.

The first step is to hire someone specifically to develop, generate, update, organize and be responsible for web content. Many stations foist it off on some overworked shlub who's already on staff. The worker immediately drops it the bottom of his massive to-do list -- right below the note to monitor the HD Radio feed to make sure it's still on the air.

Over the next three posts, I'll outline each concept in detail. And if you have feedback or suggestions, please post. Together we can save WMJA (or any other radio station that's ready to join the century we're living in).

- Ralph

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ted Mack's Original Radio Website

I recently commented on WTYD's confessed inability to monetize their website. The concept's simple enough -- generate content that brings people in (and brings them back), and they place appropriate ads in front of them.

Just to give one example of how it could work for WTYD -- the Tide (WTYD) has a local band network. Why not make link sponsored by, say Guitar Center, and then have a banner ad on the band page? Why not a banner ad from Musician's Friend? Each of their specialized pages could have similar appropriate advertising (either brick-and-mortar or Internet).

The Tide's site has other similar opportunities, such as their concert calendar, lyrics page, and so on.

Of course, you have to have content to go to in order to get the traffic to justify the advertiser's investment.

Which brings us to WJMA's website. As near as I can tell, our local radio station only has a website because someone told them it was all the rage. The Tide could make money on their website. Not so with WJMA.

The home page is clean and uncluttered -- which is good. But things fall apart when you start clicking on links.

Their contest page just basically says "listen to win." So there's no real reason to visit this page. Why not have some clues or even some kind of online-only contest?

Want to meet the staff? Too bad -- that page is still under construction. Which is a real web design no-no? Keep the freakin' page offline until the content's finished. An "under construction" notice is like asking someone if they want a soda, and when they say yes, responding that you don't have any.

Headline news can be an easy way to generate fresh content (and possibly sell some banner ads from local newspapers). WJMA's Local Headline News is blank -- with a date of November 9! C'mon, guys, even this blog has better news coverage (check out our feed from in the right column).

Community events can be another way to bring traffic. Post all the public service announcements that come into your station, and announce your website URL frequently ("for more information, visit"). Businesses that want to be seen supporting the community could sponsor said page. WJMA's Community Event page is blank. Ouch.

The local government and schools pages link to the various homepages of the area county governments and schools. That's fine, of course, but fairly static and not likely to generate much traffic.

The weather page links to, which is fine -- that page should have some kind of ads supporting it, though. Isn't the weather sponsored on the radio? Perhaps a package deal would be in order to get the ball rolling.

The concert page is current, and this would be another page that should be generating traffic and should have some sponsorship.

As the experts have repeatedly pointed out, a station's website can be a valuable tool and revenue stream but too many station managers don't comprehend the role of this new media.

Two more examples of how much Piedmont Communications (the proud owner of WJMA) understands about this Interwebtubie thing. In their "About Us" page, they say
"With the installation of new state of the art IBOC transmitting equipment in 2006, WJMA and WOJL became the first two commercial FM stations of their market size in Virginia to begin broadcasting in full HD high definition, providing listeners with the best possible audio quality available anywhere in the U.S. Piedmont Communications, Inc. will continue to use the latest technological advances and listener responsive programming to deliver the best radio service in Virginia."
First off, the "HD high definition" link is dead. Secondly, HD Radio is misidentified as "HD high definition." So this station that uses "the latest technological advances" apparently doesn't know the name of said advance, nor how to create a link properly.

But my absolute favorite part of the site is the job opportunities. WJMA is looking for an operations manager and program director. The duties include the following:
"Responsible for Supervising all on-air, news, engineering and production staff. Overseas programming on all four PCI stations, and manages facilities and studios."
At first, I thought Piedmont Communications was looking for someone to manage the content they were receiving from Europe. But I soon realized that they had just misspelled "oversees."

'Nuff said.

- Ralph

(And for those under a certain age who are puzzled by the title reference, Ted Mack was a celebrated radio and TV host of an amateur talent show).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sick day (at the movies)

While Ralph was busily posting, I was busily retching.

Yes, I had the dubious pleasure of leaving work early on Tuesday with a stomach ailment that's been making its way around the office. After braving the worst of it for a while at home, I was able to sit in bed with a cup of tea and watch the telly.

I'm not into daytime TV, and there weren't any football games on, so the obvious choice was to watch movies. On a whim, I turned on AMC and didn't turn it off again until when I went to sleep that night.

Why? Check out this lineup: The Quiet Man, The Dirty Dozen, Heartbreak Ridge, Rear Window, and Vertigo (the first half). Good comfortable fits, every one of them. (Now if AMC would quit showing these full-screen and with commercials, but that's another story.)

It was like the old days of watching Saturday Night at the Movies on the networks, and in honor of the occasion, I'll give you my three-word review/synopsis/impressions of each one:

The Quiet Man -- Dragging Maureen O'Hara.

The Dirty Dozen --
Kill the krauts.

Heartbreak Ridge --
Tough Gunny Clint.

Rear Window --
Grace Kelly -- wow.

Vertigo -- Kim Novak -- wow.


Internet Stream Dries Up in Tidewater

A reader asked me to comment on the decision by sister stations WTYD and WBACH to cease Internet streaming. A simple posting on the sites of these Williamsburg, Virginia stations announced the end of the service.

Had the station chose to stick to facts (rates have risen, income hasn't, something has to give), I wouldn't be writing about it. But its whining tone begs some kind of response. The announcement originally was posted on both The Tide and WBACH's website -- it now only appears on WBACH's.
Congress, the record companies, artists and their various lobby groups, in their collective wisdom, have determined that we should pay royalty fees for music played online...
It's true. Rates have risen, as I (and many others) have talked about before. What the announcement doesn't talk about was commercial radio's indifference to it. As others have noted, only NPR really took a stance when the rate hikes were proposed -- the NAB remained curiously silent. And now they have to live with the results.

Yes, the mean old record companies screwed everyone with the help of Congress. But now that the results of commercial radio's inaction have come home to roost, I can only say "boo hoo hoo."
Our website doesn't generate any revenue - $0. Knowing that most radio stations' websites don't generate any revenue, these titans of brilliance have still decided that we should pay based on the possible future revenues of online broadcasting.
Both the Tide and WBACH's websites are remarkably free of advertising, so I have no doubt they generate zero income. But whose fault is that?

Mark Ramsey of Hear 2.0 has been advising commercial radio for some time to understand the importance (and value) of their websites. And Ken Dardis of Audiographics has been doing the same. Online advertising is projected to grow 22% this year alone -- and yet this radio station can't generate any income at all on their website?

What about on-air/banner ad packages? What about using the site as a repository for more info with at least a line listing and a link to advertiser's websites?

Or how about Google AdSense, or an affiliate program like the Commission Junction? That's what we use for this blog and the Gamut playlist. They generate a modest amount of income, but our sites only have a fraction of what WTYD's should be.

It requires some creative thinking, sure. But if a radio station can't figure out how to drive traffic to its site (hint: integrate the URL into your broadcasts) to make it attractive to local advertisers, you can't blame that on the mean old record labels.

Reading this announcement, though, I got the impression that writer doesn't know much about the Internet. After all, this is just a notice. But what if it were rewritten slightly with links? Instead of just whining about Congress, how about providing a link to where folks can go and do something about it? No wonder they don't generate any web revenue.

And finally, although the notice initially ran on both WBACH and the Tide's websites, it now only shows on the classical station's. Why?

Because the Tide does have an Internet radio stream. There's a box leading to the Tide's New Music Channel (NMC). No, it's not a stream of their on-air broadcast. It's actually a separate Internet radio stream.

NMC is a service of Businesses can sign up for the service, have their logo inserted into the page (thanks to dynamic links) and the customer believes it's originating from the client.

In their info page, they assure everyone that they're paying all of the SoundExchange fees (and apparently can make money doing so -- although that may change once the ax falls).

And ironically, when you first go the Tide's NMC, directly below the station's logo is a banner to save Internet radio (like the one on the top of this blog). Too bad commercial radio chose to ignore it.

- Ralph

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

White Lies and the Social Network

I haven't talked about Sarah Honenberger and her book "White Lies" for a while, but she recently sent me an update, by way of a comment to one of our posts. The post talked about how online video clips can greatly expand audiences by making the content available for people to discover and watch on demand.

Honenberger sent the link to just such a clip. It's an interview she did at the Blue Ridge Regional Library in Henrico County, Virginia.

So now Honenberger's visit to the library extends far beyond the small number of people who had the opportunity to see her there.

Honenberger's experience in Internet marketing grows over the past year or so. We've had a number of conversations both online and off about blogs, websites and so on -- and her comment shows how much she's learned.

Rather than waiting for people to stumble across her interview, she posted the URL in our comments (and I'm assuming in other blogs as well). I'm sharing it as well, and I'm sure others will, too. She's using the social aspect of the Internet to get the word out.

And Honenberger's even working on a MySpace page. When it's ready, she can count on at least one friend request.

- Ralph

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More Orange Odor

The investigation into the illegal campaign websites posted the recent Orange County Board of Supervisors elections continues, with an appropriate amount of huffing-and-puffing and exaggerated expressions of righteous indignation.

As the guilty parties will soon learn, it's almost impossible not leave traces on the Internet (especially if you're an amateur). But the other folks involved need to understand that nothing on the Internet truly goes away -- which means anyone can fact-check just about any time after the event.

Although I've only talked about the fake Teel Goodwin site, the (currently) unknown posters actually did two. Thomas Graves, an incumbent, was the subject of a similar site. Goodwin won, but Graves lost.

While both sites have been removed, they haven't completely disappeared. Google has the text for both cached. The pictures weren't saved, but the text is still there for all to examine.

And that examination can help dial back the drama now being played out in the papers.

The most recent issue of the Orange Review reported that:

According to [Commonwealth Attorney Diana] Wheeler, the state police are executing an investigation to determine who paid for a pair of illicit websites. The sites claimed to be authorized by incumbent District 2 supervisor candidate Thomas Graves, and District 3 supervisor candidate Teel Goodwin, but were not

Both websites used URLs that suggested they were supporting the candidates ( and, but there's nothing in the sites about anyone authorizing them -- which you can check for yourself.

Wheeler said that by posting the websites with falsified "paid for by", and "authorized by" statements, a misdemeanor criminal offense has been committed.
Did anybody look at those sites? These phrases aren't on either site (which you can confirm for yourself).

When the story first broke, Teel Goodwin shared this thoughtful commentary:
"This is nasty and ugly," Goodwin said. "Everybody I talk to thinks it's offensive. I'm particularly offended because they mentioned my son on the Web site."
You can check the facts for yourself. The only mention of family I found was this:
Goodwin assisted his family, one of the largest landowners in Orange County, in attempting to rezone agricultural land for development of nearly 750 housing units in cooperation with Hovnanian Homes, a large national developer headquartered in New Jersey.
Unless his son was spearheading the Rapidan Crossing project, I don't see the reference that particularly offended Goodwin.

The illegal sites are a good example of how the Internet can be misused (and a damned clumsy example at that). But the aftermath can also be an example of its power. Unsubstantiated claims and exaggerations don't cut it anymore.

Not when the citizenry can go to the original sources and check the facts for themselves. Now that's democracy in action.

- Ralph

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The rest of the story

The election's over, and now the real work begins. For those outside the Central Virginia area, who have been following our posts about the election, Teel Goodwin won over Steve Satterfield in the Orange County Board of Supervisors race with 51% of the vote.

And the fallout continues. The Virginia State police are investigating the spurious Goodwin website, as it violated the campaign laws covering disclosure. I'm fairly confident the chowderheads behind the site will soon be apprehended.

Savvy Internet vandals can partially (or sometimes fully) cover their tracks -- but these guys are anything but.

I'll keep everyone posted on relevant developments.

- Ralph

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Don't care? Don't vote -- I'll take it from here.

We always see a lot of reports about the declining electorate. Some bemoan the fact that more people voted in the "American Idol" competition than did in the last presidential election.

Both parties always work to "get out the vote," practically dragging people off the streets (of the proper political stripe, of course) and getting them registered. Another popular solution has been the "motor voter" act, which lets citizens conveniently register to vote when they pick up their driver's license.

Personally, I'd like to see it all stop. Registering to vote isn't a complicated process, but it does require a little effort -- but no more so than voting for the American Idol, and getting a driver's license.

And if someone only registers if everyone else does the work for them, what kind of a voter will they be? I'd rather not have our officials elected by "Eenie, meanie, minee, moe."

Here's how I look at it. Every apathetic voter that stays home just makes my vote count more.

Consider: in a pool of 10,000 voters, my vote is one voice among 10,000. If 5,000 stay home, then my vote basically doubles in power. Today's a local election, so turnout may be more like 2,000 -- which makes my vote worth five votes.

So if you don't care much for your right to vote, that's your right. Do everyone a favor and please stay home. Folks that are concerned and informed about the issues will make the decisions that need to be made.

After all, you wouldn't want folks like me who don't follow "American Idol" to screw up the results by calling in random votes, would you?

- Ralph

Monday, November 05, 2007

The (political) odor spreads

Last post I talked about an example of local "dirty tricks" in the race for Orange County, Virginia's Board of Supervisors. A website with the address was posted by somebody who was decidedly not a Teel Goodwin supporter (the site has been removed from my last post).

The site was so amateurish in execution I don't believe it was created by his opponent, Steve Satterfield. But I did suggest that the unthinking action of this anti-Goodwin poster would have negative consequences -- and it has.

In the latest issue of the Orange Review, there's half-page ad for Teel Goodwin. It's basically a laundry list of prominent supporters inviting their neighbors to also support Goodwin. It lists what he's for -- and what he's against. And Goodwin is against "mean-spirited, misleading campaign ads, false websites and outside special interests...."

So the clumsly anonymous webposter did little more than give Goodwin some additional ammunition.

As we used to say in elementary school, "Smooth move, Ex-Lax."

- Ralph

Sunday, October 28, 2007

An unpleasant (political) odor

As the board of supervisor's race here in Orange County, Virginia heat up, I had hoped to get some campaign literature from the loyal opposition. I've already commented (favorably) about some aspects of Steve Satterfield's campaign. I hoped to receive a mailing from Teel Goodwin's campaign to directly compare presentations, but that hasn't happened yet.

I recently went online to see what I could find out about Teel Goodwin. A Google search yielded "" I quickly discovered it was an anti-Goodwin site (the unflattering image was the first clue).

Very crude in execution, the site's constructors clearly have little experience with the Internet and absolutely no idea of how to use it effectively. Notice how none of the links go anywhere. And that's too bad, because as I pointed out before, the proper linkage can provide the documentation needed to make your point.

There's not a link to the builder Goodwin was associated with, K. Hovnanian Homes, which would have been helpful. When I did a search, I got a warning about their website -- apparently they promote through spammy e-mails. If Goodwin was associated with them, then I would consider that a strike -- slimy is as slimy does.

About the fourth Google entry down was "K. Hovnanian Homes Suck," a site where folks can post their horror stories with this builder -- and apparently there are quite a few. Perhaps a link to that site would have given some Orange voters pause.

The site also talks about Teel Goodwin's "Rapidan Crossing" development, but again provides no documentation. Fortunately, the Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission listed the Goodwin project on Route 3, and further expanded on the plan to build 748 single-family homes and townhouses -- in one of the fastest-growing counties in the country.

Tellingly, the Commission noted that "Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to deny rezoning at their 6/13/2006 meeting."

Now we have a picture of a person who had a rezoning request worth millions denied by the board of supervisors wishing to get elected to said board.

Hmmm. With links to some of the above, this anti-Goodwin site could more effectively characterize Goodwin as someone who's interested in getting on the board to change the rules for personal profit.

But they didn't, and so this site stands as a clumsy and ugly bit of mud-slinging.

And worse still, it's anonymous. Goodwin supporters can claim "dirty tricks" on the part of the Satterfield campaign, and Satterfield's team (probably) has no idea who to contact to get the site removed.

This kind of website serves no purpose save to demonstrate the ignorance of its constructors -- in more ways than one.

- Ralph

Monday, October 22, 2007

WTJU and the 10%

It's fundraising time across the public radio system once again. Most non-commercial stations do two fund drives a year, one in the spring and one in the fall, and WTJU is no exception.

While most stations have one or more development professionals on the payroll to coordinate the campaign, WTJU relies on its almost all-volunteer staff to organize and mount their fund drives.

Traditionally, WTJU does a Marathon featuring a genre of music as the vehicle for their fundraising efforts. This week, it's all classical. Next week it will be all jazz. The spring drive will feature all folk and all rock programming.

I don't think I'm telling tales out of school when I say our volunteers uniformly produce an amazing array of special programming for these Marathons that is a joy to listen to -- and are almost completely ineffectual at raising money for the station.

There are some fundamental concepts about radio that most stations incorporate into their fund drive presentations -- concepts that recognize how people listen. WTJU's merry band of amateurs ignores most of the precepts -- primarily out of ignorance -- which prevents the station from realizing its fundraising goals.

Studies have shown that only about 10% of a station's audience will pledge their support. And since WTJU doesn't do a good job get its message out, its response rate is even lower.

If you're a listener to WTJU, either over the air or through the Internet stream, there are some things you need to know. You may not get this message listening to the Marathon, because it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. But it is important.

  1. WTJU really needs your help. About half of the station's operating budget has to come from the community. Underwriting takes care of some of that, but the bulk of it ($50,000 for this drive) has to come from the listeners.
  2. Your pledge is very important. Some of our announcers, bless their hearts, get excited when someone calls in with a $10.00 pledge. But let's get real. Most of our listeners are professionals with a fair amount of disposable income. A $100 pledge should be the least you should consider giving. After all, 500 people x $100 pledges = fund raising over in record time.
  3. WTJU needs the funds not just to survive, but to thrive. Some of our announcers have only a vague idea of what the money goes for, so they'll offer up goofy examples such as buying CDs for the library. Well, if that were true, then a $20.00 pledge wouldn't be out of line. But the money we have to raise has to do more. It's the money raised from the community that pays for replacement equipment (which can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars). Any improvements to WTJU's signal or service comes out of that money as well. And any efforts we want to make to grow our audience come out of that under-funded pot, too.

So here's the deal: if you listen to WTJU, please make a pledge -- especially if you've never pledged before. You can do it online through And when you make that pledge, make it more than chump change. Think about what the station is worth to you, and pledge accordingly -- it should, at least, be more than you spend on coffee for a week.

I'll be going on the air a few times myself over the next two weeks to do my part, but I can only compensate so much for the eccentricity of a WTJU Marathon. If you a listener, now's the time to become part of that 10% that keeps WTJU going to the benefit of all. We need your help. Even if we don't always say it on the air.

- Ralph

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Rekindling the passion of collecting

I just returned from the TCA train meet in York, Pennsylvania. This isn't a post about the joys of toy train collecting and operation (TCA has that covered). It's rather about the interface between the real and virtual world.

As I walked from table to table there was a common thread to the conversations. Ebay was changing the dynamics of collecting -- and impacting the sales at shows such as the York meet. Ken's commented on how Ebay can erode the passion of collecting, and the concerns expressed at York ran along similar lines.

I've said many times -- both in this blog and in everyday conversation -- that the Internet is not the "be all and end all." As sophisticated as online interactivity has become, the real world can provide even richer experiences.

And collecting is a good example. While I'm talking about toy trains here, it could easily be stamps, dolls, baseball cards, snuff boxes or anything. IMHO, Ebay is good for finding exactly what you want. But how do you know what you want? Or even what's available?

One of the best ways is to go to a meet. Wandering the isles you'll get a general feel for what's common and what's rare. You'll also see first-hand the subtle differences in condition that can greatly affect an item's value. Yes, Ebay listings often have pictures, but sometimes that's not enough.

Take, for example, a Dorfan locomotive. Dorfan, a toy train manufacturer of the 1920's, made die-cast locomotives with flawed alloys that caused them to flake and crumble into dust over time (some started the process within two years of manufacture), which makes Dorfan engines extremely rare. Any evidence of flaking or cracking can be a sign of trouble, and makes a huge difference in the value. Your eye can see things the camera doesn't -- and sometimes those cracks appear only on the underside, or inside the casting. Someone would have to post dozens of closeups on Ebay to approximate the information you can glean in a careful five-minute scrutiny.

And while eBay is searchable, you have to type in something to get somewhere. At a meet, I can wander the aisles and find stuff I didn't even know existed (and, therefore, can't search for online). This time, I went looking for a few accessories for the layout. Nothing in particular, just something that would fit in at a good price. It took a while, but I found it.

Even if I hadn't, it would have been a good show. I saw some very rare pieces first hand, some interesting oddball items, and met some great people and renewed some acquaintances, besides.

The Internet is a great resource, but it's not the only resource. If you're into collecting, then really get into collecting and get away from the screen once in a while.

- Ralph

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Political Breath of Fresh Air, Part 2

I admit that I admire Steve Satterfield. I've already talked about his very effective political literature. Yesterday he visited us as part of a door-to-door campaign, and left something almost as effective in delivering his message.

Satterfield's running for the Board of Supervisors
here in Orange County, Virginia in a race that could well be a referendum for the county.

According to the last census, our county was ranked as the 44th fastest-growing county in the nation with a population increase of 4.9%. It's a major issue with both natives and transplants, with passions running high on both sides.

Do we just keep building and (hopefully) fuel the county's economy, or try to put the brakes on development until a new comprehensive plan can be adopted? (Almost everyone understands that "no growth" is no longer a realistic option.)

This isn't meant to be a forum for Satterfield's views (you can visit his website for that information), so I won't share what he talked about. What I do want to share is that I was impressed with what Satterfield said -- and what he didn't.

Satterfield did make his stance very clear, and even conceded some points the opposition holds. As he talked, he focused exclusively on his views, his plans and his background, without saying anything negative about his opponent. For a political chat, it was refreshingly reasonable and rational.

And when Satterfield left, I received the second best piece of political literature ever. It was a Douglas Fir seedling. The label gave instructions on proper planting and care on one side. The other said "Plant trees, not suburbs."

I'll be happy to share any literature his opponent sends me, as I've done for Satterfield.

Tonight though, I'm planting a tree in my yard.

- Ralph

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Tom UnTerrific

Monticello Media announced the arrival of a new radio format to the Charlottesville area -- Tom.

Sometimes people are so deep into a particular subject that they lose touch with how the general public looks at it. And the development of the single-syllable-male-name-radio-format is a perfect example of that.

According to their press release on
"Tom is a new radio station at 107.5 FM that is unlike anything available in the Charlottesville market because Tom plays Anything. Anytime.

Traditionally music radio stations have limited themselves to playing one particular genre of music such as country, classic rock, oldies, etc. playing the same songs over, and over, and over… Tom is anything but traditional. Tom may play a U2 song followed by the Bee Gees then Matchbox 20, Lou Rawls, Def Leppard, Madonna, Nickleback then Earth, Wind and Fire."
"Anything, anytime?" How about "Some things -- a lot."

Whether it's called Tom, Bob, Sam, Dave or whatever, the intent is to present a greater variety of music, simulating an iPod on shuffle play. The promise is a wild, crazy, unpredictable listening adventure. The reality falls far short of that, primarily because of the short-sightedness of the programmers.

Imagine someone who ate every single meal at McDonald's. Of course they're excited about the addition of the McRib sandwich to the menu. Pork?!? At McDonald's?!?!! It's wild! It's crazy!

Perhaps to someone who's only been exposed to McDonald's fare. To the average person, a rib sandwich at McDonald's is nice, but not earth-shaking. And many who like barbecue (whether North Carolina style or Kansas City style) consider the McRib to be too bland and characterless to be taken seriously.

And the same is true with Tom/Jack/Sam/Bob/Dave. Radio programmers who never strayed far from their top 40 formats looked at what the kids were doing with their iPods and tried to mimic it. Instead of a list of a few hundred songs, they expanded it to a few thousand. How? By combining the tightly regulated playlists of a few closely related formats. So instead of just top 40, Tom/Jack/Sam/Bob/Dave gives you the approved top 40 songs, the approved adult contemporary songs, the approved 70's and 80's oldies, and so on.

Here's the programming philosophy of the Sam format: [italics mine]
"..the format that delivers hit after hit from different eras and different genres, without getting stale or repetitive. Meticulously researched to pinpoint exactly what Adults 25-54 want to hear and aren't sick and tired of, Sam supplies the highest familiarity with the least amount of burn."
My local station, WOLJ, uses Sam from Westwood One, with the slogan "You never know what we'll play next."

Perhaps not, but I know what they won't play next. No classical music. No jazz. No blues. No folk. No bluegrass. And most importantly, no local music.

I've got it all on my iPod, though, and more.

And what about the artists they do play? Any chance of hearing anything other than the same old tunes over and over? They may play "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves, but what about their other hit, "Sun Street?" I've got that on my iPod, too. Ditto with other songs by other "one hit wonders," such as the Ides of March, Thomas Dolby, The Jam, and more.

Tom/Bob/Dave/Sam sounds fresh -- when compared to current radio fare. But placed against the incredible variety of music currently available to almost everyone, it's like putting a McRib sandwich side-by-side with the fare at Arthur Bryant's. It's just plain sad.

And saddest of all the large number of people whose musical tastes have been so stunted by a steady diet of commercial radio that they will indeed be thrilled by this "wild and crazy format."

- Ralph